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Sitophobia (the Fear of Food) – Types, Causes, Signs and Treatment

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Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

Dietary disorders may stem primarily from alterations in a person’s appetite, which, in a lot of cases, is induced by environmental factors or other stress factors.

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The changes inevitably trigger eating disorders, which are collectively called “sitophobia.” Checkout “Sitophilia

In recent years, several clinical complications have been recorded in people who have severe eating disorder syndromes. Because of a lack of proper knowledge when it comes to sitophobia, there have been poor diagnosis and treatment in several cases.

The European Eating Disorders Review revealed that almost 6% of the obese population in every country complain of one eating disorder or another. Several extrinsic and intrinsic factors may contribute to the syndromes.

Doctors think that controlling these factors will help to regulate these eating disorders or diseases to a large extent.

What is sitophobia?

The word “sitophobia” derives from two Greek root words- “sito,” which means food and “phobia,” which represents fear. Therefore sitophobia means to “a be afraid of food.”

It is a ubiquitous name used for classifying a group of complex diseases where an individual progressively reduces food consumption and eventually avoids eating totally or ends up eating minimal quantities of food.

The people with sitophobia tend to avoid eating during the regular meal hours. Because of two primary biological triggers, which are hunger and sleep, these people gradually have a strong repulsion towards snacks and food.

Any disturbance in the circadian rhythm and the homeostatic system may aggravate the symptoms. In many cases, these people have maladaptive eating patterns, such as avoiding food at normal or regular hours and eating in high quantities during odd hours of the day.

What are the factors that induce a sitophobia?

Sitophobia can be triggered by several environmental, biological, psychological, and dietary factors. These factors are listed below-

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  • Loneliness
  • The unusual emotional response in some people
  • Depression over a long time
  • Physical or emotional stress (trauma)
  • Imbalance in dopamine and serotonin levels
  • Low self-esteem (food acts as a mood lifter for these people)
  • Functional abnormalities of the Ventromedial nuclei (cause people to eat more)
  • Malfunctioning of the Lateral Hypothalamus (cause people to eat less or not eat at all)
  • Genetic defects (mutations in the melanocortin four receptor gene)
  • Starvation for a long time
  • A trend of eating disorders in the family
  • Disruption of the internal body clock (affects dietary pattern)
  • Anxiety or nervousness (food acts as a pacifier)

What are the most obvious signs of sitophobia?

The patients with Sitophobia tends to exhibit four varying types of manifestations-

  • Reduced eating
  • Complete lack of eating
  • Eating at odd hours
  • Sudden feelings of hunger

Below are the most identifiable signs of sitophobia-

Eating food at odd hours

  • The tendency to eat more food shortly after a meal
  • A tendency to eat minimal quantities of food in a healthy meal
  • An intense want to eat massive quantities of food even when the stomach is obviously full (rare)
  • Feeling hungry even after a full meal
  • An intense desire to have food rich in carbohydrate, starch, and sugar, while altogether avoiding typical food
  • A complex about one’s body weight, size, and shape
  • Abnormal weight loss or gain
  • A very poor or an abnormally high appetite
  • Feeling of guilt or shame while having food
  • Starving oneself more often
  • A tendency to throw up the ingested food, more often as an additional mechanism of overeating
  • An unusual obsession over the perfect body image and what other people are saying or will say about their external appearance

What are the different types of sitophobia?

Sitophobia

Sitophobia is mainly exhibited in two forms- Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

It is one of the two types of sitophobia in which the patient exhibits a marked avoidance of food and even habits an unexplained fear of weight gain. These people are obsessing over their body image and will usually get an unrealistic perception of their body image.

These people have a strong desire to achieve a stick-thin body, and they follow an abnormal eating pattern to get what they want.

What are the leading causes of Anorexia Nervosa?

The following are the leading causes of Anorexia Nervosa-

  • Genetics (a trend in the family)
  • Neuroendocrine dysregulation
  • Obstetric complications (prenatal and postnatal)
  • Psychological disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal diseases

What are the most apparent symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa presents with the symptoms below

  • Scaly and dry skin
  • A very low body mass index
  • Brittle hair
  • A constant feeling of being overweight
  • Abdominal distension
  • A rapid and steady weight loss
  • A tendency to purge the food consumed through vomiting or defecation
  • A propensity to often count calories
  • Reduced or increased heart rate
  • Depression, irritability, and mood swings
  • Self-abrasive behavior and suicidal tendencies

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is the second type of sitophobia. It is a psychological illness that is characterized by episodes of overeating accompanied by compensatory activities. The compensatory activities are the various means of ejecting food, such as defecation and vomiting.

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Bulimia nervosa come with the following features-

Binge eating: The patients have episodes of binge eating where they uncontrollably finish huge quantities of food within very short intervals.

Compensatory behavior: After each episode of binge eating, the person with sitophobia tends to get rid of the food consumed by the use of laxatives, diuretics, and vomiting.

Body shape obsession: The person with this sitophobia may have low self-esteem regarding the shape of their body. This reduces their overall confidence and self-worth.

Subtypes

The following are the different categories of bulimia nervosa-

The purging type: In this type of bulimia, the patients attempt to expel the food ingested via vomiting.

Non-purging type: In this type of sitophobia, the patients try to compensate for overeating by engaging in rigorous physical exercise.

Diagnosis, treatment, & prevention

Doctors will mostly recommend any of the following diagnostic tests for the diagnosis of sitophobia-

  • CT scan of the brain (the purpose of this is to check the levels of dopamine and serotonin)
  • Blood test
  • Urine test

The treatment of eating disorders like sitophobia usually entails getting a clear understanding of the inherent psychological reason behind a person’s display of symptoms.

So far, psychological evaluation and treatment have involved one or more of the following techniques – Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), In Vivo Exposure, Hypnotherapy, and even meditation. The patient may also require the use of mild anti-anxiety drugs.

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The prevention of sitophobia involves fostering a positive work, home, and school environment. Often, eating disorders come about as a result of exposure to harmful and suppressive environments during a person’s childhood and teenage years.

The key reasons that have been identified are negative body image and low self-esteem. With exercise, proper diet, and a supportive environment, it is possible to prevent the onset of such phobias.

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