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Apr 28, 2013 04:46 PM

Food aversion - ALL in our heads?

I have a question. Are all food aversions psychological? I just discussed this with a friend who insisted that they all were.

Are they? All? Is it possible to simply dislike a food without a past negative experience associated with it (my friend was assuming that 'psychological' = bad past experience is causing you to dislike the food, not some inherent quality of the food)?

And what about infant food rejection? What past experience has a 6 month old had to make her spit out carrots? And cultural aversions? How can a baby or a person who has never eaten food X be repelled by it based on some past event?

I reject the idea that it's all in our heads (some instances of it, yes, obviously) - am I wrong?

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  1. I'm not sure if my answer negates or supports your position.

    I think we may "automatically" avoid foods that make us uncomfortable. All my life, I've said I don't particularly like cooked fruit with meat. The other night, had a lovely pork loin in a grape pomegranate sauce, then spent the next 3 days with sternum-clenching heartburn.
    Why is this a big deal?
    Because I've only had heartburn 3 other times in my life.
    The very first time was when I was pregnant. I called my mother 4 states away and she laughed at me once I'd described my symptoms!!

    Thus, having had heartburn only a few times, I've never made a connection to any particular food that would induce it.
    That brings up the question -- why do I say I don't like cooked fruit with meat? An aversion that my body "knows" that my brain did not?

    Therefore, previous to last week, I had a food aversion without a KNOWN past negative experience.

    1. Some food looks inedible. For example, my mother's spinach was repulsive-looking, slimy, mushy, dark green slop. It reminded me of the clumps of grass that get stuck in the lawn mower, but as if they had been eaten by something, partially digested, then thrown back up.

      So if there are food aversions based on past experience, there should also be a category for food (either because of looks or smell) that screams "I was never intended to be eaten."

      1. Your example of a baby spitting out carrots is enough to prove your friend wrong. I know a number of people who associate a food with a prior negative physical (not psychological) experience, but that's hardly the only reason someone might reject a certain food. There are the people who taste something soapy in cilantro, for starters.

        1. The fact that some unfortunate people (like myself) taste soap when eating cilantro would seem to support the idea that aversions are not all in a person's head. I really, really want to like cilantro because so many people love it and it is found in foods I would otherwise love. I can't get past the soapy taste no matter how I try.

          1. Bitter is an aquired taste for most people. Almost all poisons are bitter in flavor, and babies tend to avoid them. Its been hardwired by a few million years of evolution. That bit of information was on some program I heard on the radio a couple of months ago, but it shouldn't be too hard to google it.

            To many people beets taste like dirt and to others cilantro tastes like soap. It is hardwired into them, they can't change how those tastes affect them. That is also very well documented.

            Other aversions are no doubt learned behavior. I got VERY sick once shortly after eating Macaroni and Cheese. No one else got sick afterwards, so it probably wasn't anything in the mac&cheese, but try telling my brain that. It was many many years before I could even stand the smell of the stuff, let alone the flavor.

            So yes, food aversion can be psychological, but it isn't always. And it can't always be overcome.