food aversions

Memory is strongly associated with scents and tastes. A bad experience associated with a particular food can cause a strong aversion to this food. The person may not even remember the experience, but still have a strong aversive reaction to the food.

As an example, I traveled to Guatemala when I was 18 with a university program. I stayed with a host family while I was there. One day my host mom served papusas, which are goat cheese-filled tortillas. They were delicious and I ate several of them. The next day I became violently ill and vomited several times. My dear sweet, host mom wanted to help me feel better so she prepared me some chamomile tea to calm my stomach. Clearly, I was beyond a little nausea that could be cured with tea. But I couldn’t refuse her help so I drank the tea, which made a quick reappearance. To this day, I get a little queasy if I get a strong taste of goat cheese or chamomile tea. It may not have even been the cheese that made me sick, but since it was the last thing I ate, that’s what my mind associated the pain with!

So, if your child has a horrible vomiting experience, take note of which foods were last eaten. Be mindful that your child may develop an aversion to these foods for a period of time after the illness. It will probably be temporary. My husband had a similar experience with lasagna as a child, and now it’s his favourite food!

Illness is not the only experience that can cause a food aversion. Any negative experience associated with a food can do the same thing. Though not an exhaustive list, here are some other examples:

  • Having been force-fed a particular food
  • Sexual abuse (neighbour invites child into house for Oreos and then abuses child)
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Learning of bad news (during dinner family receives call that father has been in a car accident)


Does your child have a severe negative reaction to a particular food (fear, anxiety, vomiting, gagging, etc)?

If your child does not have a feeding disorder but does have a severe negative reaction to a particular food, it may be a result of a bad experience. If you think your child has been traumatized, please seek help from a mental health professional.