So, you feel it’s time to eat something, but you just can’t seem to decide what you want to eat.
This is a problem you’ve had so many times, that it’s become a frequent, annoying issue to your daily life that you would like to resolve one way or another.
The first part of this short article goes through a few, very common, non-medical reasons why you may not like some foods at this time, or that generally affect your appetite.
The second part of the article contains a few simple tips and tricks that can help you decide a bit faster whenever you have trouble choosing what to eat.
Why you don’t know what you want to eat
You’re not actually hungry, but instead have an emotional food craving
If you’re a music person, chances are you often choose your songs so they match your mood.
A similar thing happens with food, where you crave foods that match your emotional disposition.
For example, emotions of frustration or annoyance can make you crave crunchy stuff like biscuits or chewy foods like meat. Sadness and boredom can you want fatty foods such as lasagna.
If you don’t know what to eat, then you probably haven’t yet discovered what type of meal can satisfy your current emotional craving.
The problem with emotional cravings however, is that your need for food is caused by emotion rather actual hunger. This means that even if you eat and are full, you’ll still feel the craving. Your best choice in this case is to resolve the emotional cause behind your craving.
You could be sick and that’s affecting your appetite
As part of the immune response to illness, the human body will often release proteins named “cytokines” in an effort to combat any bacteria or disease within your body.
One of these cytokines is called TNF-a and is usually the main one that cuts down on your appetite.
The body releases these appetite killing cytokines in order to reduce non-critical bodily functions (like eating), and instead fully focus the immune system on fighting back the disease.
It’s basically your body saying “don’t waste any energy, I’m busy fighting this disease and repairing us.”
You’re thirsty, not hungry
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.
How to decide what to eat when you don’t know what to eat
Create a reset meal
There’s a chance you don’t know what to eat simply because you’re bored with what you usually eat on a daily basis.
If you think this is you, try coming up with a reset meal you can go to as a last resort in case every other food is too boring.
As an example, it could be a French duck recipe, real Mexican food, sushi, Indian food etc.
For the reset meat to work, it needs to be something you really enjoy eating, but not something you get to eat very often. This last part is important, because if you have the reset meal too often it’ll simply become “regular food” and you’ll get bored with it as well.
Experiment with different sauces and spice
It’s possible you’re not actually bored with the food, but with the sauces and spices that give it flavor.
In Medieval times, spices in Europe were so expensive only the extremely rich could afford them.
Because spices were so expensive, people had almost nothing to flavor their foods with and as a result, almost every meal regular folk would eat was essentially tasteless.
To give you an idea, a pound of ginger could buy you a sheep; 2 pounds of mace could get you a cow; you could trade a pound of saffron for a horse.
In today’s times spices are very cheap and easily accessible. The real issue is simply experimenting with different food, spices and sauce combinations to see what you enjoy and what you don’t.
So give it a shot and play around with different and unusual spice combinations.
Eat the food that is about to expire
If you don’t know what to eat and aren’t particularly fussy, then consider taking advantage of the situation and finish any food you might have that is about to expire.
It’s also a simple money saving trick, since you did pay for it after all.
Try out some unusual meals
If none of your usual foods sound interesting to eat, why not try something you haven’t eaten before?
Now is as good a time as any to try out cool meals you’ve saved on Pinterest or browser bookmarks.
Choose filling foods with lots of fiber and protein
Every now and then, you’ll just have to eat purely for the utility of it: food gives you energy and fills you up. There’s nothing particularly special about the food, but it does the job and you can then set your mind on other things.
As a matter of fact, science has come up with a Satiety Index List which ranks foods based on how well they fill you up when compared to white bread.
Unfortunately, the list is pretty short and contains only 38 food types, not much if you want to keep a varied and interesting diet.
On the bright side, it’s surprisingly easy to find filling foods. Look for two key ingredients: protein and fibers.
Protein is filling because it greatly reduces ghrelin, the hunger inducing hormone, and increases production of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel sated and full.
Protein is incredibly effective at making you feel full. As per one study, increasing the amount of consumed protein from 15% to 30% of all the calories eaten in a day helped a group of overweight women eat 441 fewer calories per day. And the best part is they didn’t even have to stop themselves from eating anything.
Fibers are almost as filling as protein. Unlike protein, fibers reduce your hunger levels by simply increasing the volume of your food while keeping the amount of consumed calories the same.
Fibers are the reason why 2.2 lbs / 1kg of whole apples have almost as many calories as 3.5 ounces / 100 grams of chocolate: ~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.
Appetite comes with eating
This is a quote from the French author François Rabelais that has entered popular wisdom.
Rabelais was right on the money too. A big study-of-studies has proven that humans can indeed learn to enjoy a certain meal once they being eating it, even if they didn’t really like it that much when they started. The only requirement is that the food should, at a minimum, be decent in terms of taste and tolerable in when it comes to 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.
Look at food menus to trigger your appetite
When you don’t know what to eat, consider looking at images of delicious recipes as a way of increasing your appetite.
This is something big food companies have known for a long time now, that appealing photos of food increases people’s appetite and sells more food products. In fact, it’s such a good marketing strategy that food chains do many ridiculous things to make sure their food looks delicious in photos.
If not an appetite problem, then it’s possible you may actually know on subconscious level what food you’d like to eat, but can’t quite put your finger on it on a conscious level.
As you look through menus of apps such as Uber Eats or Doordash, there’s a good chance something will stand out and get your stomach rumbling.
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.
Figure out what you don’t want to eat
Sometimes it’s easier to decide what to eat, if you first eliminate the things you really don’t want to eat.
If you’re in a group, use the 5/2/1 split
In case you’re a couple or a friend group that can’t decide what to eat, consider using the 5/2/1 split to narrow down your choices.
For instance, person A chooses 5 (or more) restaurants or food chains they’d like to eat at. Person B then narrows it down to 2 (or more) out of the 5. Finally, person A gets the decisive pick and chooses the final location.
Of course, you can play around with it. It doesn’t have to be 5/2/1. You could just as easily do a 3/1 split, where person A chooses 3 locations, and Person B narrows it down to the final one.