How to Maximize Your Appetite

By Maggie Hensley, RD | Registered Dietitian

Appetites, like bodies, are complicated and can be affected by a huge variety of factors. It is inevitable that fluctuations in appetite will happen due to chronic medical conditions, illness, mental health issues, and certain medications. Even when we have little to no appetite, it’s crucial to give our body the energy and nourishment it requires. For short term episodes of poor appetite, here are a few creative tips you may want to check out.

Scent – A somewhat non-conventional way to increase appetite is through the nose. Often fragrant smells can remind our bodies that we haven’t eaten in a while. Popping some popcorn, baking some cookies, or even lighting some food scented candles can help.

Liquids – When low appetite makes it hard to even think about eating anything, liquids are usually the way to go. They are easier to consume, better tolerated, and feel less like we’re forcing ourselves to eat. An added bonus is that protein shakes or fruit smoothies are usually easy to prepare and can be taken on-the-go.

Downsize your meals – Smaller, more frequent meals work in a similar fashion. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of a large meal, having 4-6 quick, easy to eat snacks (granola or protein bars, trail mix, a piece of fruit) can be a more realistic goal.

Enjoy a meal with someone – If possible, eat with others. We tend to eat more when we get together with friends or family.

Consume foods you enjoy – Focusing on preferred foods is another good short-term option. Eating a favorite food can be a good safety net until appetite returns to normal and more variety can be reintroduced. This can be especially helpful during times of grief, depression, and other high stress times. Eating something is always better than not eating at all.

Incorporate higher calorie options – If concerns about unintended weight loss arise, focus on incorporating calories and protein into meals/snacks that are already consumed.  For example, cook with butter, use whole milk instead of skim, or add some unflavored protein powder to soups.

Listen to your body – Lastly, the two strategies that I recommend the most are eating consistently and reconnecting with our own hunger cues. Eating consistently helps our bodies feel safe (that we can be trusted to give it what it needs when it needs it) and keeps our metabolism stable. It is easier said than done as our hunger cues are often subtle. It is all too easy in our culture of busy schedules, social commitments, and lots of distractions to lose touch with the hints that we are hungry. This will usually lead to eating when we feel so hungry that we overeat.

If a low appetite persists for a long time, please check in with your NOAH provider. They can refer you to one of NOAH’s Registered Dietitians, the resident experts in nutrition science and who are conveniently located at all the NOAH clinics.