You don’t eat for a while, and you realize you have a loss of appetite. Maybe you had to skip lunch at work, but instead of feeling famished at 5pm, you find you have no appetite and could go even longer without eating. Find out what causes loss of appetite, what hunger symptoms to look out for and more.
What Causes Loss of Appetite?
Adrenaline serves several purposes in the human body. The one most know about is the “fight or flight” response. When you get stressed, your body reacts as if it’s in danger, which as a result, causes your brain to release chemicals, including adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and slow your digestion. This in turn can curb your appetite, but typically only lasts for a short period of time. If you’re stressed over a longer period of time, your body releases cortisol, which makes you hungrier, especially for high-calorie foods.
- Cold or Flu
When you aren’t feeling well, your immune system gets put into overdrive, releasing chemicals called cytokines that can make you feel tired and not hungry. Your body is telling you that you need to simply rest so that you can restore your energy levels to fight whatever is making you ill.
There are many medications on the market today that contain the side effect of appetite loss. This is common when medications pass through a person’s stomach and digestive tract.
The most common medications and treatments often cause a low appetite:
- Muscle relaxants
- Drugs that treat anxiety
- Drugs that treat high blood pressure
- Hunger as Fatigue
An additional cause for a loss of appetite is that you actuallyarehungry, you just do not realize it. You most likely are not hungry in your stomach. But have you ever felt tired, grumpy, cranky, scatterbrained, lightheaded or irritable and notice these problems improve as soon as you eat?
In this case, your body is telling you that it needs food– just for whatever reason, the signal is not coming through your stomach. Instead of waiting for hunger pangs, start paying close attention to your overall mood. Are you quick to snap at someone? Are you finding it hard to concentrate at work? It may just be that it’s been a little too long since your last meal.
A lack of appetite can be more common in older adults. In fact,between15% and 30% of older people have less of an appetite than they used to. This can happen for a number of reasons.
- As you age, your digestion slows down, leading you to have a full stomach for longer periods of time.
- Your sense of smell, taste and vision gets weaker, making food less appealing.
- Hormonal changes or chronic illness can curb your appetite.
- Increased or decreased use of medications can contribute to a decreased appetite.
- Stomach Disorders
If you’ve recently noticed diarrhea, nausea, stomach pains or bloating after eating a meal, you may experience a loss of appetite. This is often associated with stomach disorders.
Common stomach disorders include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food poisoning
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Food intolerances, such as lactose or gluten
- Crohn’s disease
Adrenaline and The Process of Lipolysis
What adrenaline does is drive a process called lipolysis. This is the process your body undertakes when it wants to break down your fat reserves to give itself some energy. Lipolysis also prevents you from burning through your muscle when you don’t eat for a while.
Lipolysis likely occurs as an evolutionary function. Early humans did not have what we have today. There was no intense agriculture. People didn’t have easy access to food. Instead, we were hunter/gatherers, which means there would be periods where earlier humans just couldn’t access food.
That’s where lipolysis probably started kicking in for those early humans. Their bodies would burn through their fat reserves so that they could keep going during long periods. The elimination of hunger pangs that comes from this would distract from the issue and ensure the humans could focus on getting food rather than how much he or she needed food.
This is something most of us don’t experience today. You probably have access to food even if you don’t eat for a while. Even so, not eating triggers the same sort of response and your body goes into a sort of survival mode if it does not receive food over a long period of time. Adrenaline plays a key role in keeping that going until you eventually decide to eat.
See More:How Caffeine Revs Up Your Metabolism
The Blood Glucose Issue
It’s not just your fat reserves you need to think about. Not eating means your body doesn’t get the sugars it needs to operate properly. This leads to a process called gluconeogenesis, which also causes the loss of appetite.
- Gluconeogenesis is your body’s way of telling itself that blood glucose levels are too low.
- When you undergo gluconeogenesis, your body starts producing more of a hormone called glucagon.
- Glucagon increases blood glucose levels while also dropping insulin production.
- Gluconeogenesis causes your body to start breaking down fats and tissues, kind of like how adrenaline does.
- Studies show that gluconeogenesis increases the number of calories the body burns– with no carbohydrates coming in, the body creates its own glucose using mainly fat.
- Eventually, the body runs out of these energy sources and fasting mode then becomes the more serious starvation mode.
