Certain food aversions are very inconvenient when you’re out in the world. Writer Amanda Mull, for example, wishes she didn’t hate cucumbers. So she talked to dietitian and therapist Ellyn Satter.
Food aversions can generally be overcome with gentle, steady exposure, which can start with something as simple as buying the offending food and allowing it to be in the house. Satter says that adults should also feel free to do something kids do instinctually: Put a food in their mouth and then take it out, without forcing themselves to swallow. That allows a person to grow accustomed to a taste or texture without necessarily associating it with a negative physical reaction, since swallowing something you don’t enjoy can be difficult and unpleasant.
This is similar to the process for testing whether a wild plant is edible, in which you slowly introduce the plant to your body in stages to mitigate any damage: Rub the plant on your body and wait to see if it causes a reaction, rub it on your lips and wait again, put it in your mouth but don’t chew, and so on.
To train yourself out of a food aversion, you should also combine your hated food with foods you like. Mull puts hummus on her cucumbers, for example. (It isn’t as though she, or anyone, needs to enjoy cucumbers on their own.) You should also try it prepared different ways, especially cooked — a process that reduces bitterness in a lot of vegetables.
Switch up your other ingredients often enough that your plan doesn’t backfire and make you associate foods you used to like with a food that you don’t.
Get the best version of the food in question: In season, professionally prepared, or in a popular dish that seems to please everyone but you. You won’t learn to love tomatoes in the winter. Wait until they’re at their peak — usually when they’re cheapest at the grocery store.
One of the downsides of hating a food is when a group is ordering food to share, and you have to throw your aversion into the mix. Next time let the group order it (along with dishes you like), and give yourself a little try. If you can’t learn to like the food in its most popular form, you’re not going to do any better with a cheap, amateurishly prepared version at home.
Once you’ve done your taste test, reward yourself with the other dishes.
Manage your expectations. Don’t expect to fall in love with every food you hate, and don’t expect this to solve an allergy. You’re not going to suddenly teach your body how to cope with peanuts. But you might get used to green olives and Brussels sprouts.