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.
Bill Darlington says
Cibus is Latin for food so the fear of food should have a Greek prefix. It is properly called trophiphobia.
I’ve been afraid of various foods ever since I was a little child. Sloppy, small, ground up, or asymmetrical foods put me in total disgust and putting them near my mouth usually elicits a fight or flight response. I’ve blacked out trying to eat octopus for a dare once. Upon the octopus hitting my mouth I immediately passed out due to intense anxiety and apparently started vomitting (which I don’t remember). I don’t eat any foods with beef in small, ground up cylinders, rice, slimy things (like clams), watery soups, and anything purple except concord grapes. I don’t know why I feel so ok about concord grapes. It effects me every day and I wish that I would have a more diverse pallette, considering that I only eat salads, chicken, and pizza for the most part. My peers don’t understand the intense anxiety I get from many foods. It feels like posion usually and I don’t understand it. I also have major anxiety over choking and chew food extremely thoroughly until it’s practically pureed. Thanks for reading if anyone cares.
No problem and I’m sorry too.
I have very similar feelings about certain foods that you do. Anything small, round, slimy, sloppy is a no go. No beans, rice, pasta, mince (unless formed into a patty) etc.
There were so many times as a child when we would go to other people’s houses and I just wouldn’t eat and no one would understand. By now all my family and friends are used to my habits and as I have my own house and family I eat what I want and so don’t have the same panicking situations I did when I was younger. Only thing is I don’t eat particularly healthy food and find it very difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Other things now is when people want to go for a meal at Chinese or Indian restaurants, they either have to change it for me or I just go along anyway and order some dry meat with chips and I am anxious right up until it comes out!
Oh how I dream of being able to have a curry! I’ve had so many comments, so many debates, so many “how do you know you don’t like it unless you try it?” Because I know.
I don’t know if I’m cibophobic, I’ve never really thought about a phobia until just checking it now! This may never be read but it’s nice to get it out.
I never had a problem with eating in front of others but I have always had to inspect use by dates, smell, color, and consistency of my food before eating and if it ever seemed the slightest bit off or I was unsure I’d refuse to eat it even if told it was still ok for consumption
Lately though, I have been finding myself more reluctant or dreading eating with the first reaction when looking at food is to grimace and think “it’s gross.” Then not eat anything despite being starved sometimes.
Other times while I am eating I feel like I want to throw up or have an overwhelming feeling of disgust. This usually happens when I force myself to eat something but sometimes I also get the feeling when thinking about what could be in the food
There isnt anything I completely avoid but there are a lot of foods that I will refuse to eat a majority of the time typically foods that have risks if undercooked or foods that expire quickly. A lot of these food items I’m really picky about how it is prepared or have to make it myself
I have been diagnosed with anxiety due to other issue so is my problem with food more likely to be a result of my anxiety or would it be considered Cibophobia and treated separately?
I sometimes start to gag if I think too much about what might be in my food. I also cannot spit food out (like if it’s too hot) and then put it back in my mouth.
I’m not fond of eating in public, but I still do it. I don’t like to watch others eat either. When I’m at a restaurant, I just keep my eyes on my plate and my table. I’ve looked in a mirror and I think eating looks stupid and gross. And if I look at someone else and I can see chewed food in their mouth, it’s all over. I won’t be able to get the image out of my head and that image will haunt me for the next 12-36 hours. Trying to finish what I’m eating will be a challenge.
As for other phobias, I suppose I have a mild fear of perishables when it’s down to the last bit. For example, if there’s just maybe half a cup of milk left in the bottom of a jug, even if it’s still a week away from its expiration date, I’ll be extremely squeamish about consuming it cold, yet I can still cook with it without a problem. If there’re just a few scrapings of mayonnaise left in a jar, I’ll throw it away and open a fresh one, even if the old jar won’t expire for another two months. The same applies to jelly, or basically anything wet. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc…. lol
Derek Kan says
What would happen if you had hydrophobia and cibophobia at the same time?
Jenna Macksoud says
Hi Derek, I’m pretty sure that person would either die of starvation or would have to be carefully watched upon at some type of institution (mental). In other cases they may have to take nutrition and vitamin pills or have the right amount of protein and such pumped into their stomach at a hospital.