What Is Fear of Food (Cibophobia)?

What Is Fear of Food (Cibophobia)? Image

When a person has an extreme fear of food, it's called cibophobia. Learn more about cibophobia, including traits, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments. Fear of food is also called cibophobia. It’s a type of specific phobia, which is classified as an anxiety disorder. Having cibophobia means that you have a deep, irrational fear of food. This can be limited to certain foods or beverages, or it may

Fear of food is also called cibophobia. It’s a type of specific phobia, which is classified as an anxiety disorder. Having cibophobia means that you have a deep, irrational fear of food. This can be limited to certain foods or beverages, or it may include many foods.

If left untreated, having a fear of food can impact your quality of life as well as your nutrition.

This article will explain the symptoms and causes of cibophobia and discuss the different treatment options available.

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Definition

When a person has an extreme fear of food, it’s called cibophobia. The fear can be so intense that it disrupts daily activities.

A person with cibophobia may fear meals prepared by someone else, foods that contain unfamiliar ingredients, or perishable foods. In severe cases, a person may fear almost all foods, which can result in malnutrition.

Despite knowing the food doesn't cause any actual harm, they're unable to overcome their fear.

Anorexia vs. Cibophobia

People with eating disorders, including anorexia, often avoid food because they fear that eating it will cause weight gain. Unlike anorexia, cibophobia has nothing to do with a person’s body image and occurs when a person exhibits fear of the actual food itself. Cibophobia isn't classified as an eating disorder. However, a person can develop cibophobia from disordered eating or have both conditions at the same time.

Symptoms

The symptoms of cibophobia are very similar to the symptoms of other specific phobias. A specific phobia is defined as a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, situation, activity, or person.

A person with cibophobia will often experience severe anxiety or have panic attacks around trigger foods. Depending on the severity of cibophobia, symptoms can be difficult to detect.

Symptoms include:

Symptoms typically resolve on their own but can feel very frightening at the time, causing a person to entirely avoid social situations in which trigger foods are present. A person with a severe fear of food may avoid grocery shopping, dining out, or eating in front of others.

Diagnosis

Cibophobia would be classified as a specific phobia. Getting a diagnosis of a specific phobia involves a visit with a licensed mental healthcare provider.

Your provider will analyze your symptoms against the diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

This guide uses the following diagnostic criteria to diagnose specific phobias:

  • The fear is persistent and lasts for more than six months.
  • The fear almost always causes immediate anxiety.
  • The fear is out of proportion to the actual danger of the object or situation.
  • The fear causes significant distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.

Causes

The exact cause of specific phobias, including cibophobia, remains unknown.

However, a specific phobia can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Observational learning experiences: You can learn to fear certain objects or situations by watching another person, like a parent or sibling, experience fear in the same situation. For example, if your mother had a fear of food that you observed while growing up, you may experience the same fear later in life.
  • Past traumatic experiences: A person with a fear of food may associate certain foods with a negative or traumatic memory of something they experienced in the past. For example, if a certain food or ingredient made you ill in the past, you may develop a fear of that food.
  • Informational learning: Learning about negative impacts related to certain foods through the news, social media, or books can portray certain food groups or ingredients as harmful, causing a fear to develop.
  • Biological factors: Although less is known about the role genetics and biological factors may play in specific phobias, it's believed that changes in brain chemistry may also play a role in the development of specific phobias.

Treatment

If you believe that you or a loved one has cibophobia, there are several promising treatment options that can minimize or completely resolve symptoms.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy in which a licensed professional helps you sort through your negative emotions surrounding food. They'll work with you on ways to cope and change disruptive thought patterns.
  • Exposure to trigger foods: This involves gradually exposing you to foods that cause anxiety or panic attacks while in a safe environment.
  • Medications: Antidepressants, beta-blockers, and anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed to alleviate symptoms in people with a specific phobia.
  • Hypnotherapy: Research shows that hypnotherapy can be an effective option for treating specific phobias. Hypnotherapy involves allowing a qualified professional to create a state of heightened focus and suggestibility that may help to identify and treat negative associations a person has surrounding food.

Coping

Coping with a specific phobia such as cibophobia can be challenging, but know that you're not alone. An estimated 19 million adults in the United States live with a specific phobia. 

In addition to the treatment options mentioned above, many people find coping is further aided by joining a support group. This helps you interact with and confide in others who share the same struggles. 

Additionally, people who exercise regularly, practice relaxation techniques, and learn how to reduce avoidance behaviors can reduce unwanted symptoms associated with specific phobias.

Summary

Fear of food is also known as cibophobia. This is a specific type of phobia that causes an irrational and constant fear of food.

If you suspect that you or a loved one has cibophobia, consider talking with a licensed healthcare provider. They can refer you to a mental healthcare professional.

Treatment for cibophobia includes CBT, medications, hypnotherapy, and exposure therapy. Many people also find it beneficial to join a support group to improve coping skills.

A Word From Verywell

If you have cibophobia or any other type of phobia, know that you're not alone. It’s important to understand that there is hope and that proper treatment can significantly reduce your symptoms.

To discuss the best treatment method for you, contact your healthcare provider. They can refer you to a qualified mental health professional and provide you with additional resources.

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