Congratulations. You are living during an epidemic of food fear. People today, perhaps more than ever before, are afraid of the food supply and some of this fear borders on downright paranoia. But other fears that don’t necessarily stem from unknown chemicals, GMO’s, etc. plague certain people. These people have food phobias. I’ve listed ten of them below, both general and specific, and some of these may surprise you. Keep in mind that many of the general food-related phobias can overlap, with one specific fear being a component of a more generalized fear. There are connections between many of these phobias, so do not take this as a exclusive list. As well, there are a great many specific food-related fears that may not have an official name.
Cibophobia, Sitophobia or Sitiophobia: Fear of Food/Fear of Eating
Although there are many specific phobias regarding food, a generalized phobia of food or eating is called cibophobia or sitophobia. Fear of food would seem to be a death sentence, but usually, the fears are centered on contamination, especially of perishable foods and foods that are past their expiration date. They may be overly concerned with how well cooked a food is, often preferring food to be cooked until almost burnt and dried out. Meats like chicken or pork, which more subject to contamination concerns like chicken or pork are especially difficult for those with cibophobia or sitophobia. Eating food that they themselves did not prepare, or over which they have no control, such as restaurant food, is something they may avoid, or have specific rules as to time or place.
I myself, although I do not have cibophobia, do not like eating foods at the homes of people I do not know well, simply because “I don’t know how clean they are.” I do eat it, though. Fear of eating other people’s food is common, and those who suffer from this fear find an invitation to dinner a difficult, if not impossible, situation. Some can only comfortably eat food prepared by close family members or very close friends.
Fear of food or of eating can be related to fear of eating in public, which is discussed further below. It can also take the form of being afraid of eating foods forbidden by your religion. As well, it can have something to do with fear of choking (pnigerophobia), or fear of swallowing, called phagophobia, also discussed below.
Fear of Eating In Public
Fear of eating in public places or in the presence of others is a specific fear that can part of a generalized social phobia. However, it can also be more specifically a fear of eating in front of others, extending even to loved ones at home. Sometimes, this fear specifically relates to being watched or judged by others when eating. Those who struggle with weight or with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa often have this fear, and sometimes it can be warranted as family and friends may act as “food police,” out of concern for the individual’s well-being.
Deipnophobia: Fear of Dining with Others And/Or Dining Conversations
Some people are absolutely terrified by the idea of dining out with others, going to dinner parties, etc. We’ve all had some awkward dinner conversations, but these people are extremely afraid of having to have such conversations over dinner and will avoid dining out with others. It has been pointed out that our relaxation of etiquette rules regarding dining can play a part in this kind of social anxiety.
Phagophobia: Fear of Swallowing
Phagophobia, or fear of swallowing, is thought of as a form of psychogenic dysphagia. People who suffer from this may feel like they are unable to swallow and have a profound fear of choking. they may also have the sensation of a foreign body in their esophagus, which doesn’t go away when they swallow something else, like water. They may also have a feeling of throat pressure or constriction. They can find if hard to initiate a swallow reflex. Past instances of choking may have something to do with this fear.
Fear of swallowing can be connected to fears of choking.
Fear of Choking and/or Vomiting
Having a fear of choking or vomiting may seem like a common and obvious trait. Nobody likes to choke or to vomit, do they? But these particular fears are more extreme in those with phobias or panic disorders, and, in some cases, can cause a person to avoid eating to the point that weight loss or anorexia occurs. The fear may be of the discomfort and the imagined the outcome of the actual vomiting, and/or of the embarrassment which might occur should one vomit in public. Fear of vomiting, which is sometimes called emetophobia, can be a fear of vomiting oneself, or of being in the presence of others vomiting. A person with this fear may avoid certain foods, or food in general, and may throw out foods early, just in case they were to go bad and cause illness. They might also avoid any place which makes them nervous, amusement park rides, and drinking alcohol. This fear may also extend to a fear of bodily sensations that remind one of vomiting, such as nausea. This same fear of bodily sensations applies to choking fears, such as experience a tightness in the throat.
Fear of choking often manifests as an irrational belief that one cannot swallow (real swallowing problems, or dysphagia, do occur). Choking fears can cause a person to avoid eating alone, in case choking occurs, chewing food excessively, or, in extreme cases, to avoid eating altogether. Doctors may be terrifying because of their tendency to place objects in a patient’s mouth during an examination, such as tongue depressors or thermometers. Turtlenecks, ties, scarves, or any clothing which restricts the neck may be avoided. And, for both fear of choking and vomiting, a general avoidance of witnessing these situations may be present, such as avoiding movies which vomiting or choking in them. These fears can go together, and often do. Those who fear choking are afraid they will choke to death and, a fear of vomiting could include the belief that vomiting will lead to choking. Normal everyday sensations, such as a “lump in the throat” can be misinterpreted as a sign of choking or a feeling that the throat is closing off, leading to panic.
