Why do some foods make you gag?

There is pretty much no way a nasty piece of food can get past my stomach.

Mouldy toast, off yogurt, under-cooked egg white, a little brown eye bit from a potato, even just watching a student member of the rugby team eat a packet of butter ; all these foods (and probably many more, but my mind has gone blank) have caused me to gag, and often barf until it hurts. Just writing about these is making my gag reflex get all pumped and ready.

Having a great gag reflex is useful

It means I very rarely get stomach bugs because before anything bad or out of date can hit my stomach, it’s been swiftly chased away.

Most of the time, a good gag reflex is just that: a useful part of our biological history, designed to keep us safe.

For some people, the gag reflex ends up being a little tooooooooo active.

They might find themselves gagging at the thought of eating broccoli, or just looking at a bowl of salad leaves.

For some people, the gag reflex can be bad enough that they end up eating rubbish because they are literally unable to bring themselves to eat ‘normal’ foods. Which is a real problem if you want to eat better, but find it impossible to eat the good stuff.

My theory on gagging is pretty simple

If you ate something as a child that was either a little bit off, or which you ate when you were a little bit ill, or which maybe your body know will cause a reaction, you may end up gagging in future over that same food without really knowing why.

For example: as a kid, I remember eating a lovely meal of curry and rice (curry from a tin, of course. This was the 1970s).

I really enjoyed it. But that night, I was sick. I remember vomiting curry all over the place and then my dad clearing it all up for me. The reason I vomited had nothing to do with the curry. I was just ill. Lots of other people were ill, and busy vomiting too. But for me, the sickness was totally related to the curry.

And from that moment on, I hated curry. I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to try it loads of times as I grew up, but each time I even thought about curry, I could feel my throat close over, and the good old gag reflex come back.

In my mind, curry was poison, and I shouldn’t even try it.

(Luckily, this story has a happy ending: years later, I went to University in Coventry, a city in the UK with a big range of Asian restaurants and takeaways.It was almost impossible to be a student in Coventry, and not have a curry. Little by little, I trained myself to like curry, and I’m very very proud to say that it did actually work.)

The point is, we often find ourselves disliking, or hating something, for no obvious sensible reason.

For example: when I make cakes (not as often as I’d like), I will happily ‘test‘ the mix to make sure it is really delicious. It’s possible that I may ‘test‘ the mix more than once or twice, and possibly with a bigger spoon than necessary, to really doubly-make-sure the mix is good.

Which is fine.

But suggest to me that I put a raw egg into my smoothie? Gag reflex-o-clock. There is no way I’m putting a raw egg into my smoothie. No way.

But raw egg in cake mix? Totally fine. No gag reflex here.

So what gives? What makes it ok to eat  raw cake mix, but not raw egg in smoothie?

It is, sometimes, ALL IN THE MIND.

My mind tells me that raw cake mix is fine. And it tells me that raw egg in a smoothie is bad.

(obligatory warning: I am in no way recommending that you eat raw egg)

It’s clearly got nothing to do with the actual raw egg itself. I could eat cake mix until the cows come home.

But it is all about what my mind does with the ‘raw egg info’ that causes the gag.

So if it’s all in the mind, does that mean it is possible to work around the gag reflex?

To train yourself out of it?

The answer is: in the main, yes. And it’s actually pretty simple.

But, as always, it comes with a few caveats:

1. You actually have to want to do it. I really wanted to like curry, so I trained myself to unlearn the ‘curry-gag-reflex’. I’ve not yet felt the urge to throw a raw egg in my smoothie, so the raw-egg-in-smoothie-reflex is still going strong.

2. If you are actually allergic to something, that gag reflex might be saving your life. I don’t think I need to say that you really do want to keep that reflex good and strong.

3. It might take a lot of work. Are you willing to give it a try?


If the answer is ‘yes’ to points 1 and 3, then read this blog post featuring my top tips on training yourself out of a gag reflex. The very tips that I share with clients who struggle with being ‘fussy’ and who want to eat more of the foods that currently are way off limits.

If you fancy the idea of a bit of a chat to see what you might want to do to get past some of those food issues, check out my Start Right Review to see if I can help. One session is often enough to get you started (hence the rather brilliant name!)

4 thoughts on “Why do some foods make you gag?”

    • So pleased to hear that you are delighted – I’m excited to get the first one back out there. Most likely it will be for after Christmas (unless I can squeeze an earlier one in for the extra special people!)

  1. I implicitly trust my ‘gag reflex’ these days – about off meat or spoiled leftovers (refrigerator science projects) or too much highly-processed chemical shite-storm.
    The only “curry-makes-me-gag” issue I remember was mrphhle-urpff years ago: I OD’d on green olives at my sister’s baptism party, puked, and couldn’t stand even the smell of ’em for years. I don’t remember what tipped me back towards trying (and liking!) them again, but it *was* at least 10 or 12 years.
    Going back to today’s post now ~ Happy Thursday to you!

    • Absolutely – a good gag reflex is brilliant!
      (now that you’ve mentioned eating too much of something: I do remember eating waaaay too many chocolate brownies on the day that I was first introduced to them, and was really ill. Luckily, it didn’t put me off at all!)

      Happy Thursday to you too!


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