Obesophobia is the irrational fear of becoming obese or gaining weight. Someone with this condition may also suffer from other mental illnesses such as anorexia or bulimia. Someone with obesophobia may take their body to the extreme by starving themselves or by working out excessively in hopes that they will never become obese or gain weight.

They may or may not realize that their concern of becoming obese is irrational and that their anxieties are out of touch with reality.

Someone suffering from obesophobia may find it extremely difficult to eat out at restaurants or to eat foods outside of their strict diet. They may bring their own food with them wherever they go to ensure that they are always prepared to eat healthy foods, regardless of where they are. The person with obesophobia may be painfully disgusted at the thought of becoming obese and may even withhold hatred and disgust toward people who are obese.

Just because someone is concerned with gaining weight or believes themselves to be overweight, this is not intimation of having obesophobia. This condition is characterized by intense fear that is often irrationally extreme. To truly get diagnosed with such a disorder, you will need to talk to your doctor.



Symptoms of Obesophobia

Someone suffering from obesophobia may workout excessively and eat only modicum portions of food. They may starve themselves in extreme circumstances. People with obesophobia may in fact be underweight and/or undernourished. They may be irrationally concerned with becoming obese when in fact they are actually losing weight. They may also go through painstaking efforts to lose weight, even if they are no where near becoming obese.

People who exhibit obesophobia often have low self-esteem, as well as a poor self-image. Their intense fear of becoming obese may make it difficult for them to form healthy relationships with others as well. Their constant worry and near obsessive behavior may be somewhat analogous to that of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, this is not to say that any one who has obesophobia also suffers from OCD. It is merely to point out that there may be a connection between the two disorders.

Someone with obesophobia may almost never go out to eat at a restaurant or eat food prepared by someone other than themselves. This has to do with the lack of control they may feel in their life. If they prepare their own meals and are aware of the macro-nutrients and calories of each food, then they can feel more secure and feel less anxiety about gaining weight or potentially becoming obese. So, this may mean that they will prepare days of meals in advance for easy access and may bring the meals with them throughout the day to ensure that they “stay on track.”

The opposite may occur as well. Someone suffering from obesophobia may instead convince themselves that the best thing for them to do is to eat as little as possible. Thus,  rendering them malnourished and vitamin deficient. So, there indeed may be a correlation between obesophobia and eating disorders. However, this may vary from person to person.

Here are some common symptoms of this phobia:

  • Irrationally afraid of becoming obese
  • Working out excessively
  • Starving oneself
  • Overly concerned with becoming obese
  • Underweight
  • Intense anxiety thinking about obesity

Causes of Obesophobia

There are many different factors that may play a role in someone developing obesophobia. Genetics and their environment are probably very significant factors for someone developing it. If you have a family history of mental illness, especially of phobias, eating disorders, or some sort of body dysmorphic disorder, then you may have an increased risk for developing obesophobia. Also, if you have the genetic makeup to develop mental illness, then it may only take a traumatic experience to develop this condition.

Other causes may be the social pressures that are perceived by individuals to attain a certain type of body. This is especially seen in the West. However, such convictions are merely subjective perceptions and cannot justly be the exact cause of this condition. However, deep insecurities, repetitive criticisms during childhood about one’s body, perceived social pressures, and a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness may be enough to develop this particular phobia.

As with virtually any mental disorder, the exact causes are not fully known. However, genetics and one’s environment are likely to play very significant roles in the development of obesophobia. It is important to talk to your doctor or your therapist about your condition as to potentially shed light on the possible causes of your specific symptoms. Doing so may help with treating the phobia as well.



Obesophobia Treatments (abridged)

There are no known treatment methods for obesophobia. However, talk therapy may be able to help identify the reasons as to why they feel fearful that they will gain weight or become obese. This form of therapy is often practiced by a psychologist, therapist, or a social worker. What the patient can expect to acquire from talk therapy besides identifying the underlying reasons as to why their obesophobia causes them to fear what they fear, it can also be advantageous for its ability at helping the patient to cope with the many stresses associated with this phobia as well.

Exposure therapy may be advantageous for treating obesophobia as well. However, it may not be as effective as talk therapy. In this context, exposure therapy would work by very carefully and slowly exposing the patient to caloric-dense foods. This form of therapy is not for everyone and should be discussed with your doctor before you decide to partake in it or not.

Medications may be able to help sooth the anxiety associated with obesophobia, but this will depend on many different factors, such as whether or not they also suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder in addition to their phobia. To find out exactly how you should treat your obesophobia, you should first talk to your doctor to either be treated or to be sent to a specialist (e.g. psychiatrist, therapist, etc.) who can better help to minimize your symptoms.




Treatments (expanded)

Exercise for Obesophobia

Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including obesophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.

According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of obesophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.

There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of obesophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with obesophobia over time.

Practicing Yoga for Obesophobia

There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from obesophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with obesophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.

There are many different types of yoga that someone with obesophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with obesophobia.

If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of obesophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.

Reducing Caffeine for Obesophobia

It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with obesophobia to experience panic attacks.

So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.

Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with obesophobia.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Obesophobia

DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like obesophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.

One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with obesophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.

Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with obesophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.

Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with obesophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your obesophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.

Psychiatric Medications for Obesophobia

Anti-anxiety meds

These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe obesophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.

These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their obesophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Antidepressants

These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as obesophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of obesophobia.

These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of obesophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.



Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Obesophobia

CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with obesophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.

CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with obesophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with obesophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.

Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with obesophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Obesophobia

MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from obesophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with obesophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.

Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of obesophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.

Practicing Meditation for Obesophobia

There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from obesophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.

Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from obesophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.

For someone with obesophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.

To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of obesophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.

Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with obesophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.

Exposure Therapy for Obesophobia

As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as obesophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with obesophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.

The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with obesophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their obesophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with obesophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.