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Cibophobia and the Holidays

Surviving the Season With Food Phobias


Updated November 27, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you suffer from cibophobia, or fear of food, the holidays can be particularly challenging. Coworkers may bring home-baked cookies to the office, relatives may invite you for cake and coffee, and friends might host a potluck supper. Thanksgiving and Christmas Day can be especially difficult, as groups gather for an elaborate, festive meal.

Common Cibophobia Triggers

Cibophobia is a sort of catch-all diagnosis that includes any fear regarding food. Related disorders, such as anorexia, can cause similar symptoms, so diagnosis should only be made by a qualified clinician. Cibophobia triggers often fall into one of a few different categories.

Perishable foods are a common set of triggers. You may worry about foods that contain mayonnaise, milk or other highly perishable ingredients. At a holiday celebration, food may be left on the table for several hours after the main meal ends, as people continue to nibble throughout the day. In addition, many of the foods that you will consume have typically been prepared by others. You may wonder whether anyone used a perishable ingredient that was slightly out of date.

Doneness is another common concern for those with food phobias. If you did not cook the turkey or ham, you might wonder whether it was actually prepared correctly. You may find yourself sneaking peeks at the just-carved meat, trying to ascertain whether it is cooked to your specifications. If your family serves pork or chicken, two meats that are commonly associated with foodborne illnesses, you may not be comfortable eating at all.

Emetophobia, or fear of vomiting, is often related to cibophobia. If you are afraid of vomiting, you may severely restrict your food consumption. Rich, fatty foods are the norm at many family holiday gatherings. Overeating is common. You may worry about your ability to restrict the quantity and types of food that you eat without drawing attention to yourself.

Managing Food Phobias

If you suffer from food phobias, there is no need to skip holiday parties altogether. Instead, sit down and create a plan for managing each type of gathering. The specifics may change for each get-together, but the plan basics will remain the same.

Cocktail parties are generally the easiest to manage. Although those with social phobia may feel like they are being watched, the constant circulation of people ensures that your eating patterns will not be obvious. Small plates of hors d’oeuvres are the norm, so take whatever makes you comfortable, and do not worry about trying things that you are unsure about. And though alcohol may be tempting to help calm your fears, be sure to drink in moderation.

Small, intimate suppers can be more problematic. Often the host or hostess has gone to elaborate lengths to prepare a festive meal, and skipping one or more dishes may be seen as rude. How to handle the situation depends on how well you know your host and other guests. If you are comfortable disclosing your phobia, honesty is always best. If not, socially acceptable excuses include food sensitivity, dieting and minor illness. (Just be careful not to trap yourself in a white lie.)

Large, boisterous family gatherings are fairly easy to manage, although you may need a thick skin. Huge potluck suppers, in which everyone brings a dish to share, provide a seemingly endless variety of foods. Selecting those that make you comfortable should be easy. You may need a witty comeback prepared to deal with good-natured teasing for your choices, though.

Treating Cibophobia

Cibophobia can cause difficulties in all aspects of your life, and over time may lead to ill health from a severely restricted diet. Although the symptoms can be managed, treatment can often help you overcome the phobia altogether.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which you learn to change both your beliefs and behaviors concerning food, is common and has a high rate of success. Other treatment options include medications, hypnosis, and other forms of talk therapy.

With professional guidance, you can overcome your fears and learn to fully enjoy festive holiday meals.


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

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