Obesophobia or Pocrescophobia, from the Greek phobia, meaning fear or morbid fear and obeso, meaning fat, is a persistent and abnormal fear of gaining weight, especially in cultures that value being thin. This phobia was listed as a rare disease by the Office of Rare Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

Certain individuals suffering from this phobia originally start with a desire to lose weight which turns into a compulsive desire to avoid all of the things that could result in weight gain. The more these things are averted, the more they are feared. A habit of aversion can lead to a sense of failure if weight is gained. Gaining weight is seen as a failure to those that suffer from Obesophobia and therefore, they experience an abnormal fear towards anything that will cause them to fail. Obesophobia can also be known as weight phobia, a term created by Arthur H. Crisp regarding perceptions that sufferers of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that is characterized by an obsessive fear of gaining weight, might have regarding weight gain. Some psychologists have stated that a subject suffering from weight phobia is a necessary precursor for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa.

The etiology is much like that of most phobias in general, namely environmental, evolutionary, and neurobiological. Phobias come about from a combination of internal predispositions and/or external events such as trauma and can normally be traced back to an early age. Specifically, obesophobia is associated with an obsession with weight loss. It can be triggered by negative media perceptions, children comparing themselves to other “popular and skinny” kids, parents who struggle with weight or die of complications from weight, and parents conveying to their children a negative attitude towards weight.

The media plays a huge role in people’s opinions of what a perfect person is to look like. Media portrayals of celebrities, models, and athletes with “perfect” bodies gives a false image of what bodies are supposed to look like. The media has also put a major emphasis on calorie counting, weight watching, and dieting, causing many women (and men) to become obsessed with being thin, watching their weight, and dieting.

Within the United States, our society is set on the notion that “thin is in” and that being fat is a cultural liability. Those who suffer from obesity problems are then discriminated against in accessing education, social networks, economic opportunity, and other forms of capital. Documentaries such as ‘Super Size Me’ portray a grotesque picture of what our society values as far as fat is concerned and the need for change that is associated with it.

People who struggle from this phobia often place restrictions on aspects of their every day lives. This can include things such as going to school, changing jobs, buying stylish clothing, enjoying sexual relationships, dating, and sometimes even seeking medical care. They also suffer from things such as an obsession with weight and weight loss techniques, feeling they always eat too much, denying hunger, only seeing themselves as fat and panic over food particularly if they believe that they have eaten too much. Some of these symptoms can happen as a result in believing that you can function well from a minimum amount of calories, that there is an ideal weight for each height, and that you can control your distribution of fat. They also believe that if you eat and enjoy fat others will view you as disgusting and they feel that something is wrong with you. People that suffer from this phobia might restrict their fat intake in their diet as well. This person might suffer from malnutrition from not getting enough fat within their diet. They also might suffer from things such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.

The mental symptoms regarding this phobia include obsessive thoughts, corrupt mental images of weight gain, difficulty thinking about anything other than the fear, and knowledge of fears being unreasonable or exaggerated but feeling powerless to control them.

Some emotional symptoms include terror, inability to function normally, uncontrollable anxiety, anticipatory anxiety, elevated levels of anger, fear, hurt, sadness, and guilt.

Some of the physical symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness or tingling, shortness of breath, palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate, chest pain or discomfort, trembling or shaking, dry mouth, nausea, feeling of choking, sweating, and hot/cold flashes.

Ways to treat this phobia is through intervention and therapy treatments dealing with anxiety and phobias. It is occasionally difficult to make one do that since most anorexics and others who suffer from weight disorders do not think that they have a problem. Some therapy or intervention might be useful as well as medications.

Image Credit: Thinkstock