David Solot is a Ph.D. student in organizational psychology at Walden University, with a Masters in clinical psychology. His background includes the study of animal sensation and perception, and conditioned responses to sweetness in foods. This is part two in a series on "The psychology of food aversions."
From peanut butter cookies to macaroni and cheese, there sure are a lot of food aversions out there. Hundreds of people took the time to tell us their own stories.
Lisa told us about how when she was pregnant she walked past a store selling candied pecans. The pecans got associated with her morning sickness, and now she avoids any food with cinnamon and sugar on it. Ann overdid it on Heath Bar cookies, and today she can’t even look at a Heath Bar wrapper. This leads us to our first question about food aversions:
Why does the sight and smell of these foods make us sick?
Several readers told us that their food aversions are so strong that even looking at the food or smelling it will make them sick. Maria told us that catching a whiff of mayo makes her want to hurl; Miranda said that she cannot stand the sight of cheese; and to be honest, when the editors put a big picture of cherry Jell-O over my story, I got a little sick looking at it. All these reactions raise a good question: if this is a taste aversion, why do we feel sick when we see or smell these foods?
Remember where these aversions came from. The whole point of a food aversion was to make a primitive creature avoid eating something poisonous. Now your brain doesn’t give you a lot of credit here: It knows that the closer you get to something, the more likely you are to put it in your mouth. Therefore, the aversion has to start while you’re still at a safe distance.
To start with, your brain makes you feel queasy when you see the food across the room. Then as you get closer and smell the food, your brain makes you feel worse. If you walk right up to the food and put it in your mouth, the taste of the food triggers the strongest reaction of all. If you’re feeling brave, go get a food you don’t like and try each of those steps. The closer you get to the food, the worse your reaction will be.
What’s really neat is when you realize that there’s a step before “seeing the food” that gets attached to feeling sick. As intelligent creatures, we have the ability to imagine things. Imagining the food is a step that happens even farther away than seeing it. To make sure you really, really get the message, your brain will make you just a little bit sick when you imagine the food, even though it’s nowhere in sight. Go ahead, think about your most hated food. Unpleasant, isn’t it?
It’s all part of your brain’s plan to teach you to keep on walking and go forage somewhere else. And that leads to our second question:
Can’t we use this power for good?
One of the most interesting questions came from readers like Ali and Lx Bizarre, who asked if food aversions can be used to make us eat healthier or to lose weight. After all, if a food aversion can make us stop liking our favorite foods, can’t we use this to our advantage? They suggested we eat our favorite unhealthy foods when we’re sick so that we stop liking them in the future.
Reader Drat took this one step further and thought that people could take a pill that induces nausea right after eating a favorite food. No more cravings for chocolate ice cream or French fries, right?
Psychologists have known about the mechanism behind food aversions for a long time, and it stands to reason that if it was actually that simple, there’d be a diet book called “Easy and Queasy” on the best sellers list. We’d all be nauseated but we’d be thin. The problem is, as human beings, we just think too much for this to work.
Let’s say you’re reader Paige, and you want to condition yourself to stop liking pizza. If you were an animal, we could describe the process with behavioral psychology.
In behavioral psychology, if a behavior is followed by a reward, you’ll do more of that behavior in the future. If you follow a behavior with a punishment, you’ll do less of that behavior in the future. So, if an animal eats pizza and then feels sick, that animal will be less likely to eat a pizza in the future.
But when we’re talking about people, it’s a slightly different story. In her comment, Paige suggested that she would wait until she had a really bad cold, and then eat a lot of pizza. Right off the bat, we’ve got things backward.
For a food aversion to form, we need to eat the food first, and then get sick afterward - not the other way around. Conditioning doesn’t work as well in reverse, because the brain likes normal cause and effect relationships. Since we can’t usually predict when we’re going to be sick, getting the timing right is difficult.
Secondly, Paige is actively thinking about trying to form a food aversion. As it turns out, thinking about doing it is a really good way to stop it from happening. In fact, it’s how I suggested undoing one in the last article.
Because we’re intelligent creatures, our thoughts alter our reactions. So while her animal brain is trying to connect "eating pizza" to "feeling sick," her human thoughts are jumping in the way and messing things up. It would be like a magician showing you how a card trick is done while he’s still doing it. Sure, the trick looks impressive, but the magic is gone.
