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Cibophobia

Fear of Food

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Updated June 13, 2011

Cibophobia, or fear of food, is a relatively complicated phobia that can rapidly spiral into an obsession. People with this phobia are sometimes mistakenly thought to suffer from anorexia, a dangerous eating disorder. The main difference is that those with anorexia fear the effects of food on body image, while those with cibophobia are actually afraid of the food itself. Some people suffer from both disorders, and diagnosis should be made only by a trained clinician.

Symptoms of Cibophobia

Many signs of cibophobia are difficult to recognize, particularly in today’s health-obsessed society. If you are cibophobic, you probably avoid certain foods altogether, perceiving them to present above-average risks. Highly perishable foods such as mayonnaise and milk are common objects of fear.

Most people with cibophobia are extremely concerned with expiration dates. You might find yourself carefully sniffing products that are approaching their expiration dates, and refuse to eat anything whose date has passed by even a few hours. Even products with far-off expiration dates might be seen as suspect once they have been opened.

You may be quite concerned with the doneness of cooked foods, overcooking to the point of burning or drying. This may be particularly true for foods that you see as dangerous, such as chicken or pork.

Many people with cibophobia develop rules for eating behaviors. These rules vary from person to person, but often focus on restaurant meals, where the food’s preparation is outside of your control. You might avoid certain restaurants or individual dishes, refuse to eat seafood away from the coast or throw out leftovers after 24 hours.

Complications of Cibophobia

Untreated cibophobia often worsens, causing increasingly obsessive behaviors. Over time, you might severely restrict your diet, jeopardizing your health. You may choose to go hungry rather than eat things that you deem questionable, leading to weakness, dizziness and irritability.

The social stigma of cibophobia can be devastating as well. Humans are extremely conscious of unusual behaviors, making it difficult to hide increasingly restricted eating patterns. Your friends and relatives might suspect an eating disorder. You may feel uncomfortable in social situations such as holiday gatherings, where it would be rude not to accept food.

Eventually, you may become uncomfortable in restaurants, even if you are following your personal rules. Being surrounded by the object of your phobia might cause you to cry, shake or experience a wide range of physical symptoms.

Treating Cibophobia

It is very important to seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional. The most common treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which you will learn to change both your beliefs and your behaviors regarding food. However, other treatment methods may be used as well. Medications, hypnosis and several forms of talk therapy can help you create a more positive relationship with food. Becoming educated about the actual risks of different food-borne illnesses may help in the long run, but it is important to get the fear under control first. Otherwise, your reading may actually reinforce your fear.

Cibophobia is a complicated phobia that can have devastating effects on your life. With proper treatment, however, there is no reason that you cannot learn to conquer your fear.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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