- At this point, your metabolism begins to slow down and your body will burn muscle tissue for energy.
- However, true starvation mode is not entered until 3 days straight of not eating.
- After 3 days, your body will start breaking down vital tissues and organs as it enters a deeper survival mode.
- Your body will not reach this point if you have only skipped 1 meal or have only gone 24 hours without eating.
- The result of not eating for more than 24 hours straight while undergoing gluconeogenesis will simply be that your body will break down the fatty acid reserves of fat in the body and around the organs and turn them into fuel.
What Does It All Mean?
In a recent study, results found thatBasal Metabolic Rate didn’t decline until 60 hours of fasting. BMR is how many calories your body would burn if you were motionless for a day without food and accounts for the majority of your daily calorie burn unless you're very physically active. A separate study found thatmetabolism actually speeds up after fasting for 36 to 48 hours.
So, think of it this way – if you haven’t eaten anything in a while, you may experience hunger pangs. What is your body telling you? Probably to go find food. Our bodies encourage us to do that by flooding our tubes with adrenaline and triggers the release of glucose from energy stores, which makes our mind sharper and increases our basal metabolic rate.
The body is a powerful thing. It will take measures to halt further muscle loss because of its crucial role in keeping us strong and functional. Therefore, your body will not enter “starvation mode” until after about 3 days (72 hours) of not eating.
For many healthy adults, it’s not the worst thing in the world to occasionally skip a meal. But if you frequently reach the point where your hunger dissipates, here are some ways to increase your appetite in the long run.
How to Increase Appetite
- Change your eating habits (Ex. If you’re used to skipping breakfast, consider starting the day off with a nourishing meal).
- Eat nutrient-rich foods.
- Stock up on your favorite foods – you’ll find it’s much easier to eat something you really enjoy.
- Eat several, smaller portioned meals instead of a few large meals.
- Drink water between meals, not during.
- Exercise – physical activity releases brain chemicals that can improve your mood and stimulate your appetite.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Make mealtime an enjoyable social activity.
- Eat less fiber –diets high in fiber have been proven to promote feelings of fullness.
- Use carminative herbs and spices, such as peppermint, fennel, rosemary or parsley to helpreduce bloatingand improve your appetite.
Should I Eat Even If I’m Not Hungry?
Should you eat when you’re not hungry? Or better yet, when you’re not feeling hungry but know your body needs food, what should you do?
The right thing to do is to always eat when there is physiological/internal cue – in other words, when you either feel that hunger pang or become aware that your body is in need of a nourishing substance.
There are 2 guiding factors of what to eat and how much.
- Inner Wisdom
- How the body lets us know that we need food, or have had enough to eat.
- Outer Wisdom
- Knowing what your body needs even if it’s not exactly asking for it.
While it may be easier to identify hunger using inner wisdom, we cannot discount our outer wisdom. Outer wisdom is the knowledge to know that it’s been a little while since we last had something to eat and that our body needs food – even if it’s not showing any signs or hunger symptoms.
What To Eat When You’re Not Hungry?
After considering all the loss of appetite causes, you might decide that your lack of appetite is really nothing to worry about. You feel strong, you’re in a good mood and you’ve ruled out major causes like chronic disease. In that case, this feeling is completely normal.
However, a lack of appetite is not necessarily a sign that your body has enough food and doesn’t need more. It’s important to still eat even when you don’t feel hungry to make sure you are getting in the required nutrients to become the strongestyouthere is. For example, pregnant women would still need to eat in order to obtain those nutrients needed to support their body and their baby.
So, what to do?
- Choose calorie-dense foods, such as avocados and fatty meats. This way, you don’t have to scarf down a huge quantity of food when you don’t feel hungry.
- Consider making a fruit/vegetable smoothie that is high in vitamins, minerals and many other beneficial nutrients.
- Chug a glass of water to stay hydrated and refreshed.
- When you’re low on energy from either dieting or fasting and your glucose is low, consider an energy source packed with vitamins, such asNeuro’s gums and mints, to provide your body with needed vitamins like B6 and B12.
Mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and stress, can all have a negative effect on hunger levels. Other physical conditions, such as pregnancy, hypothyroidism, and more, can also cause a decrease in appetite.Why does the feeling of hunger go away? ›
Once food is consumed, hunger pains and other hunger symptoms usually go away. The stomach adjusts to this new level of fullness (or emptiness), so they may even subside without eating anything.What happens when you dont eat enough? ›
Typical signs that you're not eating enough can include feeling tired, getting ill more often, hair loss, or skin problems. While obesity and related conditions are on the rise, the dangers of undereating are relatively overlooked. Undereating can have a range of adverse effects on a person's health and wellbeing.Why don't I feel hungry after fasting? ›
In fact, it's been found that Intermittent Fasting specifically results in a reduction of the hunger hormone ghrelin. (2) With reduced hunger hormones and increased energy availability, the natural result is a suppressed appetite during the fasted state.What happens to your stomach when you don't eat for a day? ›
After eight hours without eating, your body will begin to use stored fats for energy. Your body will continue to use stored fat to create energy throughout the remainder of your 24-hour fast. Fasts that last longer than 24 hours may lead to your body to start converting stored proteins into energy.Should I eat if I don't feel hungry? ›
Yes, absolutely! Regular meals are critical to getting all of your body functions to work properly again. One of the reasons you may not be feeling adequate hunger could be delayed gastric emptying, which occurs when someone is undereating and food remains in the stomach far longer than it should.What is it called when you dont feel hungry? ›
A loss of appetite is a symptom that can have many causes. This occurs when you don't feel hungry. The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia. This is different from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of a loss of appetite will help you feel better.Why do I want to eat but not hungry? ›
Many people eat when they are feeling upset, angry, stressed, sad, lonely or fearful. Emotions such as these can be powerful triggers to eat. If you're an emotional eater, you can learn other ways to react to your emotions.What happens when you eat too little for too long? ›
Regularly eating fewer calories than your body requires can cause fatigue and make it more challenging for you to meet your daily nutrient needs. For instance, calorie-restricted diets may not provide sufficient amounts of iron, folate or vitamin B12. This can lead to anemia and extreme fatigue (16, 17, 18).Can not eating make you fat? ›
Not eating won't directly lead to weight gain -- in fact, you may lose weight as you'll temporarily eat fewer calories than you burn. The problem is that fasting is unsustainable, so any weight-loss benefit will likely be short lived and your health will pay the price.
Altogether, it seems possible to survive without food and drink within a time span of 8 to 21 days. If a person is only deprived of food, the survival time may even go up to about two months, although this is influenced by many factors.Why is it hard to eat after a fast? ›
Breaking your fast with foods that are especially high in fat, sugar, or even fiber can be difficult for your body to digest, leading to bloating and discomfort. Foods and drinks that can be even more shocking to your system after a fast include those like a greasy cheeseburger, slice of cake, or soda.Which meal is best to skip? ›
Skipping breakfast and other meals is one behavior studied as a factor influencing weight outcomes and dietary quality. Based on evidence that skipping breakfast reduces total daily caloric intake, some weight-loss recommendations include skipping breakfast (i.e., intermediate fasting) as one strategy to use.How long is it safe to fast? ›
The best way to avoid these side effects is to stick to shorter fasting periods of up to 24 hours — especially when you're just starting out. If you want to increase your fasting period to more than 72 hours, you should seek medical supervision.Does your stomach eat itself when you don't eat? ›
Scientists have known for a while that when a body becomes starved for sustenance, cells start eating bits and pieces of themselves. It's a process known as “autophagy” and one that's a normal part of the cell life cycle; it's how other cells get energy during the tough times.Why do I keep eating when full? ›
New research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suggests that ghrelin, the hormone that your body secretes when you are hungry, might also act on the brain influencing the hedonic aspects of eating behavior. The result is that we continue to eat "pleasurable" foods even when we are full.Why do I feel tired and not hungry? ›
Fatigue and loss of appetite are symptoms of several health conditions. The condition can be as common as the flu or a sign of something more serious like cancer. Often a loss of appetite can cause fatigue, especially if you aren't getting enough calories or nutrients.Why can I go days without eating? ›
The many systems in your body work optimally with a varied diet and adequate water intake daily. But our bodies are also able to survive for days without water. We can go days or sometimes weeks without food because of adjustments to our metabolism and energy consumption.What to eat When You don't feel hungry? ›
But what should you do when you are not hungry but need to eat? You should really be looking for foods which are rich in protein and high in calories. Lean meats, dairy, eggs, cereal and many other healthy foods will be a nice choice. Your menu is up to you, you can choose the foods that you like most of all.What happens to your body when you are hungry and don't eat? ›
The body begins to increase production of cortisol, leaving us stressed and hangry. Skipping meals can also cause your metabolism to slow down, which can cause weight gain or make it harder to lose weight. “When you skip a meal or go a long time without eating, your body goes into survival mode,” says Robinson.
