What is emetophobia? Emetophobia is the phobia of vomiting. I was diagnosed with severe emetophobia at just 8 years old – so yeah, I have a lot of experience with this often debilitating phobia. Although there is SO much more information about emetophobia now than there used to be (there’s even a Buzzfeed article on it! Like, what!), it is still a relatively unknown disorder.
Since I talk about my experience with emetophobia so often on my blog, I thought I would create a “what is emetophobia” resource page in case any of my new readers don’t really know what I’m talking about.
So, What Is Emetophobia Anyway?
Emetophobia is the phobia of vomiting. Like all phobias, it is not just a fear of something. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Psychology) defines a phobia as: “An extreme, irrational fear of a specific object or situation.”
That means a simple aversion to vomit, not enjoying the feeling of vomiting (I mean, who enjoys vomiting?), or feeling uncomfortable when someone vomits near you is not emetophobia. Emetophobia is a phobia, and therefore, it is an extreme and irrational fear.
How Do You Develop Emetophobia?
Like all phobias, people often develop emetophobia after a traumatic experience. When I was 8 years old, I caught the stomach flu twice in a row. It was not one of those 24-hour bugs. Both times, my stomach flu lasted for almost a week. After this experience, I immediately developed an extreme, irrational fear of vomiting. My emetophobia was born.
However, phobias can also develop randomly and without any conscious trigger. Unfortunately, for some, there is no defining moment that explains why they feel the way they do. Fortunately, there are therapy techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and other treatments that can work for emetophobes.
Do I Have Emetophobia: Common Symptoms
The most common symptom of emetophobia is extreme distress (think: panic attack) when you feel like you may vomit, you see others vomit, you talk about vomiting, or a combination of those and/or more. Though these are main symptoms, it is not the only symptom.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America website has a great article on emetophobia facts and information. It lists off many symptoms and “protective behaviours” that emetophobes may exhibit when trying to avoid triggering their phobia.
These Protective Behaviours include:
- Avoiding certain foods, restaurants, and alcohol
- Avoiding trying new foods, restaurants, or alcohol
- Avoiding talking about vomiting, avoiding using words such as ‘vomit’ or ‘barf’
- Overcooking food
- Excessively checking food
- Avoiding travel, social activities, car rides, etc. for fear that you or someone else may vomit
- Avoiding other people who may be sick
- And More – See the full list from adaa.org
Emetophobia-Related Eating Disorder
As far as I know, the emetophobia-related eating disorder does not have a name. Though many resources say that emetophobia causes cibophobia (the fear of food), because of the reason behind that fear of food, I personally think it should have a separate name. Therefore, I will just call it ERED. It is also important to note that not all emetophobes develop ERED.
Some emetophobes actually panic significantly more if others are sick, rather than themselves. For me, I don’t personally care too much if other people are sick, especially if it’s not contagious (e.g. someone with morning sickness or motion sickness). Those who worry more about others are less likely to develop ERED.
Emetophobia can vary from person to person, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Some emetophobes, like myself, do develop the related eating disorder. Symptom wise, it is similar to anorexia – severe weight loss, not eating or eating just enough to survive, avoiding certain foods, severe anxiety around meal times, etc.
However, an emetophobe avoids eating due to a fear that food will make them sick, rather than a worry about body image.
What Is Having Emetophobia Like?
Well, having emetophobia is like the very worst thing I have ever experienced, and I am not exaggerating. I have dealt with mental health disorders: depression, panic disorder, GAD, a phobia of allergic reactions, a phobia of death, severe health anxiety, and more. Emetophobia is by far the worst. Keep in mind, this is my experience with emetophobia – like I said, it can vary from person to person.
For me, the worst part is how all-consuming it is. The ADAA perfectly sums up what my nearly lifelong struggle with emetophobia has been:
“People who suffer with this phobia often experience significant social and occupational impairment, going to great lengths to make sure they don’t vomit (similar to someone who fears elevators and walks up 10 flights of stairs).
Kids refuse to go to school or visit a friend’s house, and adults miss work and stop eating at restaurants. Much of life is avoided all due to a fear of vomiting. This means missing out on much of life and a great deal of worrying and strategic planning — all to avoid something uncomfortable that seldom happens.”
Emetophobia is a scary and difficult phobia to manage. For almost 20 years, I have struggled to overcome it, and I’m still not fully there yet. However, I can proudly say although as long as I have emtephobia I will also have ERED, I am well into my recovery and (mostly) eat normally now.
If you or someone you know is suffering from emetophobia, there are now lots of resources available for you to get more information and seek help. See below for some of these useful resources!
- The Anxiety & Depression Association Of America – Fear of Vomiting, Or Emetophobia
- VeryWellMind – Emetophobia Causes and Treatment
- Emetophobia Help – Fact Sheet
- Psychology Today – Overcoming Emetophobia, a.k.a. The Fear of Throwing Up
If you are looking for support from someone who understands what living with emetophobia is like, or would like a platform to share your experience, feel free to send me an e-mail and I would love to chat!