Musing on Diets: How to cultivate an active dislike for certain foods

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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18 Responses

  1. Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    Easy. Just put clinantro on a dish, and it’s been spoiled for life.Report

  2. zic says:

    My favorite part of Dave’s post was that it was okay to reward himself once in a while, to slip off the wagon; and to return to his better habits after.

    At first, I was rather repulsed by this; I like Dave’s approach; it’s okay to like bad things once in a while. Moderation in all things, including moderation. So the idea of making yourself not like something you like seemed really discomforting; weird and kinky.

    But here’s the thing: when you adopt better habits, and so physically feel better, the things that make you feel worse become more obvious, too. I found, that little by little, my cravings changed. I rarely drink sweetened beverages, including juice. Some cider in the winter; fresh-squeezed orange juice if I find a place that squeezes it. I drink water and coffee and an occasional herbal tisane. I drink chaga tea, particularly in the winter. I don’t like soda anymore; particularly Coke and Pepsi products. I hate that this is all that’s available in most places. I’m overjoyed to see Maine Root fountains appearing in restaurants in Portland East. I didn’t set out to not enjoy an occasional Coke, I fully intended to, because of availability. But every time I drink one, it makes me feel awful; burns my stomach, makes my flora and fauna suffer, and I suffer.

    The disgust happened all by itself.

    Now on that cheesecake: cheesecake, a few bites, is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    The problem here is in the portion size.

    I adore chocolate cake. A really-well made chocolate cake with chocolate ganache fill my soul with pleasure. I’m a highly skilled cook, too. But I never make this. Ever. I can. Easily. But when I’m out at a place that has wonderful chocolate cake? I’ll get one piece. I don’t have to eat it all at once, either. I can bring it home and savor it for a day or two more. That’s a wonderful thing. Like your favorite holiday foods might be. You don’t do it every day, that’s all. You don’t need to eat the whole thing. You NEVER need to clean your plate, and anyone who tells you otherwise is evil, and you should tell them so.Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      Second paragraph, the ‘this’ is Vikram’s notion of disgust — actively cultivating disgust weird and kinky.

      Thank you. There are storm clouds again.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

      I’m the same way with Coke. I loved it as a kid. Now, I really holds almost no appeal. There’s just nothing appealing there over other things that are available.

      In that case, I didn’t actively decide to ruin my ability to enjoy Coke. But I’m happy that it happened all the same. If I could do that intentionally for a few more foods, it’d be a boon for me.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to zic says:

      You forgot to say “toothsome flaky mouthfeel” in your post. I’m sure you could work it in somewhere.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    Moderation, moderation, moderation.

    Must one never eat cheesecake again in order to be “healthy” (or whatever their motivation is for denying one’s self something they want)? No. One must balance one’s competing intersts. I want cheesecake. I want to look good in a bathing suit. Which of these wins out? Fortunately, they both can! I’ll have a small piece of cheesecake today and stick with my workout routine and be no worse for the wear.

    Now, if someone wants to eat a whole cheesecake everyday and look good in a bathing suit, something presumably has to give. I don’t crave cheesecake everyday. In fact, if I indulge everyday, I feel gross and lose the desire to. I can’t speak to how I got to that point.Report

  4. dragonfrog says:

    I guess I’m somewhat lucky on that front – I really enjoy the activity of cycling, so the immediate-gratification choice is to cycle if it’s possible. I also find the texture of a lot of rich creamy things unappealing – cheesecake and artichoke dip, among others, are unappealing to me.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    I am fascinated by the procrastination equation. It helps explain why I delayed so long making an application for judicial office: if motivation = expectancy * value / (impulsiveness * delay), well, the only variable that’s high on that list would be value. It’s a miracle I did it at all!

    As for diet, it seems to me that if you like cheesecake, you like cheesecake. It’s going to take some serious Clockwork Orange style reconditioning to make you not associate consuming cheesecake with pleasure rather than pain.

