Many factors affect appetite, including a person’s age, current medications, and underlying mental or physical health conditions. Sometimes the cause is temporary, such as a stomach virus. However, never being hungry can indicate a longer term problem.
Appetite refers to how much or how often a person craves food. It doesn’t always match the amount of food or nutrients a person really needs. Depending on the cause, a person can potentially increase their appetite by changing their diet or lifestyle.
In this article, we look at the possible reasons a person may never be hungry and the treatment options. We also give tips on how people can improve their appetite.
If a person never feels hungry, they will suffer from anorexia. This can happen for many reasons and it can feel different depending on the cause. Loss of appetite can manifest itself as:
- have no urge to eat
- do not feel hungry
- Nausea when thinking about food
- Gas, pain, or other symptoms that make eating uncomfortable
If the loss of appetite causes someone to eat less, it can also lead to unintended weight loss, fatigue, or nutritional deficiencies.
Many physical health conditions can affect appetite. These include short-term illnesses, such as a cold or flu, which can temporarily decrease appetite. However, once these diseases subside, a person’s appetite usually normalizes.
If loss of appetite persists, it could be a sign of an underlying condition. Some examples of chronic conditions that can cause loss of appetite include:
Pregnancy can also lead to loss of appetite due to hormonal changes, morning sickness, or pressure in the abdominal cavity.
A person’s mental and emotional health can also affect appetite. For example, some people can lose their appetite when they feel stressed. When stress is frequent or chronic, these people can often have poor appetites. However, a 2018 study found that chronic stress is typically associated with overeating rather than undereating, especially when high-calorie foods are readily available.
Grief, sadness, and other emotions can also decrease appetite. Several mental illnesses can also have this effect, including:
In the case of a substance use disorder, either a specific drug, such as cocaine, or a disorder of eating habits can cause a person to lose appetite.
A variety of drugs can change a person’s appetite. They can reduce a person’s feeling of hunger, change a person’s sense of smell or taste, or cause nausea. Any of these side effects could reduce a person’s interest in food.
Some medications and medical treatments that could have this effect include:
A person’s appetite can change with age. Decreased appetite is particularly common in older adults, especially women who live in a nursing home or stay in hospital.
Aging can affect appetite in a number of ways, including:
- Physiological changes: These include age-related changes in hormones, the digestive system and the senses such as smell or taste. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic diseases that can affect their appetite.
- Psychosocial factors: Older people who are lonely may have lower appetites. Mental illnesses such as depression can also play a role.
- Pharmacological factors: Many older adults are taking medications that can decrease appetite.
If a person’s loss of appetite has a specific underlying cause, treating that symptom may improve. This may mean seeking medical treatment for physical illness, seeing a therapist or counselor, or talking to a doctor about adjusting the type or dosage of any current medication.
People can also take steps at home to stimulate their appetite, including the following.
However, if you experience persistent loss of appetite, the first step should be to see your doctor.
Some people may find it helpful to eat at regular times each day. If larger meals feel too much, they can try eating smaller meals more often. This approach can help a person get enough calories and nutrients even when they don’t feel hungry.
Other ways to increase appetite include:
- Eating with friends: An older 2006 study found that people tend to eat more eating with friends than when eating alone. Distractions can also distract a person from eating, which can be helpful when someone is feeling nauseous.
- Eating delicious foods: Varied and tasty meals can arouse interest in food. People can try new recipes or revert to old favorites. However, it is important to find a balance between enjoyable and nutritious foods, provided that they do not overlap.
- Eat less fiber: While fiber has many health benefits, a high-fiber diet has been linked to appetite and weight loss as it can help people feel full longer. When someone is consuming a lot of fiber, reducing certain types of this nutrient can help them feel hungrier.
When eating enough is difficult, people can try focusing on healthy, high-calorie foods like avocado, sweet potato, nuts and nut butters, and olive oil.
A person can potentially increase their appetite by making simple changes to their routine. These could include:
- A regular sleep schedule: The body’s circadian rhythm determines when someone feels sleepy or awake. However, the circadian rhythm also regulates appetite. People who sleep irregularly may find that this affects the feeling of hunger. If possible, it is advisable to fall asleep and wake up at similar times each day.
- Get moderate exercise: Studies of the effects of exercise on appetite have shown mixed results. However, some people find that moderate exercise stimulates their appetite.
- Stay cool: Exposure to heat can reduce appetite and food intake. This can occur during certain times of the year, in hot climates, or during exercise. If heat could be a factor, a person can try to stay cool by drinking cold liquids, wearing light and breathable clothing, and staying in the shade or in rooms with air conditioning.
When a person is nutritionally deficient, adding a larger amount of that nutrient in their diet or taking a supplement can improve their appetite. For example, a person who is zinc deficient might try taking zinc.
Fish oil can also help stimulate appetite. A 2013 randomized controlled study found that participants experienced a 20% reduction in feeling of satiety after meals after taking fish oil for three weeks. The female participants also had an increased desire to eat.
It is important to speak to a doctor about persistent food disinterest, especially if it makes it difficult to eat enough. It’s also important to mention any other new or unexplained symptoms, such as:
- quickly full after eating
- Flatulence and indigestion
- Diarrhea or constipation
- stomach pain
- dark urine
- Blood in the stool
- significant or unintended weight loss
A doctor can diagnose the underlying cause. If necessary, they can also prescribe appetizing medication.
A person should not stop or change the dosage of existing prescription drugs that could affect their appetite without first consulting a doctor.
There are many possible causes for never being hungry. Short-term illness or medication can cause temporary loss of appetite, while chronic physical or mental illness can cause longer-lasting disorders.
Seeking help and support from a doctor is the first step in addressing any underlying medical conditions that can affect a person’s interest in food. People can also adjust their eating habits and lifestyle to try to stimulate their appetites. However, this does not replace medical care.