Having no appetite is common. We all go through times where we don’t feel like eating. The problem is that one day can soon become a week, which then becomes a month, and even longer. Then deciding what to eat when you have no appetite becomes an almost insurmountable challenge. Nothing sounds good!
Going without food for a period of time doesn’t help your health at all because you need the nutrition from food to fuel your cells, your metabolism, and your healing.
The critical parts about the issue of having no appetite is recognizing when it is becoming a problem and what to do to snap out of it.
Common Causes of a General Lack of Appetite
There are several causes of a general lack of appetite. Some of them are listed below:
- You’re too busy and under stress and you suppress your appetite so you can take care of things.
- Your mealtimes are out of balance because of a new work schedule or things happening around you.
- You haven’t been sleeping well and consequently you don’t want to eat anything.
- You’ve lost a lot of weight and to do that, you had to cut way back on food intake. Consequently, you just don’t eat a lot anymore and really aren’t hungry.
- You’re depressed and you simply stopped eating.
- You had a bad experience with food, such as food poisoning and you really don’t want to chance it again so you cut back on food intake.
- You have some long-term illnesses and the medications you take disrupt your appetite. For example, you have diabetes, cancer, anorexia nervosa, acid reflux, digestive imbalances, asthma, thyroid disease (underactive or overactive), chronic liver or kidney disease, or heart disease.
- You have food allergies or sensitivities and never know when a food “attack” will happen
- You’re pregnant and have morning sickness.
- You have hormone imbalances, such as PMS, menopause, or female or male hormone imbalances.
- Your stomach is simply upset most of the time.
- You have some mental issues occurring, such as grief, panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
- You may be toxic in heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, antimony, or platinum.
- You have undergone medical treatment for cancer such as radiation or chemotherapy.
The Background You Need to Get Over This
There are some things you need to know that are nutritional constants, things that never change.
- First of all, all humans have to eat to live. If you don’t eat, the time will come when you won’t live. You need vitamins and minerals to sustain you just as oxygen and water sustains you.
- Medications are a big culprit is messing up your appetite. Often, it’s easier to change a medication and get back to eating as usual rather than deal with the actual appetite loss. Asking the doctor for a different medication could be your simple solution. To find out if your medication is causing appetite changes, go online and look up side effects of the medication. If appetite changes are listed, bingo! This could be your problem. Even metformin can cause appetite changes. And if something is disrupting your metabolism, that has far-reaching effects to beyond your appetite.
- Different diseases cause changes in many parts of the body. Often they cause appetite changes. That doesn’t mean you can’t overcome the appetite changes. It means the health disorders could be the root problem that is driving the appetite changes.
- Your appetite is part of a bigger picture of physiology that depends on circadian rhythms. This means that your body expects you to eat at certain times of the day and to stop eating at certain times of the night. Following the normal schedule is part of the appetite healing process. For example, there is an eating disorder called night eating syndrome where someone eats one-third to one-half of their calories after 7 pm. This completely disrupts the normal circadian rhythms for eating, and thus metabolism.
- Not eating can mean that other more serious illnesses are occurring in the body. Yes, cancer is one of them but it’s not the only one. There are others.
- If you have not been eating regular meals for a while, you need your vitamin and mineral levels checked. Zinc deficiency causes appetite loss. So do vitamin B1 (thiamine), iron, magnesium, niacin, iodine, essential fats, vitamin D, and others. Your doctor can order lab tests for these and a hair analysis test can give a lot of insight into the minerals.
- You’re going to have to take action to get out of this lack of appetite. There’s no magic genie in a bottle that will help you.
Should You Force Yourself to Eat?
When a loved one has appetite loss, the question is whether or not you should force yourself to eat. The answer is that it depends.
Your loss of appetite can go on for a few days, but after that, you have to step in and do something about it. Otherwise it’s considered neglect because of rule #1, humans have to eat to live. Not getting them to eat or feeding them means neglect. Your body can sustain a few days of not eating but no more than that.
If you have flu or an infection, your body will produce cytokines from the white blood cells that cut your appetite. This is because your body wants to heal the infection and put 100% of its energy into overcoming the infection, not digesting food. This is why people don’t eat – or drink fluids – when they have a serious case of the flu.
It’s also the reason why they will drop up to 10 pounds of weight or sometimes more when sick from the flu. If you have 50 pounds to lose and drop 10 to 12 pounds from a bout of flu, you may have made some weight loss progress but you still have to rebuild all your body stores of vitamins and minerals that weren’t taken in during that time period.
And if you were bedridden during the time, your bone density will seriously take a direct hit. You have to spend extra time and effort to rebuild your bones as studies show that within just a few days of immobility, bone demineralization starts happening. The bone loses calcium consistently. This calcium might end up causing kidney stones. There’s also a 9% increase in adipose tissue around the lumbar vertebrae.
