Deipnophobia: Food and Eating Anxiety in Public

Table in a restaurant

Experiencing anxiety over eating in public is called Deipnophobia. It is not something solely experienced by those with eating disorders.

Our culture has vilified eating and nourishment to the point that many no longer see it as an enjoyable way of taking care of the body but as a necessary evil to staying alive. As such, eating in public can bring about feelings of insecurity, discomfort, and anxiety that impact one’s self-view, relationship with food and hunger, and relationships.

Understanding Food & Eating Anxiety

Fear of eating in public is often shamed as a “fake” disorder. However, it is experienced by enough people that there is a word for it – deipnophobia. Deipnophobia is best understood as either an anxiety disorder or a phobia depending on its presentation.

As a multi-diagnosis treatment facility, the CAST Centers specifies, “If the situation is feared because of negative evaluation by others, it would be considered a Social Anxiety Disorder. Otherwise, deipnophobia would be related to a Specific Phobia [1].” For those that struggle with fear of eating in public, it often presents as “avoiding the situation, fearfulness of being criticized, embarrassment, racing heart, sweating, nausea, and feeling trapped [1].”

What Are You Afraid Of?

For many that experience anxiety around eating in public, the fear may not necessarily be the food itself. Fear of eating in public is also often connected with anxiety over how others will view one’s eating.

Those in eating disorder treatment or recovery may be anxious that their loved ones will ask questions related to their eating, that they will be pressured to eat, or that they will be judged for how they are engaging in eating disorder, or recovery-focused, behaviors. Individuals living in larger bodies experience unique stressors with eating in public.

man stressed about DeipnophobiaMany of those living in larger bodies have to face societal discrimination in even entering a restaurant since many buildings, tables, seats, and restrooms are unfortunately not built with their bodies in mind. Additionally, those living in larger bodies report fear that others will judge their eating habits in relation to their weight, which interferes with their ability to choose what to order and how they will eat more freely.

Eating in public can also result in a new and frightening level of anxiety due to COVID-19, as many may not have engaged in any public activities for many months. This can make the existence of others in their space or serving them food anxiety-provoking.

Solutions for Deipnophobia

If you are someone that becomes anxious when eating in public, there is hope that this does not need to lead to social isolation. As this fear often manifests as an anxiety disorder, it is also helpful to treat it as such.

Consider working with a professional to explore what fears lie behind your anxiety and how you can reframe your thoughts and utilize effective coping skills to alter and assuage those fears. Additionally, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself with exposure to outdoor dining slowly by possibly getting something to-go first, ordering a snack or drink from a cafe, or only ordering an appetizer to begin.

It is not necessary to push yourself into going all-out and having dinner with a large group of people to combat this anxiety. Consider small steps that you would be comfortable challenging as you lead up to feeling more comfortable and free eating in a public space.


Resources

[1] Unknown (2021). What is deipnophobia? CAST Centers. Retrieved on 02/20/2021 from https://www.castcenters.com/blog/what-is-deipnophobia.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published February 24, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 24, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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