Food Aversion Meaning & Causes (2023)

Overview

What is food aversion?

Food aversion is feeling disgusted or repulsed by certain food and you won’t eat it. You can develop a food aversion to any food. The condition could happen suddenly and ranges from foods you previously enjoyed or foods you’ve tasted before but didn’t like.

Who does a food aversion affect?

Food aversion can affect anyone. It's most common among people who are pregnant and children.

How common is a food aversion?

Food aversion is very common. Studies show that nearly 70% of people who are pregnant experience aversion to at least one food during pregnancy.

How does a food aversion affect my body?

It's normal to not like certain foods. Food aversion causes you to reject a specific food because your brain tells your body that it's inedible. It also causes your body to react negatively by feeling nauseous or gagging, at the sight, scent or taste of the food.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of food aversion?

Symptoms of food aversion vary from person to person and range in severity. Some cases of food aversion are mild where there is a strong dislike for certain foods, and others show a severe repulsion to certain foods that lead to nausea. Symptoms of food aversion include:

(Video) What Causes Pregnancy Food Cravings and Aversions?! (Plus, How Moms-to-be Can Deal!)

  • Dislike of a certain food.
  • The smell or taste of the food causes coughing, gagging, nausea or vomiting.

Symptoms in children

When children try new foods, their bodies could react to them differently than adults, so children with food aversion can have different symptoms including:

  • Displaying strong emotion when given food they don’t like (crying, screaming, throwing a tantrum).
  • Refusing to eat foods that look, smell or share the same texture as the food they don’t like.
  • Refusing to eat food in the same way that they eat other foods (messy eating, not chewing it completely before swallowing).
  • Eating meals takes longer than normal when given food they don’t like.

Severe symptoms

Severe symptoms of food aversion for both children and adults include:

  • Unable to gain or lose weight.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Dehydration.
  • Frequent headaches.

When do symptoms of food aversion begin during pregnancy?

Symptoms of food aversion during pregnancy begin during the first trimester. This occurs because the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone increases among people who are pregnant during this time.

What causes food aversion?

The exact cause of food aversion is unknown. Some studies suggest food aversion is the result of hormonal changes or challenges with sensory processing.

Hormonal changes

Research suggests that hormonal changes, specifically increases in the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, that happens among people who are pregnant causes food aversions in the same way it causes food cravings.

The hCG hormone is also responsible for morning sickness during pregnancy. Often, people who experience morning sickness associate feeling sick with a specific food they ate if they are unable to keep it down. This can impact a person’s relationship with a specific food.

Sensory processing

Your brain is responsible for processing senses including what you see, smell, touch, taste and feel. Sensory processing challenges most often affect children, especially children who are learning to use all of their senses. It also affects people who have an underlying condition that targets the senses like autism spectrum disorder. Children usually display food aversion to things that are new, unknown or related to a previous trauma (for example, they ate something that upset their stomach).

(Video) An Eating Disorder Specialist Explains How Trauma Creates Food Disorders

Reasons for a child to express food aversion due to sensory processing issues include:

  • Doesn’t like the feeling of that food in their mouth (texture).
  • Feeling full or not hungry.
  • Food is too hot or too cold.
  • Food doesn’t look like something they think tastes good.
  • Dental problems (tooth pain).
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Undiagnosed allergy (food causes their body to react negatively to it).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is food aversion diagnosed?

Often, food aversion doesn’t need a medical diagnosis if it's a mild case where you only experience a strong dislike of a few foods that don’t interfere with your ability to eat a well-balanced diet.

If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider will diagnose food aversion after ordering a urine or blood test to check for the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone.

Food aversion can be a bit more challenging to diagnose among children and people who aren’t pregnant due to the unknown cause. In this case, your provider will provide ask for your complete medical history along with a physical exam and/or a blood or urine test to rule out any underlying conditions where food aversion is a symptom.

Your provider’s goal is to rule out any conditions that have similar symptoms that lead to your diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

How is food aversion treated?

In some cases, especially among people who are pregnant, it's OK to avoid the specific food that causes food aversion as long as you replace the nutrients from that food with something that you can safely eat.

