Cibophobia (fear of food) is a relatively common phobia characterized by the patient’s fear of food. This phobia may take two different forms that include aversion to certain kinds of foods or the fear of vomiting or choking when swallowing solid food.
Cibophobia is one of the more prevalent specific phobias. Its meaning is derived from the root word “cibo” which is the Latin word for food and “phobia”, the Greek word for fear. It often affects children and teenagers, particularly when it involves food aversion based on texture, taste or smell. The onset of Cibophobia can generally be traced to a traumatic event that occurs in childhood around swallowing, choking, food-borne illness such as food poisoning or abuse that takes place as a child is eating or around the withholding of food.
In its most extreme forms, Cibophobia can have a significant impact on the quality of life of the patient, making it almost impossible for them to consume solid foods making basic nutrition and wellness difficult to maintain. In these cases, the disorder is often linked to other eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. These phobias can be quite persistent and difficult to treat.
In its lesser manifestations, the disorder creates more of an inconvenience or embarrassment for the patient as it can make dining in restaurants or eating with others complicated.
Cibophobia is thought to be caused by a combination of internal and external factors, including family predisposition and brain chemistry as well as environmental factors or events that occur to the patient. This phobia is more prevalent in young children and teenagers but can escalate to a more significant issue if it follows the patient into adulthood, and often occurs in conjunction with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa.
Treatment almost always involves some sort of behavioral therapy or counseling. It may also involve the use of medication, but not generally to the exclusion of counseling.
Most commonly, Cibophobia develops from a combination of genetic disposition or brain chemistry and a triggering event, such as a choking episode or violent allergic reaction to some item of food. That combination of factors results in the fear and anxiety which, left untreated, may continue into maturity. Over time, it can contribute to the development of other health issues and eating disorders.
Cibophobia may also develop following a negative or dangerous experience with a specific food that caused food poisoning or other gastrointestinal illness, such as expired milk or bad meat. Patients may completely avoid this food for the rest of their lives. Depending on the extent of the aversion, this form of the disorder may be more inconvenient than a real problem.
In rarer cases, Cibophobia may develop in children when eating has somehow been conflated with abuse, trauma, authority or danger. This form of Cibophobia can be quite serious as it may make it difficult for the patient to eat at all and also very difficult for him or her to express the nature of the fear or its root cause. This makes treatment of the disorder very challenging.
There are many avenues of treatment for phobias. A general practitioner is a good place to start, but effective treatment usually requires specialized treatments that may include the following:
Providing patients with a good set of behavioral strategies to cope with fear and anxiety is also an effective treatment as the patient transitions from less intense therapies and recovery. These would include breathing and visualization techniques, as well as self-talk and meditation. Energy therapies fall into this category as well – activities such as yoga or tai chi may help the patient control their fears. Acupressure has proven some efficacy in the treatment of a variety of phobias as well.
Prevention of Cibophobia is difficult because it is such a combination of factors and may spring from an individual event that would be impossible to predict or prevent. However, appropriate interventions delivered in the wake of a traumatic experience may help prevent the development of Cibophobia. This might include immediate counseling or a visit to the doctor. Raising children in a nurturing environment where food and eating are treated as part of the normal human experience and not used as a reward or punishment helps children develop healthy attitudes toward eating and creates a strong sense of well- being. Careful monitoring of children to prevent choking hazards or allergic reactions may also work to prevent the development of this phobia.