Now don’t get me wrong - if you did it over and over again you would start to dislike pizza. And the sicker you are, the stronger the dislike would be. But the formation of an intentional food aversion is an iffy thing, and would likely be fairly weak. And by the time you got done conditioning yourself, you would have eaten a lot of pizza. It’s probably better just to have a salad instead.
And what about Drat’s idea of taking a pill that induces nausea after you eat your favorite foods? Sorry, that’s not likely to work either. Because we’re intelligent creatures, we know that the pill is what’s making us sick, not the food. All you’re likely to do is make yourself really, really hate those pills. Drat, indeed.
I have two stories. My first one happened when I was in Kindergarten. We had Spaghetti for dinner one night and I threw it up just hours later and would never eat spaghetti again. Then in first grade, my class had a spaghetti day and I ate some and threw up that night. I refused to eat spaghetti for years after that. It doesn't bother me now though.
My other story happened when I was about 8. My Mom made chocolate pudding sundaes for dessert and I threw up right after eating it. I still can't eat chocolate pudding to this day.
Related to increased estrogen levels, a similar form of nausea is also seen in some women who use hormonal contraception or hormone replacement therapy. The nausea can be mild or induce actual vomiting, however, not severe enough to cause metabolic derangement. In more severe cases, vomiting may cause dehydration, weight loss, alkalosis and hypokalemia. This condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum and occurs in about 1% of all pregnancies. Nausea and vomiting can be one of the first signs of pregnancy and usually begins around the 6th week of pregnancy (counting gestational age from 14 days before conception)..."'.
Freshest blog post on our blog <http://healthmedicinebook.comwn
Just thought of another one: French Toast. Ugh. Love toast and eggs separately, but not combined with syrup poured on top. I ate it once at a friends house when I was eleven, went home and was very, very sick afterwards. Now, just the sight, smell, or thought of it makes me feel queasy.
Wow. Just thinking about it now is making me sick. I think I need soda crackers and pop to settle my stomach...
Olives. What disgusting, vile fruit. But I like olive oil.
Cottage cheese. So so gross. This one will make me throw up.
Oh, and I find all cheesecake repulsive.
When I was 17, I spent a Sunday drinking coffee and working on a huge backlog of school projects. I got it all done, but that night, I woke up suddenly with a bad case of the flu and threw up. Since then, I can't stand the taste of coffee.
My mom used to give me Sprite all the time when I was sick as a kid, so that's off the list too.
This isn't really an aversion yet I guess (since I haven't had it since), but my daughter had a White Castle and anyone familiar with it knows they use A LOT of onions on their sandwiches. Well, that night she got sick and the undigested onions came out. So I threw her sheets in the wash and when the wash was done, the onions came out clean and were all over the bottom of the washer. That was really gross!
When I was a teenager being tested for allergies, my doctor said some times when you have an aversion to food or it tastes bad to you, you may be allergic to that food. The aversion is a way of keeping you safe.
Okay, here's a question that I have: there are many, many foods I have an adversion to but have never tasted or had a bad experience with them. Sometimes it is the smell or the sight that makes me want to hurl. For instance, I have never had bologna but to smell it makes me sick. I'll fix mac and cheese for my husband but the look of it and the squishy sound it makes - I feel sick. Same with certain pasta dishes. Can't stand to look at them. I can't stand the smell of Ranch Salad dressing. Never tired it, never will. To me, it smells like a soured dishrag.
This was a battle all during my childhood. My mom swears the only problem I caused her was my eating habits. She even took me to the doctor (1970's) and they told her not to worry that all kids are picky and just give me peanut butter for protein.
This went BEYOND picky eater. I am now over 40 and have included a few more foods into my diet but very few compared to most people (e.g. no hamburgers, steak, mixed cooked vegetables). I eat lots of salads, cereal (no milk on it, must be in a seperate glass), breads, fresh veggies, etc. I have a healthy little girl with no vitamin deficiences from my pregnancy. Her Dr. said if he had all kids like her for patients, he'd be out of business. (I was always told as a teen by family members that due to my weird eating, pregnancy would be out).