If you go long enough without eating, you will use up the glucose in your system and then enter ketosis. During ketosis, your body switches to an alternative fuel source, ketones, which your body makes from fat. If you've ever been to a decent holiday party you've noticed that putting on fat is pretty easy.Why am I fat but don't eat much? ›
Your Slow Metabolism:
When you have a slow metabolism, your body doesn't convert food into energy in sufficient quantities. So most of the food you eat is stored in the form of fats. This is the main reason why some people get fat even though they don't eat much.
Restricted eating, malnourishment, and excessive weight loss can lead to changes in our brain chemistry, resulting in increased symptoms of depression and anxiety (Centre for Clinical Interventions, 2018b). These changes in brain chemistry and poor mental health outcomes skew reality.Is eating one meal a day okay? ›
For most people, there are no serious dangers involved in eating one meal a day, other than the discomforts of feeling hungry. That said, there are some risks for people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Eating one meal a day can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol.Is eating one meal a day healthy? ›
Eating one meal a day may be a popular way to lose weight, but it's likely not a good idea for overall health. Although fasting in general — including prolonged fasting — may benefit health in a number of ways, people can reach the same health benefits using much more sustainable methods.Will I get skinny if I stop eating? ›
“On a day you don't eat for 24 hours, you're guaranteed to be losing a third or half a pound of non-water weight that's mostly from body fat,” Pilon told Global News. “The truth is intermittent fasting is a way to create slow, steady weight loss.”How long can you go without eating before you get hungry? ›
After 6 hours of not eating, the above method of production of energy (using glycogen) has to change, as the glycogen stores are expending fast. This is when you begin to feel hungry, and a bit agitated too.How do you not get hungry when you haven't eaten? ›
- getting enough sleep.
- staying properly hydrated.
- reducing stress.
- practicing mindful eating techniques.
Forcing yourself to eat can be detrimental, especially if you make yourself sick. It would be better to have a light snack, like a piece of fruit or small bowl of granola, than to force yourself to eat a full meal if you are not hungry.How long can you go without hunger? ›
With no food and no water, the maximum time the body can survive is thought to be about one week . With water only, but no food, survival time may extend up to 2 to 3 months. Over time, a severely restricted food intake can reduce the lifespan.
After two or three days, your body starts to break down fatty tissue. Your muscles use the fatty acids created during this process as their main source of fuel. Fatty acids are also used to form ketones in the liver. Ketones are another substance the body can use for energy.What happens when you don't eat for a week? ›
If you go long enough without eating, you will use up the glucose in your system and then enter ketosis. During ketosis, your body switches to an alternative fuel source, ketones, which your body makes from fat. If you've ever been to a decent holiday party you've noticed that putting on fat is pretty easy.How long can you fast? ›
There is no set time that water fasting should last for, but medical advice generally suggests anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days as the maximum time to go without food.Why do I feel full for so long after eating? ›
The way a person eats can contribute to feeling uncomfortably full after meals. Examples include overeating, eating too quickly, or eating while stressed. Certain foods are also more likely to cause bloating after meals, which can make someone feel full if they eat a lot of them.
- Smoothie (include any combination of fruit, milk, yogurt, nut/seed butter, flax, chia seeds, etc)
- Fruit + Peanut/Almond Butter.
- Toast + Egg (toss in some avocado to get some delicious healthy fat, if you feel up to it!)
You should not force yourself to eat more. Eat sufficient quantity and in regular intervals. Try and increase the amount of carbohydrates during the day and also just after work-out.Can you not be hungry for 3 days? ›
According to Vavrek, you should head to the doctor if you've lost weight or gone three to four days without an appetite. It's important to determine whether an underlying medical condition is at the root of the problem.