I don’t like beets. When we hear this from children, we encourage them to try again, hoping they might like them once they get older. Curiously though, once we become adults, encouragement to try disliked foods ceases and we develop the belief that our food preferences are fixed. We might even justify this belief by claiming a genetic predisposition to dislike certain flavors or foods. I don’t like beets, and at this point, I never will. However, even a genetic predisposition to a certain trait does not necessarily equate to predetermination of behavior. Our mental beliefs play a substantial role in our preferences for food. And the good news is, our mental beliefs change.
As living beings, we are constantly changing. At the conscious level, new experiences shape our ideas. And at the unconscious level, all of our cells are reproducing and dying, our atomic energy arises, then passes away instantaneously. We are literally changing both at an emotional level and physical level in every moment. Consequently, we are not the same person we were yesterday, or last year, so how can we expect that our food preferences also do not change?
I certainly did not grow up eating fruits and vegetables. Nor did I have parents who ate them. Typical childhood meals consisted of frozen pizza, Ramen noodles, and macaroni & cheese until I was 24 years old. I doubt I even heard the word nutrition until my early 20’s, although I had certainly heard the word “diet” and been on several of them by that time. All of that changed when I moved to Burma. I was astonished by what real, fresh food looked like on the table in front of me when sharing meals with Burmese friends. Needless to say, the dearth of fast food restaurants and Western packaged food meant that I had to learn how to eat vegetables. Funny thing is, I now wonder why nobody ever told me how delicious they are!
It is well documented that it can take children 15-20 exposures to develop a taste for a new food. Trust, independence-seeking behaviors, and taste bud development all play a role. However, more fundamentally, at each exposure we are an entirely new person, and this doesn’t stop when one reaches adulthood. Therefore, even as adults, we can learn to like previously disliked foods if we keep these two facts in mind. We can choose just one or two vegetables for our “let me learn to like this” bucket list, and make a strong determination to try them in various forms over the next few months or even years.
Practicing mindful eating can help enhance our expectation of liking a food (2). Prepare smaller quantities and taste the food slowly. Notice the flavor and texture without labeling it as good or bad. Be aware of how you feel about the flavor or texture, without judging the feeling. Just notice. If you still don’t like the food, accept the reality of that moment with kindness, and be determined to try again another day-knowing the person who tries this food again in the future will be new and different.
I now like beets. It happened recently with a roasted beet and brie salad, and then again with a beet and coconut curry over rice. With a strong determination to taste them, without consideration of past preferences, after 2 years of trying, at the age of 32, I finally like beets.
1. Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008.
2. Hong, P. Y., Lishner, D. A., Han, K. H., & Huss, E. A. (2011). The positive impact of mindful eating on expectations of food liking. Mindfulness, 2(2), 103-113.
3. photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/73645804@N00/9233914987″>beet bowl</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>