    Which doesn’t stop some people from trying. A guest at our holiday feast over the long weekend insisted that she didn’t like things like yams, nuts, potatoes, turkey skin, or turkey gravy. It became clear enough to me that she probably liked all of those things just fine, she was telling herself that she didn’t, so she wouldn’t eat them because they are calorie-dense and high in fats and sugars. Now, it had the added bonus of making her a picky eater to whom others had to pay attention, but I think it was really that she was trying to condition herself that those “bad” foods were not only bad for her but tasted bad too. (Which of course they didn’t.)

    Maybe it does work, since she was rail-thin. But I’m not sure it was the best possible choice.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That’s almost exactly the kind of person I’m talking about. Though I think they differ in how honest they are about what they dislike.

      And a note about food etiquette: it should take considerable effort for someone to figure out what things you do or don’t eat. If you dislike “yams, nuts, potatoes, turkey skin, or turkey gravy”, only someone with the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes should be able to detect it.

      Of course, sometimes you really do just need to say, “I’m allergic to shellfish,” but even that should only be done when needed and only to those who can do something about it.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        If you dislike “yams, nuts, potatoes, turkey skin, or turkey gravy” at my Thanksgiving table, you’re ass-out and likely to go home either hungry or having taken way more than your fair share of green bean casserole, either of which are your own damn fault AFAIC.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      she didn’t like things like yams, nuts, potatoes, turkey skin, or turkey gravy.

      Soooo – she was on a wine-only diet?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Wine (by which I mean red zinfandel pre-mixed with fruit juice), green bean casserole, skinless white meat only from the bird,* a small dab of stuffing (dry, without gravy), and a dinner roll. Alsotoo she says she doesn’t like pumpkin pie (!) but she did seem to like the apple pie. Pleasant enough conversation; did not whine about others eating these things.

        * I got one over on her, though, because I had brined the bird beforehand with garlic and bay leaf, and had roasted it with a wet rub of fresh herbs, butter, and rendered bacon fat. So there was flavor there, even in the white meat, despite her best efforts to avoid it.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    Also, I had never actually seen the marshmallow experiment before. I’ve heard it described: “You can have the marshmallow now, or two marshmallows later,” and large numbers of both adults and kids inevitably pick immediate gratification over bigger endgame payout. I’ve always wondered at the marginal benefit of the second marshmallow: if the utility of a second marshmallow eaten immediately after the first isn’t really all that much (since most commercial marshmallows are tasteless puffs of sugared oil), why not enjoy it now?

    But the experiment is rigged, or at least flawed, by virtue of the impulse to isolate the marshmallow. You have to sit alone, unattended, in a room with no decorations or distractions. The only thing that you can observe, interact, or otherwise mentally engage with is the marshmallow. Put me in an empty room with nothing but a marshmallow in it to amuse myself with for twenty minutes and there’s a good chance I’ll eat the marshmallow out of boredom. Give me something else in that room other than the marshmallow and chances are really good that I’ll be able to claim the two-marshmallow prize. Give me something mentally engaging like a very good book to read, and I’ll be able to claim an entire bag of the things at the rate of one every twenty minutes of not eating, which I’ll probably still ignore because as sweet treats go, marshmallows are pretty far down my preference list to begin with.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      There’s also the problem with trust issues. If you don’t trust the scientists (AND WHY WOULD YOU???), you’re better off with the marshmallow in the hand than the two in the bush.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Yeah, if you don’t have a sweet tooth, a second marshmallow is worthless. I had about 3-4 marshmallows a couple weeks ago roasting them with my kids, and I thought I might barf.

      RE: “Put me in an empty room with nothing but a marshmallow in it to amuse myself with for twenty minutes and there’s a good chance I’ll eat the marshmallow out of boredom”

      That reminds me of those studies where they confined a monkey or rat in a small cage, and the animal could hit a lever to be administered drugs of some kind. The animal did so repeatedly, sometimes in lieu of food and to their ultimate death; and this was then presented as evidence of how addictive the drug was.

      What no one seemed to realize right away was: Uh, we confined an intelligent social animal to a small space, leaving them no other available stimulus and relief BUT the drug lever. Small wonder they hit that lever until they died.

      What else were they going to do to relieve boredom and social isolation?Report