Give your appetite a lift

Struggling to eat enough? Worried it’s affecting your health? Try these tricks to get your appetite back on track

Feeling less hungry during hot weather, or because you overindulged the day before, is perfectly normal. But losing your appetite long-term could affect your wellbeing.

What causes a loss of appetite?

Some illnesses can put us off eating, such as an overactive thyroid or an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis. Many people lose the desire to eat when they’re stressed, anxious or depressed.1 We also become less interested in food as we get older – we’re less active and lose muscle, so we don’t need as many calories.2

How to increase your appetite

If your loss of appetite is sudden and unexplained, and you’re losing weight, see your GP.3 Likewise, if it’s ongoing and none of the following ideas seem to help...

1. Eat more meals

Go for six small meals a day, not three large ones. Eating less food, more frequently, can help you to consume more overall.4

2. Choose nutrient-rich first

Yes, junk foods like crisps, cakes or pastries are high in calories, but they’re also low on nutrients. Seek out healthy fats, protein and slower-release carbohydrates instead:5
  • full-fat natural or Greek yoghurt with berries instead of ice cream
  • nuts and seeds not crisps
  • malted fruit loaf rather than cake

3. Fortify with healthy fats

Fat contains the most calories of any food source, but up your intake with healthy fatsrather than too many animal or trans-fats:
  • spread nut butters onto fruit
  • add full-fat yoghurt to fruit, porridge or muesli
  • drizzle olive oil over salads and veg
  • add avocados nuts and seeds to salads and sandwiches
  • cook with coconut oil

Handpicked content: Is it all about healthy fats now?

4. Don’t drink with meals

Drinking a glass of water before or during a meal is a well-known weight loss trick, making you feel fuller – the exact opposite of what you need!7

5. Start early

Studies show eating breakfast can kick-start metabolism, increasing your appetite throughout the day.8 Many people feel hungriest first thing, so that’s a good time to get higher-calorie foods in.9

6. Use herbs and spices

Carminative herbs reduce the gas-production and bloating that can put you off eating. Include fennel, peppermint, black pepper, coriander, mint, ginger and cinnamon in cooking or drink as herbal tea.10 Bitter tonics, such as gentian, can also stimulate appetite and digestive-enzyme production.11

7. Try meal-replacement drinks

If you’re really struggling to eat, you might find it easier to sip on a specially formulated shake, or you can make your own.

Blend up some fruit and veg, then add in protein powders, oats, seeds, nut butters, yoghurt or tofu for extra calories, vitamins and minerals.12

8. Move more

Exercise is known to boost hunger – the more energy you burn, the more your body will crave. Regular exercise has been shown to increase metabolism and muscle mass, and influences the hormones that increase appetite.13

Handpicked content: 19 ways to fit exercise into your daily routine

9. Up your nutrient intake

If you’re not eating enough, you could have lower levels of certain vitamins and minerals, which may affect your appetite. Consider supplementing with zinc14, vitamin B115 and fish oils,16 which have all been found to help stimulate appetite.

10. Tackle stress

To help reduce your stress levels, try these tips:17
  • take regular, gentle activity
  • practice some breathing exercises
  • prioritise your sleep
  • sign up for yoga or mindfulness meditation

Handpicked content: About stress and how you can manage yours

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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Sources
  1. . NHS Health Help Now. Unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite and eating a balanced diet. Available from: http://kent.healthhelpnow.nhs.uk/health-help/advice/older-adult/healthy-eating/unintentional-weight-loss-loss-of-appetite-and-eating-a-balanced-diet/
  2. . As above
  3. . As Source 1
  4. . The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. Poor appetite, losing weight. Available from: https://www.royalmarsden.nhs.uk/your-care/living-and-beyond-cancer/eating-well/poor-appetite-losing-weight
  5. . As above
  6. . As Source 4
  7. . Daniels MC and Popkin BM. Impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20796216
  8. . Betts JA, et al. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24898233
  9. . As Source 4
  10. . Bagher L, et al. Prevention and Treatment of Flatulence From a Traditional Persian Medicine Perspective. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4893422/
  11. . Mustafa AM, et al. Comparative HPLC/ESI-MS and HPLC/DAD study of different populations of cultivated, wild and commercial Gentiana lutea L. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25529701
  12. . NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group. Food First Advice. Available from: https://www.westsuffolkccg.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Food-First-Advice-WSCCG-logo.pdf
  13. . Blundell JE, et al. Appetite control and energy balance: impact of exercise. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25614205
  14. . Suzuki H, et al. Zinc as an appetite stimulator - the possible role of zinc in the progression of diseases such as cachexia and sarcopenia. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21846317
  15. . Liu M, et al. Thiamine deficiency induces anorexia by inhibiting hypothalamic AMPK. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24607345
  16. . Damsbo-Svendsen S, et al. Fish oil-supplementation increases appetite in healthy adults. A randomized controlled cross-over trial. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23474089
  17. . NHS Choices. Moodzone. How to tackle stress. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/#how-to-tackle-stress
Nutrition