How to Identify and Treat a Food Phobia

Food phobia is a common problem among children. Some children are afraid of all foods, some are afraid of only one type of food, while other children are scared of any kind of food. There is no way to predict which ones will develop a severe form of their phobia until they reach puberty or older.

A person with a milder form of food phobia may not have problems at school or work because it does not interfere with daily life too much. However, if the person develops a severe form of their phobia, then it could cause social isolation and even depression.

Symptoms of Food Phobia:

Fear of eating certain foods (e.g., meat) or specific foods (e.g., chocolate).

Fear of going out alone after dark or being around strangers at parties. Avoiding certain places such as restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, etc. Aversions to particular smells such as garlic or onions. Difficulty concentrating. Feelings of nausea when eating certain foods. Feeling sick when eating certain kinds of vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs or dairy products. Aversions to spicy foods (such as chili peppers), alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Causes of Food Phobia:

There are many possible causes for food phobia including: Genetics Genetic predisposition to developing a strong reaction to certain foods. Environmental factors Stressful experiences in childhood (e.g. having a choking accident with food).

Risk Factors for Food Phobia:

There is no particular risk factors known for developing food phobias.

Diagnosis of Food Phobia:

The doctor will ask about medical history and give a physical examination to find other causes of anxiety or fear. There are no lab tests to confirm food phobia. The diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms.

Food phobia Treatment

There are several ways to treat food phobias, including:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help you change the way you think and react to certain situations. For example, your therapist will help you replace irrational thoughts, such as fear of vomiting after eating bread, with more realistic thoughts. This type of therapy can decrease fear and anxiety, as well as improve self-esteem and quality of life. Medicines such as antidepressants or beta-blockers may help reduce overall anxiety and physical reactions to food, such as sweating, racing heart and difficulty breathing.

In extreme cases where a person has severe food phobia, the best treatment may be a type of “behavioral therapy” called systematic desensitization. In this treatment, a person is gradually exposed to the very thing they fear. One example of this is a person with a phobia of dogs who is “exposed” to a picture of a cute puppy, then a picture of a puppy behind a fence, then a picture of a puppy behind a fence held ten feet away, etc. until the person no longer fears dogs.

Living with Food Phobia:

If you have food phobia, treatment is highly recommended. Without treatment, phobias tend to get worse over time. If you have food phobia, there are many things you can do on your own to help manage your symptoms. Acupuncture, exercise and practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or tai chi may help reduce anxiety related to food phobia.

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Sources & references used in this article:

Cognitive-behavioral treatment of anorexia nervosa by EI Kleifield, S Wagner, KA Halmi – Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 1996 – Elsevier

Optimal treatment of social phobia: systematic review and meta-analysis by J Canton, KM Scott, P Glue – … Disease and Treatment, 2012 –

Treating affect phobia: A manual for short-term dynamic psychotherapy by L McCullough – 2003 –

Cognitive-behavioral treatment of food neophobia in adults by DK Marcontell, AE Laster, J Johnson – Journal of anxiety disorders, 2003 – Elsevier

Issues in the application of cognitive and behavioral strategies to the treatment of social phobia by G Butler – Clinical Psychology Review, 1989 – Elsevier