A phobia is defined as a strong, persistent fear of particular situations, objects or activities. Deipnophobia, in particular, is one of the lesser-known phobias. In layman’s terms, it is the fear of dinner conversations. Deipnophobia in its most severe forms might cause an individual to avoid eating in social situations altogether.
Phobias are often triggered by traumatic experiences, usually those that occur at an early age. Deipnophobia, for instance, might start from something as simple as being told as children not to talk too much when having dinner. The phobia might also arise from an embarrassing experience, such as being ridiculed at the family dining table. Chemical make-up and genetics, however, can predispose an individual to developing a clinically diagnosable fear. Specific reasons as to how full-blown phobias come about differ between individuals, and are treated on a case-to-case basis.
An individual with deipnophobia is not necessarily shy, but he will take measures to avoid having a meal with anyone. A person suffering from deipnophobia might find himself unable to eat with a companion, where the possibility of conversing with someone while eating presents itself. If eating with a companion is unavoidable, someone with a severe case of deipnophobia might choose to skip the meal instead.
Deipnophobia is by definition a social phobia. People affected with this phobia are not afraid of food or eating, but of situations that push them into interacting with others. They dread the apparent responsibility to hold a conversation while having large meals such as Thanksgiving dinners, or even over a small cup of coffee. They fear that they may not live up to the other’s expectations or be entertaining enough. At most, they fear they will be deemed unworthy of the others’ company and feel a great sense of shame as a result.
Since deipnophobia is strongly connected with a person’s eating habits, loss of appetite is often considered a basic symptom. This loss of appetite might be real, or it might be a fabricated excuse to avoid meals. Other symptoms include panic attacks, fidgeting during meals, elevated heart rates, nausea, vomiting and trembling.
Although medication is available to help suppress the anxiety associated with the condition, there is no specific prescription drug to treat deipnophobia. Psychological counseling is often recommended to cope with this kind of crippling fear. Regular therapy allows patients to get to the root of the problem and resolve any issues that might have led to the phobia and its persistence.