Complex Food Phobias
What is it?
Effects of food phobia
What causes food phobia?
How is food phobia treated?
A phobia is an anxiety disorder where the person has an extreme and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger to them. An individual with food phobia may experience symptoms of severe anxiety facing (or even anticipating) the feared foods, such as breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, heart palpitations or panicked feelings. Food phobia is recognised by DSM-IV and ICD- 10. There are two distinct types of phobia: Phagophobia is the medical term for inability to swallow for fear of choking. The sufferer may have a heightened sensitivity to the gag reflex and an exaggeration of the 'tight throat' or 'lump in throat' response. This may lead to the rejection of most solid foods. Sitophobia is the medical term for fear of certain food textures or odours. The presence of the feared food or even just the thought of it can result in an anxiety response or nausea.Back to top
It is likely that the person will go to lengths to avoid encountering the source of their fear. The phobia is likely to significantly impede day-to-day functioning, and may cause the person distress. Adults and adolescents will recognise that the fear is unreasonable, but children may not understand this. Fear and avoidance of certain foods is common in children and is not considered a phobia unless it causes marked interference in normal daily activities. Fear and avoidance of eating can be mistaken for anorexia. However, unlike with eating disorders, in most cases of food phobia, the individual will not be preoccupied with body shape nor have a distorted view of their body image, and will probably not want to lose weight.Back to top
The individual may have experienced some traumatic incident that triggered the phobia, or alternatively they may have an irrational or subconscious association in their mind that may lead to them developing the phobia. There is some evidence that there can be family patterns of phobias in first degree biological relatives.Back to top
According to www.NHS.uk almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. Treating simple phobias involves "systematic desensitisation:" gradually becoming exposed to the item or situation that causes the fear. These desensitisation programmes use a series of steps to break the phobia down. These steps for a food phobic may include smell, taste and watching others eat the feared food. These progressive steps will allow the sufferer to gradually become used to the anxiety and overcome the fear. A range of therapies are available for treating more complex phobias. An individual may have to try more than one before finding an effective cure. Therapies include counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A combination of CBT and desensitisation alongside a self-help group may help. Eye Movement and Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) may be effective in treating some phobias. Some people may find hypnotherapy or neurolinguistic reprogramming (NLP) helpful. Some research suggests taking medication from the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) drug range can help in relieving the symptoms of extreme anxiety.Back to top