What Is Cibophobia?

  • Ellen RogersMSc in Advanced Biological Sciences, University of Exeter, UK


Phobias are common mental health disorders that fall under the category of anxiety disorders. In these disorders, individuals experience an intense and irrational fear of things such as objects, situations, animals, feelings, or places. You have likely heard of some of these phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophobia (fear of small spaces). However, these are only the most common ones.1 There are so many more phobias, including some uncommon ones like cibophobia - the fear of food. In this article, we will explore this rare phobia and talk about its symptoms, causes, and possible treatments. If this sounds interesting to you, keep reading!

Understanding cibophobia 

As mentioned earlier, cibophobia is an uncommon phobia characterised by an intense and irrational fear of food. Unlike more common phobias, such as arachnophobia or the fear of flying, where the source of the phobia is considerably avoidable, cibophobia revolves around an essential part of everyday life: eating.

While many of us might have, at some point, been worried about food safety or have aversions to specific foods, cibophobia takes these concerns to an extreme, leading to severe distress and anxiety. As such, cibophobia can have a huge impact on people’s lives, affecting different aspects, from their eating habits to social interactions that may involve food.

Causes of cibophobia 

As with most phobias, the causes of cibophobia can be multifaceted and involve a combination of multiple factors.1 These include:

  • Traumatic or negative experiences with food: having traumatic or negative experiences related to food (e.g. choking incidents, severe allergies, or food poisoning) can trigger cibophobia.  Even a single distressing event might be enough to trigger this phobia.
  • Learned behaviour: phobias can be acquired during childhood by learning the fear from someone close to you, such as a relative or a caregiver. Children often mimic behaviours they witness, and thus, if a father has cibophobia, it is likely that his children will develop this phobia, too.
  • Genetic factors: studies have suggested that genetics might play a role in determining who is more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders, which, as mentioned, include specific phobias like cibophobia. In this way, some individuals might have a genetic predisposition to developing cibophobia.

The exact cause of cibophobia might vary from person to person. Some individuals might pinpoint a specific triggering event, while others may attribute it to a combination of factors.

Signs and symptoms of cibophobia 

The main sign of cibophobia is an intense and uncontrollable fear when thinking about, seeing, or being around food. This fear is often accompanied by anxiety or panic. Symptoms of cibophobia and anxiety-related symptoms include:1,2

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach aches and digestive issues
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Distressing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Emotional distress: individuals with cibophobia might feel isolated, embarrassed, or ashamed of their fear, which can lead to a decrease in their quality of life
  • Impaired social functioning: individuals with cibophobia will usually try to avoid social interactions involving food. This can have a significant impact on their relationships and limit their participation in many social activities.
  • Weight loss and malnutrition due to avoidance of food

It is important to highlight that the severity of cibophobia can vary from person to person. Some individuals may have mild symptoms that they can manage independently, while others may experience severe anxiety requiring professional intervention.

Management and treatment of cibophobia1,3,5

Like many other phobias, cibophobia is treatable. Whilst intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the quality of life of individuals with cibophobia, many individuals with cibophobia may not seek help due to a lack of awareness about available treatments or the belief that phobias are untreatable. In fact, 10-30% of people suffering from phobias refuse to seek help for several decades.4 Increasing awareness and knowledge of the strategies available to manage and treat phobias is thus essential. The main strategies include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is a broad therapeutic approach that can be highly effective in treating phobias. This therapy helps individuals to identify and change their negative thought patterns and behaviours related to their fear. CBT provides individuals with practical tools to manage their anxiety and gradually confront their fear.
  • Exposure therapy: exposure therapy is often considered the first-line treatment for treating specific phobias, such as cibophobia. Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that involves gradual and controlled exposure to the feared object or situation. In the case of cibophobia, exposure therapy involves gradually introducing the individual to different foods or food-related scenarios, starting with less anxiety-provoking situations and progressing to more challenging ones. 
  • Medication: together with therapy, doctors may prescribe medications to help manage your anxiety symptoms. The most common medications prescribed for this include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta-blockers (e.g. propranolol), and sedatives (e.g. benzodiazepines).2
  • Nutritional counselling: as mentioned above, individuals with cibophobia often suffer from malnutrition and weight loss. Thus, nutritional counselling might be helpful for these individuals in order to gradually expand their food choices and ensure they get enough nutrients.
  • Support groups: support groups for individuals with phobias or anxiety disorders can provide a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and coping strategies with others facing similar challenges can be really beneficial for individuals suffering from cibophobia.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: learning relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation, can help individuals manage anxiety associated with cibophobia. These techniques may also help you manage or reduce stress and anxiety.2 


