No appetite? Try these tips!

Illness or age can sometimes decrease a healthy appetite. Disease, use of medications and depression may also contribute to the problem – explore tips to promote eating nourishing food in satisfying quantities.

As we age our senses of smell and taste gradually decline. Some people notice the effects more than others and say, “That food doesn’t taste the way it used to!” or “I just don’t have an appetite.”

In addition to a loss of smell or taste, a decreased appetite may be caused by some chronic illnesses, such as liver or thyroid disease, kidney or heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hepatitis, HIV and some types of cancer. The use of certain medications, including antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, codeine, morphine and some street drugs, such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin, can be a cause. Loneliness, depression or dental difficulties may also play a role.

Sometimes older adults think they have no appetite without realizing that continual snacking or drinking beverages during the day stand in the way of being hungry for real food! Keeping a food diary might be a way to see what is actually being eaten. This simply consists of writing down on paper everything one eats or drinks during the day. The diary can be kept on an “as-you-eat” basis, which is more accurate, or a person can attempt to recall what has been consumed during the previous twenty-four hours.

People of any age who don’t eat adequately increase their chances of malnutrition or disease. Here are some tips to help us eat nourishing foods in satisfying quantities:

  • Smaller meals are easier to digest. Consider eating four to six small meals during the day.
  • Eat lean protein foods first. Don’t fill up on less nutritious foods like white bread, sweets and beverages.
  • Keep favorite “grab-it” foods available. Having “crab” sticks, small pre-formed burgers, hard-cooked eggs, cut fruits and vegetables, cheese slices or a preferred whole grain cracker, making it easier to eat wisely!
  • Serve foods hot. This brings out the aroma of the food, which may stimulate the digestive juices.
  • If a person is able, a walk or other enjoyable physical activity before eating may stimulate the appetite.
  • Eat with others. Whether it’s lunch with friends or a meal at a senior dining site, eating with others tends to increase appetite.
  • A nice-looking placemat or an attractive mug or plate adds to a pleasant meal. Keep the conversation pleasant, as well.

MedLine Plus, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) website for patients and their families and friends, specifies that there are times when a medical professional should be contacted. These include when a person loses a lot of weight without trying, if decreased appetite occurs with signs of depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or an eating disorder, and if it is thought that appetite loss is caused by taking a specific prescription medication.

For more information about nutrition, disease prevention, and other issues of interest to Michigan families contact a Michigan State University Extension educator in your area, either by visiting the MSUE website or calling toll-free at 888-MSUE-4-MI (888-678-3464).

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