What Is Fear of Gaining Weight (Obesophobia)?

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Fear of gaining weight is also called obesophobia, or pocrescophobia.  It’s considered to be a specific phobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder. Having obesophobia means a person has an abnormal, irrational fear of gaining weight or becoming obese.

If left untreated, obesophobia can negatively impact personal relationships and manifest into an eating disorder.

This article will explain the symptoms and causes of obesophobia and discuss the different treatment options available.

A person standing on a scale, weighing themselves

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Definition

When a person has an extreme fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight, it’s called obesophobia. It's most common among women in their teens, but men and women of all ages can experience obesophobia.

A person with obesophobia often experiences severe anxiety around weight-related discussions, weight gain, and the scale. The fear of gaining weight may become so intense that a person begins to dislike people who are overweight.

Is Obesophobia an Eating Disorder?

Obesophobia is considered to be a phobia rather than an eating disorder. However, the two often co-exist. Obesophobia is one of the main symptoms of many eating disorders, including bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

In fact, research shows that most people with anorexia nervosa have a negative body image and irrational fear of gaining weight despite being underweight.

Symptoms

An individual with obesophobia will often avoid or dread talking about weight gain or have panic attacks if they gain weight. They may choose to bring their own meals or avoid social situations altogether where high-calorie foods outside of their strict diet are being served.

Someone with an intense fear of gaining weight may also:

  • Over-exercise to compensate for meal consumption
  • Overuse laxatives or diuretics
  • Obsessively count calories
  • Weigh themselves frequently
  • Avoid eating
  • Be underweight or malnourished
  • Dislike or avoid being around those who are overweight

A person with obesophobia, similar to other phobias, may experience the following symptoms when they experience weight gain or the topic is approached:

Diagnosis

Obesophobia isn't a diagnosis in itself. Rather, it follows the same diagnostic criteria as other specific phobias. 

Diagnosing obesophobia involves a visit with a mental health practitioner who will ask you to fill out a questionnaire. They'll analyze your symptoms against the criteria outlined in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5).

The guide uses the following diagnostic criteria to diagnose specific phobias:

  • The fear is persistent and lasts for greater than six months
  • The fear is actively avoided and almost always causes immediate anxiety
  • The fear is out of proportion to the actual danger of the object or situation
  • The fear causes significant disruption to essential areas of function, including social and occupational functioning

Causes

Like many mental disorders, the exact cause of obesophobia remains unknown. Many believe it's linked to social anxiety and low self-confidence. 

However, a specific phobia can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Observational learning experiences: You can learn to fear certain objects or situations by watching another person like a parent or sibling experience fear in the same situation. For example, if a close family member had an irrational fear of gaining weight or an eating disorder, it increases the odds of you developing the same fear.
  • Traumatic past experiences: A person with a fear of gaining weight may associate weight gain with a negative or traumatic memory they experienced in the past. For example, if you were teased as a child by family or peers because of your appearance or weight, you may associate weight gain with negative judgment from others.
  • Informational learning: Oftentimes, the media praises having a thin or fit frame. Research suggests that exposure to appearance-focused media (TV, news, books, etc.) can worsen a person’s fear of gaining weight or result in discrimination against people who are overweight.

Treatment

A mental healthcare provider commonly treats Obesophobia. Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your fear of gaining weight and if an underlying eating disorder is already present.

What's the Goal of Treatment for Obeseophobia?

The goal of treatment is to reduce negative perceptions associated with weight gain and decrease your risk of developing an eating disorder.

Treatments for specific phobia include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of talk therapy where a licensed professional helps you sort through your negative emotions surrounding weight gain over multiple sessions. They'll help you recognize unhealthy, irrational thought patterns surrounding weight gain and teach you ways to cope.
  • Exposure therapy: This involves a slow, gradual exposure to higher calorie foods in a safe, controlled environment. 
  • Medications: Anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed to reduce anxiety associated with obesophobia.

Coping

Coping with an unwanted phobia such as obesophobia can be challenging. It's important to know that you're not alone.

In combination with the traditional treatment options mentioned, many people find relief by joining a support group. This can help you meet with others who are experiencing similar challenges and share ways to cope.

Additionally, people who exercise regularly, practice meditation, and/or journal may find a reduction in anxiety associated with obesophobia.

Summary

Fear of gaining weight is also known as obesophobia or pocrescophobia. It's a specific phobia that causes an irrational and constant fear of gaining weight.

If you think you have obesophobia, consider talking with your primary care doctor. They can refer you to a therapist or mental healthcare provider who can develop a customized treatment plan for you.

Treatment for obesophobia includes CBT, medications, and exposure therapy. Many people also find it beneficial to join a support group to improve coping skills or meditate for anxiety relief.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a specific phobia, know that you're not alone. Treatment options are available to help reduce or completely resolve symptoms associated with obesophobia.

To discuss the best treatment method for you, contact your healthcare provider. They can refer you to a qualified mental health professional. It’s important to know that there's hope, and the proper treatment can significantly reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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