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What is a food aversion?

Sending your partner out on a midnight ice cream run? Grabbing a jar of pickles for breakfast? Food cravings are so expected during pregnancy, they’re a familiar cliché.

But what about food aversions? If you were expecting to want to eat everything in sight while pregnant, then your sudden hatred of what used to be your favorite snack might take you by surprise.

Here’s why you can’t eat some things you used to love and how you can cope with food aversions during pregnancy.

What causes food aversions during pregnancy?

Food aversions, like cravings, are possibly caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy. The amount of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone that triggered your positive pregnancy test, doubles every few days during your first trimester.

HCG levels peak and level off at around week 11 of pregnancy. Up to that point, the rapidly rising levels may be behind symptoms such as nausea, cravings, and food aversions. However, your hormones will continue to affect your appetite throughout pregnancy.

Your food aversions could also be associated with your morning sickness. This could be because both are caused by hCG. However, it could also be because you associate morning sickness with the foods you’re eating at the time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, nausea and food aversions can both be early symptoms of pregnancy, which continue into the first trimester. These early symptoms sometimes even last throughout pregnancy.

What the research says

A literature review published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that nausea and food aversions may be related when they occur during pregnancy. The study’s authors emphasized that this conclusion is largely based on dated studies, and more research is needed.

A review of literature in the Journal of Food and Nutrition Research asserted a relationship between food aversions and both nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

The researchers suggested that this relationship may be caused by a bodily mechanism that protects against potentially harmful elements in certain foods. The relationship may also be the result of complex cultural and psychological reasons.

When are food aversions most likely to occur?

You’re most likely to experience food aversions during the first trimester. However, you can experience food aversions at any point during pregnancy. New aversions can also develop at any time during your pregnancy.

Most of the time, food aversions will disappear after your baby arrives. It’s also possible for aversions to continue indefinitely.

What are common food aversions during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you can experience an aversion or a craving for any food. It’s even possible to have an aversion toward a specific food at one point during your pregnancy and to crave the same food later. However, the most common aversions are toward foods with strong smells.

Common pregnancy aversions include:

Some pregnant women also crave the foods listed above. Which foods you hate — or crave — during pregnancy aren’t necessarily related to your pre-pregnancy diet.

As pregnancy is wreaking havoc on your hormones, it’s common to want to eat something you used to dislike and to hate foods you used to love.

How can you cope with food aversions during pregnancy?

In most cases, it’s healthy to listen to your body during pregnancy. This means that it’s fine to avoid your aversions and eat the foods you crave — in moderation. Try not to overdo it.

A study in the journal Appetite found that giving in to cravings in a big way during pregnancy is associated with excessive weight gain.

If your aversions include foods that are important during pregnancy, make sure you’re getting those nutrients in other ways. For example, if you have an aversion to meat, eat plenty of other high-protein foods such as nuts and beans.

You can also get around aversions by “hiding” the food that you don’t want in other foods. For example, if salads make you feel sick, try putting your leafy greens in a fruit smoothie. There you won’t notice the taste or texture.

What is the takeaway?

Both food aversions and cravings are normal during pregnancy, so you usually don’t need to be concerned. However, if you’re unable to eat most foods, it could affect your baby’s growth. If this is the case, discuss weight gain with your doctor.

During pregnancy, food aversions are sometimes accompanied by cravings for ice or other nonfoods.

It’s possible for pregnant women to crave harmful things that aren’t food, such as dirt or chalk. This condition, called pica, can be a sign of an underlying medical problem. If you experience this, call your doctor.

Q&A: Nausea and morning sickness

Q:

What are some remedies for nausea and morning sickness during pregnancy?

Anonymous patient

A:

Morning sickness is common during pregnancy but it usually resolves after the first trimester. There is no cure for morning sickness but there are recommendations that could make morning sickness tolerable. Try to set your alarm a little early in the morning so that you can give yourself plenty of time to wake up and move slowly getting out of bed. Place some saltine crackers on your nightstand so that you can eat them upon sitting up in bed. During the day eat small meals and avoid any spicy or greasy food. There are some products you can buy to help, for example Preggie Pop Drops, which are drug free; Sea-Bands, which use acupressure pulse points to help you fight nausea; and candy drops that contain ginger and lemon to sooth the stomach.

Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COIAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.