Some people are horrified to be seen eating. They are afraid of looking disgusting or being judged by what they eat. This severe anxiety eating in front of others is called deipnophobia. It can be crippling to the point where people suffering from it develop eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
Why is This Such a Big Deal?
Being afraid to eat in front of others can be hard for people to understand or sympathize with. One of the most common fears is of speaking in public. Think of the terror of having to make a speech or big presentation. People with deipnophobia are just as scared, only of having others see them eat rather than make a fool of themselves by making a speech.
This means a person suffers from isolation. Think of all the occasions where eating in public occurs. A person with a fear of eating in front of others can no longer
- Go to any family gathering
- Go to any parties or get-togethers with friends
- Avoid business meetings where food is eaten
People afraid to eat in public start avoiding any public place where food is eaten in order to avoid painful anxiety. This avoiding the fear reinforces the behavior of not being in any situation where they might get caught eating in public. They become more and more isolated.
Just why some people develop deipnophobia and others don’t is unknown. The main fear is of being rejected by other people based on what they eat and how they look while eating. Many people suffering from deipnophibia may have other mental health issues such as social anxiety, or fear of being with other people.
Those suffering from an anxiety of eating in front of others may have these kinds of thoughts that help reinforce their fears:
- “I can’t eat food or I’ll make a mess and will disgust others.”
- “I can’t eat spicy food because I’ll get flushed or choke and look like a fool.”
- “I might spill this food or drink and it will stain.”
- “I can’t eat anything because it has too many calories and people will think I’m a pig.”
- “If I eat this, I might vomit or suddenly have explosive diarrhea and will be disgusting.”
The bad news about an anxiety of eating in front of others is that there is no cure. The good news is that it can be treated. This is usually done with a combination of talk therapy and prescription medications that treat depression and anxiety. Many people have also been helped by joining support groups for food disorders.
Here are some tips on helping to manage a fear of eating in public.
Take deep breaths. Anxiety makes you take shallow breaths, which makes you breathless and can cause pain in the chest. Focus more on breathing normally than the food.
Drink water instead. This way you are being polite by accepting a drink in social situations. Water cannot stain your clothes, furniture or rugs, should you accidentally drop the water.
Take frequent bathroom breaks. This way you can socialize with friends or attend business meetings but still have a chance to regroup.
Practice with a trusted friend or family member. Eat one small piece of food or a small plate of food with one trusted loved one. This practice helps reinforce the notion that the worst won’t happen should you make a mess or be caught eating high-calorie food.
Realize you are not alone. There are many in-person and online support groups for people with social anxiety, food disorders or both. Share your story with them and listen to their stories. This may help you to relax overall and make you less isolated. Isolation reinforces phobias and anxieties of all kinds.
The Least You Need to Know
Anxiety about eating in front of others can be crippling. Its causes are unknown. If left untreated, it gets worse over time. Although it can’t be cured, it can be treated successfully.