While research is limited on the topic, this form of social anxiety is common enough to have its own name. Deipnophobia, or the fear of eating in front of others, can severely impact your quality of life, and it doesn’t only affect people with a history of eating disorders.
It can stem from a fear of being criticized or embarrassed, and symptoms of the phobia are consistent with anxiety symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, and a racing heart. Understanding the root cause behind deipnophobia can help those struggling with it to embrace a healthier relationship with food and live a full life.
What Triggers a Fear of Eating in Front of Others?
Research indicates that approximately one-third of the population will be affected by an anxiety disorder within their lifetime.1 Amazingly, science has shown that nutrition interventions rank high among the many treatments for anxiety disorders.2 But what happens when food contributes to our anxiety?
Many nutrition-related factors, including dining situations, foods, and dining companions, can trigger anxiety in the form of fear of eating in front of others.
Some people feel anxious in all situations that require them to eat or drink in front of other people. Others may feel apprehension when eating in specific situations, such as at dinner parties or prestigious banquets.
Some people with deipnophobia may experience heightened anxiety when certain foods are on the menu.
For many people with anxiety eating in public, the stress they feel is proportional to how difficult the food is to eat. Finger foods are one of the least threatening choices, while messy foods like soups, salads, and spaghetti are usually more anxiety-provoking.
Certain individuals with deipnophobia may feel anxiety eating in front of authority figures, while others may feel anxious eating in front of people they know well. Additionally, the dining area’s atmosphere can play a role in the fear some people may feel while eating. For example, a crowded restaurant may trigger underlying uneasiness for those who prefer to eat in a quiet room alone.
Understanding Anxiety Around Eating in Public
Anxiety has been known to develop from all kinds of places. The world is complex, and so are humans. However, the fear of eating in front of people often stems from a fear of being judged negatively. A 2015 study published in Body Image found that the fear of being judged can partially explain the connection between social anxiety and specific aspects of disordered eating.3
Those in eating disorder treatment, or recovery, may fear their dining companions will ask questions about their eating habits. They may even fear being pressured to eat a certain way.
Additionally, people living in larger bodies may be anxious about facing public discrimination related to their weight. For instance, most restaurants are not designed to comfortably host people living in larger bodies, so seating can feel extremely uncomfortable and trigger anxiety.
We are all beautifully unique, inside and out, so there’s no one-size-fits-all when treating or managing our anxieties. But there’s hope! If you experience anxiety while eating in public, you do not have to walk the path of deipnophobia treatment alone. Many people who share the same struggle have found support through medical nutrition therapy.
If the fear of eating in public hinders your quality of life, consider making an appointment with a qualified registered dietitian. Your dietitian can help you explore the fears contributing to your mealtime anxiety and help you build effective coping skills to tame those fears. If you have a history of eating disorders, consider working with a disordered eating dietitian who can address your individualized needs.
Nourish Can Help
The registered dietitians at Nourish are ready to support you as you work to heal your relationship with food, and be more present with the people you love. Get started today and embrace the memories unfolding before you without the dark cloud of deipnophobia looming.
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
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