Why Don’t I Have an Appetite After Cooking?

Words: Robyn Samuels

You just prepared a delicious meal, but no longer have an appetite after cooking. Now what?

Humour us – the dinner of your dreams sits before you. It’s irresistibly fragrant and contains all your favourite ingredients. You’ve kept tasting to a minimum, only a spoonful or two of the jus to make sure it’s well balanced – it obviously is. After hours of slaving over the stove, it’s finally time to eat, but your appetite has suddenly left the building.

As an avid home cook, this is a dilemma I often encounter. Surely, it can’t just be me? Despite reading countless forums, my senses still fail to make sense of this phenomenon. Hungry for answers, this is what I’ve found…

Overstimulated olfactory senses

Personally, the only answer that makes sense is getting ‘full off food fumes’ or ‘eating with your eyes’ – something my mother has always warned me against. It’s either that or unbeknownst to human evolution, we’ve finally activated our smell-o-vision. While I was unable to source information explaining the direct link between our sense of smell and appetite after cooking, studies have revealed that odour or our sense of smell can affect satiety components related to ingestion.

Wish you had paid better attention in biology class? Fear not, here’s a crash course…

Humans have two types of olfaction compared to other mammals – simply because humans are complicated. The human olfactory system interprets odours in two ways, retronasally and orthonasally.

Retronasal smelling occurs through the mouth. The oral cavity perceives tastes (umami, sweet, salty, bitter, savoury) and interprets them as smells. Basically, you’re ‘tasting the smell’. The olfactory system is responsible for smelling or olfaction, and works with various parts of the brain to interpret and process odours through your nasal cavity.

Orthonasal smelling perceives odours through your nasal cavity. While taste buds and taste perception are regulated through single receptors, our ability to smell odours is quite advanced. Odour molecules bind to multiple receptors before generating complex sensory signals. The brain’s role in converting those signals still need to be sniffed out, but it’s likely that the orthonasal olfactory may be overstimulated when cooking.

Tricks of the mind & reward systems

The mind and nose works in mysterious ways… the perception of odours by the olfactory system impacts both satiety – that feeling you get when you’re satisfied and full – as well as initial appetite stimulation. Interestingly, odours interpreted by your olfactory can induce short-term appetite – the same way you would develop a hankering for ribs when walking by a steakhouse. Now, let’s throw food reward into the mix.

appetite after cooking

Food reward is one’s psychological reaction to what’s considered desirable. Think back to when you begged for take-out and your mother responded, “there’s food at home”. While food reward means ‘working for your food’, we have yet to imagine the alternative…

In the context of cooking, fantasising about a delicious meal you’ve been craving may activate hunger. The aspect of desirability may depreciate the longer you spend time in the kitchen, and with it, your appetite after cooking. Like we said, humans are complicated.

Working up an appetite after cooking

All of the above is great to know, but still doesn’t solve the hangry dilemma. It’s also important to note that multiple conditioning and cognitive factors impact appetite and the olfactory senses. Till we find the answers we need, here are a couple of suggestions that could help sate your appetite after cooking up a storm in the kitchen.


Quicker meals

Because your olfactory system is in overdrive and overstimulated, the most obvious solution would be to cook quicker meals. In the same way that some people forget to eat when preoccupied or working, spending more time in the kitchen may result a decreased appetite – weird right? Preparing quicker meals could result in an improved appetite after cooking.

Trying new dishes

Most people tend to have weekly dinner plans. While I’m not opposed to Meatless Mondays or Taco Tuesdays, introducing a new dish to your rotation could help gain your appetite. A piqued curiosity as to how the dish tastes could lead to enjoying the fruits of your labour.

Cooking with different oils

Growing tired of the same flavours is a possible reason for a decreased appetite after cooking. Perhaps you could incorporate different flavour profiles into your dishes. Experiment with oils and spices to impart different flavours.

Have a date

If you’re desperate for solutions, try having a date – the fruit, not the romantic kind. Your glucose levels may fluctuate, depending on your appetite. Before ‘breaking fast’, it’s common practice to eat a date to aid the digestive system. It is said to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices and prepare your body for ingesting food.

We have yet to find concrete answers from actual scientists, but at the very least we hope it helps knowing that you’re not the only one.

Ever wondered why some people hate the taste of coriander?

One comment

  1. I’m the opposite! I’ve been married for 48 years and enjoy cooking…. and eating! I like the little ‘rewards’ when cooking, sneaking a little morsel whilst chopping, etc. If you are going to the bother of cooking, please enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>