What is Appetite?

If you’ve ever felt like eating with or without feeling hunger, you’ve experienced appetite. Appetite is important to your overall health, and the lack of one could be a sign of a health problem.

There are a variety of factors that can lead to an increased or decreased appetite. Additionally, you can take steps to stimulate your appetite when it’s low, like learning what to eat when you have no appetite.

What Is Appetite?

Appetite is a person’s innate drive to eat food. It’s not the same as hunger, which is the body’s reaction to a lack of food. A person can be hungry without showing signs of hunger, have a strong appetite without showing indicators of hunger, or be hungry while showing signs of hunger.

The desire to eat food is referred to as appetite. Hunger, on the other hand, is the body’s biochemical response to a lack of food. A person’s appetite might exist even though their body does not show signals of hunger or vice versa.

A person’s appetite might fluctuate due to a variety of causes, causing them to consume less or more than their bodies require.

We’ll look at hunger in more depth in this post, including the elements that can influence it, how to raise or decrease it, and when to seek medical advice.

A person’s appetite is their general urge to eat food. The amount of food a person wants to consume, as well as the type of food they want to eat, maybe determined by their appetite.

When a person feels hungry, according to the Canadian Society of Gastrointestinal Research, they are less likely to have a choice for what they want to eat.

Someone who has a strong urge to eat, on the other hand, may find that some factors stimulate their appetite. These may include the following:

  • boredomstress, or another heightened emotional state.
  • Seeing or smelling food that appeals to them.
  • routine, habit, or a special occasion.

Health conditions, medications, and environmental factors can also change a person’s appetite. Lifestyle factors and health conditions can affect hunger, as well.

Characteristics

While there are many signs to tell if a person has an appetite, the primary one is feelings of hunger. Hunger can show itself in many ways, including:

  • Cravings for food
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach rumbles 

While hunger is a physical feeling and manifests itself in the symptoms listed above, appetite is an emotional and mental feeling which causes a strong desire for a certain type or flavor of food.

Appetite isn’t constant—it can vary from day today. For example. a person’s emotional state (such as feeling excitement, stress, or boredom) or the availability of preferred foods (if there are few foods in your home you enjoy, you might not feel as strong of a desire to eat them) may influence it.

Lack of appetite, meanwhile, can be caused by emotional stressors, medications, chronic illnesses or conditions, or even a loss of sense of smell or taste.

Factors that affect appetite

A wide range of factors can affect appetite. We look at some common examples below:

1. Diet

In a 2017 study on the ketogenic, or keto, diet, researchers noted that people who start following a diet often experience an increase in appetite at the start.

However, after continuing to lose weight and staying on the diet for 3 weeks, the participants in this study no longer experienced this increase in appetite. The keto diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates.

Other studies state that protein increases satiety and feelings of fullness after meals. A diet that contains adequate protein may, therefore, help regulate a person’s appetite.

2. Mental health

A person’s emotional state has a significant effect on their appetite. For some people, stress or grief may cause them to eat more food as a way of coping with how they feel, but for others, these emotions have the opposite effect.

Some mental health conditions also affect appetite, including:

Depression

Some research suggests that depression can increase or decrease a person’s appetite. Some people associate food with rewards and may eat more to try to feel better.

Eating disorders

Binge eating disorder involves periods of excessive overeating, which feelings of guilt and shame then follow. A person with this disorder may strongly desire food and eat it even though they are not hungry. 

Anorexia nervosa, which causes someone to restrict their food intake, may reduce the person’s desire to eat even though their body needs food.

3. Pregnancy

Nausea, constipation, and pressure on the stomach from a growing fetus can reduce a pregnant woman’s appetite. Dietitians recommend that pregnant women with a low appetite try:

  • eating smaller meals more frequently
  • eating foods with high energy values, such as fruit, nuts, and cheese
  • preparing smoothies at home that contain plenty of energy and nutrients

Pregnancy can also increase appetite by causing cravings. A 2014 study trusted Source suggests that cultural norms have an effect on what foods women may crave during pregnancy, which may lead to overeating.

