Overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps

taste aversionA taste aversion is your brain being an overprotective parent. Sure, it has your best interests in mind, but that’s not much of a consolation when you’re the only one at the party who can’t binge on the olive dip or tequila jello shooters. From an evolutionary perspective, developing an aversion to a food or drink connected with (how do I put a this delicately?) a post-ingestion ‘indelicacy’, makes good biological sense. But sometimes this mechanism overcompensates and we’re left missing out on all the fun.

It was a magical night… The newlywed couple, deeply in love and deeply stoned, gazed dreamily into each other’s bloodshot eyes over a greasy vinyl tablecloth at Ottawa’s Shawarma Palace. Yes, magical, until the foolish bride munchied her way through an entire soup bowl sized slurry of ridiculously potent garlic dipping sauce, plus garlic potatoes and garlicky chicken shawarma! Thus, began the nightmare… CLICK HERE (if you dare). Don’t do drugs, kids – just don’t.

evil garlic bulbYes, dear readers, that dear sweet not-so-innocent girl was yours truly. For almost ten years post-trauma I managed to live quite contentedly off the garlic grid. Everything was peachy until the owners of my office building’s downstairs cafe changed and the ventilation system started pumping nauseating garlic fumes directly into my workspace through the overhead vent!

“Really?” I said, looking up at the ceiling – and possibly a little higher to find someone to blame for this cruel twist of fate. “REALLY?!”

No escape, no more excuses. I could either quit my job or somehow trick my brain into loving that little demon bulb again. Because I tell ya, time sure wasn’t doing the trick! And after spending years researching the brain, I knew exactly how to set about it…

The proof is in pudding, or in this case, the garlic chicken n’ sweet potato curry (pictured above) I ate for supper last night… and today’s breakfast… and lunch… CLICK HERE FOR RECIPE

How to overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps:

1- Find the origin story of your taste aversion and accept it with unrelenting compassion. This will give you permission to rationally refute your emotional/sensory bias, which will give you a good start. But like most cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), reconceptualization without more direct communication with your subconscious is a whole lotta pain for oftentimes marginal gain.

2- Observe your reflexive responses and replace them with new body behaviours. I noticed that whenever I was watching the Food Network, and the host would say, “and now add the garlic,” my face – no joke – would seize into textbook disgust. I consciously began anticipating garlic and greeting its stage entrance with a wilful smile. Felt like an idiot, sure, but only until the new reflex became automatic (which happened surprisingly quickly).

3- Visualize, visualize, visualize! This is big one. Start with visualizing (using all your senses!) other people enjoying your food or alcohol taste aversion. Fill the scene with as many positive emotional and sensory associations as possible. I used a warm, happy Italian family having a Sunday supper in a rustic Tuscan kitchen (stereotypes are great here because they come pre-loaded with helpful associations). Project yourself into the scene. Then, when you’re ready, visualize yourself enjoying the food in question on your own terms, in your own setting. Note: practice visualizations in Theta brain wave state for maximum effectiveness, when you’re dozing off or groggily waking up.

4- Practice a kinder, gentler version of exposure therapy. Sure Vogue food writer Jeffery Steingarten was able to fake it till he made it with his taste aversions, but why torture yourself? Develop your new intimacy slowly and strategically. Personalize new recipes and really play with this new ingredient. I chose a particularly non-threatening, dare-I-say ‘cute’ garlic bulb to get me started. Invite the food into a kitchen (and bedroom – wish I was joking) that’s loaded with positive associations, good music, mood, and/or company. Keep your mind and senses in the present moment to prevent memory from hijacking control. And don’t pressure yourself. First dates don’t dictate relationships – I would know!

5- Take your power back and watch your words! I was playing a dangerous game above when I referred to garlic as “that little demon bulb.” Words have incredibly powerful associations, so be careful which words you use when talking about your loosening aversion – especially to yourself. This is going to sound painfully Oprah-esque, but… appreciate where you are in your journey (Ow! it hurts to even type that!). Don’t lie to yourself by saying, “Ooooo I love ______,” when it pops up on the menu, but be honest and take that moment to reflect on your successful experiments and how you’re so proud of yourself for working at taking back your personal power over your taste aversion. Which is to say, take these opportunities to consciously congratulate yourself for learning to work with your brain and not be bullied by it!

Update: Using the above method, I’ve now cured my taste aversion to olives too! Finally, I can take the Mediterranean off my no-fly-zone list – watch out Greece, here comes Cymbria!

7 thoughts on “Overcome a taste aversion in 5 simple steps

  1. It’s a good thing I was not drinking when I opened your blog! My keyboard would not have survived the laugh your garlics caused me!

    • Ah yes, I believe you’ve pointed out yet another possible scourge of the demon clove lolz! Oh man, I just broke rule #5 again – I’ve got to be more careful… I can’t risk backsliding! It’s a darn slippery slope from garlic curry right back to balking at spaghetti sauce ~wink

  2. This happened to me with Peach Schnapps. There was an adventure involving a bottle of it one evening, followed by a flight as a passenger in a rather bouncy turboprop the next morning. I can’t even smell the stuff now, years later, without instantly remembering that flight. In detail… (notice how I switched to the passive when describing it, even…)

    • What a nightmare!! And it’s not like your fellow passengers would have given you any sympathy if you’d …er… expressed your agonies into one of those darling little complementary bags. Hangovers don’t have any charity marathons or dedicated lapel ribbons… although after some similar “adventures” of my own, I really think they should! (ps: switching into the passive is the best way to foster a sense of detachment – from the story and not your lunch lol!)

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