In other cases where the food you do not like is vital for your health, you can work to treat your food aversion by:

  • Hiding the food you don’t like within food that you do like (adding food to a smoothie, for example).
  • Changing the texture of the food (grilling food instead of frying it).
  • Working with a therapist to understand why you don’t like a certain food or to “desensitize” your food aversion.
  • Slowly increasing exposure to adverse foods.

Can you grow out of a food aversion?

In some cases, you can grow out of a mild case of food aversion to a specific food because time could desensitize your dislike for the food.

If your food aversion is severe, especially if it causes nausea or if you or your child doesn’t like several foods that are vital for their health, don’t rely on time to desensitize your food aversion. It's best to talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for severe cases.

(Video) My Pregnancy Food Aversions + Cravings, And What They Mean

Prevention

How can I prevent food aversions?

Since the cause of food aversion is unknown, there is no sure way to prevent it. It's especially difficult to prevent food aversion among people who are pregnant because of hormonal changes that cause food aversion.

For children, you can take steps to prevent food aversion by:

(Video) FIRST TRIMESTER // Food Aversions

  • Slowly exposing your child to new foods.
  • Presenting new food in a creative way like placing food in the shape of a smiley face on their plate.
  • Avoid punishing your child for not eating a specific food.
  • Eating the new food with your child; be a role model.
  • Introducing new food on the same plate as familiar food that your child likes.
  • Managing portion size of new food and don’t force your child to eat more if they are full.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a food aversion?

Food aversion will make it difficult to eat certain foods because your body will negatively react to the sight, scent or taste of that food. It's OK to avoid foods you don’t like as long as those foods aren’t vital to your diet or you’re able to replace the food’s nutrients with another food or a supplement. Some food aversions go away with time and severe cases of food aversion need treatment to desensitize your body’s dislike of the food.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should visit your healthcare provider if your food aversion is making it difficult for you to eat or you’re losing vital nutrients due to your aversion.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Do I need to see a specialist to treat my food aversion?
  • How do I introduce new foods to my child?
  • Am I getting enough nutrients without eating the food I am adverse to?
  • Will my food aversion go away after my child is born?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Food aversion is very common and can suddenly happen to anyone. You might acquire a distaste for a certain food you previously loved or food you only tried once. It's OK to avoid the food you don’t like eating as long as you can replace the missing nutrients in your diet. If your food aversion causes a disruption to your mealtime routine or you’re unable to eat a well-balanced diet, talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options.

FAQs

What is food aversion meaning? ›

A food aversion is an intense dislike of a specific food, together with unpleasant physical symptoms when you see or smell a particular food. These reactions are usually triggered by emotions associated with food rather than the food itself.

What are food aversion issues? ›

A food aversion is when a toddler or child refuses foods that are presented to him despite being developmentally appropriate. There are various factors that may play a role in the feeding experience, including sensory issues.

What causes taste aversions? ›

Taste aversions usually occur when you get nauseous or vomit after eating something and then associate the food with the sickness. Sometimes, a taste aversion will fade over time. However, some people report having taste aversions many years after the incident occurred.

What are the most common food aversions? ›

A food aversion during pregnancy is the strong desire to avoid a certain dish, though the ones you find repulsive might be just fine for other expectant mothers. In general, the most common food aversions that crop up during pregnancy include eggs, onions, fish and other seafood, garlic, meat and dairy products.

Is food aversion a mental illness? ›

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, also known as ARFID, is an eating disorder or feeding disturbance that is characterized by a persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs. ARFID is often associated with a psychiatric co-morbidity, especially anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

How is food aversion disorder treated? ›

Through exposure therapy, a person with ARFID can learn positive coping skills to overcome these specific fears. Other therapies that are known to help treat ARFID in adults are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), two common therapies that are used to treat eating disorders.

What does food aversion look like? ›

A food aversion is when you can't stand to eat (or even smell) certain foods. It's the opposite of a craving, and like cravings, food aversions are very common during pregnancy. It's estimated that about 60 percent of pregnant women have food aversions.

How long do food aversions last? ›

Aversions and morning sickness often start within a week of each other, usually during the first trimester. While food aversions and cravings are at their peak during the first half of pregnancy, they can last the entire 9 months and even beyond.

