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Eating Disorders & Phobias

Eating Disorders may or may not be present in a person with phobias, and phobias may or may not be present in a person with an Eating Disorder.

Intense Fear.... shaking.... can't breath.... can't move.... sweating.... panic.... voices of self-defeat...

This describes just some of the symptoms one can feel confronted with the object, event or emotion that creates the phobia for an individual. A phobia is defined as an intense or unrealistic fear, and when confronted with that fear it can cause panic attacks, pounding heartbeat, feelings of nausea, sweaty palms, and rapid breathing.

It is important to keep in mind that there may be common traits amongst some Phobias and Eating Disorders, but that it IS NOT a generalized rule that all people with an Eating Disorder suffer from a Phobia, or that all Phobia victims suffer from an Eating Disorder.

There are three types of phobias:

Agoraphobia: This is the fear of leaving a safe place, such as home -- It is interesting to point out that a number of people suffering with Eating Disorders can display symptoms of Agoraphobia. It isn't uncommon for those with Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Overeating to have an intense fear of eating in public under a watchful eye of others, and often time an isolationistic type of behavior can sets in, where they will increasingly avoid such situations where they must leave the "safety" of home.

Social Phobias: Fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social settings. -- In a number of ways, people suffering with Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating can also possess some level of social phobia. Fear of being caught in what they perceive as humiliating or embarrassing behaviors such as eating in public, purchasing groceries, diet-pills or laxatives, or being caught purging are good examples of how this can manifest into a social phobia. Because of the inherent presence of a low self-esteem, there can also be intense fears of being judged by others as fat, ugly, stupid, crazy or abnormal. These types of fears can be phobic in-and-of-themselves, or can contribute back to the tendency for Agoraphobic type behaviors (seeking isolation in the safety of their home). It is important to note that Eating Disorders may lead to a type of social phobia, or a social phobia can lead to disordered eating, but this is NOT a generalized rule for sufferers of either.

[July 27th, 1999] JCP reports on a new study of the drug Neurontin (gabapentin capsules), showing that the drug decreased the symptoms of social phobia by 31%, compared to a 14% reduction for the placebo.

The following passages from "Fighting Phobias - The Things That Go Bump In The Mind" by FDA writer, Lynne L. Hall are interesting to take into consideration when thinking about Eating Disorders...

"People suffering from social phobia fear the scrutiny of others. They tend to be highly sensitive to criticism, and often interpret the actions of others in social gatherings as an attempt to humiliate them. They are afraid to enter into conversations for fear of saying something foolish, and may agonize for hours or days later over things they did say."

"Many people with social phobia are so sensitive to the scrutiny of others that they avoid eating or drinking in public, using public restrooms, or signing a check in the presence of another. Social phobia may often be associated with depression or alcohol abuse."

"Negative social experiences, such as being rejected by peers or suffering some type of embarrassment in public, and poor social skills also seem to be factors, and social phobia may be related to low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, and feelings of inferiority."

Specific Phobias: This is the fear of an object of situation, and in relation to an Eating Disorder could be as specific as food or eating itself. What is particularly interesting in looking into specific phobias with food or eating, is that the phobia itself may precipitate the Eating Disorder, or vice versa. For example, victims of sexual abuse are often phobic about specific items that remind them of their abuser (such as if the person often gave them candy or cookies following the abuse); people that have had an experience in which they were choked (in abuse) or choking (such as with drowning or on food itself) may develop a phobia of choking, which would then be cause of avoiding food; and as recently noted by an individual who wrote to me, someone suffering a childhood illness which prevented "normal" eating patterns could develop a phobia for eating foods outside that "safe" realm of what they had to eat during the onset of the illness.

Phobia Definitions
from The Phobia List
compiled and maintained by Fredd Culbertson.

Phagophobia - Fear of swallowing or of eating.

Sitophobia or Sitiophobia - Fear of food or eating. (also, Cibophobia)

Phobias or Phobic disorders are considered to be part of the group of anxiety disorders, which includes panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, all of which are also not-so-uncommon to find amongst sufferers of Eating Disorders. In looking at emotional/psychological disorders and disturbances as a whole, it would be fairly easy to say that regardless of the physical manifestations of any given disorder, they all share one common goal to move closer to recovery... finding and facing the underlying issue(s) that caused the initial onset of the behavior and/or emotions.

the Anxiety Panic internet resource

National Mental Health Association
(1-800) 969-6642
1021 Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-2971

Freedom From Fear, Inc.
(718) 351-1717
308 Seaview Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10305

Phobics Anonymous
(619) 322-2673
P.O. Box 1180
Palm Springs, CA 92263

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
(1-800) 950-6264
200 Glebe Road
Suite 1015
Arlington, VA 22203-3754

Anxiety Disorders Association of America
(301) 231-9350
6000 Executive Boulevard
Suite 513
Rockville, MD 20852


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