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!

Introduction to pragmatic system state theory

systems theory philosophy diagramPragmatic system state theory is a conceptual model of the human experience that integrates general systems theory and pragmatism to produce a framework for practical therapeutic application…

wait…WAIT! I can’t do this. I can’t write this. There’s too much pressure. How the hell am I supposed to fit years worth of thought experiments into a single blog post? But I can’t weasel out… not when I’ve promised a paradigm shift. You’ll begin to feel it as I’ve felt it… or I’ll fail… epically. No escape. Prefrontal cortex shutting down… everything is panic…torture to think… losing my words… mind paralyzed, body fidgety, sweating, fighting to flee this one awful clawing question of how do I write this when words only tell us what we already know?

An idea. Not new, but seen through a different lens and a different language. I am alone, yet I am everything and everyone. I am the least and the most important expression of our universe. My time is infinite, yet quantized to the space of a single breath. In… Out… Each cycle a life lived in full.

Concept One: Our universe is expressed through time as a system – a set of elements that form a whole – whose boundary can be drawn at any expansion beyond a single point. From micro to macro, our nested human system can be subdivided by our human consciousness from single cell all the way out to the edge of our individual viable worlds. Common patterns, energy transformations, and feedback loops can be observed as consistencies throughout the whole.

Concept Two: Regardless of where our own system boundary is drawn by our consciousness, each enclosed element can be conceptualized as having equal, infinite importance to the definition of the human experience during a single quantization of time. All outside elements become environmental concerns. Since all possible boundary descriptions coexist through time, all system elements within our universe possess, concurrently, both infinite and insignificant value to the human experience.

Concept Three: When this conscious system boundary positioning is exercised to increase its flexibility, the brain (mind/personality) trades in its seat as master to become equal in importance to all other system elements in the human experience. If we value our own unique existence, the conceptual conclusion of this equality is unrelenting compassion for all elements forming the total universal system.

Concept Four: Accepting this equality of value allows an individual human to consciously engage with his/her system elements (including the brain’s concept of self) with unrelenting compassion and the freedom to assign importance/influence, ranging from infinite to insignificant, according to the choice of system boundary position. This concept eliminates the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict between our yearning for universal unity (bliss) and our need to assert our individual importance (ego). What was once a struggle becomes a conscious dance between equally valuable expressions of the human experience.

Concept Five: Pragmatic system state theory is concerned with the development of practical exercises and tools for increasing our system boundary flexibility and negotiating our personal system states – where system state is defined as the communal interactions of a set of equally valued elements within a described boundary during a specific quantization of time.

As with any branch of pragmatism, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Words are just words until they change the way engage with our humanity. A selection of Blank Canvas Living’s upcoming posts will highlight the remarkable therapeutic possibilities of pragmatic system state theory (taking full advantage of current neuroscience and neuroplasticity) in the fields of addiction, mood disorders, relationships, weight loss, productivity… and that’s just the beginning. But for now, perhaps the best argument for this conceptual model is how quickly and efficiently it helped me shift my own system state so I could get my shit together and write this blog post!

Debating the holidays with existentialist gingerbread men

existentialist gingerbread men“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What is the true value of any holiday? To strengthen and celebrate social bonds through shared ritual and tradition… D’uh! But wait a sec. What happens when we untether ourselves from our anchoring connections? How can we rank true value in the context of a raw genetic singularity? And if said singularity is coded to produce a system with no patience for pageantry, small talk, or foreplay (just give me a good man with a nice bit of fur), can there be any definitive ‘true hierarchical value’ inherent in the pomp and circumstance of human tradition?

Brains driven to philosophical reaching devote energy to the project not because it’s a laugh-a-minute-joy-ride, but because their rasping against reality becomes insistent, incessant, and incapacitating.Yes, ritual sets a shared stage and defines a common language of experience, but when that stage and language feels so incongruent to our individual system truths (or rather ‘working solutions’), do we just suck it up and play along?

Or…

None of us can thrive (or even survive!) as systems in isolation. Insanity can be defined as a system no longer compatible with a larger shared model of reality. A fine line in the sand? Maybe, but a very definitive one. So how far can we push into independent explorations of existence before we risk alienating our most precious resource, our extended system, our loves?

gingerbread cookiesExistentialism posits that personal freedom and conscious value assignment are axiomatically human. But take a closer look at the (decidedly male) brains behind the theory. In their time, with their DNA and experience, existentialism was a perfectly Viable World (What is Viable Worlds Theory?). Schopenhauer got off on music. Kierkegaard rejected the woman he loved, while the only woman Nietzsche loved rejected him (so what if she was already taken). And Sartre, don’t even get me started on Sartre! I can just see Simone De Beauvoir rolling her eyes as Sartre tried to brush off another affair as “not ‘meaning’ anything.”

As a woman, hopelessly romantic and impassioned by ideas, yet equally seduced by sensation and terrified of loss, can I risk that same freedom of intellectual ideation to find my own Viable World? Of course! And I did – when I made the unprecedented decision this past year to skip the holidays (and December’s blogging) and dedicate myself, through a concise set of thought experiments, to compatibility testing a long gestating philosophical framework with current neuroscience in a globalized human community. Miracle of miracles!! After ten long years, on December 27th, at 8:20am (while folding laundry – go figure) the rasping finally stopped!

But what about Christmas? I had to have faith that my loves would welcome their prodigal daughter back into the fold come 2014 – and, graciously, they have. But plugging myself back into a broader system is as frightening as it is comforting. What if I’ve pushed my Viable World too far? I was at the hair salon celebrating the start of this new journey (one in which I hope you’ll share!) when I overheard the woman in the chair next to me say, with full genuine emotion, “…and I just loooove Christmas.” I was suddenly, ridiculously jealous that there are people on this earth who can happily snuggle under the warm blanket of symbol and habit, while so many of us are coded to keep asking “why?”

My back went out when I stood up from that hair appointment – a week and a half later and it’s still hurting like a bi-atch. I can’t help wondering whether, on the verge of massive conscious neural rewiring, my brain/body is trying to hold on to its past, and its struggle. It’s such a girl thing, isn’t it, worrying if something new and wonderful is simply too good to be true? F*ck it! I’ve got the balls to find out!

Nietzsche’s assumption of a ‘true hierarchy’ of values is the ultimate in human arrogance. If you find yourself rasping against your own reality this January, risk asking “why?” and dare to engage with your personal system’s intuitive hierarchy without judgement or hubris. Because, it’s only after honest acknowledgment and acceptance that negotiations can begin.

back painNote: Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, my back relaxed to a state of near bliss (literally overnight!) after first drafting this post. We are truly fascinating, mysterious beings, us humans.