Anyone else have this kind of disorder. Most people in my adult life have no clue. I cover it up at restaurants by ordering salad, baked potato and if they ask if I am going to get a steak, etc. I just give the excuse as, "I'm a vegetertian" or "I'm not too hungry right now."
When I was a kid I ate an entire can of hersey's chocolate syrup that you put in ice cream and it made me sick. to this day, if I eat more than one reese cup, I got sick to my stomach..
I'm breastfeeding and averse to milk. I won't even let my husband buy cow's milk. He has to use almond milk in recipes.
I ALWAYS get a confused look when I say this but....
Cheese. Just about every kind (american, gouda, ,mozarella, provolone...etc) Can't stand to eat the stuff. It was at the point where even looking at it made me want to vomit. I think it's gotten better over time; I even enjoy the smeill of freshly baked pizza, but as soon as I so much as take a bite, my gag reflex goes into overdrive.
I can't remember it but my folks told me I got really sick after eating pizza one time as a kid. Since then I've had this cheese aversion.
Strangely enough, there is a type of Mexican cheese (queso fresco) that I absolutely love and eat whenever it's available. I can also eat cheese doritos and cheetos puffs with no issues.
Weird, isn't it?
I am so unimpressed by this grad student's rehashed ideas. Addressing the question of inducing food aversions on purpose and not bringing up bulimia? Not bringing up aversion therapy (was common at one time for getting people to quit smoking)? Pah. Even the central idea that getting sick from a food triggers some primeval self-protection mechanism is downright silly.
It's all just operant conditioning. Just as a dog doesn't know why he avoids the sofa that once held a scat mat (a cruel shock device for lazy pet owners), we avoid anything that looks, smells or tastes like the thing that made us sick. Or the thing that a parent beat us for eating. Or the thing we were eating when we found out a loved one died. I cannot stand the smell of red wine (and eschew all alcohol) because it once gave me one of the worst migraines (with violent vomiting) I've ever had. Previous to that I loved wine, even though I would occasionally get a headache for it. From that one exceptionally bad experience, however, I now associate all wine with pain. I might as well have been wearing a shock collar (another cruel device for lazy and sadistic pet owners) that was activated when I drank that particular wine. My reaction to the smell of red wine is that extreme.
Guessing you have an aversion to lazy pet owners. What's with the chip on your shoulder?
Coconut, and sauerkraut. When I was a young child, I had constantly enlarged tonsils/tonsillitis and the coconut coating on the birthday cake my parents always got me at Howard Johnsons would get stuck on my tonsils and I felt the gag reflex because I had difficulty swallowing. Same with sauerkraut. Stringy and would get caught in the back of my throat. Even after removal of tonsils and adenoids in 5th grade circa 1970's (surgeon asked my parents how I could even breathe or swallow both were so big) I can't stand the smell of coconut or sauerkraut.
Seafood! The idea of eating it makes me sick. Even watching someone eating it makes my stomach turn. The smell is gross!!!
I never drink water. Fish fook in it.
Jello–any kind, any flavor–makes my stomach turn over and I'm sure it is directly linked to the fact that when I was sick as a child, my mother would give me jello. Just the thought of it makes me gag.
And cream and jelly sandwiches. I have only recently gotten over my aversion to cream cheese but if I see it together with jelly–oh yuck.
eat my sausage it is good for you!
I ate sauerkraut the night before getting sick when I was around 9 years old and cannot even stand to think about the smell or taste. Unfortunately, my husband's favorite sandwich is a Reuben with lots of sauerkraut!
They should study food aversions in Moms who have to clean up after their sick kids. My daughter threw up Chipotle Mexican the other night and I may never be able to eat there again!
Why do we have fruit scented cleaners?? When I was pregnant with my second child, I couldn't stand the smell of orange scented dishwashing detergent. That was nearly 10 years ago and I still can't stand the smell. It's grown to include ANY fruit scented cleaner.
Because people couldn't stand the smell or effects of the chemicals. There are other scents of cleaners besides fruit to choose from. Lavender dish soap for example.