4. Medication

Numerous medications can affect a person’s appetite. Some medications that can cause weight gain include:

  • For example, Lopressor is a blood pressure medicine.
  • certain antiepileptic drugs
  • Certain diabetic medicines
  • psychiatric medications
  • Antidepressants like paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline, as well as steroid hormones like prednisone (Deltasone) (Zoloft),

5. Other conditions

Many medical conditions can cause a person to lose or gain appetite, including:

  • Infection: Bacterial or viral infections, such as viral gastroenteritis, can cause a person’s appetite to be temporarily suppressed.
  • Thyroid disease: The thyroid has a big impact on appetite. Trusted Source Someone with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism may experience an increase or reduction in appetite.
  • Cancer: Depending on the symptoms, as well as the location of the tumour and whether it emits hormones, cancer can sometimes induce a direct lack of appetite. It can also result in an indirect loss of appetite as a result of a person’s therapeutic response.
  • Parkinson’s disease can produce a loss of taste or smell, which might affect someone’s appetite, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
  • Kidney illness causes waste materials to build up in the bloodstream when the kidneys fail. This buildup can lead trusted Source to a lack of appetite.

How to boost appetite

If a person has a low appetite due to an underlying medical condition, treating the condition may improve it.

For longer-term causes of low appetites, such as cancer, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) suggest that people adjust their eating habits to increase their desire for food by:

  • eating foods that look and smell good using aromatic spices and herbs to enhance flavour making meals enjoyable
  • by playing music and presenting the food in an appealing manner eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day eating at consistent times each day
  • planning meals the day before
  • drinking plenty of liquids

As other lifestyle factors, such as sleep, exercise, and stress, also influence appetite, PanCAN recommends:

  • getting enough rest
  • getting regular exercise
  • taking medications to reduce nausea, if appropriate

How to decrease appetite

A person who finds that they want to eat more food than their body needs can reduce their appetite by addressing the underlying cause.

If a person eats due to stress or anxiety, mindfulness might help. A 2014 review of trusted sources found that mindfulness meditation appeared to be an effective tool for decreasing emotional eating.

The Obesity Medicine Association also recommends mindful eating. People can practice mindful eating by:

  • Avoid distractions, such as the television, during meals until they are moderately, but not ravenously, hungry.
  • Before eating, they should take five deep breaths and use their senses to appreciate how the meal looks, smells, and tastes.
  • Pay heed to the body’s indicators of fullness with tiny nibbles and thorough chewing.

A person can adjust what they eat to increase feelings of fullness by avoiding processed foods and simple sugars. Instead, they can focus on meals that contain a balance of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and carbohydrates.

In a 2018 study, trusted source, researchers found that drinking water before a meal helped reduce the number of calories that the participants ate during the meal. Although this may not directly affect appetite, it might help reduce hunger.

When to see a doctor

A person should talk to their doctor if they experience unexplained appetite changes, in case an underlying health condition is affecting their appetite. A doctor can also help someone switch medication if its side effects are responsible for appetite changes.

A person with a mental health condition that makes them want to overeat or severely limit their food intake should talk to a doctor or therapist for support.

A Word From Verywell

It’s perfectly natural to have mood swings related to hunger. From your emotional or mental condition to your physical health, a variety of things might influence your hunger.

Talk to your doctor if you notice a sudden and unexpected change in your appetite. A sudden increase or reduction in appetite could indicate a medical or mental health problem that needs to be discussed with your doctor. It could also be a sign that your medication needs to be modified if you’re taking any.

The desire to eat is referred to as appetite. The environment, lifestyle, mental health, and physical health are all elements that can influence someone’s appetite.

Mindful eating can help someone pay attention to when their body needs food. However, if a person with a high or low appetite suspects that there is an underlying cause, they should speak to a doctor.

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