A taste aversion is a tendency to avoid or make negative associations with a food that you ate just before getting sick.

Many people have taste aversions and they’re often the subject of conversations about food. When someone asks, “What food do you dislike?” many people can come up with a story about a run-in with a food that they now refuse to eat.

An example of a conditioned taste aversion is getting the flu after eating a specific food, and then, long past the incident, avoiding the food that you ate prior to getting sick. This can happen even though the food didn’t cause the illness since it isn’t spread this way.

This is called a conditioned taste aversion because you’ve trained yourself to avoid the food even though it wasn’t related to your illness. This is considered a single-trial conditioning since it only took one time for you to be conditioned to avoid the food.

Taste aversions can occur both unconsciously and consciously. Sometimes, you can unconsciously avoid a food without realizing why. The strength of conditioned taste aversion usually depends on how much of the food you consumed and how sick you were.

Typically, taste aversion occurs after you’ve eaten something and then get sick. This sickness usually involves nausea and vomiting. The more intense the sickness, the longer the taste aversion lasts.

Certain conditions or illnesses, unrelated to the food you’re eating, can trigger nausea and vomiting that contribute to your taste aversion:

Food aversions are, for the most part, psychological. You’re not allergic to the food, your mind is just associating the food with the time you got sick. Here are a few ways to try and combat food aversions:

  • Make new associations. You may associate coconut flavor with the time you got ill after eating coconut cream pie, so you associate coconut with vomit. Instead, consciously try associating coconut with tropical islands, vacations, or relaxing on a warm beach.
  • Make the food in a new way. If you got sick after eating fried eggs, try to prepare your eggs in a different way — such as an omelet — to avoid associating eggs with sickness.
  • Increase your exposure. Slowly increasing your exposure to the taste you have an aversion to can prevent you from feeling sick or disgusted about the taste. Try just smelling it first, then taste a small amount.

Taste aversions can be a sign of a more serious issue such as an eating disorder. If you have taste aversions that affect your ability to eat a balanced diet, talk to your doctor about the possibility of an eating disorder.

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.

If you’re experiencing an extreme taste aversion that stops you from getting proper nutrition, make an appointment with your doctor. They can point you in the right direction for specialists or treatments that can help you put your taste aversions behind you.