Many different phobias have been described in literature related to psychopathology, but perhaps none that are as debilitating or having serious health implications as Cibophobia, the excessive and persistent fear of food. Food phobia is also called “food aversion or choking phobia”. The word Cibophobia or Sitophobia is derived from Greek Sitos which means bread and phobos which means fear.
The fear of food and the fear of eating in public are often used mistaken for each other. Note that the latter is a social anxiety disorder where the individual refuses to eat or drink in front of others from fear of embarrassing him/herself. On the other hand, Cibophobia is persistent and the patients, typically teenagers and young children, are unable to verbalize precisely what they fear.
Causes of Cibophobia
The fear and avoidance of food, chewing or swallowing fluids usually stems from a negative or traumatic episode such as choking, vomiting etc after eating or drinking. Some people continue to experience this fear well into their adulthood. Often Cibophobia is associated with anorexia, bulimia and other behavior and eating disorders.
Some cases of fear of food are specific in that; the phobic is only afraid of perishable food items like milk and milk products, mayonnaise etc. This might occur due to a prior bad experience of having eaten these expired food items leading to gastrointestinal distress. The brain then recalls those feelings each time s/he is confronted with a stressful situation.
Some children develop the fear of food when eating in front of authoritative figures. Child abuse, news of death whilst eating some kinds of food can also lead to the fear of food phobia in a young mind.
Symptoms of the fear of food phobia
Cibophobia sufferers deal with many physical and psychological outcomes associated with this condition.
- The fear of food leads to excessive obsession regarding how food is cooked or about expiry dates on edible items. This leads to overcooking or avoiding meat completely, refusing to eat in certain restaurants etc.
- Some phobics eat and drink very little leading to nutritional deficiencies and health problems. Often their condition is mistaken for anorexia or other eating disorders.
- The phobic lives in constant fear that s/he will choke on food. S/he might vomit, cry or throw a temper tantrum when coerced into eating.
- Some kids and teenagers refuse to eat solid foods. Their diet has to be supplemented with adequate protein rich soft foods and vitamin/mineral supplements to maintain their health. Their condition often leads to arguments in the family. Distress and difficulties with peers at schools are also common.
- Sleep related issues, nocturnal diuresis, nightmares and refusal to sleep alone, temper tantrums and other behavioral issues are also commonly seen in such children.
Treatment for Cibophobia
Structured diagnostic and behavior tests must be conducted to assess the extent of patient’s avoidance and fear of food. The patient must be asked to attempt a number of sequential steps like: approaching and eating three or four feared foods, sitting next to the food, holding a spoon, filling it with food, lifting the spoon, touching the food to his lips, putting the food in the mouth, chewing and swallowing it. Parents/therapists must note various symptoms throughout these different steps. At home, a daily or weekly record must be kept to note the food and drink items that have been consumed by the phobic. This must be done over a period of at least 6 months with a weekly review session with the therapist.
Parents and therapists must provide positive reinforcements like material rewards, praise and attention to the child suffering from Cibophobia. Conversely, vomiting, crying, temper tantrums etc must be ignored.
Behavior and cognitive behavior therapies, NLP or neuro linguistic reprogramming therapy, hypnosis as well as gradual desensitization therapies are proven effective in treating Cibophobia.