How To Increase Appetite: Tips To Gain Weight Naturally 2023

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Reviewed by Dr. Drew Sutton, MD

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How To Increase Appetite

There are days you don’t feel like eating anything. This can be frustrating, particularly when you’re attempting weight gain or build mass or for underweight people. Not having an appetite is not as common as always being hungry, but it can be just as intense, often more alarming. And if your lack of appetite persists for more than a couple of days, it can lead to major deficiencies in the body like weight loss, malnutrition, etc. So, how to increase appetite?

Anyone can lose interest in food for many different reasons. Knowing how to increase your appetite naturally can be deceptive, but compelling yourself to eat when you don’t want to is not a great resolution. It may just add to the stress of being sick. So when you may feel like you’re unable to eat much and you have absolutely no appetite, there are ways to increase your nutrient intake to gain weight.

What Causes A Decreased Appetite?

A low appetite[1] is linked with different mental or physical issues – from food poisoning to more extreme health ailments such as cancer. The leading causes for decreased appetite are:

  • Psychological disorders – anxiety, depression, or stress. Any stress is an actual disturbance for your body. Stress drives your body to release a hormone – epinephrine – also known as adrenaline, which temporarily subsides hunger. Also, people who suffer from depression have little interest in food, which can cause appetite loss. 
  • Bacterial or viral infection – colitis, pneumonia, or gastroenteritis: When you get viral or bacterial infections (e.g., cold, food poisoning, stomach flu, etc.), your body aims to get the necessary energy doses to fight the disease. That’s why it discharges cytokines – special hormones – that cause decreased appetite and make you tired.
  • Medical conditions – chronic liver disease, kidney failure or heart failure, diabetes, etc. These long-term medical conditions can cause a loss of appetite for different reasons that change depending on the cause.
  • Digestive conditions – irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease
  • Hormonal conditions – Addison’s disease or hypothyroidism 
  • Medications – antibiotics, morphine, or chemotherapy drugs. Medications do come with a long list of likely side effects. And these side effects have the possibility of making one lose appetite for food.
  • Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa, which causes someone to limit their food intake, may diminish their desire to eat even though their body requires food.

Why Is My Appetite So Low?

When someone loses interest in food, it can be concerning as it may lead to weight loss and other health problems. A low appetite can be induced by different reasons stated earlier. Some common causes include stress, anxiety, or depression. They can influence your mental and emotional state. 

Additionally, certain medications or social vices, like smoking, can suppress your appetite, and a lack of nutrients (in food) can make you feel less hungry. Your appetite may also decrease when you’re sad or grieving. Boredom has also been linked to a decreased appetite. Medical conditions also may cause decreased appetite, like kidney or heart failure, hepatitis, etc. However, in most cases, your appetite will return to normal once the underlying condition or reason is treated.

Symptoms Of Decrease Appetite

If you are concerned about your low appetite, it is crucial to engage with a doctor so that they can rule out any underlying medical[2] conditions. You should especially see a doctor if you are coming up with any of the following symptoms:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue.
  • Feeling sick (nausea).
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Pain in your tummy (abdominal pain).
  • Swelling of your tummy.
  • Night sweats.
  • Low mood.
  • Feeling out of breath.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of muscle mass.
  • Hair loss. 

When Should You See a Doctor?

It is particularly vital to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms associated with a persisting lack of appetite[3]:

  • Weight loss 
  • Loss of muscle mass 
  • Fatigue 
  • Anemia 

These symptoms could suggest an underlying medical condition, and it is necessary to get a proper diagnosis.

How To Increase Your Appetite

Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

You will be unable to eat a full meal or feel full after eating a small amount of food. Concentrating on eating smaller meals more repeatedly seems more attainable and may lower the unpleasant feeling of a tight, full stomach. It will also provide you with more calories since they are spread out more.

Additionally, it may help you establish a better eating routine. Begin by consuming three smaller meals separated by high-calorie snacks throughout the day rather than 2–3 large meals. Examples of these high-calorie snacks are:

  • Avocado-egg toast
  • High-calorie protein bars
  • Full-fat cottage cheese and almonds
  • Whole-fat Greek yogurt and granola
  • Peanut butter and honey sandwich

Eat More Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods are popular mainstream for their role in devising chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. However, you should not be scared to consume more of these foods, specifically if you have a poor appetite or need to gain weight[4]. Highly processed foods tend to be rich in refined grains, fat, sugar, and sodium, making them very tasty and challenging to withstand, which can boost calorie intake and weight gain over time.

