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British people lack confidence in the kitchen, with a quarter of us able to cook just three tried and trusted recipes, a survey by the UK’s leading recipe box service has revealed. Researchers found that the fear of getting a recipe wrong and wasting ingredients leads us to stick to the same meals. However, for some people this fear of cooking is extreme and goes way beyond a lack of confidence in their cookery skills. These people may be suffering from mageirocophobia.
It is estimated that 10 million people in the UK have a phobia. In fact, phobias are one of the most common types of anxiety disorders. In the UK, phobias are generally split into two categories, simple and complex phobias. According to NHS Inform, simple phobias are “fears about specific objects, animals, situations or activities”, whereas complex phobias “tend to be more disabling than simple phobias because they are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular circumstance or situation”.
What is Mageirocophobia?
Mageirocophobia is the irrational fear of cooking. Mageirocophobia is derived from the classical Greek noun mágeiros (μάγειρος), which means chef or butcher and phobia meaning fear of.
Someone suffering from this phobia may expect to experience a very high influx of anxiety when merely thinking of cooking, let alone actually cooking themselves. Mageirocophobia can not only make affected individuals afraid of cooking, but it can also cause hatred for different elements related to cooking such as food preparation.
There are some common types of mageirocophobia:
Fear of causing illness – This is perhaps the most common type of cooking phobia. The fear of causing illness or disease is based on wastage, contamination or undercooking during the cooking process. As people are becoming increasingly aware of foodborne diseases, some individuals become afraid of cooking, especially those unaware of general cooking rules.
Fear of recipes – Some people with this phobia can feel overwhelmed or threatened by complicated recipes that require careful attention or a long period of time to cook fully. They may doubt their ability to complete the recipe or worry about missing a particular ingredient or step in the cooking process.
Fear of cooking inedible food – Many people who are not familiar with cooking are often unsure about adding seasoning or actually preparing food. They lack self-confidence when it comes to recipes, flavours or choosing the right ingredients. Moreover, some people become too concerned with undercooked or overcooked food, while some others become overwhelmed by the texture and taste of the food being served.
Fear of poor presentation – People who tend to be perfectionists are often prone to feeling stressed about the overall presentation of the food and cutlery. They feel overwhelmed about garnishing, table decoration and offering a perfect dining experience. This particular type of mageirocophobia can get triggered while organising a lunch or dinner event or inviting guests at home. However, someone can have such feelings even when cooking for immediate family members.
Fear of the cooking process – Most people with a fear of cooking are often petrified of getting burned or cut during the process of cooking. They can also get overly stressed about encountering random challenges while preparing food, like running out of ingredients or water. Also, certain cooking techniques can appear confusing and scary to some people.
Fear of knowledge of food – When we prepare food for ourselves or for others, we are more aware of the ingredients and the health benefits and risks associated with such foods and their consumption. Mageirocophobia can make someone become obsessed with these issues, affecting their ability to cook or appreciate the cuisine of others.
Fear of food intake – People with eating disorders may feel intimidated or fearful of cooking, as this can lead to feelings of loss of self-control, inadequacy, or worry or guilt about the triggers of their disorder.
Many people are able to successfully cope with mild to moderate mageirocophobia simply by avoiding the specific elements of cooking that make them nervous. However, more severe cases of the phobia can become life-limiting.
Some people with severe forms of mageirocophobia might even have difficulty entering a restaurant or even going through a fast-food drive-through. Anything that reminds them of cooking can bring on the symptoms. Most sufferers with a severe form of mageirocophobia will mainly eat foods that don’t require cooking and may be prone to malnutrition as a result. Although this avoidance can help them manage their anxiety levels, in the long run this can increase the severity of their phobia. By eating foods that don’t require cooking, they avoid their fear of cooking and so reinforce their phobia.
How Common is Mageirocophobia?
The fear of cooking is a common problem; however, for most people it is a lack of confidence in their own abilities as opposed to having an extreme fear of cooking that is severe enough to interfere with daily life, which is a phobia. Phobias are a common type of anxiety disorder.
There are no specific statistics to show how many people in the UK are affected by mageirocophobia, which may be because many people may not want to admit to a fear of cooking and would rather state that they either don’t enjoy cooking or that they are no good at cooking in order to avoid doing it and having to admit that they have a phobia.
Who is at Risk of Mageirocophobia?
Phobias including mageirocophobia can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or social background. They may develop in childhood and continue into adulthood or, less often, may develop in adulthood. It is unusual for a phobia to start after the age of 30 years, and most begin during early childhood, the teenage years, or early adulthood. According to the Mental Health Foundation, approximately 2% of the UK population will have a phobia, with women twice as likely as men to suffer.
If someone has had bad experiences with cooking in some way either in childhood or adulthood and is predisposed to anxiety, then they may go on to develop mageirocophobia.
How to Deal with Mageirocophobia
Many people are able to successfully cope with mild to moderate mageirocophobia simply by avoiding the specific elements of cooking that make them nervous. However, experts say that like other phobias, mageirocophobia can definitely impact quality of life. Food plays an important emotional role in many people’s lives, making mageirocophobia particularly devastating.
If your mageirocophobia is in the mild to moderate spectrum then there are practical suggestions for anyone who thinks they might have a fear of getting in the kitchen and cooking.
