Food Aversion

Food aversion is a strong dislike for a particular food. The sight, smell or taste of the food causes you to feel nauseous or makes you gag. Both children and adults experience food aversion. Hormonal changes cause food aversion in pregnant people. It’s OK to avoid the food you don’t like as long as you can replace the missing nutrients in your diet.


What is food aversion?

Food aversion is feeling disgusted or repulsed by certain food and you won’t eat it. You can develop a food aversion to any food. The condition could happen suddenly and ranges from foods you previously enjoyed or foods you’ve tasted before but didn’t like.


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Who does a food aversion affect?

Food aversion can affect anyone. It’s most common among people who are pregnant and children.

How common is a food aversion?

Food aversion is very common. Studies show that nearly 70% of people who are pregnant experience aversion to at least one food during pregnancy.


How does a food aversion affect my body?

It’s normal to not like certain foods. Food aversion causes you to reject a specific food because your brain tells your body that it’s inedible. It also causes your body to react negatively by feeling nauseous or gagging, at the sight, scent or taste of the food.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of food aversion?

Symptoms of food aversion vary from person to person and range in severity. Some cases of food aversion are mild where there’s a strong dislike for certain foods, and others show a severe repulsion to certain foods that lead to nausea. Symptoms of food aversion include:

  • Dislike of a certain food.
  • The smell or taste of the food causes coughing, gagging, nausea or vomiting.

Symptoms in children

When children try new foods, their bodies could react to them differently than adults, so children with food aversion can have different symptoms, including:

  • Displaying strong emotion when given food they don’t like (crying, screaming, throwing a tantrum).
  • Refusing to eat foods that look, smell or share the same texture as the food they don’t like.
  • Refusing to eat food in the same way that they eat other foods (messy eating, not chewing it completely before swallowing).
  • Eating meals taking longer than normal when given food they don’t like.

Severe symptoms

Severe symptoms of food aversion for both children and adults include:

  • Inability to gain or lose weight.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Dehydration.
  • Frequent headaches.

When do symptoms of food aversion begin during pregnancy?

Symptoms of food aversion during pregnancy begin during the first trimester. This occurs because the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone increases among people who are pregnant during this time.


What causes food aversion?

The exact cause of food aversion is unknown. Some studies suggest food aversion is the result of hormonal changes or challenges with sensory processing.

Hormonal changes

Research suggests that hormonal changes, specifically increases in the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone, that happens among people who are pregnant causes food aversions in the same way it causes food cravings.

The HCG hormone is also responsible for morning sickness during pregnancy. Often, people who experience morning sickness associate feeling sick with a specific food they ate if they are unable to keep it down. This can impact a person’s relationship with a specific food.

Sensory processing

Your brain is responsible for processing senses including what you see, smell, touch, taste and feel. Sensory processing challenges most often affect children, especially children who are learning to use all of their senses. It also affects people who have an underlying condition that targets the senses like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children usually display food aversion to things that are new, unknown or related to a previous trauma (for example, they ate something that upset their stomach).

Reasons for a child to express food aversion due to sensory processing issues include:

  • Not liking the feeling of that food in their mouth (texture).
  • Feeling full or not hungry.
  • Food being too hot or too cold.
  • Food not looking like something they think tastes good.
  • Dental problems (tooth pain).
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
  • Undiagnosed allergy (food causes their body to react negatively to it).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is food aversion diagnosed?

Often, food aversion doesn’t need a medical diagnosis if it’s a mild case where you only experience a strong dislike of a few foods that don’t interfere with your ability to eat a well-balanced diet.

If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider will diagnose food aversion after ordering a urine or blood test to check for the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone.

Food aversion can be a bit more challenging to diagnose among children and people who aren’t pregnant due to the unknown cause. In this case, your provider will ask for your complete medical history along with a physical exam and/or a blood or urine test to rule out any underlying conditions where food aversion is a symptom.

Your provider’s goal is to rule out any conditions that have similar symptoms that lead to your diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

How is food aversion treated?

In some cases, especially among people who are pregnant, it’s OK to avoid the specific food that causes food aversion as long as you replace the nutrients from that food with something that you can safely eat.

In other cases where the food you do not like is vital for your health, you can work to treat your food aversion by:

  • Hiding the food you don’t like within food that you do like (adding food to a smoothie, for example).
  • Changing the texture of the food (grilling food instead of frying it).
  • Working with a therapist to understand why you don’t like a certain food or to “desensitize” your food aversion.
  • Slowly increasing exposure to adverse foods.

Can you grow out of a food aversion?

In some cases, you can grow out of a mild case of food aversion to a specific food because time could desensitize your dislike for the food.

If your food aversion is severe, especially if it causes nausea or if you or your child doesn’t like several foods that are vital for their health, don’t rely on time to desensitize your food aversion. It’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for severe cases.


How can I prevent food aversions?

Since the cause of food aversion is unknown, there is no sure way to prevent it. It’s especially difficult to prevent food aversion among people who are pregnant because of hormonal changes that cause food aversion.

For children, you can take steps to prevent food aversion by:

  • Slowly exposing your child to new foods.
  • Presenting new food in a creative way like placing food in the shape of a smiley face on their plate.
  • Avoid punishing your child for not eating a specific food.
  • Eating the new food with your child; be a role model.
  • Introducing new food on the same plate as familiar food that your child likes.
  • Managing portion size of new food and don’t force your child to eat more if they are full.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a food aversion?

Food aversion will make it difficult to eat certain foods because your body will negatively react to the sight, scent or taste of that food. It’s OK to avoid foods you don’t like as long as those foods aren’t vital to your diet or you’re able to replace the food’s nutrients with another food or a supplement. Some food aversions go away with time and severe cases of food aversion need treatment to desensitize your body’s dislike of the food.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should visit your healthcare provider if your food aversion is making it difficult for you to eat or you’re losing vital nutrients due to your aversion.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Do I need to see a specialist to treat my food aversion?
  • How do I introduce new foods to my child?
  • Am I getting enough nutrients without eating the food I am adverse to?
  • Will my food aversion go away after my child is born?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Food aversion is very common and can suddenly happen to anyone. You might acquire a distaste for a certain food you previously loved or food you only tried once. It’s OK to avoid the food you don’t like eating as long as you can replace the missing nutrients in your diet. If your food aversion causes a disruption to your mealtime routine or you’re unable to eat a well-balanced diet, talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/08/2022.

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