With both phobias, sufferers may be convinced that certain foods are more likely to cause choking or vomiting even though in reality there is no such relationship for normal healthy people.
Fear of Chewing
Fear of chewing is often connected to general dental fears, such as the state of one’s dental health, or fear of dental procedures. One who is irrationally concerned about either may develop a fear of chewing in general, or of chewing certain foods which may be perceived as damaging to the teeth.
Surprisingly common, and perhaps not related to any general fear of chewing, is a fear of chewing gum. Oprah Winfrey has admitted such a fear, but I have seen other mentions in the literature about such a fear arising much more often than we might expect. This fear is not only about being afraid of chewing gum oneself, but can even be a fear of being around others who are chewing gum. I read one story of a lady who was sent into a panic when she saw someone chewing gum on the street.
Most of us with children are familiar with picky eating. We know how difficult it can be to get a child to try new foods. Children have many reasons for avoiding unfamiliar foods, but for some, they don’t just avoid them, they are afraid of them. Some foods may make us sick. Some children have experienced this reality. However, they lack the experience to understand what foods are dangerous and what foods are safe. As a result, any new food can cause acute fear. Anything that is not on their familiar list of foods can be suspect. And, it can go even further than that. For all a child with food neophobia knows, it isn’t the food itself that causes the problem, but the way it is presented. The dish may be at fault! Or the way it’s sliced! Most parents can deal with these fears at hoe, but such children can have a tremendously hard time at restaurants, parties, friends houses, or any place where they are expected to eat unfamiliar foods. The good news is that most children grow out of this. Still, food neophobia is not restricted to children.
Connected to these fears is a fear of certain food textures. This fear, which can sometimes develop into a full phobic response, can easily be mistaken for picky eating or a normal selectivity. It often develops in early childhood and is caused by not being introduced to solid foods until a relatively advanced age. Lack of teh experience of chewing, and successfully swallowing a variety of textures of foods, especially those that require more chewing and can be more difficult to swallow, can cause children to fear choking. This same phobia could simply be a response to an actual choking incident, or even a severe sore throat where swallowing caused a lot of pain. Clearly, this fear is connected to fear of choking and vomiting, above. However, many children and even adults may avoid certain textures not out of fear that they cannot chew and swallow them but because of some other reason. Autistic people often display this selectivity. Texture is often a particular problem for autistic people in general, extending to clothing and even simple contact with certain textures, either rough of smooth.
Geumophobia: Fear of Unfamiliar Tastes or Flavors
This is often misrepresented as “fear of taste” making it seem like people with this phobia would avoid all taste and seek out foods that have as little taste as possible. While those with the disorder may indeed restrict their diet to very bland foods, it is often an avoidance of new or unfamiliar tastes or flavors. There is a condition known as gustatory agnosia in which food can be tasteless or even taste disgusting. The sense of smell can be associated as well, causing pleasant smells to seem offensive, or causing complete loss of the sense of smell. If a persons taste and smell is affected in this way, they may not know if they are eating foods or drinking beverages that they did not like in the past.
Mageirocophobia: Fear of Cooking
This fear is a lot more common than you may think but it is important to realize that it is only a phobia when the fear and anxiety associated with cooking are strong enough to interfere with everyday life. These same is true of any of the phobias listed here. You may avoid cooking and even be stressed out by it because you aren’t a very good cook, often burn things, etc. But that doesn’t stop you doing simple cooking tasks with which you are comfortable. You just aren’t a gourmet that is likely to be a contestant on Master Chef. People with mageirocophobia have much more wide-ranging and debilitating fear and some of these fears may be specific. For instance, they may fear causing others to get sick by improperly preparing food. Or they may fear serving food that is not edible. They may be generally fearful of the process of cooking. They may have a fear of recipes.
Acerophobia: Fear of Vinegar, Limes, Lemons or any Sourness
Lemons, limes, and vinegar are obviously avoided by those with this fear. The taste of sour, in all fairness, is something that we humans naturally avoid, to some extent, since it can be associated with spoilage. So this avoidance makes some sense. However, we have a taste for a certain amount of sourness, whereas those with acerophobia would find it off-putting, if not disgusting.