Can depression cause food aversions? ›

People with depression often experience anxiety which can result in gastrointestinal symptoms (such as nausea, diarrhoea or abdominal pain), which can cause a loss of appetite. Depression can cause people to feel sad, worthless or hopeless. With so much going on in their mind, they can forget to eat.

Who can help with food aversion? ›

Whatever the cause, all children with a feeding aversion will need to work with a paediatric dietitian on two things: optimising nutrition for health and growth. positive food parenting & mealtime strategies.

Why do I dislike food? ›

Many aversions are driven by our sensory processes of smell, sight, taste, and texture. We can also make decisions to avoid specific foods whether they are for health, diet, or cost. Once we have developed these avoidance (or approach) behaviors, changing them is enormously challenging.

What are the three types of taste disorders? ›

The most common smell and taste disorders are:
  • Anosmia. Loss of sense of smell.
  • Ageusia. Loss of sense of taste.
  • Hyposmia. Reduced ability to smell.
  • Hypogeusia. Reduced ability to taste sweet, sour, bitter, or salty things.

What Week Do food aversions start? ›

Your body experiences many hormonal changes during pregnancy. The hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), doubles every day during the first few months of pregnancy, and naturally peaks around week 11. Increased hCG levels are also associated with morning sickness, and may contribute to food aversions.

Is food aversion a symptom of anxiety? ›

Anxiety can cause a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite. These effects are primarily due to hormonal changes in the body, but some people may also avoid eating as a result of the physical sensations of anxiety. Individuals who experience chronic or severe anxiety should see their doctor.

Can stress cause food aversions? ›

Anxiety triggers emotional and psychological changes in your body to help you deal with the pressure. These changes often affect the stomach and digestive tract and can make you lose your appetite. If stress is the reason, your hunger usually returns once you're feeling more relaxed.

What is it called when you don't like food? ›

Anorexia. If you get an anorexia diagnosis (known as anorexia nervosa), you're not eating enough food. This means you're not getting the energy you need to stay healthy.

Are food aversions genetic? ›

The number of taste buds on an individual's tongue determines how strongly they can taste certain flavors and profiles. There are also genetic predispositions for aversion to certain foods. For example, you may be one of the many people who think cilantro tastes like soap.

What causes food avoidance? ›

What Causes ARFID? The exact cause of ARFID is not known. Many experts believe that a combination of psychological, genetic, and triggering events (such as choking) can lead to the condition. Some kids with ARFID have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other medical conditions that can lead to feeding problems.

How do you get over food avoidance? ›

This therapy involves relaxation techniques, mental visualization; writing and talking about the avoided foods; learning positive coping skills for overcoming the fear and anxiety surrounding food; and ultimately eating the avoided foods in a safe environment.

How do you overcome food texture aversion? ›

More Tips for Helping Kids with Texture Aversions

Serve very small portions to reduce mealtime stress. Allow kids to touch, taste, nibble, spit out, and explore their food as needed. All of that exposure, even if they don't actually swallow the food, is helpful progress.

Should I force myself to eat if I have no appetite? ›

Forcing yourself to eat can be detrimental, especially if you make yourself sick. It would be better to have a light snack, like a piece of fruit or small bowl of granola, than to force yourself to eat a full meal if you are not hungry.

What causes no appetite? ›

People can experience a loss of appetite for a wide range of reasons. Some of these are short-term, including colds, food poisoning, other infections, or the side effects of medication. Others are to do with long-term medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, or life-limiting illnesses.

Can stress cause nausea and food aversions? ›

Stress can cause physical symptoms, like nausea and indigestion, that interfere with your appetite or desire to eat. In addition, research suggests that your appetite levels can be influenced differently based on the type of stress you experience.

How is oral aversion treated? ›

They may need intubation and suctioning for optimal breathing. They may be fed through an NG-tube (through the nose and down the back of the throat) or an OG tube (directly into the stomach).

What is food aversion OCD? ›

A person with food aversion and OCD may obsessively avoid certain foods or become obsessive over eating only a few specific types of foods, because they are attempting to avoid unpleasant symptoms like upset stomach, allergic reactions, or difficulty swallowing.

Does ADHD cause food aversions? ›

ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

Signals for hunger, thirst, pain, sleepiness, and toileting may not come naturally to kids with ADHD. While it is widely accepted that poor interoception can lead to food aversions and under eating, it may also contribute to misinterpreting different bodily signals as hunger.

