Finally, after an hour of thinking about food, you and your rumbling tummy arrive at the kitchen. You open a fridge full of food, but nothing looks good. How frustrating! You know you’d feel better after eating, but forcing yourself to eat doesn’t sound appealing.
A dietitian’s take on the situation: if you’re hungry, but nothing sounds good, you should still try and find something to enjoy.
Going too long without eating can leave you feeling sluggish, unable to focus, and snappy. You may also overeat at your next meal, leaving you feeling unpleasantly full and uncomfortable.
In this article, you’ll learn how to recognize your body’s signals for hunger and improve meal timing throughout the day. We’ve also included simple swaps for everyday meals to keep things exciting!
What Is Hunger?
All living creatures experience hunger. It is the physiological need to eat to provide energy to vital organs and tissues. Ideally, when hunger strikes, you can choose nutrient-dense foods most often because they promote health. These include high-fiber, unprocessed foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals.
For a long time, diet culture has suggested that hunger is bad and should be ignored. An example is “you’re not hungry, you’re just thirsty” or “how can you be hungry again? You just ate?” These narratives can warp how you view and treat your hunger. Instead of eating, you may try to suppress the desire or even start to resent it.
Classic Signs of Hunger
- Hunger pangs, or hunger pains.
- Grumbling stomach noises.
- Decreased ability to focus.
- Intolerance to cold.
- Decreased temper and patience.
If you are hungry but nothing sounds good, you should still try to eat. Putting off meals may slow down metabolic rates in some people, make you feel sluggish, and increase the risk of overeating later. People who overeat, or binge, are at a higher risk of excessive caloric intake and even high triglycerides, a type of blood fat linked to cardiovascular disease.1
What To Eat When You’re Hungry, But Nothing Sounds Good
You don’t have to be a full-blown foodie to appreciate variety in your diet. If you’re hungry but nothing sounds good, it may be because you are bored eating the same foods daily. Here are simple changes to make in your routine:
- Roasting vegetables instead of steaming them for a side dish.
- Dressing canned tuna fish with a homemade vinaigrette and fresh herbs instead of classic mayonnaise.
- Prepare fruits in a new way. Frozen grapes are delicious and juicy. If you crave something warm, grill them on a skewer.
- Try a new protein for the first time. Experiment with a new bean salad recipe or an easy tofu sheet pan dinner.
- Lean into herbs, spices, and other natural flavor enhancers to add a new twist to your meals. Pair fresh mint with watermelon or balsamic vinegar reduction with strawberries.
- Stock your pantry with new snacks. There are hundreds of different crackers on the market. Bonus points to you if you can find a brand that is baked and made with whole grains.
- Make a custom trail mix. Visit a bulk food store and make a trail mix by choosing unsalted nuts and dried fruits.
Build A Balanced Meal
All your meals should aim to include high-quality carbs, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats (which are often referred to as health-promoting).
The USDA created a visual tool to help you build a balanced meal called the Health Plate model.2
- Half of the plate should be filled with brightly colored vegetables. They are rich in antioxidants which prevent disease. They are also high in fiber which is necessary for satiety, cancer risk reduction, and blood sugar and cholesterol management. You could also add fresh fruits to your plate, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants.
- A portion of the plate is dedicated to lean proteins. These can be animal-based or plant-based. Opt for poultry, eggs, fish, legumes, and pulses (kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.) and lean cuts of red meat three times a week or less.
- The final portion is devoted to gains. Choose whole-grain bread, pasta, and rice whenever possible because they are fiber-rich. Examples include whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice, and millet.3
Many families rotate through the same recipes every two weeks. It simplifies grocery shopping, but repetition can also land you in a rut. Here are some simple swaps you can make when you’re hungry, but nothing sounds good.
Hot oatmeal with fresh berries. → Overnight oats soaked in steeped chai tea garnished with tropical fruits, such as fresh mango.
Whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana. → Whole grain dark rye bread with cottage cheese, cinnamon, and peaches.
Scrambled eggs with feta, spinach, and tomato. → Eggs over easy with salsa, black beans, and taco seasoning. Optional: add a few slices of avocado on the side.
Grilled cheese sandwich with fresh vegetables on the side → Open-faced whole grain toast with cottage cheese, dill, lemon, mustard, and tinned salmon.
Chicken noodle soup with a small salad. → Chicken soup with rice noodles, bok choy, yellow peppers, and fresh cilantro.
Large green salad with leftover roasted chicken and balsamic dressing. → Whole grain tortilla chicken wraps with lettuce, chicken, caesar dressing, red onion, and tomatoes. Toast your wraps on a hot pan for an extra touch.
Roasted pork loin with potatoes and green beans. →Pan-fried pork chops with light oil, garnished with pineapple salsa, served over brown rice.
Baked salmon with steamed broccoli, carrots, and white rice. → Baked salmon sliders served on a whole grain bun and dressed with tzatziki.
Penne pasta with tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and meatballs. →Penne pasta with olive oil, fresh garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, and cherry tomatoes. Add tuna for protein.
Nourish Can Help
Do you need more help figuring out what to do when you’re hungry, but nothing sounds good? You may benefit from working with a registered dietitian specializing in meal planning and emotional eating.
Nourish can connect you with the perfect dietitian to help you achieve your nutrition goals. All of our providers are compassionate and want to help you succeed! Also, they are all covered by insurance. Click here to learn more and book an appointment.
- Rosoff, D. B., Charlet, K., Jung, J., Lee, J., Muench, C., Luo, A., Longley, M., Mauro, K. L., & Lohoff, F. W. (2019). Association of High-Intensity Binge Drinking With Lipid and Liver Function Enzyme Levels. JAMA network open, 2(6), e195844.
- MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.).
- Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A. F. H., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209.
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