Unfamiliar Foods and Overcoming New Food Phobia
Written by: Bianca Villanueva – BS (Psychology)
Last updated date : December 21, 2022
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Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Being able to eat your favorite food can lift your mood. Food gives you energy to work all day. It also keeps your immune system healthy so that it can protect you from disease. There’s something about food that raises spirits. However, when food is bad, it can also bring down our mood drastically. So, what about unfamiliar foods? Is it possible to have new food phobia?
It may sound strange, but there are instances when people avoid eating new food. This is more than just being a picky eater. Being a picky eater means that there are certain foods you like and don’t like. Some people with new food phobia stick to the foods they already know. After all, humans have survived a long time by of things they could and couldn’t eat. So what makes new food phobia such a problem?
What is New Food Phobia? Why Can’t I Eat Unfamiliar Foods?
It’s one thing to avoid eating unfamiliar foods. Many of us are hesitant in trying new things because we might not like it. That’s normal. We’ve survived for years but distinguishing what’s edible and what isn’t. So when foods are too new or different from what we usually eat, of course we’d think twice! However, being able to try new things can lead us to great experiences. So what makes it a phobia?
A phobia is a known as having a deep yet irrational fear. That means that the means we take to avoid our fears are out of proportion of how threatening they actually are. Sometimes the new food is a new cuisine that you haven’t tried, yet you feel averse to it, to the point of anxiety. This anxiety can even cause you to feel sick from eating unfamiliar foods. So, you’d naturally try to avoid any situation that involves unfamiliar foods.
New food phobia is more common in kids and adults. That’s because kids are known to be more picky eaters. However, picky eaters will still eat when they’re hungry. Kids with new foodphobia won’t eat, even if they’re starving. That’s why the disorder has to be recognized as early as possible.
What are the Signs and Symptoms
People who fear unfamiliar foods can show symptoms in different ways. However, as a phobia, there are particular symptoms in reaction to unfamiliar foods you need to watch out for:
- Sweating or shaking
- Chest pain or tightness
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
These are common reactions to phobias, and new food phobia is no exception. It can seem odd for some to be so scared of food, but it is possible. If you or someone you care about reacts to unfamiliar foods this way, it might be a sign to get professional help.
What Causes New Food Phobia?
Fear can comes from different things. Like most psychological problems, it can be caused by a variety of factors. It’s important to know these causes to avoid its development. This is especially since they’re coming among children.
Lack of variety of food
When you grow up only knowing a few food, most other food will feel unfamiliar. This is the same way when parents don’t feel their kids vegetables and they refuse to eat them in the future. The greater the diet restrictions, the more hesitant kids become when eating unfamiliar foods. This is why patients need to ensure their kids have a broad choice of food. While they may have favorite foods, they still need to eat balanced meals to grow well. Vitamins, essential minerals, and fiber are among the nutrients that kids are the most reluctant to try. This is even though they have never tried it before. So, parents need to make sure their kids understand the importance of a balanced meal.
Parent’s eating habits
Some studies find that when parents have fears towards a certain food, their kids will as well. For example, when parents avoid eating vegetables, you can expect kids to act the same way. That’s because parents are the most social interaction kids have on a daily basis. Their greatest social models and influences are their parents. So, when a parent avoids something, a child might interpret it as something dangerous. Eventually, they subconsciously learn that one type of food is ‘bad’. So even when they know it’s harmless, they still avoid that type of food.
Busy lifestyles in the household
Parents who are too busy, don’t have much time to eat. As a result, they resort to easy-to-cook food which usually lack important nutrients. So, they already lack a good variety of foods. Another disadvantage is that kids will not be able to help with making meals. Studies have shown that kids are more willing to eat food they make themselves. It gives them a positive experience with food they make. They can see the full process of how to make it and what it’s made of. This decreases any uncertainty and fears that arise from unfamiliar foods. Having kids help with food prep can go a long way, but watch for their safety.
Bad food presentation
This can make it sound like kids care about how their food looks. However, you need to remember that they’re very picky eaters. The way food looks, feels, and tastes can affect their attitude towards it. That’s difficult to know especially since different people have different preferences. If a food looks too gooey or feels too tough, they might be too hesitant to eat it. Plus, it’s not just about food presentation. Even the environment where kids eat matters. If dinner time is awkward or filled with arguments, kids will be more hesitant to eat. They start associating food or a type of food with the eating in an environment that upsets them.
Being forced to eat
For kids who are picky eaters, parents might force them to eat. While food is essential for them to grow, parents should avoid treating their kids negatively while eating. The pressure to eat food will only make them feel sick when they don’t want to eat. Children need to eat on a table where they’re treated well, and not scolded for food they don’t want to eat. Simply having good company is enough to make people eat better. In fact, studies have shown that eating with others makes food taste better.
