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What to Eat When You Don’t Know What to Eat

Young lady standing in front of the open fridge, not knowing what to eat.

Have you ever opened the fridge and, in frustration, realized there is nothing to eat? Perhaps your fridge is fully stocked, but you don’t feel like eating any of its contents. If you are hungry, you might search for something quick and easy or simply reach for a take-out menu. However, none of these options will thoroughly satisfy you. We discuss what to eat when you don’t know what to eat.

If you find yourself scrambling to figure out what you feel like eating or feeling annoyed at the concept of eating something you’ve had a thousand times before, there are alternatives to satisfy your palette. Additionally, you may find yourself having the following conversation with yourself:

  • I need to eat healthier.
  • That brownie looks so tempting. I deserve it today!
  • Even though it isn’t healthy, I’m starving!
  • I need something sweet yet crunchy. There is nothing available in the house.
  • Maybe I’m not hungry, but I feel like eating.
  • I can’t believe I am doing this again.

We silently ponder why this keeps happening. Shouldn’t our bodies instinctively know what they need and what will satisfy them? What will make us feel full?

Most of us have become detached from our body’s signals. We have developed bad habits, which include mindlessly eating in front of the television set, being distracted while eating, emotional eating, and overeating. These all result in unconscious weight gain. 

These habits don’t permit us to listen when our body signals that it is full. Sometimes we enjoy the food so much that we keep eating like it might be our last meal. We begin to get into a pattern of ignoring signals and end up never knowing when we are truly full. 

We may also not know what to eat since our inner self prohibits us from making a positive decision. If what we want is indeed unhealthy, our internal dialogue is what has us returning to that box of cookies. However, eating something healthy that doesn’t taste good starves the desire for pleasure necessary for the brain to let us know when our body is satisfied. 

The decision may ultimately come down to figuring out whether you want to feed your body or your emotions. 

How Do We Reverse This Cycle – What to Eat When You Don’t Feel Like Eating

Woman reaching for chocolate donut inside refrigerator stocked with fruits and vegetables.

If you have ever wondered what to eat, this step-by-step guide enables you to figure out what to eat in your kitchen effortlessly.

1. Am I Eating Due to Emotional or Physical Hunger?

The most important thing to note is whether you are emotionally or physically hungry. You may end up fueling another need that isn’t currently being nourished with food. If this is the case, you will end up in a potential self-loathing spiral. Not only are you dealing with an issue, but you are also experiencing the guilt of your decisions.

Filling a physical and emotional need can feel familiar if you have previously used food to fill emotional voids or disappointments. To combat this, take a deep breath and exhale. Pay attention to the core of your body. Search for familiar hunger signs for your cue. These include hunger pangs, emptiness, and growling. 

Breathe in several more times. Notice your breath’s quality. Search for hints of emotional discord, anxiety, restlessness, racing heart, shallow breath, boredom, or intrusive thoughts. Now, pay attention to your core again. 

Which symptoms that you experienced were derived from actual hunger versus emotional upset? What symptom is screaming the loudest? 

If you discover that you aren’t hungry but emotionally upset, looking for food has simply become habitual. It can arise when we are sad, anxious, bored, or emotionally drained. If this is the case, get out of the kitchen. Go to a quiet place and start to journal your thoughts to give them a voice and help you to sort out any outstanding issues. 

Ground yourself by utilizing relaxation techniques like music, meditation, connection, breathwork, nature, creative hobbies, or self-care to soothe yourself until you can resolve your issue. 

If you are indeed hungry, go to the next step.

2. What Textures Are You Currently Craving?

Without judging yourself, examine what type of textures your body is craving. Do you feel like something crunchy, smooth, mushy, hot, or cold? Sometimes our bodies will crave a nutrient that we are lacking. Cravings indicate that our body needs something that a particular food might possess.

Furthermore, many experts report the dangers of denying our cravings. Although it may seem counterintuitive, suppressing items your body craves causes most people to go off diets because they seem too restrictive. They become frustrated with the cravings and denying themselves the things they enjoy. 

Many people don’t teach that healthy eating involves consuming anything, just in moderation. For example, if your body is craving chocolate, give it chocolate. Just be sure that you don’t eat the entire chocolate bar. Instead, allow yourself to have three squares. Three squares of chocolate typically equals about 90 calories, which can easily fit into a diet.

This method also satisfies cravings and makes people more inclined to stick with healthy eating because they are less frustrated overall.

3. What Flavor Profile Do You Want?

Again, this goes back to the benefits of satisfying cravings. Sometimes, this is your body’s way of alerting you to nutritional deficits. Yes, even chocolate has some nutritional properties. 

In this step, determine what flavor profile you are currently craving. Do you want salty and sweet, sour, bitter, savory, or maybe a combination of flavors? Identify what they are and combine them with step two to comprise a profile.