What is neophobia food? ›

Food neophobia is generally regarded as the reluctance to eat, or the avoidance of, new foods. In contrast, 'picky/fussy' eaters are usually defined as children who consume an inadequate variety of foods through rejection of a substantial amount of foods that are familiar (as well as unfamiliar) to them.

What deficiency affects taste? ›

Vitamin or mineral deficiencies—Deficiencies in the B vitamins, especially B12, as well as certain minerals like zinc have been associated with loss of taste.

What diseases take away taste? ›

These include:
  • COVID-19 infection.
  • Sinus infection (sinusitis).
  • Common cold.
  • Influenza (flu).
  • Pharyngitis (sore throat).
  • Strep throat.
  • Salivary gland infections.
  • Gum (periodontal) disease.
29 Sept 2021

What illnesses can affect taste? ›

Problems with taste and smell can suggest certain health problems, such as:
  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Nervous system diseases, such as: Parkinson disease. Alzheimer disease. Multiple sclerosis.

What week of pregnancy does food aversion start? ›

Food aversions often begin during the first trimester. Some women find that their food aversions roughly coincide with the start of morning sickness, around week 5 or 6 of pregnancy.

What is food aversion in autism? ›

Research also tells us that many individuals with autism tend to have strong preferences for carbohydrates and processed foods, while rejecting fruits and vegetables. This, too, may reflect an aversion to strong tastes and textures.

Are food aversions boy or girl? ›

Although it has not been claimed by any study, more and more women claim that having a girl is linked to chicken aversion. Meanwhile, in many web discussions on pregnancy, red meat aversions have been seen to be associated with having a baby boy.

Can you have food aversions before a positive pregnancy test? ›

Food aversions

Though this isn't usually one of the very first signs of pregnancy, it does tend to pop up in the first trimester. Blame those pregnancy hormones again, especially early on when your body is flooded with them and still getting used to all the hormonal changes.

What are the first signs of pregnancy? ›

The most common early signs and symptoms of pregnancy might include:
  • Missed period. If you're in your childbearing years and a week or more has passed without the start of an expected menstrual cycle, you might be pregnant. ...
  • Tender, swollen breasts. ...
  • Nausea with or without vomiting. ...
  • Increased urination. ...
  • Fatigue.

What is it called when you don't like eating? ›

Anorexia is a general loss of appetite or a loss of interest in food. When some people hear the word “anorexia,” they think of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.

What causes loss of appetite? ›

People can experience a loss of appetite for a wide range of reasons. Some of these are short-term, including colds, food poisoning, other infections, or the side effects of medication. Others are to do with long-term medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, or life-limiting illnesses.

What to Eat When You don't have an appetite? ›

Try these ideas to bump your energy when you have no appetite: Eat nutritious foods such as yoghurt, cheese or bread/English muffins/crumpets with nourishing toppings like avocado, cottage/ricotta cheese, or nut butters. Drink milk-based drinks such as plain and flavoured milk or smoothies.

What causes food texture aversion? ›

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) can cause texture sensitivities with food. If your child suffers from SPD, the texture of food can be painfully distracting and cause extreme anxiety. They may also suffer from sensory overload causing them to avoid food while in certain environments.

How is food aversion treated in children? ›

ARFID is best treated by a team that includes a doctor, dietitian, and therapist who specialize in eating disorders. Treatment may include nutrition counseling, medical care, and feeding therapy. If choking is a concern, a speech-language pathologist can do a swallowing and feeding evaluation.

Videos

1. Signs of Food Aversion in Autistic Children
(healthcentral)
2. Autism: Eating Problems and their causes
(Loren Snow)
3. Autism And Food Issues - This Is Why YOU Are Wrong (3 TIPS To Improve)
(The Aspie World)
4. What is ARFID? Information and details on ARFID behaviour, causes and treatment.
(Specialist Hypnotherapy)
5. DON’T DO THIS When Feeding Baby | Things That Cause Feeding Aversion
(Friendly Kid Doc)
6. Pregnancy and Food Aversions || My Experience So Far + Fun Facts.
(Teeto Tiana)
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