Frequent upset stomach
Having upset stomach due to allergies, anxiety, or acid reflux can ruin the whole dining experience. Upset stomachs are not fun, and they never will be. It involves a lot of pain and discomfort. As such, when it happens with particular food, people will find it hard to not avoid them. This is because the experience of eating it is associated with feelings of nausea and anxiety. Even food wasn’t the actual cause, just eating something then vomiting can make someone averse to eating it.
New food phobia in adults
Many of these cause are related to kids who have new food phobia. So what makes it different for adults? There are actually a few differences. While it’s true that your childhood can influence your adult behavior, there are other things we need to consider. For one, diet trends are popular in adults, especially young adults. Of course, dieting is normal. However, if the idea of high-calorie foods touching your plate makes you panic, that’s a problem. This is common among people who are vegan, on gluten-free diets, and low fat diets.
Another reason would be that some adults who are “picky” tend to be more sensitive to food texture and tastes. For many people, texture and taste can make or break their food preferences. Food preferences are normal, but sometimes it can be damaging to an extent. When you start avoiding a group of foods like vegetables or meat, which are both important for our health, that can lead to malnutrition. While adults may not need to grow the way kids do, they still need strong immune systems which is supported by a healthy diet.
Finally, some say that body image concerns play a role in fear of unfamiliar foods. People focus on their body shape avoid foods that make them feel fat. Sometimes these foods aren’t even that fattening in small portions. However, because they’re overly focused on their body image, even eating fattening foods can make them anxious.
Before we move on to how we can fix this problem, what are some common food fears? Common food fears, apart from unfamiliar foods People with new food phobia can avoid any type of food. However, there are some food fears that are more common than others. Some examples are:
- Food that spoils. This includes milk, meat, fruits, and anything with a visible expiration date. Many people believe that spoiled food will make you ill when you eat them. It’s true that food that is clearly spoiled (smelly, discolored, or mushy) will make you sick. However, not all foods are inedible past their expiration. In fact, when stored well, you can eat some foods a long time past their expiration date.
- Undercooked food. It’s true that many infections are passed through raw food. Although, because of this, many people tend to overcook or burn their food. This must be avoided. Cooking some foods in high temperatures can increase the risk of cancer.
- Prepared food. Many people with food fears prefer to make their own food. It removes a lot of uncertainty about how their food is made. It also increases their appetite for that certain food. However, it can be bad when you don’t trust any food made for you, even by someone close to you.
How to Overcome Fear of Unfamiliar Foods
What happens if I don’t fix it?
Unfamiliar foods can be scary to try. In fact, anything new can cause some form of anxiety. Again, it’s a problem when it affects the people you’re with. Avoiding particular foods can lead to shame. This shame can lead to you hiding your phobia from others. In turn, many people with new food phobia tend to avoid eating with others altogether. While they don’t really want to be alone, they believe avoiding people is easier than being judged.
Malnutrition might happen as well. This is when your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. This can actually make you sick more often. When you’re sick, you might also experience upset stomach. This can make you vomit out the food you ate, making you mistake it as the fault of something you ate. Instead, it’s because of your lowered immune system. Malnutrition can also make it harder to do your day-to-day activities. You need nutrients to have the energy to work and even feel good.
So what can I do when faced with unfamiliar food?
There are many things you can do when introduced to unfamiliar food. It can seem scary and hard to do at first. Over time, you’ll learn to face your fears and eat healthy. Here are some things you can do:
Take it slow
Like many phobias, you can’t expect it to be gone overnight. Even if you manage to eat something new. This is especially true with kids. You need to slowly introduce food to them. Let them interact and play with their food a bit. Maybe you can even eat the food yourself to show that it’s not dangerous. Humans rely on their senses a lot so some positive stimulus will encourage picky eaters to stop fearing the food.
Don’t force it
Force feeding anyone will cause some form of trauma. Take it easy. Eating should be an enjoyable experience for kids and adults. Encouragement and support can go a long way with people facing their fears. Punishing them will only make them want to give up or be more stubborn.
Do it when you’re in a good mood or good company
You don’t have to go through something stressful while you’re sad or angry. You also don’t have to go through it alone. When you’re happy and with supportive friends and relatives, you’ll be a lot more willing to try new things. It’s important to do this when you feel happier and ready. It’s all about timing it right and setting the scene well. You might even find it fun this way.
Cook the food yourself
Making the food yourself can help with a lot of certainty. You’ll know how it’s made, and what it’s made of. Some even say that food tastes better when you make it yourself. Even for kids, you can involve them in preparing the meals (as long as it’s safe). This can be even better when you make it with friends and relatives. Combining a positive experience to a fear you’re trying to overcome can make the process easier.