If your appetite loss is accompanied by pain during eating, inability to keep liquids down, vomiting for a day or longer, and irregular urination, it’s time to make an appointment at the doctor’s. Get some lab tests and let your doctor tell you what’s happening.
13 Foods to Eat When You Don’t Feel Like Eating
One of the biggest keys to start eating again is to start eating something at the times your body expects it. Your body expects to eat in the morning so it’s important to begin eating then. It doesn’t have to be a lot – just something.
Starting off the day with a handful of granola and a few ounces of milk is enough of a trigger to your body that you are paying attention to it and aligning yourself with the circadian rhythms for eating. It could be a few scrambled eggs and toast with butter.
Don’t worry that the eggs and toast don’t seem to have much flavor. You can always add a teaspoon of your favorite jam for flavor and put ketchup on the eggs. If you still can’t taste much flavor, make sure you check your zinc levels. A zinc deficiency will cause loss of taste sensation.
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The next time of day you will need food is lunch. Again, something small will do. You can successfully eat fewer calories for a little while longer – a few weeks – without shutting down the circadian rhythms. And actually studies show that eating 1200-1500 calories instead of 2200 or 2800 calories a day helps extend your life. However, those calories that are eaten can’t be junk foods that have no nourishment in them.
And then an early dinner – small one – will help you re-establish your circadian rhythms for eating.
Here’s a list of some of the things you can start eating below. Small amounts of them are best to start with.
- Smoothies – feel free to add even ice cream to them
- Protein drinks
- Nut butters and crackers
- Hummus and vegetables
- Greek yogurt with berries, whipped cream, and nuts
- Favorite comfort foods
- Favorite meal but in a smaller portion size
- Granola with milk or yogurt
- Chips and guacamole
- Cooked chicken legs
- Handful of nuts
What to Eat When You Have the Flu and No Appetite
When you have the flu and no appetite, as mentioned before, there’s a physiological reason for that. Your body wants to fight the infection. Your best bet is to stay hydrated. Focus on water and fruits and ways to hydrate fast. If you can get a smoothie or milkshake down, that’s better but sometimes it can’t be done. A smoothie can be 600 calories and sipped during the day.
The water you drink during the flu is essential and fruits provide a lot of water. Remember that the day will come when you will be hungry. You won’t be sick forever.
You can also add herb teas. Many herbs help beat an infection. Elderberry tea, mint tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea, yerba mate tea, medicinal mushroom teas, slippery elm tea, and Oregon grape root tea are only some of them. Many of these do not interfere with the antibiotics you may be on.
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Adaptogenic herb teas also help people get back to normal as far as basic physiological functions such as heart function, blood pressure and breathing. When you only take a cup of tea here or there they can’t be expected to make big differences but when working with a qualified herbalist that understands the body, you can make bigger progress.
What to Eat When You Have Depression and No Appetite
When you have depression, you have to literally force yourself to do something different. Depression-related appetite changes are real. The mistake people seem to make a lot is that they think that their emotions should run their body. Emotions are volatile. You can be up one moment and down the next five moments.
Does that mean you shouldn’t eat because you are feeling down those five moments? Or does it mean that you can only eat when you catch the upswing of emotions during that one moment? Basing your eating habits on emotions does not work. Yet our society seems to give in to this idea that you should only eat when you feel everything is okay.
When someone is depressed they are stuck in a rut and need a better idea to get them out. One of my suggestions is to begin watching cooking shows. The sight of appealing and beautiful food is enough to start accessing the appetite, just as the smell of really good food is.
After watching them you will start to think about what you can fix for dinner. If you watch enough of them, you will start experimenting with food, and then maybe even signing up for a food class. Food gets you out of your depression in several ways. It brings you into more of a community with others. Food is a universal language everyone speaks. Food contains nutrients that fill in the nutrients your body is lacking.
Some foods are called functional foods for depression. These foods can increase serotonin levels, which usually are low during times when someone is depressed. These foods include bananas, eggs, cheese, turkey, salmon, and pineapple. Nuts and seeds and soy are also high on the list of foods for depression because they help raise serotonin levels too. Focusing on these foods is your best bet to breaking the depression. If nothing seems to work, call the SAMHSA hotline.
Summary of Foods When You Have No Appetite
When you go through a period of time where you don’t want to eat and your appetite is low, find out what the real cause is. Could it be underlying health disorders? Flu? Medications you are taking? Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals? Mental health issues or hormone imbalance?
Address these first but then at the same time, do what you can to keep your eating pattern in alignment with your circadian rhythms. Make a change and think more about food by watching cooking shows on television or taking a cooking class. Be proactive and you’ll be able to make a difference in what’s happening.