Companies hire market researchers, and people like the academic-to-be above, to find out what smells people associate with cleanliness. That's why you'll find differerent scents in cleaners in different parts of the world. In the US, people think citrus smells clean and natural (no matter what toxic ingredients the product may hold). The smell of pine is associated with antiseptic properties, lavender with freshness, and so on. It's marketing.
I never have liked raw onions. I also hate green peppers unless they are so thoroughly cooked that they no longer had a taste in themselves, like in chili that's cooked for a long time. Oddly, I like cooked (sauteed) red, yellow, and orange bell peppers though O.o I'd swear that they taste different than the green ones...somehow. Weird. And brussel sprouts are right out! Blah! But I love spinach and greens and other veggies in general.
Even though I don't share your adversion, I agree that the peppers do taste different. There are dishes that I like red and yellow peppers in that I would not consider adding bell peppers to (those are the green peppers I assume you're referring to).
They're actually all bell peppers. Red, orange, yellow and green peppers are all the same thing, but at varying stages of ripeness :)
It's not just you, red and yellow peppers DO taste different than green.
Thanks you two : ) I thought they tasted different too, but I thought also that this was like psychological or something.
Agreed. The red & yellow ones are sweeter, as peppers go. The green ones are bitterer. *snicker*
Don't care for them as a rule. I'm not nauseated by them, but I will not eat them, Sam I am.
Peas. Enough said.
I've been waiting thru two threads to see you post that! HA!
Hah. Perhaps I should not post my mealtime weaknesses so prominently. There aren't any heroes present, are there?
Alas, it cannot be helped. Peas are far more evil than I, I'm afraid. They are insidious little spheres of terror.
"They are insidious little spheres of terror." LMAO! With that I leave for the day. Don't be good!
You know what the politician said? "If you can't be good, be careful." Good Night, Jerv!
Tongue. Our local cows need them far more than I................gross gross gross A total YUCK.
Overripe bananas!! The smell makes me want to puke, scream, yell, and rage. I can't stand the smell of them even in the garbage. We took long road trips when I was a kid, because my mom wouldn't fly, and that's what they'd pack – ripe bananas, skim milk, and other inedible substances. The stench of banana would fill the entire station wagon. Those trips were sheer hell, fighting from start to finish. No wonder I hate them, and I don't drink milk, either.
tapioca pudding–it is the texture that creeps me out–those mushy balls of tapioca, gross!
LIcorice. It really will make me vomit. Even things that taste remotely of licorice; star anis, anisette, Ouzo......I get queasy stomach just thinking about it.
It is really vile!
It's better than ipecac, though, if you really NEED to vomit. I hate the stuff.
The smell of boiling hot dogs makes me ill. Also, watermelon bubble gum and I love watermelon. Also, I am with all the others about Pepto Bismol. Never have been able to take it, makes me puke.
I can't do Pepto Bismal either. Some girl threw it up in 3rd grade and it has scarred me ever since. The weird thing is that the stuff I have puked, doesn't really bother me later.
I loathe watermelon gum too! (And love real watermelon.) My other aversions are cold cheese (try living in Wisconsin!) and mushrooms of ANY sort.
Grilled chicken. Since I was pregnant with my daughter 3 years ago. I just can't stand it.
As a child I got sick eating steamed crabs – I was well into my 40's before I could even think about eating any form of crab products.
I can't stand the taste of alcohol. I think I must be missing the gene that makes people like it. I can't understand how people can stand to drink enough of it to get drunk, but obviously they do so I must be the weird one, lol. Whatever.
Alcohol is gross to me too. I have never been drunk and don't drink. Yuck!
I can't eat anything I have vomited – which made eating that much harder after having morning sickness for several months.
I couldn't eat my own vomit either!
As a high school teenager, I got a part-time job at a fast food place where you could eat all you wanted for free within a half-hour of your shift ending. On one of my first nights on the job, I foolishly gorged down three or four "Gino Giants," our equivalent of the Big Mac, along with fries and milk shakes, went home and got sick to my stomach. I couldn't eat another one for a year, though I eventually did get over the aversion.
My 4 year old has never eaten green beans. If he notices a single bean on his plate the whole plate in contaminated and he will not eat until he gets a new plate and new food. Nothing else bothers him. My dad could never eat cottage cheese. His first job was at a dairy in the late 40's early 50's and one of his responsibilities was to fish the drowned rats out of the cottage cheese vat in the morning.
