Last Updated December 20th, 2021
Overview of sitophobia
Dietary disorders may arise mainly from alterations in appetite which are in most cases induced by environmental or other stress factors. These inevitably lead to eating disorders which are collectively termed as “sitophobia”. In the recent years, a number of clinical complications have been observed in people having serious eating disorder syndromes. The lack of proper knowledge related to sitophobia has led to poor diagnosis and treatment in many cases.
The European Eating Disorders Review shows that nearly 6% of the obese population in a country complain of eating disorders. Several extrinsic and intrinsic factors contribute to these syndromes. Doctors believe that controlling these factors can help regulate these diseases to a considerable extent.
What is sitophobia?
The word “sitophobia” owes its origin to two Greek roots words- “sito” meaning food and “phobia” which means fear. Therefore sitophobia translates to “a fear of food”. It is a common name for a group of complex diseases where a person reduces food consumption in a progressive manner and eventually stops eating completely or ends up eating meager quantities of food.
These people tend to avoid food during the normal meal hours. Owing to two main biological triggers namely- sleep and hunger, these people develop a strong repulsion towards food. Any disturbance in the homeostatic system and the circadian rhythm may aggravate the symptoms. In some cases, these people develop maladaptive eating patterns like avoiding food at the normal hours and eating is massive quantities at odd hours of the day.
What factors induce sitophobia?
Sitophobia is triggered by a number of biological, environmental, dietary and psychological factors. These are listed below-
- Depression over a long period of time
- Physical or emotional stress (trauma)
- Low self-esteem (food acts as a mood lifter for these people)
- Unusual emotional response in some people
- Imbalance in dopamine and serotonin levels
- 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 4 receptor gene)
- Starvation for a long period of time
- Disruption of the internal body clock (affects dietary pattern)
- Anxiety or nervousness (food acts as a pacifier)
- A trend of eating disorders in the family
What are the main signs of sitophobia?
The Sitophobic patients tends to exhibit four different types of manifestations-
- Reduced eating
- Complete lack of eating
- Eating at odd hours
- Sudden feelings of hunger
The identifiable signs of sitophobia are given below-
- Having food at odd hours
- A tendency to have very small quantities of food during a normal meal
- Tendency to have food shortly after a meal
- An intense urge to have massive quantities of food even if the stomach is full (rare)
- Feeling hungry even after a full meal
- An intense desire to have food rich in carbohydrate, starch and sugar, while completely avoiding normal 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 vomit the ingested food, more often as a compensatory mechanism of overeating
- An unusual obsession over body image and what other people are saying about their external appearance
What are the different types of sitophobia?
Sitophobia is mainly manifested in two forms- Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. These will be discussed in separate sections.
It is a type of sitophobia in which the patient shows a marked avoidance of food and has an unexplained fear of gaining weight. These people obsess over their body image and usually develop unrealistic body image perceptions. They have a strong desire to have a stick-thin body and follow an abnormal eating pattern to achieve the same.
What are the main causes of Anorexia Nervosa?
The main causes of Anorexia Nervosa are as follows-
- Genetics (a trend in the family)
- Obstetric complications (prenatal and postnatal)
- Neuroendocrine dysregulation
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Psychological disturbances
What are the main symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia Nervosa presents with the following symptoms-
- A very low body mass index
- Scaly and dry skin
- Brittle hair
- Abdominal distension
- A constant feeling of being overweight
- A rapid and steady weight loss
- Tendency to purge the consumed food through defecation or vomiting
- A tendency to count calories very often
- Reduced or increased heart rate
- Depression, irritability and mood swings
- Self-abrasive behaviour and suicidal tendencies
Bulimia nervosa is a psychological illness characterized by episodes of overeating followed by compensatory activities. Compensatory activities denote the different means of ejecting the food such as vomiting and defecation.
Bulimia nervosa has the following features-
- Binge eating: The patients exhibit episodes of binge eating where they consume huge quantities of food uncontrollably and within very short intervals.
- Compensatory behavior: After an episode of binge eating, the patients tend to get rid of the consumed food by vomiting, using laxatives and diuretics.
- Body shape obsession: The patients grow a complex regarding their body shape. This reduces their confidence and self-worth.
Following are the categories of bulimia nervosa-
- Purging type: In this type, the patients try to expel the ingested food via vomiting.
- Non-purging type: Here, the patients tend to compensate for overeating by rigorous physical exercise.
Diagnosis, treatment, & prevention
Doctors usually recommend the following diagnostic tests for the detection of sitophobia-
- CT scan of the brain (to check the levels of serotonin and dopamine)
- Blood test
- Urine test
Treatment of eating disorders such as sitophobia usually involves understanding the inherent psychological reason behind the onset of the symptoms. Psychological evaluation and treatment may employ one or more of these techniques – Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, In Vivo Exposure, and even meditation. Mild anti-anxiety drugs may also be prescribed to the patient.
Prevention of sitophobia involves fostering a positive home and school environment. Usually, eating disorders arise as a result of negative and suppressive environments during childhood and teenage years. Negative body image and low self-esteem are identified as the key reasons. Proper diet, exercise, and a supportive environment can help prevent the onset of such phobias.
- It is also known by the names cibophobia and sitiophobia.
- The name has been derived from the Greek words “Sitos” which refers to food or bread and “phobos” which means fear.
- Anorexia nervosa, a manifestation of sitophobia, is found more commonly among women than in men (9:1 ratio).
- There are certain cases of sitophobia where the patient is phobic of only one particular group or type of food such as dairy products.
- Physical or sexual abuse during formative years or association of death with food/ or a type of food can trigger sitophobia.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Rely completely on medications for treatment as most of these have several side-effects.
- You can opt for parallel forms of therapy such as counselling and psychotherapy to identify the real underlying issue behind the phobia.
- Address the underlying anxiety or depression to treat such eating disorders.
- Ignore other associated medical and psychiatric conditions that are associated with sitophobia. The symptoms of sitophobia are comorbid with other serious conditions such as OCD, alcoholism, ADHD, and even BDD (Body Dysmorphic disorder).
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