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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Overcoming food aversion

Food aversion is an intense dislike of a particular food. People may experience this emotion with foods they have never tried or would normally consume. 

Sometimes, people have had a food aversion for so long, they may not remember when it started. Often, though, a sudden repulsion develops with certain foods. A variety of factors could drive this change in taste.

4
 minute read
Last updated on 
January 22, 2024
Food aversion
In this article

What can cause a sudden aversion to food?

Sudden disgust or fear of food can develop from hormonal changes, emotional disturbances, or illness.1 Food aversion is not always an eating disorder, so understanding its potential causes is essential for management and recovery.

Pregnancy

Pregnant people may discover that certain foods they normally enjoy are suddenly making them feel sick (almost like the opposite of food cravings). This could be due to the activation of growth differentiation factor-15 (GDF15). Levels of this stress-regulated hormone rise more than tenfold during the first trimester and continue to rise more slowly throughout pregnancy.2

Research suggests that high GDF-15 concentrations correlate with nausea and vomiting. This may be due to the hormone’s protective potential against toxic environmental agents.2

It's common for pregnant people to develop temporary food aversions.

Food allergies

Food allergies can discourage the consumption of foods known to cause an adverse reaction. Allergies manifest at any stage of life with mild to severe symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and inflammatory skin conditions.

Common food allergens include:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Soy
  • Sweet potato
  • Tree nuts
  • Grains

In a 2021 study in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, people with multiple triggers were at a higher risk of developing food and taste aversions.3

Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that often co-occurs with gastrointestinal issues and restrictive eating behaviors. These issues may start in childhood and persist throughout puberty and adulthood.

Eating behaviors such as food aversion might result from a combination of patterns associated with ASD, including restricted interests and sensory sensitivities regarding food.4

Gastrointestinal issues

People with a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder often seek to restrict or eliminate foods thought to intensify GI symptoms. These individuals may also have more severe symptoms of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

A 2021 article in the International Journal of Eating Disorders reported that groups with a GI disorder and ARFID may experience an indifference to eating, and overall disgust sensitivity that can cause greater food aversion.6

Mental health conditions

Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a key symptom of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. It may develop from dysfunctions in the reward system. Even short episodes of psychosocial stress, such as with grief or trauma, can induce anhedonia symptoms.

A 2022 study in Foods found that people with mental health conditions tend to have sensory food aversion, which means they focus on their food’s sensory characteristics, such as memories, novelty, eating with others, and ethical considerations.5

Man hiking looking into the distance

Steps to overcoming food aversions

Changing food preferences is a normal human experience. However, when “picky eating” negatively impacts physical or emotional well-being, it might be time to dig deeper into its triggers. 

Since food aversion has varied causes, interventions, and their intensities will be different for everyone. Education and support about this condition can help ensure safe treatment and empowerment for cultivating a more positive connection with food.

The journey of recovery might involve:

  • Trying new foods
  • Eating new meals with family and friends
  • Speaking with a nutritionist or family doctor about your aversion
  • Seeking out treatment options if the aversion becomes disordered eating
Find freedom at Within

Within offers a dedicated, understanding team of experts ready to help you overcome your food aversion concerns. Our professionals build your treatment program based on your needs, preferences, and condition. We also work with your insurance to help maximize your access to our full range of services.

Let us help you restore your appetite for what you love. Get help for disordered eating at Within today.

Get a free consultation

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Simonazzi, C., Natali, L., Valmaggia, L., Rowlands, K., Meregalli, V., Rabarbari, E., De Luca Comandini, A., Favaro, A., Fontana, F., Treasure, J., & Cardi, V. (2023). Food-related aversion in a female sample of people with anorexia nervosa: Cognitive-behavioural correlates, somatic and subjective anxiety, and early experiences. Appetite, 180, 106366. 
  2. Lockhart, S. M., Saudek, V., & O’Rahilly, S. (2020). GDF15: A hormone conveying somatic distress to the brain. Endocrine Reviews, 41(4). 
  3. Su, K. W., Patil, S. U., Stockbridge, J. L., Martin, V. M., Virkud, Y. V., Huang, J. L., Shreffler, W. G., & Yuan, Q. (2020). Food aversion and poor weight gain in food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome: A retrospective study. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 145(5), 1430–1437. 
  4. Schröder, S. S., Danner, U. N., Spek, A. A., & van Elburg, A. A. (2022). Problematic eating behaviours of autistic women—a scoping review. European Eating Disorders Review, 30(5), 510–537. 
  5. Hyldelund, N. B., Byrne, D. V., Chan, R. C., & Andersen, B. V. (2022). The relationship between social anhedonia and perceived pleasure from food—an exploratory investigation on a consumer segment with depression and anxiety. Foods, 11(22), 3659. 
  6. Nicholas, J. K., Tilburg, M. A., Pilato, I., Erwin, S., Rivera‐Cancel, A. M., Ives, L., Marcus, M. D., & Zucker, N. L. (2021). The diagnosis of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder in the presence of gastrointestinal disorders: Opportunities to define shared mechanisms of symptom expression. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 54(6), 995–1008. 

FAQs

What is food aversion?

Food aversion is a strong repulsion to certain foods. The smell, taste, texture, sight, or mention of particular foods may trigger nausea, disgust, or anxiety in a person with this condition.

In some cases, people may just think those with food aversion have extreme picky eating habits, but it may be a deeper mental health issue that needs to be addressed.

When do food aversions start in pregnancy?

In individuals prone to experiencing food aversion, the condition often develops in the first trimester due to hormonal changes. However, aversions can begin at any point during pregnancy.

When do food aversions go away?

Food aversions can go away as suddenly and mysteriously as they develop. Time and, if needed, treatment may help alleviate difficulty with eating aversive foods. 

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Further reading

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