May 01, 2022
Signs of loss of appetite are easy to spot in ourselves; we tend to know if we don’t want to eat a meal, or food no longer appeals to us. Even if we’re not aware of the signs at first – perhaps if we are grieving, coping with illness, or we’re under a lot of stress – it’s generally not too long before we realise we have lost weight, our clothes are looser, or we lack energy from having too little to eat.
Loss of appetite: the signs to look for
It may be less obvious at first if someone we care about is experiencing loss of appetite. But there are signals that may indicate they are not eating enough, or have lost their enjoyment of food. ‘Be aware of the causes of loss of appetite, as these can be a guide that something’s amiss,’ says dietician and founder of Nourish, Jane Clarke.
Lack of interest in food
Very few people see food simply as fuel, and don’t have an interest in it beyond that. But for most of us, food and eating is one of life’s great joys – meals with family and friends, favourite recipes, dishes passed down through generations and cultures all enhance our experience of eating. ‘When food no longer triggers excitement and anticipation in this way, it can be a signal that a once healthy appetite is reduced,’ says Jane Clarke.
1. Loss of enjoyment in food
We may notice that even when a meal has been requested or looked forward to, the plate is pushed away before it is finished. ‘Wanting food but then not being able to eat it is a clear sign of loss of appetite,’ says Jane.
2. Skipping or avoiding meals
We may find that someone we love or care for doesn’t want us to be concerned about their lack of appetite – or in the case of someone struggling with disordered eating, may not want us to notice that they are avoiding food. ‘In this case, they may tell us they’ve eaten already, or they’re not hungry now so will skip breakfast or lunch and eat later,’ says Jane. ‘This is unlikely to be a problem if it’s a one-off or rare occurrence but if it happens regularly, you may want to ask them about their appetite.’
3. Unexplained weight loss
Unexplained weight loss can be a clear signal that a person is eating less than previously. ‘Sudden or unusual weight loss may also be a sign of illness, so it’s important to discuss this with the person, even if they appear to be happy about dropping a few pounds,’ says Jane. ‘They may be consciously trying to improve the quality of their diet, or want to reduce their weight to improve their health, but check in with them to find out for sure.’
4. Low energy
Food gives us the nourishment and energy we need to live our lives. When we are living with an illness, having treatment or recovering from surgery, our calorie needs may increase further, as our body seeks the nutrients it needs to repair and restore optimum health. A lack of energy can indicate that a person is not eating enough and their nutrient needs are not being satisfied.
5. Nausea, stomach upsets and bowel problems
‘Feeling sick or bloated, or struggling with either constipation or diarrhoea, can impact appetite hugely,’ says Jane Clarke. ‘If your loved one is experiencing any of these issues, it’s worth checking in with how they are eating. If they can’t stomach a full meal, consider a supplement such as a cup of soup or a Nourish Drink, which will provide essential nutrients in an accessible and tasty way.’
What causes loss of appetite?
There are a number of causes of loss of appetite, including illness, infection and chronic pain, digestive issues, dementia and medication, as well as psychological issues such as disordered eating, anxiety, stress and grief.
What are best foods for loss of appetite?
The best foods for loss of appetite include high-energy choices and foods enriched with cream, butter and cheese; protein-rich meals; healthy snacks that combine a balance of protein, carbohydrates and snacks, and nutrient-dense drinks such as Nourish Drinks.