Even though you ought to still aim to eat mostly nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, don’t avoid including some foods, like ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers, and french fries, in your diet, as this will likely stimulate your appetite.

Use Herbs And Spices

Certain herbs and spices may have a practical impact on the digestive system and appetite regulation. You can introduce some of these herbs, spices, or bitters into your diet by cooking with them or consuming them as teas or tinctures. 

  • A type of seasoning called carminative herbs and spices can ease bloating and flatulence and enhance your appetite. They can also spur the build-up of bile to encourage fat digestion. Some examples of carminative herbs and spices are black pepper, fennel, mint, coriander, ginger, peppermint, and cinnamon. 
  • Bitters tonics are another type of herb preparation that can help increase appetite by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes. Examples are blessed thistle, gentian, and centaury. 

As well as helping relieve the “heavy stomach” feeling, these herbs and spices can cause your meals to be more attractive. When your food has a pleasing smell and taste, it can trigger your appetite.

Take A Vitamin Supplement

Vitamin supplements — whether single nutrients or multivitamins — do not directly affect appetite. However, certain nutrient deficiencies may contribute to poor appetite, and restoring levels of these nutrients with supplementation may enhance your appetite. For example: 

  • Zinc: is an essential mineral responsible for crucial functions in the body. If your diet lacks sufficient zinc, you may also experience appetite problems and taste disturbances. Supplements containing this nutrient may help improve your desire to eat and make eating more enjoyable.
  • Thiamin: This is a key factor in regulating carbohydrate metabolism, et al. It has also been shown how its shortage can reduce appetite and improve resting energy expenditure. Thiamine can be found in many foods, including eggs, meat, legumes, dairy products, and vitamin supplements.
  • Echinacea: Echinacea is an herb used for its ability to stimulate the immune system and fight diseases. Studies have shown it also includes compounds called alkylamines, which can stimulate your appetite.
  • Vitamin B1 helps the conversion of food into energy for the body. The deficiency can lead to decreased appetite and little food cravings.
  • Fish oil: Fish oil is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids may also serve as a natural appetite stimulant. Fish oil may stimulate appetite by impacting certain hormones like serotonin and the expression of certain genes that regulate appetite and body weight.

Try A Mass Gainer

Mass or weight gainers are powdered supplements packed with calories ranging from 560 to upwards of 2,000 calories per serving. They are designed to be mixed with water or milk and consumed as a shake. While mass gainers don’t necessarily increase your appetite, they can be a relatively efficient and cost-effective way to get more calories since they supply many calories in liquid form.

Make A High-Calorie Smoothie Or Shake 

If you’re not inclined to weight gainer supplements, consider making your own. Building your high-calorie shake allows you to tailor the flavor and consistency to your liking and exclude ingredients to which you may be intolerant. For making a high-calorie smoothie or shake, you need some of these ingredients:

  • Oats
  • Fresh or frozen fruit
  • Protein powder
  • Peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt
  • Whole fat or soy milk
  • Juice

Schedule Your Meals

People rely on hunger cues to know when the right time to sit down for a meal is. However, with a low appetite, your body will not produce enough normal hunger signals, and you may forget to eat. Planning your food and placing a reminder at each mealtime may encourage you to eat more regularly. It may also be a deciding aspect in devising a healthy meal routine.

Can You Gain Appetite Fast?

When faced with a loss of appetite and the need for weight gain, a “simply eat more” solution sounds great in theory, but it’s not always easy to do in real life. In the first place, there are many reasons people might lose interest in food even if they are not trying to.

Decreased appetite can be temporary or long-term. It can be a consequence of some emotions or even health issues. Maybe they have lost weight and need to regain it, or they just don’t like eating very much. But whether you need to consume more calories to help you gain muscles or avoid losing weight, stimulating your appetite can get you quickly back on track to looking and feeling your best. 

If your goal is to gain muscle mass, consuming more calories than you’ve been eating can be difficult if your appetite is not there. Fortunately, for the average person struggling to get the appetite back on track, for a quick result, you can attempt these ideas listed above so you can improve your weight also.

What’s The Outcome If Decreased Appetite Is Not Treated?

