Eating Properly But Losing Weight

Are you experiencing a good appetite but losing weight? Chances are, there's nothing to worry about. It's possible you're more active lately or just not eating as much as you think. However, in some instances, it may warrant a trip to your doctor's office.

If you’ve started eating healthier, not necessarily to lose weight but to prevent weight gain, it’s possible you’ll see some weight loss at first. (Image: Boris SV/Moment/GettyImages)

Eating Properly But Losing Weight?

If you've started eating healthier, not necessarily to lose weight but to prevent weight gain, it's possible you'll see some weight loss at first. If you see weight loss on the scale, and you're not really sure why it's happening, try tracking your food intake and exercise with an app for at least a week. This can help you spot patterns to possibly explain what's going on.

If after tracking your intake and exercise for a week or two you notice it's because you're not taking in enough calories, you may have found the cause for your weight loss.

According to Harvard Health, healthy adult women should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and healthy adult men should not consume fewer than 1,500 calories per day. Doing so may trigger the body's starvation response.

Cleveland Clinic notes that unexplained weight loss is a noticeable drop in weight that happens even when you're not trying to lose weight. It is not a result of diet, exercise or lifestyle changes.

Causes of Unexplained Weight Loss

It's important to eat a diet rich in healthy foods to stay healthy, but even when you're eating right it's possible to have unexplained weight loss. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the most common causes of weight loss in females (and males, too) include:

  • Addison's disease
  • Cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) symptoms worsening
  • Crohn's disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Changes in diet, appetite, sense of smell or sense of taste
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Dental problems
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Heart failure
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Substance abuse

If you've got a good appetite but are losing weight, there may be something else going on with your body. Many causes of weight loss in females are not serious, but some are indications of more severe underlying health conditions that need medical attention as soon as possible.

One of the common causes of weight loss in females is an overactive thyroid. Also known as hyperthyroidism, left untreated, it can cause a lot of health problems.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the thyroid plays a major role in your metabolism, and if it's pumping out too many hormones, it can cause a lot of changes in the body. In addition to weight loss, it can cause heart palpitations, problems sleeping and feeling hot all the time.

Depression is a common reason people deal with unexplained weight loss, because it often leads to a decreased appetite. However, if you have a good appetite but are losing weight, it's not likely depression is the cause.

It's also possible you've developed diabetes. Early in the initial onset, you may feel thirsty and notice frequent urination. Your body is getting rid of the glucose because it cannot be absorbed, and it makes you thirsty. Diabetes can also cause your body to pull nourishment from muscles, which causes the sudden weight loss.

According to the American Cancer Society, unexplained weight loss occurs most often with cancers of the lung, pancreas, esophagus and stomach. Unless you have cancer in your family history or have multiple symptoms that point to cancer, your doctor will look at other causes first.

Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These conditions place the body in a catabolic state, which causes the body to constantly use up energy. IBD can also disrupt hormones associated with appetite. If you're experiencing stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue or bloody stools, it could be a sign you're dealing with IBD.

When to See a Doctor

If you're eating properly but losing weight, track how much weight you're losing and how quickly you're losing it. You should see your doctor if you lose 10 pounds or more, or 5 percent of your body weight over six to 12 months without dieting, exercising or lifestyle changes.

For example, a 5 percent weight loss in someone who weighs 150 pounds is 7.5 pounds. For someone who weighs 200 pounds, it's 10 pounds.

When you visit the doctor, explain that you've had a good appetite but are losing weight. Provide an honest and thorough health history. Older adults and those with other health conditions should see a doctor sooner, as a small amount of weight loss could be significant. Your doctor will work to determine the cause of the weight loss.

After taking a thorough health history and giving you a physical exam, the doctor may order some basic lab tests. Unless there are other signs indicating it's worth a look, imaging tests aren't generally ordered. Imaging tests are used to look for tumors that could indicate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the types of imaging tests include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Nuclear medicine scans: bone scans, thyroid scans, MUGA scans, PET scans or gallium scans
  • X-rays

The tests ordered will depend on where the tumor is and what type it is, age, gender, overall health, balance of risks and side effects and whether or not a biopsy is needed.

In some instances, if your doctor's basic evaluation doesn't provide any clue as to what is causing the good appetite but losing weight, the doctor may recommend keeping a close eye on things for the next one to six months. It's possible that the doctor will prescribe a special diet to help you stop losing additional weight or to regain the lost weight.

If you're eating properly but losing weight, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Addressing the issue as soon as possible ensures you have the best possible outcome.

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