Foodphobia: fear of food and restricting entire food groups

Foodphobia, the fear of food that leads to restricting entire food groups and categories, is on the rise. Foodphobia is often an early symptom of an eating disorder. It can be hard to recognize because avoiding certain foods has been marketed as “wellness.”

The food industry has continued to deliver tastier, cheaper, and more easily available food. Meanwhile, the $70 billion diet industry has grown. Its success is partly based on the belief that some foods are “bad” while others are “healthy.” This belief leads us to feel deeply ashamed when we desire delicious food.

Diet trends have come and gone, but never have there been so many Foodphobic elimination-based diets as there are now. These diet programs, include Whole30, Paleo, Keto, etc. They institute food rules and promote Foodphobia in the pursuit of weight loss. They each prescribe a different food elimination plan and list of “bad” and “good” foods.

Diets in disguise

Make no doubt about it: Paleo, Whole30, Clean Eating, and other “lifestyles” that promote eliminating certain foods are diets. And if you look closer at the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, you will see diet culture there, too.

Foodphobia, the fear of food, is a weight-loss tactic that promises that restricting entire food groups will result in weight loss.

Foodphobic diets

Here are some examples of Foodphobic diets. These all promise weight loss by saying that particular foods make us fat and unhealthy. The goal of eliminating those foods is to become thin and enlightened:

  • The Paleo diet promises a “cleaner” body by eliminating grains, beans, soy, dairy, and certain vegetable oils.
  • The Whole30 diet promises to reset and heal your relationship with food by eliminating dairy and legumes.
  • Detox diets promise to cleanse the body toxins by eliminating almost all foods except juices and raw vegetables. (It is important to note that as long as we have a functioning liver, our body naturally removes toxins.)
  • Vegetarian/Vegan diets suggest that weight gain is caused by hormones injected in livestock. They promote eliminating all meat products and all animal products, respectively.
  • Clean Eating diets promise weight loss by eliminating any food that has been processed beyond harvest.
  • Grain-free diets promote the idea that a multitude of human health problems can be linked to eating grains. They promote eliminating grains entirely from our diets.
  • Fasting diets promote health by eliminating all food from our bodies for various periods of time.

Not healthy and not a path to wellness

Each of these diets claims that the secret to full health and wellness lies in the food we eat. They all claim science and data to back up their claims, but their most powerful tool is marketing. Billions of dollars are spent on slick marketing campaigns and even full-length “documentaries” to sell us on these diets.

This is dangerous for those of us who are susceptible to eating disorders. We often use eating behaviors subconsciously to pursue worthiness and goodness. By following one of these programs, we can hide our eating disorders in plain sight.

We are congratulated when we lose weight on these diets. We happily share what we don’t eat, even though we’re sharing our disordered eating. It’s hard to recognize an eating disorder when it’s been marketed to us as a “health” program.

FYI: the science sucks

All of these popular diet trends fail in the same way: they do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. The human body is incredibly complex, but these programs reduce us to machine-like components. Science does not fully understand how eliminating elements, from calories to individual nutrients, impacts our long-term health. Anyone who tells you otherwise is uninformed.

Even the programs claiming significant science fail when held to basic scientific standards. Check out this article about the problems with health claims made in the What the Health documentary. This can be applied to all Foodphobic diets: Debunking What the Health, the buzzy new documentary that wants you to be vegan, Vox.

Foodphobia, the fear of food, and foodphobic diets restrict entire food groups in the pursuit of weight loss.

Foodphobic books hide their true purpose

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A huge part of the diet industry is hundreds of thousands of books, blogs and websites. These are typically written by thin individuals who promise that there is way to have their body type. The greatest danger in diet books lies in their denial that they are selling diets at all.

Until the a few years ago, diet media was open. Suzanne Somers proudly announced that you can “Get Skinny” by following her program. Nothing qualifies Suzanne Somers to provide eating advice except the fact that she is thin, white, and famous.

Diets are not effective. They do not result in lasting weight loss. No matter what book you read, not a single form of weight loss has been scientifically proven.

See our scientific library for the data behind these statements

But that doesn’t deter diet books, magazines, blogs, celebrities, and influencers from promoting weight loss promises. Moralistic claims now shroud weight loss claims. We’re told that we will be better, smarter people if we eat the way they prescribe and lose weight.

The trouble with “wellness programs”

Today, there are no books saying they will help you “get skinny!” But weight loss is always an expected result of Foodphobic diet programs that eliminate calories, nutrients and entire food groups.

Today’s moralistic diet claims are one of the most dangerous elements of modern diet industry marketing. They create a wide-open pipeline from diet to eating disorder. At least Suzanne Somers’ book was open about its weight loss goals. It didn’t pretend to be anything but a diet. Today, we pretend that we’re seeking “wellness” when in fact we still want what Suzanne promised.

Those of us who are susceptible to eating disorders can find hundreds of ways to justify Foodphobic, highly controlled eating patterns at our local bookstore.

Diet books written by “lifestyle gurus” promise not just weight loss, but also a total life makeover. They can also masquerade as cookbooks (vs. diet programs). These diet cookbooks promise to make us better people based on the food we eat, how we prepare it, and from where it is sourced.

No matter how they position themselves, they are still sold in the diet category and essentially promote the restriction of food intake. This means they still follow the universal rule of dieting: 95% of all people who lose weight on a diet will regain it all, plus more, within two years.

Foodphobia and eating disorders

Foodphobic diets are just the latest of many marketing efforts designed to sell books, products, coaching programs, and more. Dieting is the single greatest predictor of eating disorder. These Foodphobic diets, which sell themselves as lifestyles and NOT DIETS are particularly dangerous. Many people don’t realize they or their loved ones are struggling until an eating disorder has taken hold.

Foodphobic diets are the perfect foil for those of us who hide our eating disorders in plain sight. Many of us openly engage in our eating disorders by jumping from program to program. We alternate between the different foodphobic programs or continuously reduce our list of “safe” foods. This is classic eating disorder behavior.

All diets – whether they include counting calories, adding complicated food rules, removing items from our diet or restricting oneself to juices for periods of time – exert significant stress on the body, raising cortisol levels and leading to long-term negative health impacts. The current list of popular diets are being sold as “healthy lifestyles.” But make no mistake: they they are selling weight loss under the shroud of goodness. They can be a very slippery slope for anyone susceptible to an eating disorder.


Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.

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