Sitophobia (Fear of Food or Eating)
Sitophobia is the irrational fear of food or eating. Someone experiencing this disorder may find themselves enduring painstaking anxiety at the mere thought of consuming food. Someone suffering from sitophobia may not necessarily be fearful of all food, but rather they may simply be afraid of eating specific foods. For example, someone may develop sitophobia toward shellfish or peanuts due to them being severely allergic to those foods.
It may not be uncommon for people who suffer from sitophobia to also suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. This should come to no surprise due to the fact that some people who suffer from eating disorders may believe food to be the cause of their struggles. They may find food to be nothing more than a potential barrier that will only make them “fat”. Their inability to recognize that they are instead suffering from a mental illness will likely be a large reason as to why they may be irrationally fearful of eating food.
Depending on the severity of someone’s sitophobia, they may find it very difficult to cope with day to day life. In fact, their fear of food may be so intrusive and intense that they may even develop additional mental disorders that are somewhat related to sitophobia.
For example, it is not implausible to conceive that someone who has a deep fear of eating may eventually become obsessed with that fear. This may leave the door open for them to develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) insofar as they have the proper genetic makeup to do so.
Symptoms of Sitophobia
Someone suffering from an irrational fear of eating will likely find themselves enduring a large amount of anxiety everyday. This is due to the fact that we need to consume food to survive. So, it is not possible for someone with sitophobia to avoid food completely. Avoidance is a very common tactic for people suffering from most anxiety disorders, especially phobias. However, this will not work very long for someone with sitophobia.
In fact, someone suffering from severe sitophobia may experience anxiety that is so intense that they may even have full blown panic attacks as a result of their fear of eating. And in some extreme cases, they may even need to be hospitalized if they were to experience an intense enough panic attack. Be that as it may, such cases are likely outliers.
In addition, if someone is already suffering from another mental disorder such as anorexia or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), then their symptoms of sitophobia may be greatly exacerbated. In such a case, they will likely suffer much more greatly than if they were merely experiencing the symptoms associated with sitophobia.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of sitophobia:
Intense anxiety at the mere thought of eating food
Anxiety when faced with food or when eating
May be malnutritioned
May easily become sick due to a weakened immune system
Weakness and/or dizziness from lack of proper nourishment
Unable to cope with very strong emotions
Causes of Sitophobia
There is no known cause of sitophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may both play very significant roles. An example of this can be seen with someone who has a family history of mental illness. Someone with such a family history may also have a genetic predisposition to develop mental illness. If this were to be the case, then it may only require that they experience some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown sitophobia.
A traumatic event that may cause someone to develop an irrational fear of eating food may be that they experienced a very severe allergic reaction after eating a food they thought was perfectly safe for them to eat. Some people have allergic reactions that are so serious that if left untreated it can become fatal. It is this knowledge, as well as the terror experienced during an allergic food reaction that may cause someone to develop sitophobia insofar as they have the genetics to do so.
Other possible causes for someone developing sitophobia may be that they developed it as a secondary mental disorder. For example, someone who suffers from anorexia or OCD may eventually develop an irrational fear of eating as a result of their initial diagnosis. Their sitophobia may merely be an extension of their anorexia or OCD.
Sitophobia Treatments (abridged)
There is no treatment that is specifically designed for sitophobia. However, there are some forms of therapy that may be very advantageous for those suffering from this disorder, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for those suffering from phobias. It works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to that which they fear. Though this will likely give the patient heightened amounts of anxiety, the goal is to help them become desensitized to their fear to the point to where the specific stimulus begins to effect them less and less.
Exposure therapy may not be for everyone as it can be very intense and may actually worsen the individual’s symptoms if not executed properly. This may occur if the therapist exposes the patient to too much too soon, thus exacerbating their symptoms without allowing them to gradually become desensitized to the stimulus. So, it is imperative that the therapist is very adept and experienced at treating people who suffer from phobias.
In context to sitophobia, the therapist may expose the patient to food or to eating by bringing a piece of food into the session for the patient to observe, touch, or eat. The therapist will likely begin exposing the patient very subtly by starting off with something that will only make the patient slightly uncomfortable. The goal here is to gradually increase the intensity of the exposure so that the patient can properly build up to more and more stimuli.
If you think you may have sitophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms described in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Exposure Therapy for Sitophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as sitophobia. 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their sitophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with sitophobia 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.
Working Out for Sitophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including sitophobia. 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia, 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 sitophobia over time.
Yoga Sessions for Sitophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from sitophobia. 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia.
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 sitophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Sitophobia
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 sitophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with sitophobia 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 sitophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Psychiatric Medications for Sitophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe sitophobia 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 sitophobia 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.
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 sitophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of sitophobia.
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 sitophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Sitophobia
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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with sitophobia 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 sitophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Sitophobia
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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia. 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 sitophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Meditation Practice for Sitophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from sitophobia. 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia, 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 sitophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Control Caffeine Consumption for Sitophobia
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 sitophobia 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 sitophobia.