If your loss of appetite is causing you to regularly under-eat or skip meals, you may need to gain weight to stay well. A decreased appetite, if not treated, can be serious. It can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Loss of weight might be a goal for you if you’re overweight, but losing too much weight, or too much too fast, can be cause for concern. People need to find out the reason for their loss of appetite, especially for a prolonged period. 

If a short-term condition causes decreased appetite, you’re likely to recover naturally without any long-term effects.

However, if a medical condition causes it, it could worsen without treatment. If left untreated, your decreased appetite can also be accompanied by more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • A general ill feeling or malaise

If your lack of appetite continues and causes you to develop malnutrition or vitamin and electrolyte deficiencies, you can suffer from life-threatening difficulties. Therefore, it’s important to seek medical attention if you have a decreased appetite that doesn’t resolve after an acute illness or lasts longer than a few weeks.

Conclusion

Lack of appetite can be weakening and can meddle with your power to sustain a healthy weight or gain weight. However, small changes can make a big difference. Appetite loss often brings with it emotions of fatigue or nausea. People may benefit from eating small, regular meals instead of three large meals, and liquid meals are often more palatable – you can incorporate smoothies and high-calorie drinks that can be easier to consume. 

If you have a difficult time eating, it’s usually a fine idea to speak with a doctor, who can counsel you regarding nurturing your appetite and gaining some healthy weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when you have no appetite?

When you have no appetite, you do not feel hungry and do not have the urge to eat.

How do you eat when you have no appetite?

The trick is to drink plenty of fluids like water, juice, and other liquids throughout the day because dehydration can lead to loss of appetite. And also to eat small meals more often. If you do not feel like eating a huge meal, consider splitting your food into smaller meals or snacks that you can eat more continually.

Is the loss of appetite a sign of anorexia?

Yes, loss of appetite also signifies anorexia, but only in cases where it is constant long term. It also leads to extreme weight loss and diminished immunity.

What part of the brain controls your appetite?

The hypothalamus controls your appetite and satiety. It coordinates how the energy produced by the digestion of food is used and controls food intake.

If I never feel hungry, is that a bad sign?

Lack of appetite sometimes signals other medical issues, including hypothyroidism, diabetes, or even cancer. Each will likely present other symptoms, but signs can be subtle. It’s necessary to check in with your doctor if food is consistently unappealing to you.

When should I see a doctor?

If you are concerned about your low appetite, that is when it is important to speak with a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: weight loss, hair loss, loss of muscle mass, anemia, or fatigue.

How is a decreased appetite treated?

Treatment for lack of appetite is dependent on its cause. If the cause is a bacterial or viral infection, you won’t usually require specific treatment for the symptom, as your appetite will quickly return once your infection is cured.

What should I eat if I don’t have an appetite?

Eat foods that are rich in calories and protein. High-protein foods are peanut butter, eggs, cereals, fish, cheeses, milk, tofu, nuts, steak, meat, etc. Give the patient 6 to 8 small meals and snacks daily. Offer starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, or potatoes, with protein-rich foods, such as peanut butter, yogurt, and beans.

+ 4 sources

MIDSS adheres to strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes, and medical associations. We work mainly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure the accuracy of the information. We avoid the use of tertiary references. You can read about how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content in our editorial process.

  1. My Nutrition My Nutrition Loss of Appetite. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/147067/oncol_loa.pdf.
  2. medlineplus.gov. (n.d.). Appetite – decreased: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003121.htm.
  3. medlineplus.gov. (n.d.). Appetite – decreased: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003121.htm.
  4. MSU Extension. (n.d.). No appetite? Try these tips! [online] Available at: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/no_appetite_try_these_tips.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madison Clarke, MBAHM
MBA in Healthcare Management
She is a professional blog post, article, researcher, and health writer. She has mastered the art of content writing by practicing for years and constantly learning. She is always ready and well equipped to write. It is always a pleasure to bring her skills to use and play her part in helping others achieve their objectives. She has 6 years of experience conducting research in Fitness and health care. She is MBA qualified and has written health content for 8+ years.

ABOUT MEDICAL REVIEWER

Drew is a retired ENT doctor who now lives in the Southeastern US. He was a member of the American Academy of Otolaryngology and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology and an MD degree. He completed his internship in General Surgery and Residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and practiced for almost 30 years in all aspects of ENT, including a specialization in disorders of the ear and skull base. Drew is passionate about communicating his clinical experiences and making his knowledge more accessible to the general public by medical writing.
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