Start with sandwich making – Sandwiches are not intimidating and for most of them you won’t even have to turn on the cooker. Making them does, however, teach you some basic chopping skills and it will teach you how to start combining flavours and textures.
Limit your recipes to tried and trusted sources – Find a trusty cookbook and select one or two simple recipes to start and build up your repertoire from there. If you are just starting to cook, and have a fear of cooking, give yourself plenty of time. That way you won’t feel rushed or like you are doing something wrong if you get behind the clock. Many recipes have unrealistic times on them and it can be just one more stress point that doesn’t need to be there.
Have an expectation of failure – Go in with an attitude of learning and experimentation rather than one of success and it will take some of the stress off.
Fear of cooking can be coupled with many other mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and even eating disorders. If this is the case, then you should seek medical advice from your GP or by calling NHS 111.
What Triggers Mageirocophobia?
Some areas of the brain store and recall threatening or potentially dangerous events. If a person faces a similar event later on in life, those areas of the brain retrieve the stressful memory, sometimes more than once. This causes the body to experience the same reaction. In a phobia, the areas of the brain that deal with fear and stress keep retrieving the frightening event inappropriately.
Researchers have found that phobias are often linked to the amygdala, which lies behind the pituitary gland in the brain. The amygdala can trigger the release of “fight-or-flight” hormones. These put the body and mind in a highly alert and stressed state.
Mageirocophobia can be triggered by associations with these negative events such as smells, sounds, tastes, actions etc.
What are the Symptoms of Mageirocophobia?
Some of the common signs of mageirocophobia include but are not limited to:
- Feeling anxious when anticipating or thinking about cooking.
- Feeling stressed and anxious while observing someone cook.
- Repeatedly looking for ways to avoid cooking.
- Inability to manage stress and anxiety related to cooking.
- Anxiety when seeing someone cooking.
- Shaking, muscle strain and perspiration.
- Panic attacks.
As with any type of phobia, the symptoms vary from individual to individual, relying upon their degree of fear. The most widely recognised symptoms of phobias include but are not limited to:
- Chest aches.
- Heart palpitations.
- Raced pulse.
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid speech or failure to talk.
- Dry mouth.
- Stomach upset.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of specific phobias such as mageirocophobia. These anxieties might become severe and lead to panic attacks. However, this will vary from individual to individual and will be reliant on a number of factors.
What Causes Mageirocophobia?
Phobias are usually a result of a number of external factors, such as environment, culture or trauma. Phobias can also arise from internal predispositions, such as heredity or genetic qualities. Numerous specific phobias such as mageirocophobia arise out of childhood and negative past experiences.
These might include:
- Personality traits or characteristics such as perfectionism.
- Anxiety-related disorders.
- Over-expectations from friends or family members.
- Failures in experimentation with recipes or cooking itself.
- Facing regular difficulties while preparing a meal such as sustaining injuries, burning foods etc.
How is Mageirocophobia Diagnosed?
Phobias are not always formally diagnosed. Most people with a phobia such as mageirocophobia are usually fully aware that they have one. Many people live with a phobia without having it formally diagnosed and take great care to avoid the thing they are afraid of. However, getting help from your GP and a specialist with expertise in behavioural therapy, such as a psychologist, can often be beneficial.
Many people with phobias often suffer anxiety which can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. If your symptoms fit a particular set of medical criteria described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) then you might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder.
How is Mageirocophobia Treated?
Depending on its severity, the fear of cooking can be treated in a variety of ways. If your phobia is severe or life-limiting, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you learn to replace your fears with more positive self-talk. Once your phobia is no longer overwhelming, you might find that learning and practising new kitchen skills is helpful.
Exposure therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for people suffering from phobias. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist gradually expose the person to their fear over a given period of time. With regards to mageirocophobia, the therapist may start off by exposing the person to photos of someone cooking and then eventually expose them to cooking food themselves. This would all be in an attempt to help desensitise them to their fear by repetitively exposing them to it. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to something they fear, the less it will bother them over time.
Medication is not usually recommended for treating phobias such as mageirocophobia because talking therapies are normally more effective and do not have any side effects. However, medication is sometimes prescribed on a short-term basis to treat the effects of phobias, such as anxiety.
There are three types of medication recommended for treating anxiety:
Your GP should explain all your treatment options and they should consider your views before starting any treatment. Almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured.
Certain self-help techniques can also help to control the anxiety, such as:
- Breathing exercises.
- Consuming less caffeine.
Stopping smoking and lowering or stopping alcohol consumption can also help with managing symptoms related to fear of cooking. Once the sufferer has successfully managed to control their mageirocophobia, they can slowly learn new kitchen and cooking skills to get familiar with the cooking process.
Phobias can be a source of genuine and ongoing distress for an individual. However, they are treatable in most cases, and very often the source of fear is avoidable. Where the source of the fear is not realistically avoidable such as in the case of mageirocophobia, as we all need to eat to live, finding support to help overcome the phobia is a positive step forward.
Some useful contacts include:
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) for information about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and related treatments, including details of accredited therapists.
- No More Panic provides information, support and advice for those with panic disorder, anxiety, phobias or OCD, including a forum and chat room.
- No Panic 0300 7729844, provides a helpline, step-by-step programmes, and support for people with anxiety disorders.
- Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK) provides self-help therapy groups and support for those with OCD, phobias and related anxiety disorders.