4. Do You Crave a Warm or Cold Meal?

It may be a strange question, but it is crucial. We may not want something warm on hot days as it just seems to make us hotter. Furthermore, not everyone wants to eat ice cream when temperatures are freezing. Determining which temperature you want will eliminate possibilities from your list.

5. Is There a Time Limit?

Are there any time constraints on your day? This question is critical when you want to lose weight or eat healthier. We tend to make poor choices when in a rush because we are looking for something quick and convenient. 

What food is quick and convenient? Fast food, processed meats, packaged meals, tv dinners, etc. These are all convenient choices but they certainly aren’t the healthiest. Many of these meals are processed foods, meaning they may have an extended shelf life, but they are packed with nitrates and salts. 

Salt is bad because not only does it raise blood pressure and cause thirst, but it enables the body to retain water. When this occurs, people experience perceived weight gain and bloating. Bloating makes your clothes feel like they are tight and causes you to become uncomfortable even though you may not have gone above your caloric intake.

When there are time constraints, it is best to have some foods or handy recipes that are easy and quick to make. Place recipes on cards or in a place that is quick and convenient. That way, if you are ever in a situation where you are starving, you can quickly consult them without wasting time.

6. Ensure Food Choices Reflect the Last Three Answers

Take your responses to the previous three questions and compose your meal. Ensure your food choices reflect and support what you are craving and what your body needs to thrive. Even if it is just a snack or a “tide me over,” look for something with protein, a complex carbohydrate, fiber, and healthy fat. Ensure the meal is healthy and well-balanced.

Some quick examples if you are on the go can include:

7. Create a Meal or Snack on the Criteria Mentioned Above

Doing this may require practice and time. However, over time, you will be able to see the subtle differences in physical hunger and emotional eating. These steps reduce your brain’s constant chatter and allow you to focus on your physical body, including the emotional side.

It will enable you to discover what your body truly needs. These two areas don’t have to be exclusive but can exist simultaneously as part of a great meal.

Another thing to watch out for is when you notice trends during specific times of your day. There may be days and times when you crave a particular food or may begin wandering into the kitchen. You may find yourself searching for a fulfilling item to fill an emotional void. You can start planning your day and meals accordingly when you notice this.

An example may be searching the kitchen an hour before mealtime. You are feeling snacky or are justifying having something to tide you over. You know that you aren’t hungry, just bored. Here is what you can do instead.

If you can recognize that your body isn’t giving you hunger cues, then stop. If you are mildly snacky, have some grapes, cherries, or fruit high in fiber and water. These are great low-calorie snacks with a bit of sweetness that will quickly fill you up. 

Additionally, you can drink water to satisfy your head's hunger. Another trick you can use is to take only a few pieces of fruit with you to the other room (if you are watching television, etc.). When finished, you will realize you need to get up and get some more. After a while, most people’s mentality is that they would rather not get up, and they stop eating. This trick also forces most people into portion control.

You Dictate How to Feed Your Emotions

Emotions entwine in some fashion with our eating experiences. They can sometimes dictate what we feel like or what we end up craving. Without emotion, we may not fully experience the joy of eating our mom’s award-winning pumpkin pie, the pleasure of having a pizza party with friends, or that popsicle we enjoyed when we were ten.

Once we can identify emotional eating and accept that we sometimes do this, we can create healthier alternatives for ourselves without condemnation. If we notice that we are looking to ease an emotional upset with chocolate ice cream, we may decide that we should begin to journal our feelings instead. 

If we are still hungry, we can have a bit of ice cream – just not the entire tub.

We can also identify that we don’t want chocolate but are craving something sweet and find a healthier alternative or have a cup of hot cocoa instead. When we recognize and adapt to the emotional component, we can eat without condemnation or judgment. We feel empowered and in control, enabling us to make better decisions.

Never Underestimate the Power of Planning

Woman pulling healthy, pre-packed lunch from refrigerator.

Decide to plan for the inevitable even if it is not occurring right now. Make sure your fridge is packed with light, healthy snacks every week so that if hunger strikes, there is a quick alternative available. 

Create some quick and easy recipes and keep them close to the refrigerator. That way, if you are in a hurry, you can quickly make a meal without wasting time thinking, brooding, or heading for the closest fast food restaurant. You can also locate restaurants that serve healthier items in your area. This way, if you want to go out, there are places you can reference.

Apps like Noom and Healthi contain quick and easy recipes if you find you are running out of time. They are healthy and act as a quick reference, allowing you to satisfy your hunger and cravings.

When considering what to eat when you don’t feel like eating, all it takes is following these simple steps to identify whether the hunger pangs are legitimate or a product of emotion or boredom. Once identified, you can take steps to satisfy the craving or channel your feelings into something more productive.

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