Food provides us with the energy we need to function properly. Appetite is the desire to meet the body’s need for food. Appetite or hunger drives us to consume food so that we have sufficient calories and also get the essential vitamins and minerals that our body needs. At the same time, when we have an appetite, we also experience the feeling of fullness during and after eating a meal. However, sometimes, due to many reasons, we end up not feeling hungry at all, or we lose our appetite. Reasons such as certain diseases, constipation, stomach flu or stomach viruses, eating disorders, and even cancer can all cause loss of appetite. However, you have to remember that it is very important for you to eat food, especially if you are suffering from an illness. Otherwise, you will not have the energy to fight against whatever condition it is that your body is battling. In case of loss of appetite, there are certain foods you can eat that will make you feel better. Let’s take a look at what should you eat if you have no appetite.
What is Loss of Appetite?
Simply put, loss of appetite is defined as a state of ‘absent hunger’, or when your desire to eat gets reduced. Anorexia is the medical term that is used to describe a loss of appetite. However, this is different than anorexia nervosa, which is a condition commonly associated with intentional food restriction.
Appetite regulation within the body is a complex process that is managed through communication between the different systems in the body. The systems involved in this process include-
- The central nervous system (especially the brain)
- The digestive system
- The endocrine system
- Sensory nerves
All these systems together control both short term and long term appetite. When you have a healthy and balanced appetite, it helps your body stay in a homeostatic state. This means that your body is able to meet your energy needs and nutrients while maintaining healthy body weight.
While many people struggle with cravings and have a difficult time losing weight/fat, experiencing a loss of appetite that lasts only for a temporary period of time is common for everyone. However, while a short term loss of appetite is not considered to be problematic, over a period of time if you continue to experience appetite loss, it can cause serious complications.
When you do not eat properly for several days or longer, you are not able to get sufficient macronutrients (protein, fat, or carbohydrates) that your body needs to providing energy, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Not having food for a prolonged period of time will leave your body feeling tired as well as stressed out. There is also a possibility of loss of muscle mass, poor cognitive function and a decrease in overall strength.
At the same time, in the elderly, malnutrition caused by a loss of appetite can cause-
- Decreased bone mass
- Immune dysfunction
- Impaired muscle function
- Reduced or impaired cognitive function
- Delayed recovery from surgery
- Poor wound healing
- Increased mortality and morbidity
If you are experiencing a loss of appetite due to being sick or an underlying medical condition, this could be a problem, as poor nutrition intake will slow down your recovery and also limit any improvement you can experience from ongoing treatment.
What Should I Eat If I Have No Appetite?
If you are experiencing a loss of appetite then it is important to eat something that will ensure that you remain nourished and at the same time it also settles your stomach. When you feel at a loss for understanding what to eat, you should opt for nutrient-rich foods that will make you feel full for a longer period of time.
Some foods you should eat are discussed below.
White Rice- While white rice is typically frowned upon as being unhealthy, but when you don’t feel like eating, then white rice is usually recommended by doctors as it soothes your stomach, relieves nausea, stomach discomfort, and is also good if you are having diarrhea. In fact, some of the healthiest countries in the world, such as Japan, have the highest intake of white rice with most of their meals. While white rice is more processed than brown rice, this type of rice is also enriched with nutrients that are generally lost during processing. White rice is also known to contain more essential nutrients than brown rice simply because of this fortification.
Bananas– Bananas are perhaps the healthiest food you can eat when you are experiencing a loss of appetite. If along with appetite loss, you are also experiencing queasiness, then low-fat and bland foods would be ideal for you. Bananas are the best type of bland food you can choose. Low-acid fruits such as bananas instead of citrus fruits, will provide you with many essential nutrients and also relieve your stomach discomfort. Bananas are rich in magnesium and potassium, both nutrients that the body needs to prevent the risk of dehydration if you are having diarrhea or vomiting.
Applesauce- Similar to bananas, applesauce is another fruit that is mild-tasting and does not cause nausea. Applesauce is ideal if you are suffering from diarrhea as it contains pectin. Pectin is a natural thickening agent and has an anti-diarrhea component.
Low Fiber Cereals- Low fiber cereals such as cream of wheat or even cold cereal that have less than one gram of fiber in each serving serves as your intake of carbohydrates. This can also be a good alternative to white rice or toast if you don’t feel like having either of those.
Hard Boiled Eggs- This is perhaps the most nutritious food you can eat if you are experiencing loss of appetite. Hard-boiled eggs are typically well tolerated by most people, even those who are having a stomach upset or feeling queasy. Hard-boiled eggs are full of protein and at the same time, they do not have any fiber, which helps rest the intestines.
Bone Broth or Clear Broth Soups- Soups or/and stews that are made with a bone in the broth will help you get your nutrients and also help you feel better. These types of soups also increase the body’s calcium absorption. You can either make your own bone broth or you can even buy bone broth premade from health food stores. Ideally, making the broth with 2 pounds of beef bones with quarts of water and any vegetable you like would make a perfect soup that will keep your strength up.
Sweet Potatoes- Foods such as sweet potatoes, yams, squash, and any other soft vegetables without skin will be tolerated well by your body in your condition, especially if you have an upset stomach. It is important, though, that these vegetables are cooked very well.
Apart from eating the above-mentioned foods, you should also try to change the times of day that you eat and the amount of food you eat at one go. Here are some other factors you can consider-
- Instead of eating three big meals a day that can cause indigestion or make you feel full, try to split up your meals into five or six smaller meals a day. Whenever you feel hungry, try to have healthy snacks in between.
- Eat your biggest meal of the day when you are feeling the hungriest. It doesn’t matter whether it is breakfast, dinner, or lunch. Eat when you feel hungry.
- Try to maintain a regular time for eating every day. This pattern will help train your body and also regulate your appetite.
If in spite of everything you are doing, your appetite still does not return to normal, then you should definitely consult a doctor to rule out any underlying medical condition.
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