What do you eat when nothing sounds good?
This has probably happened to you so many times before, that it’s become a recurring nuisance to daily life that you would like to deal with.
The first part of this short article covers a few, very common, non-medical causes that often affect your appetite.
The second part lists several simple and easy to implement tricks that can help you figure out what to eat when no particular food is tempting enough to eat.
Why no food feels good enough to eat
You’re not technically hungry, but have an emotional food craving
Just as you listen to types of music that match your mood, so too will you crave foods that match your current emotional needs.
For instance, feelings of frustration or anger often direct us to crunchy foods (eg. crackers) or chewy ones (steaks). Boredom or loneliness makes us crave fattier foods (think grilled cheese).
If nothing sounds good to eat, then there’s a chance you haven’t yet figured out what foodstuff matches your current emotional disposition.
Unfortunately, because these cravings are driven by emotions, and not hunger, they will likely persist even if you’ve just eaten and are full. The best way to stop these cravings is to resolve the underlying emotional causes behind them.
Anxiety can harm your appetite
When you’re anxious, your body enters “fight or flight” mode. This redirects blood from your stomach and abdominal cavity to organs that are much more immediately important: arms, legs, muscles and brain. As a result, the activity in your stomach decreases significantly.
Anxiety also has a tendency to release adrenaline. Among its many side effects, adrenaline reduces appetite.
If you have a big interview, performance review, or exam coming up, it’s possible the anxiety can spillover and dampen your appetite.
Being sick can harm your appetite
When you’re sick, the body releases proteins called cytokines to fight off whatever virus or infection you may have.
Some of these cytokines communicate to the body that it needs to enter “sickness mode”, where all non-essential activity (including eating) is reduced so that it can fully focus on combating the disease. The main, appetite killing cytokine is called TNF-a.
It’s basically your body saying “please be a useless vegetable while I’m busy fixing us up.”
You are actually thirsty
According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dehydration can switch up the wiring in your hypothalamus (part of the brain that regulates both appetite and thirst) so that you will feel hungry, even if you’re actually thirsty.
The cure to this is to simply drink a glass of water.
It will only take 5 to 10 minutes for the water to pass your gastric system and begin its process of absorption within the body. After those few minutes, you’ll be able to tell if you are indeed hungry, or if it was just thirst masked as hunger.
Here’s what to eat when nothing sounds good
Find a reset meal
Sometimes you just get bored of eating the same variation of meals or food genres. To combat this, consider having a reset meal you can turn to when every other food has become monotonous.
For instance, it could be Chinese or Thai food, Spanish meat recipes, Arab cuisine etc.
For reset meals to work, you’ll need to find a few meals or recipes that you always enjoy, but don’t eat very often. View them more as treats rather regular meals. If you indulge in them too much, you run the risk of having those meals become boring as well.
Make the experience of eating food more interesting
Sometimes, the experience of eating food (rather than its actual taste) can make a meal more interesting.
Go out and eat with a friend or loved one. Use that cool new set of plates, open a bottle of wine and have a romantic candle lit dinner. Eat breakfast food for dinner, and dinner food for breakfast. Make a food package and go out on a picnic at the nearby park.
You may not be able to make the food interesting, but you could make the eating interesting.
Try new spices or sauces
Perhaps what you’re really bored with isn’t the food itself, but the actual spices and sauces that flavor it.
During the Middle Ages, spices in Europe were so expensive only the extremely rich could afford them. Back then, people had very limited options to flavor their food, and nearly every single meal was bland and tasteless. As a result, people were so desperate for their food to have some sort of taste, they paid top money for spices.
For example, a pound of saffron cost the same as a horse; a pound of ginger, as much as a sheep; 2 pounds of mace as much as a cow (source).
Nowadays, spices are relatively cheap and plentiful. The real challenge is actually trying out various food, spice and sauce combinations to see what you like and don’t like.
So take a chance and experiment with spicing up your food in unusual ways.
Eat the food that expires soonest
If you can’t figure out what exactly it is you want to eat, then you might as well use this opportunity to finish any soon-to-expire food you may have in the fridge or cupboard.
It’s also a neat money saving trick, since you did pay for it after all.
Experiment with unusual meals
Now may be a good time to try out those interesting meals you’ve saved on Pinterest or browser bookmarks.
If you’re not in the mood for anything in particular, why not try something you haven’t eaten before?
Eat filling foods rich in protein and fiber
Sometimes, the food you eat must be strictly utilitarian: it provides energy and fills you up. They’re not memorable meals, but they get the job done and allow you to focus on other things.
As it so happens, there is a list called the Satiety Index List which ranks foods based on how filling they are when compared to white bread.
The only problem with this index is that it contains very few foods (38), so there’s not much to choose from over the long term.
So what should you look for in a food so that it is both satiating and nutritionally rich? In two words, protein and fibers.
Protein fills you up by greatly reducing ghrelin, the hunger inducing hormone, and boosting production of peptide YY, a different hormone that makes you feel full.
The effect protein has on your satiety and food intake can be quite dramatic. According to one study, hiking up protein intake from 15% to 30% of all calories consumed helped a group of overweight women eat 441 fewer calories per day, without actually restricting anything.
Fibers are roughly as filling as protein. Fibers make you feel full by increasing the volume of the food you eat, while keeping the calorie count the same. This is the reason why 2.2 lbs / 1kg of whole apples have roughly the same calories as 3.5 ounces / 100 grams of chocolate – around 500 calories.
The chocolate has essentially been stripped of any fibers it might have, and is now pure carbs – which are rapidly digested and so barely send any fullness signals.
If you would like to learn more about healthy eating and how it can increase your quality of life, then check out this incredibly good documentary on CuriosityStream. In it, chefs, nutritionists and doctors all weigh in on what makes a healthy and satisfying diet.
Appetite comes with eating
This is a quote from the French author François Rabelais that has entered popular wisdom.
As it turns out, the science on this one is pretty solid. A careful analysis of multiple studies has shown that humans can learn to enjoy a particular meal once they start eating it, even if they weren’t very eager in the beginning. The only condition is for the food be at least acceptable in terms of taste (and to a lesser extent, smell and appearance).
This may seem like an overly complicated way to say the obvious, but the point is that if you can’t decide on what to eat, then settle for something that is at least decent. After a while, your biology will work its magic and convince you that the meal may not be so bad after all.
Browsing food menus may trigger your appetite
Just as eating a tasty meal can increase your appetite, so too can seeing images of delicious recipes and appealing foods.
This is of course the reason why McDonalds and other food chains do so many ridiculous things to make their food look good in photos. They know that appealing photos whets people’s appetite and sells foods.
Other times, you may be subconsciously the in the mood for a particular food, but can’t quite put your finger on what exactly that would be.
By browsing the menus of delivery apps such as Uber Eats, you may see something that catches your eye and gets your cravings going.
It doesn’t even have to be an entire meal, but a particular ingredient that you haven’t eaten in a long time, but are in the mood for now.