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Fear of food presented by Marthe Van Iwaarden, Psychologist

By Anthea Talliopoulos, APD

Cibophobia, or the fear of food, is an increasingly common condition effecting both adults and children. As dietitians working with clients, we are almost all certain to encounter individuals effected by this. Thus, it is crucial that we understand how food anxiety and related mental health conditions are diagnosed and treated in assisting clients to expand their dietary variety.

In this fascinating presentation, psychologist Marthe Van Iwaarden shares her experience and expertise in the diagnosis, symptoms, triggers, and treatment of cibophobia. She provided a clear outline of mental health conditions which commonly explain fear of food including anorexia nervosa, avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

With the assistance of case-studies, Marthe explains how food anxiety can present in different ways, with numerous mental health conditions often coexisting which trigger the fear of food. This includes the explanation of a paediatric client with a sensory sensitivity, resulting in increasingly restrictive eating, predisposing them to nutritional deficiencies. She explains the importance of treating the underlying cause of the food anxiety with gradual exposure therapy to feared foods, as well as the importance of a psychologist in screening and assessing clients with further treatment through appropriate therapy techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy.

In treating food anxiety, it is crucial that a multidisciplinary approach is taken. Dietitians play a key role in ensuring that clients have a nutritionally adequate diet related to their needs, but psychological and medical support are often warranted in more severe cases.


  • Food anxiety or cibophobia, is an increasingly common condition which can have a significant impact of the dietary adequacy of effected individuals.
  • Fear of food is often better explained as a symptom of another disorder or mental health condition. Thus, in treating food anxiety it is crucial that the underlying cause is addressed as this will inform what the best evidence-based treatment is.
  • The treatment of fear of food should be treated via a holistic and team approach as often psychology, dietetic input, and/ or medication are required in addressing the root cause.

This presentation is useful for dietitians who are currently working with eating disorder clients and/ or those who are looking at up-skilling in their understanding of the links between food perception in individuals with underlying mental health conditions.  

Marthe Van Iwaarden, Psychologist, BA (Hons), MSc (Psych), MAAPi

Marthe currently works as a psychologist at the Centre for Integrative Health a multidisciplinary private outpatient clinic dedicated to the treatment of eating, weight and body image concerns. She is passionate about supporting individuals to overcome concerns they may have with eating and/or body-image. Marthe promotes and supports body diversity through adopting a Health At Every Size (HAES), weight-neutral approach.

Marthe has additional specialist training in:

  • Enhanced Cognitive Based Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E)
  • Family Based Therapy for Eating Disorders (FBT)
  • EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning) certified specialist

To register for the presentation and associated documents including the assessment quiz click here