Understanding Food Phobias and Their Causes

Young man looking at dough in a mixing bowl on the kitchen counter

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Food phobias can be life-limiting, preventing sufferers from trying new restaurants or even participating in family gatherings. In extreme cases, food phobias can even have an impact on health, causing restricted diets that lack essential nutrients. While all food phobias can have similar effects, the causes and symptoms may be wildly different.

Fear of Food

Sometimes mistaken for an eating disorder, cibophobia is actually the fear of food. Those with eating disorders generally draw a link between eating and body image, while people with cibophobia fear the food itself.

Cibophobia typically falls into patterns. Some people are afraid of highly perishable foods such as mayonnaise. Others worry about underdone meat or items that are nearing their expiration dates. Some people with cibophobia are afraid to cook, while some refuse to eat food cooked by others.

Coping with cibophobia can be challenging. Studying recipes, familiarizing yourself with a wide range of foods and cooking techniques, and gradually expanding your horizons may help with mild fears. More serious symptoms might require the assistance of a mental health professional.

Fear of Cooking

Mageirocophobia, or the fear of cooking, falls into numerous subtypes. You might worry about the social repercussions of presentation or food quality. Maybe you obsess about undercooking or overcooking the food. Or perhaps you are afraid of the cooking process, injuring yourself in the kitchen, or having trouble following a recipe.

A subset of mageirocophobia hits legions of home cooks during the winter holidays. Playfully named "diemeleagrisphobia," or "die, fear of turkeys," by Food Network celebrity Alton Brown, the fear of cooking a holiday turkey can be intense. Dozens of TV specials, websites, and even a special Butterball Turkey Talk-Line are in place to help home cooks through their annual festivities.

Coping strategies for the fear of cooking depends on the severity and the exact fear that you have. In many cases, giving yourself extra time, serving only familiar recipes to guests and enlisting the help of family members can go a long way toward easing anxiety.

If you are unable to ease your own fears, seeking the help of a cooking teacher or mental health professional may be necessary.

Fear of New Foods

Especially common in kids, food neophobia occasionally turns into a lifelong fear of trying new foods. Many sufferers have trouble only with certain categories of food, such as sushi or organ meats like liver, or food with particular textures. Others are afraid to try any new food at all.

Food neophobia is related to neophobia, or the fear of new things, as well as the fear of the unknown. One study found that neophobia can lead to poor diets and increase a person's risk of developing such chronic diseases as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Fear of Vomiting

The fear of vomiting, or emetophobia, can cause wildly restricted eating patterns. You may worry that a particular food is undercooked or spoiled. You might refuse to eat things that you perceive as stomach-upsetting, such as spicy dishes or raw vegetables. Some people refuse to eat at all when they are out in public or do not have easy access to a restroom.

The fear of vomiting may be linked to the fear of losing control; in extreme cases, it could eventually lead to agoraphobia.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sarin H, Taba N, Fischer K, Esko T, Kanerva N, Moilanen L, Saltevo J, et.al. Food neophobia associates with poorer dietary quality, metabolic risk factors, and increased disease outcome risk in population-based cohorts in a metabolomics studyThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019;11(1):233-245. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz100

  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Fear of vomiting, or emetophobia.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.