The major marker of cibophobia is an irrational fear of food, which causes clinically significant distress. Apart from this, diagnosing cibophobia involves a thorough assessment by a mental health professional.  This will typically involve discussing the individual’s fear of food, potential triggers, social, personal and family history, and the impact of their phobia on their daily life. 


Cibophobia is a rare specific phobia characterised by an irrational and intense fear of food. This condition can have a huge impact on the lives of individuals, affecting their eating habits, social interactions, and overall well-being and quality of life. While the exact cause of cibophobia can vary, a combination of negative experiences with food, learned behaviour, and genetics may contribute to its development. Luckily, nowadays, cibophobia is a treatable condition. There are effective therapies available to treat phobias like cibophobia, including exposure therapy and CBT, which can help individuals to gradually confront and manage their fear of food. Furthermore, in some cases, the therapeutic approaches can be combined with pharmacological treatments to help patients manage their anxiety, nutritional counselling and support groups, which can also play an important role in the treatment process. 


Can cibophobia be prevented?

While it may not always be possible to prevent cibophobia, early intervention and treatment can help prevent its progression and minimise its impact. Furthermore, if you have cibophobia, seeking help early can also prevent your children from learning the fear through observation and mimicking.

How common is cibophobia?

Cibophobia is quite rare. However, there is limited data on its exact prevalence, and due to its uncommon nature, it often goes unrecognised or undiagnosed.

Who is at risk for cibophobia?

As mentioned above, there are certain risk factors that may increase the risk of developing cibophobia, including having close relatives with cibophobia or experiencing a traumatic food-related event. Genetics can also play a role in predisposing someone to phobias.

When should I see a doctor?

If you experience an intense and uncontrollable fear of food or any other fear that causes severe anxiety, it is advisable to see a doctor or mental health professional. Seeking help early can increase the effectiveness of treatment and can lead to an improved quality of life and well-being.2


  1. NHS. Phobias [Internet]. NHS. 2022 [cited 2023 July 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias/overview/
  2. MayoClinic. Specific phobias [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2023 [cited 2023 July 10]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/specific-phobias/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355162
  3. Wolitzky-Taylor KB, Horowitz JD, Powers MB, Telch MJ. Psychological approaches in the treatment of specific phobias: A meta-analysis. Clin. Psych. Rev. 2008 Jul 1;28(6):1021-37.
  4. Eaton WW, Bienvenu OJ, Miloyan B. Specific phobias. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018 Aug 1;5(8):678-86.Sars D, van Minnen A. On the use of exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorders: a survey among cognitive behavioural therapists in the Netherlands. BMC Psychol.. 2015 Dec;3:1-0.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Susana Nuevo Bonastre

Bachelor of Pharmacology – BSc, University of Manchester

Susana is a pharmacologist with strong organizational and communication skills and a special interest in medical writing. For her final year at the University of Manchester, she did a project in science communication, for which she developed an e-learning resource to increase awareness of Major Depressive Disorder. Susana is currently finishing a taught Master’s in neuroscience and psychology of mental health at King’s College. Susana has experience as a mentor and as a medical writer at Klarity Health and, even though she is specially interested in mental health and psychopharmacology, she has also written articles related to nutrition and different diseases.

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