By ANITH RAZAK

“Picky eaters are really careful about what they eat. Who else is careful about what they eat? Foodies!”

Stephanie Lucianovic, food writer.

It is fascinating to think how our food preferences change over time. It is enthralling to observe that as we grow up, the food that made us threw up when we were kids could be our favorite meal as adults. It is amazing to experience such wonderful processes of love and hate with food. On top of that, food is able to bring happiness, comfort and elation to us.

Have you ever pondered why we feel distaste for certain food? For instance, why do we love ‘gai lan’ (this is how you spell ‘kailan’ apparently) but not spinach? Both are greens. Both are leafy vegetables. Both become ‘kecut-kecut’ after being cooked. No, we refuse to eat spinach! The answer to the question above could be genes, upbringing, or maybe a bad experience.

As an example, if we have an unfortunate memory of eating spinach during our childhood, we will remember it until the present time. This phenomenon is called ‘emotional stomach’. It is when our brain completely shuts down the idea of eating spinach due to our past. How? One of it is through our gag reflex when seeing the food. It is similar to the fight (eat then vomit) or flight (do not eat, no vomit) situation. Often, we will choose the latter.

One thing about being a picky eater is not that we are afraid of getting sick by eating the tabooed food as if we are allergic to spinach. No, we are not. We refuse to eat it mainly because we feel uncomfortable. Food is supposed to be enjoyable not distressing. If we accidentally eat spinach, we find it difficult to enjoy the dish wholeheartedly due to the aftertaste.

Fortunately, all problems come with solutions! There are ways for us to love the food that we hate. One of it is by having the courage to try eating the food not once but a few times. This method is called ‘pattern reset’ where we eat the dish again, again and again. We are literally trying to reset our food intake pattern in hopes of finally being able to proudly munch on spinach like a go-to snack!

However, this ‘pattern reset’ requires high determination and strong will power. Why? This is due to the ‘if I’ve lived happily all this time without eating spinach, what different would it make if I eat spinach now’ kind of mindset. The struggle is real. That is why this method comes hand-in-hand with ‘exposure therapy’ to ease us in loving the food we dislike.

‘Exposure therapy’ is when we voluntarily expose ourselves to try and eat the food that we hate such as consuming spinach in different cooking styles such as ‘bayam tumis air’, blueberry and spinach smoothie, or the scrumptious palak paneer. It is advisable to take the disliked food only in small portions so that we will not feel pressured. However, it must be done frequently so that our stomach will get used to the taste.  

 

Furthermore, if the taste is what is preventing us from putting the food inside our mouth, try to add seasoning or condiment. Drink water before trying the food so that our stomach would not be shocked and upset thus resulting in deeper dislike. Invest some money in eating the food at a good restaurant or we can cook it on our own. We can also converse with our family and friends about spinach to spark our interest.

 

The best part in trying to overcome our fear of spinach or any other food is we have the audacity to try other food stuff as well. Of course, this method will not be successful with everyone or all food, but at the very least, we can pat our backs at the end of the day for the effort and initiative taken. We cannot label food with likes and dislikes before even bothering to try it. Life is too short for us to sulk over food!

Disclaimers:

  • Picky eaters do not limit himself or herself to one specific food only. It could be food that is within any category in the food pyramid such as seafood, rice, watermelon or chocolate. Spinach is just an example.
  • Not everyone will vomit if they accidentally eat food they hate, but it is common to see people dry-heaving if they see, talk/hear about, smell or taste it.