Cacomorphobia (Fear Of Fat People)

The term cacomorphobia (fear of fat people) is derived from the Greek words caco (ugly), morpho (shape) and phobos (fear or aversion). While it is a relatively uncommon condition, it is recognized as a medical issue and can be treated accordingly.

Overview:

Cacomorphobia is an irrational fear of fat people. Sufferers of this condition often believe that fat people are evil and fear they will be attacked by them. As a result, cacomorphobes try to distance themselves from overweight people. In severe cases, it has been reported that sufferers worry that fat people will explode in front of them. Cacomorphia (fear of fat people) is often experienced in conjunction with other mental health issues like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression.

This condition can cause sufferers to be affected emotionally and financially. Because patients who suffer from cacomorphobia live in constant fear of fat people, it often means that they struggle to perform to the best of their ability in terms of education and career. Cacomorphobes find it difficult to concentrate when in the presence of overweight colleagues and bosses, and as a result, they often find themselves passing up opportunities or promotions in the workplace. It is estimated that untreated instances of cacomorphobia can cost the sufferer tens of thousands of dollars over the course of their life. It is therefore important for people with this condition to seek medical advice.

Symptoms:

Patients who live with cacomorphobia tend to pay a heavy price in terms of how their social life and overall health are affected. Quality of life for sufferers is significantly lowered until the root causes of the condition are addressed.

The severity of symptoms can vary depending on the overall mental health of the patient. Anxiety and panic attacks are the most common symptom associated with cacomorphobia. These symptoms generally occur when the patient encounters an overweight person, and the body enters what is known as “fight or flight” mode. This is an evolutionary effect, thought to be related to primitive times when a person would have to decide whether to fight or flee a predator. As part of the process, the body releases adrenalin and this adrenalin rush can cause the patient to experience the following symptoms:

  • Shaking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling like running away, but feeling “frozen” on the spot and unwilling to move
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shivering
  • Elevated blood pressure rate
  • An overwhelming feeling of being hurt by an overweight person
  • Depersonalization/detachment from reality
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gastric/intestinal issues

Many sufferers of cacomorphobia have obsessive thoughts, a difficulty to concentrate on anything other than their own fears, mental images of dying or being attacked by fat people, and generally having an exaggerated response to the presence of fat people without the ability to control it.

Severe sufferers of cacomorphobia obsessively avoid encountering fat people. As a result, the avoid restaurants, fast food businesses, malls and other public places where there is a possibility of encountering those who are overweight.

Causes:

Each case of cacomorphobia is unique, but most healthcare professionals agree upon the likelihood of the root cause being linked to negative or traumatic events in the patient’s past or early development which had involved an overweight person or people. Because of these negative experiences, the unconscious mind develops a phobia as a protection mechanism.

In some instances, the patient may have been intimidated by a fat person. The overweight person may not have knowingly intimidated them and may have merely sat next to them on public transport or stood too close to them in a queue.

Some psychologists theorize that fat people have depressive mindsets and are more likely to be lonely, which can cause them to be rude or obnoxious to other people. This gives credence to the theory that a person suffering from cacomorphobia may have experienced abuse, rudeness or violence from a fat person in their formative years.

In recent years, the debate about size discrimination or “sizeism” has become incorrectly confused with cacomorphobia. While there is a legitimate argument against size discrimination, it is a separate issue from cacomorphobia. Size discrimination only leads a person to discriminate or otherwise be disgusted by overweight people. Cacomorphobia causes a patient to feel in constant fear of overweight/large people and is typically present in conjunction with other anxiety disorders. The anxious mind of the cacomorphobe causes them to believe that all obese people are evil, or otherwise out to attack them and cause them harm.

The media is known to play a huge role in how people perceive body image. Celebrities, pop stars and models are typically considered to have ideal bodies, and this conditioning could potentially lead to a fear of fat people. Some people may have an innate fear of becoming fat, and this manifests itself as an externalized fear of those who are fat, although feelings of disgust and revulsion can occur. For example, a cacomorphobe may feel unease after noticing a fat person gorging on high-calorie foods at a restaurant.

Treatment:

Numerous treatments exist which can assist patients suffering from cacomorphobia (fear of fat people). In most instances, combined therapies are the most effective, although single courses of treatment can also be useful if the condition is not particularly severe. The following treatments have all been observed to help reduce or eradicate cacomorphobia:

Hypotherapy

Hypnosis can be particularly useful in helping to identify the root cause of cacomorphobia. It can help to displace irrational fears and help the patient to confront their issues in a calm and rational manner. Regression techniques under hypnosis can help the patient to think about their past and confront their issues with overweight people, instead of being completely overwhelmed by them.

Exposure Therapy

Many psychologists agree that exposure therapy is the best way to treat phobias. Exposure therapy is designed to help change the response of the patient to conditions or situations which make them feel uneasy. To treat cacomorphobia, the patient could potentially be exposed to images of overweight people in a safe, controlled environment, before gradually building up the courage to interact with fat people.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

CBT combines exposure therapy with a variety of other techniques to provide the patient with new ways to cope with their issues. It is one of the most popular forms of therapy and is designed to help develop confidence in the patient so they can master their thoughts and feelings.

Medication

While medication is useful in reducing the physical symptoms experienced by sufferers of cacomorphobia, it will not cure the condition. Sometimes, medications are useful for specific short-term use (such as taking a tranquilizer before a social situation where fat people will be present). Long-term medication can also be beneficial in addressing the immediate symptoms of cacomorphobia while the patient works through their issues with a psychotherapist.

The most commonly used drugs to treat cacomorphobia include:

Beta blockers

These medications help to stop the stimulating effects of adrenalin. While beta blockers are usually prescribed to treat high blood pressure, they are also effective in small doses to combat the increased heart rate, shaking limbs and elevated blood pressure associated with phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Sedatives

These medicines are also known as benzodiazepines and are used to reduce anxiety. They help the patient to relax and forget and alleviate stress caused by their phobia, although they should be used with caution as they are addictive. These drugs should be avoided by patients who have a history of alcohol or drug dependence.

Mindfulness

This technique can be performed at home without the supervision of a professional. It can help the patient to learn how to tolerate and overcome anxiety.

Exercise

Studies suggest that anxiety and phobia management can be improved by physical exercise. Even a small, slow-paced walk could be beneficial.

Relaxation

Muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are all effective ways to help combat stress associated with cacomorphobia.

Prevention:

Cacomorphobia is an irrational fear, and it is difficult to recommend preventative action. The best way to combat the condition is for the patient to receive treatment which helps to identify and address the root causes of their fears. Medication in the interim can be incredibly beneficial in helping alleviate the physical symptoms of the condition, although talking therapies are required to help neutralize it.