Living with emetophobia: ‘It’s more than just slightly hating puking’

Most days I have anxiety attacks over whether or not eat

Food is great. Food is wonderful. Food makes the world go round. Food is not the thing I have a problem with. It’s what could come after food that sends my body into overdrive.

It’s something that no one ever likes, but it’s more than just a dislike for me. It sends my heart beat to go completely out of whack, my stomach gets twisted into a pretzel, and I can’t stop shaking. Just the sound of the word causes a lump to form in my throat.

Vomiting.

Emetophobia is the phobia of vomiting, vomiting in public, the sight of vomit, and the fear of being nauseous. It is more than just slightly hating puking. It’s having a full blown panic attack over even the slightest pain in your stomach.

Pretty sure "nauseous" is my second most used word

Pretty sure ‘nauseous’ is my second most used word

My emetophobia only really started when I was around 13, when I was diagnosed with acid reflux. When you have acid reflux, you need to eat every three hours or else your body decides it’s going to start eating itself instead.

When your stomach starts to eat away at itself, that is what’s causing you to feel nauseous. So when your stomach is hurting or you feel nauseous and you haven’t eaten in a little while, you are probably hungry.

When you have emetophobia, you don’t automatically put two and two together when you are nauseous. When you feel nauseous, you begin to panic. You don’t think that you are hungry and you don’t think that you should eat. You automatically start thinking about how you are going to vomit, and you start freaking out and panicking over the idea of vomiting, which makes you even more nauseous, and it becomes this vicious cycle.

Most people see a home cooked meal. I see eight different things that could make me vomit

Most people see a home cooked meal. I see eight different things that could make me vomit

As my acid reflux developed, I began to have episodes where I would get very nauseous. This was because I did not have enough food in my system. But instead of putting food in my body so that my body would stop eating itself, I began to panic, immediately thinking that I was going to be sick. I would refuse to eat anything for fear of soon throwing it back up. I thought that maybe if I didn’t have any food in my system, then I wouldn’t have anything to throw up.

Now as a 21-year-old, living with emetopohobia is a daily struggle for me. I still continue to live with acid reflux, so I still need to make sure I’m eating every 3-4 hours. I still have constant fear over being nauseous, and it prevents me from truly living my life. If I’m out with friends and start to feel even the slightest bit nauseous, I automatically try and find an excuse to leave and go home. My life completely stops if I even for a second think that I could vomit.

Paying $30 for a meal I take 3 bites of and then feel sick. This is my life.

Paying $30 for a meal I take three bites of and then feel sick. This is my life

“Should I eat?” is a frequent question I ask not only myself, but also my mother. Just writing that out makes me feel sick to my stomach. I question whether or not I should eat on a daily basis. And yes, my mother looks at me like I have six heads every time I ask her that question.

There are so many meals and dishes that I have missed out on for fear of getting sick from them. You know those annoying people who go out to dinner and just sit there not eating? I have frequently been one of those people. All because I got nauseous an hour before leaving for dinner and knew my friends would judge me if I said I couldn’t go out (I also suffer from massive amounts of FOMO, but that’s another story for another time.)

One would think that knowing you have a problem is the first step to recovery, but it’s so much easier saying I need to fix myself than actually trying to fix myself. I have come along way from first discovering my fear of vomiting, but even I know that I still have a long way to go.

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University of Connecticut