Appetite plays an essential role in regulating our body's food intake. Its job is to ensure that we eat enough to meet our nutritional and energy requirements. As a mechanism, it has served us well throughout the ages. However, modern living, processed food, junk food, and evolution make it more challenging to trust our appetite. Consequently, lack of appetite is a problem for many.
Appetite vs Hunger
According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, hunger is a physiological response to biological changes in the body, signalling the need to eat. Appetite is the desire to eat which can result from hunger, but more often is a response to emotional or environmental conditions. It is easy to confuse appetite and hunger, as both prompt us to eat.
However, appetite is defined as “the natural desire a person feels to eat”. In comparison, hunger is a response to lacking food. Therefore, a person can feel hunger and have no appetite or have a strong appetite without signs of hunger. But, of course, you can also have an appetite and feel hungry.
What Contributes to Loss of Appetite?
Diet: This can greatly influence a reduction in appetite.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A lack of certain minerals and vitamins can result in appetite reduction
Medical conditions: Illness is a significant contributor to appetite reduction. Anything from flu to more serious illnesses like cancer or thyroid disease can impact how we feel about food.
Mental health: Our emotional state contributes significantly to how we think about food. The desire to eat can decrease or increase depending on our mental health.
Pregnancy: Many women experience a loss of appetite during pregnancy due to the common occurrence of nausea.
How to Regain a Lost Appetite
Loss of appetite may be concerning for some, so exploring the contributing factors is probably the first call. For example, feeling stressed or depressed can cause a lack of motivation to eat.
Maintaining a busy schedule or feeling distracted can also have a negative impact on your appetite. Once you identify the cause, you can try some of the suggestions listed to help regain it.
Planning is Everything
Planning often contributes to maintaining a healthy eating pattern. It also prevents bad habits like snacking on unhealthy foods, which can contribute to reducing appetite.
If and when possible, plan and prepare meals a few days in advance. Making meals in advance and keeping some in the freezer means you always have a favourite food at the ready.
Start the Day With Breakfast
Time constraints in the morning can lead many of us to miss this important meal. However, studies show that skipping breakfast contributes to you eating less during the day.
So, one solution to the time constraint is getting up earlier than usual. Allow yourself time to enjoy your morning meal. Getting up earlier or indulging in some exercise before breakfast gives your body time to wake up and work up an appetite.
Pack a Snack
If you find the thought of large meals off-putting, eat less, but often. Snack on healthy foods high in protein several times throughout the day to keep your energy levels up.
Alternatively, eating small energy-dense meals can offer a way to consume a high-calorie intake. For example, nuts, cheese, avocados, legumes, potatoes, rice or pasta are great ways to boost your body's calorie intake.
Spice is Nice
Spice up your meals using flavours that not only add delicious taste but can increase your appetite. Adding flavour to your food can help improve your appetite. Aroma plays an essential part in sending the message to our brain to prepare for food. This creates anticipation for what is to come and influences our appetite.
So spice up your meals using flavours that not only add delicious taste but can increase your appetite. Carminative spices can help work up a healthy appetite. Not only does the aroma entice the senses, but it also activates digestion.
Adding cardamom, ginger, basil, and rosemary not only smells fantastic but also adds so much flavour to your food. An added bonus is that Carminative spices and herbs can help support a healthy gut, subsequently preventing digestion related illness.
What About Supplements
Many factors influence and affect appetite. For example, a deficiency in certain minerals or vitamins may also contribute to your lack of interest in your food. Therefore, it may be worthwhile consulting with a specialist to explore whether or not you are deficient in certain minerals or vitamins.
Once, of course, you have eliminated other considerations. For example, a lack of Zinc or Thiamine can lead to loss of appetite, taste, and sleep disturbances. If you lack these minerals, taking them as supplements may be worth considering. Likewise, fish oil and echinacea are also believed to increase appetite and boost the immune system.
Ditch the Distractions
Too often, it is easy to become distracted during meal times, affecting our eating patterns. We may be busy with children, partners, dogs, television, phone calls or work. There are one hundred and one reasons; our mealtimes are interrupted, and we lose our appetite.
Therefore getting rid of the distractions and setting aside time to switch off the electronics and technology can be helpful. In addition, making a ritual out of mealtimes for the whole family will be beneficial to everyone.
Make Mealtimes Mindful
Atmosphere matters, and creating a relaxed environment to eat makes it more enjoyable. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a mindfulness practitioner, practising mindful eating enhances the experience.
When our body and mind is relaxed, we take the time to savour the food and anticipate each bite.
Remember the Importance of Rest
There can never be too much emphasis given to the importance of rest and a regular sleep pattern. It is essential to keep the body balanced and reduce stress.
Lack of sleep or feeling stressed can create a lack of motivation to eat well, often leading to ignoring the message from our body that we want food. It also increases the risk of eating foods that feed unhealthy eating habits.
Keep Track of Your Daily Intake
Many people struggle with appetite. For some, increasing appetite is the desire, while others wish to suppress it. Regardless of which one it is, keeping a food diary can be a helpful tool. By keeping track of your daily food intake, you can make sure you consume the required daily calorie intake.
It is also helpful if you feel you are experiencing any food allergies. In addition, keeping a daily record can help you identify and eliminate certain foods from your diet. Therefore exploring other foods that will increase your appetite
Movement Matters-Get Your Appetite Back
Understanding that exercise can help increase appetite is pretty straightforward. Many years ago, humans had to eat to survive. Unfortunately, to do that meant hunting and gathering food, burning enough calories each time to build up an appetite.
Today, we are much more sedentary, and our hunting skills only involve heading to the nearest supermarket. But, at times, it may mean just hunting for the phone to dial a take-away. In addition, when we are moving less, our body immediately thinks we want to store fat. The result of this is a decreased appetite. However, once we begin to exercise, our body adjusts.
Similarly, our appetite automatically increases to accommodate our body's consumption of the fuel it needs. In addition, research has shown that when athletes are training and burning more calories, they eat according to appetite, not calorie intake. This helps them maintain a healthy balance, eat what they need, minimise body fat, and increase performance.
While appetite seems like a complex system, it generally works well. The problem arises if there are other issues at play and we do not recognise our body's cues. There are many reasons for this, environmental, hormones, long term illness, and many other conditions.
However, it is essential to seek advice and help from your doctor if you notice a sudden and consistent decrease in your appetite.