When you have a healthy appetite, it's easy to eat enough food and nutrients to support an optimal weight. But if you consistently don't feel like eating, over time your body weight can drop too low. Not getting all the nutrients and calories you need can cause weakness, fatigue and compromised immunity. Prescription drugs, illness, aging, poor nutrition, depression and boredom all may suppress your appetite. Whatever the root cause, simple strategies can help you feel hungry enough to eat what you need to look and feel healthy.
Reasons For a Poor Appetite
Talk to your doctor about the possible root causes of your appetite loss. Some prescription drugs and disease treatments alter the way food tastes so your meals just aren't appealing. Antibiotics, in particular, slow digestion, so you feel full longer. Chemotherapy treatments may cause nausea and diminish your desire to eat. Even over-the-counter and prescription-dose pain relievers can lead to digestive distress. Certain heart medications and diuretics may also be to blame.
Never stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor though. You can discuss your symptoms and potential alternative medications that may have less of a negative effect on your enjoyment of food.
Sometimes it's not the therapy, but the illness itself that's muting your appetite. Congestive heart failure, lung ailments and cancer can affect your desire to eat, as can extreme pain and depression.
It's also possible that a nutrient deficiency may be altering your appetite. Animal studies suggest that supplementing with zinc when a deficiency is present could stimulate the appetite, as shown in a 2011 article in Recent Patents in Food, Nutrition and Agriculture. Zinc supplements aren't right for everyone, however.
Meals don't have to be the conventional three squares a day. Try eating small portions five or six times per day, so you never feel overwhelmed by too much food. For example, snack throughout the day on whole grain crackers with cheese, yogurt with fresh fruit, a hard-boiled egg with a slice of toast, half of a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, carrots and pepper sticks with hummus and a small bowl of granola with milk before bed. Eat what you're hungry for, not what's expected at specific meals. Have leftover beef stew for breakfast, oatmeal for lunch or an omelet for dinner.
You may want to minimize high-fiber, gas-causing vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, because they can make you feel full before you've taken in enough calories. Greasy fried foods may make you feel full quickly, too, but there's no need to limit most fat-containing foods, because they'll provide more calories per mouthful than most other foods.
Drink liquids at least 30 minutes before you sit down to eat because they fill you up quickly. Carbonated drinks may make you feel bloated, which could dampen your desire to eat, but if you use them to fight nausea, sip them slowly between meals instead of drinking them with foods. Drink enough between meals to ensure that you're adequately hydrated though, because dehydration can also negatively affect your appetite.
Make Meals an Occasion
Cooking for people or allowing them to cook for you and make foods you enjoy may help you appreciate meals more. If cooking for one makes you feel unenthusiastic about eating, buddy up at mealtime. Eating with family or friends creates an energy around mealtime that stimulates your appetite. Attend a regular potluck at a church or community center, invite a friend over for lunch or offer to cook dinner for your grown children.
Light exercise can also stimulate your appetite. Just a short walk before meals, for example, could be enough to increase your desire to eat. Over time, build up your stamina so you enjoy longer walks or more intense activity to boost your health.
Make Food More Appealing
Trying new recipes can incite interest in food. Also, consider if the food you're eating is simply too bland. Olive oil, vinegar, garlic and onions as well as fresh herbs and pungent spices -- such as cinnamon, turmeric and ginger -- can add variety and appeal to your meals.
If food tastes metallic to you, switch to cooking in glass pots and eating with plastic utensils. Odors can be off-putting if you're subject to nausea, so go for cold- or room-temperature items that give off less aroma. Cigarette smoke and smoking can also dampen your taste buds and desire to eat, so avoid it whenever possible.
- United Health Care: Don't Feel Like Eating? How to Get Your Appetite Back on Track
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Appetite Stimulation
- Recent Patents on Food, Nutrition and Agriculture: Zinc as an Appetite Stimulator - The Possible Role of Zinc in the Progression of Diseases Such as Cachexia and Sarcopenia
- Ask the Dietitian: Underweight