Cibophobia, or the fear of food, is a particularly devastating phobia that can have far-reaching effects on your daily life. Depending on the specific foods you fear, you might severely curtail your intake of various food groups, potentially risking your long-term health. You may be unable to dine in restaurants or friends' homes, leading to social isolation. You might throw out products before they go bad, increasing your food budget and lowering your available funds.
While these effects are difficult on anyone, children with cibophobia may be especially at risk. Young, developing bodies need vitamins and minerals that may be difficult to obtain on a restricted diet. Children with food phobias may be seen as different by their peers, ostracized at best or actively bullied at worst.
Parental Effects on Children's Food Phobias
No parent wants to feel that he or she is causing harm. If you suffer from cibophobia, you may worry about the effects that your fear has on your child. It is true that kids are impressionable, and learned messages from parents are a contributing factor toward developing a phobia. But there is no "automatic link" between a parent with food phobias and a child with the same phobias.
Parents who do not suffer from cibophobia but have unhealthy attitudes toward food may also put their children at risk for developing food phobias. Food obsessions are almost trendy in the modern world, from organic items to sugar bans. It is true that consuming too much sugar, fat or processed food can lead to health problems, but constantly reading labels and teaching kids that a particular type of food is "bad" can lead to food anxiety.
Parents with Cibophobia
If you suffer from food-related phobias, the best thing you can do for your kids, as well as yourself, is to seek treatment. Although parents are sometimes reluctant to let their children know they have a problem, kids need to know that their parents are not perfect. Modeling healthy coping skills is valuable to all children, while developing a healthy relationship with food allows you to share that new and improved relationship with your kids.
Cibophobia often leads to obsessions with particular items that are seen as potentially dangerous. You may be unable to eat mayonnaise or other highly perishable foods. You might drastically overcook foods such as pork or chicken that can be dangerous when raw.
While you are working through your phobia, try to minimize your kids' exposure to your fears. If you choose not to have mayonnaise in the house, for example, make it no big deal. Just tell your children that you personally don't care for mayonnaise. If you prefer not to eat chicken in a restaurant, resist the urge to forbid your spouse or children to order it.
Parents without Cibophobia
Try to maintain a healthy, balanced attitude toward food rather than following each new trend. Rather than teaching a list of rules, focus on sharing your values as they relate to food. For example, if you prefer organic products, tell your kids why. Explain the benefits as you see them, but avoid scare tactics.
Make food lessons fun and natural. Share a wide range of colors, textures and cultural influences with your kids. Invite them into the kitchen to help you cook. Focus on the positives, such as foods that help make kids strong, rather than the negatives, such as the evils of trans-fats.
If your kids have a sweet tooth or a love of fried foods, acknowledge it and accept it rather than trying to suppress it. Steer them toward what you perceive as healthier choices rather than banning items. For example, develop a family recipe for low-sugar fruit cookies or low-fat brownies. If they have a particular unhealthy favorite, make it a special occasional treat.
Remember that children have different nutritional needs than adults. Work closely with your child's pediatrician to develop a healthy eating plan. Severely restricted diets can cause difficulty in natural development, so check with the doctor before implementing any major dietary changes.
Children with Cibophobia
Despite parents' best efforts to help kids develop healthy relationships with food, some kids do develop cibophobia. The fear can masquerade as many other disorders, including anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Only a trained mental health professional can make a definitive diagnosis.
Picky eaters and those who "hate" a specific item are very common among young children, so look for categorical denial of various types of foods. A picky eater might refuse cheese, but a child with cibophobia might refuse all dairy products or dairy items that came out of someone else's refrigerator. If your child has a healthy appetite at home, but eats very little at restaurants or friends' homes, ask her why.
If your child begins to show signs of food phobias, seek professional intervention as soon as possible. Although many kids quickly outgrow their fears, childhood eating habits can set a lifelong trend. It is best to err on the side of caution and proactively attempt to treat any unhealthy attitudes toward food.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.