Causes and Triggers: Food Phobia

Food phobia was first described in the early 1990’s by Bryan Lask, a pediatric psychiatrist in London, and Rachel Bryant-Waugh, a psychologist. With the exception of a single article, we are unaware of any discussions of food phobia in the American pediatric or psychiatric literature except under the general title “dysphagia” where it is likely to come to the attention pediatric gastroenterologists and otolaryngologists.  In the adult literature it is usually referred to as “choking phobia”. More recently Dr. Lask has chosen to refer to it again as “functional dysphagia,” although at Kartini Clinic we prefer the more intuitive “food phobia.” In our experience, pediatricians report they are often at a loss about what to do with these challenging patients.

Food phobia occurs in children, often very young children, who experience an episode of choking and/or vomiting that leads them subsequently to refuse all solid food.  In some cases they also refuse to swallow liquids, including their own saliva. This irrational and deeply held fear leads to weight loss and can lead rapidly to dehydration. Food phobia behavior also causes significant psychological distress for the child as well as for the parents.

We are grateful to Drs. Lask and Bryant-Waugh for calling attention to this condition. Click here for the full article. In the interests of full disclosure, Dr. Lask worked with Kartini Clinic staff on various research projects, for which he was not compensated by Kartini Clinic.

For more information about our food phobia treatment program, please call us at 971-319-6800 and speak to our intake coordinators. You may also submit an online request below. We answer all requests promptly.