If this is true, I think I just gained an aversion to a food I used to love.
Seems to me that the idea of creating a food aversion is just another name for creating an eating disorder. At least, that's the basic idea for how it worked out for me. Now I have a strong aversion to fruits and veggies, which isn't exactly helping my health, mental or otherwise. I think even considering this question leads down a long hard road most of you don't want to follow me on.
I think your body knows what it needs. I'm not a big veggie fan, and there are some I just can't eat. Don't know why...but I've never eaten them...squash comes to mind. But, I'm healthy. Not suffering nutritionally. I dont take vitimins, so I'm not getting things that way, so there's not really any logical reason why I can't stomach some foods. Occasionally, I'll crave a specific veggie like carrots, but for the most part...they aren't part of my diet.
Any type of gum! The chomping and the lip smacking spit filled disgusting-ness just makes me sick!
Green Beans (yellow beans, string beans...) . Not many of us out there but occasionally I'll find another person who can't stand them. In my case it was the one vegetable that my father would force me to eat when I was at an age when I only wanted to eat meat, peas and corn.
Wow...guess Im one of the lucky few who doesnt have bad food aversions. I can only think of 3 foods I dont like-lima beans, peas and cottage cheese; and even then I dont gag on sight and will still eat them if theyre apart of something. (lima beans in a soup or peas in a pot pie dont bother me)
One time I ate too much raw kohlrabi at my grandparents and felt terrible all day- Now I can't even stand thinking about them- luckily they are not very common. Jicama too- I think the texture is similar. Other than those two things I love absolutely every type of food!
I have one that I haven't read about yet. I HATE RAW TOMATOES!!!! Hate the smell.... Hate the taste! If it's cooked into sauce or ketchup I love it, but RAW... YUCK! I hate the smell so much that when I grow a garden I even hate the smell of the plant. WHen you have to pinch the flowers to get better tomatoes.... I can't do it!! I can't get the smell on my hands or be near it! Someone else has to do it! I have had this since I was small and don't know why. Almost 50 years old and still hate it as much as the first day I smelled a tomatoe!
I didn't eat raw tomatoes until I was 23. Now I love them!
YES! Raw tomatoes smell rotten to me and make me gag. I love tomato sauce and ketchup though.
Same with my hubby, he hated them all his life, but now at 40+ he tried a tiny grape tomato and was hooked! He still hates the large sized tomatoes, but loves the tiny grape ones. Go figure!
When I was pregnant with my first child I could not stand to be any where near raw beef. The sight of the red blood would make me ill.
I don't like liver and onions, unless they are chicken livers. My dad had the bright idea that we would 'enjoy' a lovely dinner of fried beef liver, onions and mashed potatoes, weekly. That lasted for a few weeks, until he noticed that each of his six children were suddenly ill about dinnertime on Thursdays.
Yes! When pregnant with my first child, I threw an entire pot roast in the garbage because I lifted the lid to check on it while it was cooking, and it was still rare. I said, "We can't eat this - it's disgusting!" and threw it out before my husband could stop me.
I had my first taco when I was at a friend's 8th birthday party. I didn't like the taco sauce. It was the last thing I had before coincidentally a fever set in and coming down with the chickenpox. I'm 40 and still can't eat Mexican food. The smell still makes me queasy.
Also got food poisoning from a salad with chicken and ranch dressing once. I couldn't look at Ranch for ages and still avoid it.
Oatmeal. It looks and smells like a bowl of vomit! And cottage cheese. Same thing. Also can't stand the smell of popcorn and not too crazy about the taste either.
Gracious, the difference in people. Oatmeal is my comfort food. When I was growing up, my daddy would get up so very early on cold winter mornings and get the fires going. Then he would cook oatmeal with raisins in it and make buttered toast. We would break up the toast in the oatmeal after adding milk and sugar to it and it was so, so good. The wonderful memories that brings back to me are priceless! I so wish you liked oatmeal!
Yes, oatmeal and tapioca pudding; quite similar to vomit and sperm.
I agree with you on the popcorn but only the pre-packaged or movie theater types. Something about the smell from the fake butter flavored oil.
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