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Loss of appetite

loss of appetite
We can all be put off our food from time to time. But understanding why and when to seek medical support may be confusing. This article will fill you in with all the information you need.

Usually, most of us will have an “appetite”, the desire to eat!

Eating is an essential part of life, eating provides us with the energy and nutrients our body needs to stay fit and healthy.

However, losing your appetite can sometimes mean that there is another reason behind it. In many cases, this may be related to medical or psychological causes.

In this article, we’ll cover reasons why you may have had a loss of appetite, what you can do to help and when you should seek professional advice.

What causes you to lose your appetite?

According to the NHS, sudden and noticeable weight loss can occur after a stressful event. However, it can also be a sign of serious illness.1

It’s explained that its normal to lose a noticeable amount of weight after changing job, redundancy, divorce, bereavement, or anything that may cause you stress. It’s considered that once you have had time to grieve or process the situation, and as you begin to feel happier, your weight will begin to normalise back to where you were before.2

In more severe circumstances, significant weight loss can also be contributed to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. It’s advised that if you haven’t intentionally lost weight through dieting or exercise and you are concerned then you should talk to somebody you trust or your GP for advice.3 

The following information should give you more understanding about your appetite or why you might have less of an appetite, but its important not to use any of this information to diagnose yourself.

How much weight loss is a concern?

It's common for your body to fluctuate regularly, but the consistent, inadvertent loss of weight over 5% of your weight over 6 months to a year may be a sign for concern as it may be a sign of malnutrition, which is where you don’t get enough nutrients in your diet.

The NHS recommends that you pay particular attention to your weight loss if you experience the following symptoms:4

  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • A change in your toilet habits
  • An increase in illness or infection

What causes a loss of appetite?

There can be a number of reasons that you lose your appetite, some can be more serious than others but its always worth considering what the cause might be. We’ve found 18 common reasons that you may experience a loss of appetite.

18 reasons you may lose your appetite 

  1. Infection

Short-term viruses such as the flu, a cold, chest or urine infections or tummy bugs are likely to mean that you lose your appetite for a brief time.4

  1. Medication

Many types of medication list loss of appetite as a side effect, so it may be that If you are taking medication then it may cause you to lose your appetite.5

  1. Stress and anxiety

If you are going through a stressful time or if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety, then its possible that you may lose your appetite. If you experience this for long periods you may want to seek support to help you through this stage.6

  1. Depression

As above. If you are experiencing mental health issues it's likely that you may have less of an appetite. If this is the case, you can call 03444 775774 to speak to the NHS anxiety.org helpline.7

  1. Breathlessness

Breathlessness can be uncomfortable and can make eating difficult. Medical conditions such as asthma or COPD will cause severe breathlessness, which may cause you to lose your appetite.8

  1. Indigestion

Heart burn or acid reflux are usually nothing to worry about and can be treated by ourselves at home, however they can lead you to be put off your food and off your appetite.9

  1. Mouth or teeth problems

If you have had an operation on your teeth, or you had a change in orthodontics, or mouth ulcers it may be that you are put off your food while your mouth recovers.10

  1. Nasal congestion

Nasal infections, allergies such as hay fever or sinus congestion can affect the appetite.11

  1. Conditions which affect the gut

Problems with the gut, such as a stomach ulcer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or coeliac disease are known to affect the appetite according to the NHS.12

  1. Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition which can affect appetite through the damage it causes to the lungs and pancreas.13

  1. Gallstones

Gallstones can cause a lot of discomfort, particularly after eating fatty foods.14

  1. Constipation

Being unable to go to the toilet will cause you discomfort and is likely to put you off your food.15

  1. Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes may cause a loss of appetite. When there is too little insulin, the body may start burning fat and muscle for energy. This causes weight loss.16

  1. Underactive thyroid gland

Problems with your thyroid can cause your body not to produce enough hormones to keep your body working properly. This can cause you not have an appetite and may cause you to gain weight unexpectedly.17

  1. Disruption of senses

One of the best parts of eating food is the taste, the smell or even its sight. If one of these senses goes it can influence appetite.18

  1. Alcohol excess

The excess use of alcohol or illicit drugs can impact the loss of appetite.19

  1. Age

As you get older its likely that you may lose your appetite. This could be down to one of the above reasons, or simply that your stomach empties more slowly as you get older and you feel fuller for longer.20

  1. Long term health conditions

Long-term health conditions can often impact on appetite. Chronic kidney or liver disease can impact eating habits. If this something you or somebody you know suffers with then you can get help and advice from a medical professional.21

What to do when you lose your appetite?

If you have a continued loss of appetite and there is no obvious reason for it, you should contact your GP. As you can see from the list above, there is a huge list of potential causes. So, it’s probably sensible to rule out anything serious.

It is particularly important to see your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms associated with a persisting lack of appetite:22

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in your tummy (abdominal pain)
  • Swelling of your tummy
  • Night sweats
  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Tiredness
  • Low mood
  • Feeling out of breath

Why do I have no appetite and feel sick when I eat?

A loss of appetite and feeling nauseous con often ben contributed to something straightforward such as food poisoning or a virus.

However, if this is something that persists for a number of days then you should speak to your GP.

How do you eat when you have no appetite?

If you have a loss of appetite there are strategies, you can use that might help build up your desire for food.

Here are 5 tips that might help:

  • Eat small meals

Eating a small amount of food more often will not make you feel full. If you eat less, you may want to eat less. Therefore, eating more often may stimulate your appetite.

  • Prepare good food

Prepare food that looks and smells good. This will make you want to eat more. Also, try to avoid food that have unpleasant odours as this will decrease your appetite.

  • Avoid greasy or gassy foods

Avoid greasy and fried foods that may make you feel nauseous. Foods that make you feel gassy should also be avoided as these make you feel full. Examples of gassy foods are beans, cauliflower, broccoli and carbonated drinks. The goal is not to feel full, but to nourish yourself.

  • Try to be sociable

Make sure to eat with people and be social. People usually eat more when they are socialising, and mealtimes can be more fun and enjoyable.

  • Use a larger plate

The thought behind this is that the task of eating seems less overwhelming if you eat a small amount of food on a larger surface.

Try to keep in mind that if you do struggle with your appetite, there are some important foods that you should try and consume to keep on top of your health and wellbeing. These include foods with high calorie and protein content such as, peanut butter, eggs, nuts and cereal. High calorie dairy such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream are also helpful to increase calories.23

Summary

There are many reasons that you may experience a loss of appetite. Normally this is nothing to worry about and your diet should go back to normal within a few days.

However, if this problem persists and you notice unintentional weight loss of more than 5% of your body weight over a six-month period then it might be worth speaking to a medical professional.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 14 May 2021

Sources

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/unintentional-weight-loss/
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/unintentional-weight-loss/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/unintentional-weight-loss/
  4. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  5. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  6. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  7. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  8. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  9. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  10. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  11. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  12. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  13. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  14. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  15. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  16. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  17. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  18. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  19. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  20. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  21. https://patient.info/healthy-living/healthy-eating/loss-of-appetite
  22. https://liferaftgroup.org/2013/08/loss-appetite-coping-strategies/
  23. https://liferaftgroup.org/2013/08/loss-appetite-coping-strategies/
 

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