Jan 22, 2024 • 9 min read

Hungry But No Appetite? Possible Reasons Why & Solutions

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If you’re hungry but have no appetite, you may be wondering what’s going on. You’re not alone, many people struggle with similar symptoms.

Issues with your appetite can be due to changes in your mental health, such as worsening depression or anxiety, or you may have an underlying illness or disease that is causing these symptoms. 

This guide covers why you may be hungry but have no appetite, solutions for this issue, where to get help, and more.

Reasons you may be hungry with no appetite & solutions for each

If you are feeling hungry but lacking an appetite, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider to rule out any underlying conditions and take action for your health. 

To start finding a solution, consider these potential reasons you may be experiencing these symptoms.

1) Changes in mental health

Whether you suffer from depression or anxiety, or you are simply going through a stressful time, changes in your mental health and well-being can significantly impact your appetite.

While chronic stress is commonly associated with an increased appetite, new-onset acute stress can cause a decreased appetite. 

Additionally, those with acute anxiety or depression may have symptoms or changes in digestion that cause a decrease in the desire to eat such as nausea, rapid heart rate, headache, upset stomach, and tenseness.

Recommended solutions

Practicing stress management techniques can potentially improve appetite in those who are suffering from an increase in stress or anxiety symptoms. Practice meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or try getting outside for a walk and some fresh air.

If you are suffering from new or worsening depression symptoms, contact your physician to see if any medication changes are needed. In the meantime, try choosing smaller, more frequent meals or snacks throughout the day, and choose nutrient-dense food options when you can.

2) Lack of sleep

Changes in your sleep pattern can cause disturbances in appetite. While chronic sleep deprivation is linked with increased appetite and weight gain due to overeating behaviors, acute sleep loss may be a symptom of new or worsening anxiety and depression.

This can be an early sign that it’s time to make some adjustments to get your symptoms under control and get your appetite back on track. 

Recommended solutions

If you are suffering from new or worsening anxiety or depression, contact your physician to see if any medication changes are needed. If you aren’t already, consider getting extra support from a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group. 

Depression and anxiety symptoms can be improved with certain lifestyle modifications including regular physical activity, a healthy balanced diet, spending more time outside, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and reducing caffeine intake. 

3) Medication side effects

Feeling hungry but lacking an appetite can also be the result of a medication side effect. Certain medications including antidepressants, ADHD medications, type 2 diabetes medications, chemotherapy drugs, and some opiates can cause loss of appetite.

Recommended solutions

If you are struggling to eat adequately due to a loss of appetite from a medication, contact your physician to see if there are any alternative options. 

If it is a medication that cannot be changed, and appetite suppression is severe, there are appetite stimulants such as Marinol, Megace, and Oxandrin that may be able to help. Discuss different options with your doctor to see if these might be right for you.

Choosing small, frequent, nutrient-dense meals can also help along with consuming more liquid calories. Liquids are often easier to get down during times of low appetite than solids.

Supplementing with meal replacement or protein shakes can be beneficial during this time to prevent muscle loss due to low intake.

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4) Acute illness 

Acute illness may stimulate appetite changes such as the common cold, flu viruses, food poisoning, or the stomach flu. This is typically temporary and will subside with the rest of your symptoms. 

Recommended solutions

While recovering from an acute illness, choose small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day. Prioritize comforting foods such as soups, stews, and broths that are easy to digest and help you maintain adequate fluid intake.

5) Digestive issues

Various gastrointestinal conditions can cause loss of appetite including acid reflux, constipation, diverticulitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Symptoms of these conditions often result in discomfort that affects the desire to eat.

Recommended solutions

To avoid ongoing challenges with appetite, these conditions must be addressed. For example, if you’ve attributed your lack of appetite to chronic constipation, focus on incorporating more water, fiber, and movement into your routine.

If it continues without improvement, incorporate stool softeners or laxatives as needed and reach out to your healthcare provider for further support.

>> Find a Gastrointestinal & Gut Health Dietitian

6) Other chronic issues

Certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can greatly impact appetite. While management of these conditions can sometimes help, it’s essential to focus on easy ways to boost nutrition during this time.

Recommended solutions

Choose nutrient-dense, small, frequent meals throughout the day. Focus on protein and calorie-rich foods that are easy to digest such as nut butter, avocado, and bone broth, and drink fluids between meals instead of with them to avoid filling up on liquids. 

If you suffer from one of these conditions and struggle to meet your nutrient needs, consider finding a Registered Dietitian (RD) to help guide you. 

If your symptoms are new, be sure to reach out to your physician to ensure nothing has changed with your condition.

7) Nutrient deficiencies

A change in appetite can be a result of various nutrient deficiencies including vitamin B1iron, and zinc

If you suspect you may be experiencing a nutrient deficiency, reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider to get your levels tested. If you confirm a nutrient deficiency is present, supplementation can reverse symptoms of poor appetite quickly.

8) Disordered eating

Disordered eating can result in appetite changes, particularly in those who suffer from anorexia nervosa. Because those with this eating disorder severely restrict their food intake, appetite and digestion can be affected.

Recommended solutions

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help right away to avoid nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. Consider getting extra support from a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group to get you on the road to recovery. 

>> Find a Disordered Eating Dietitian

9) Aging

Changes in appetite are fairly common in older adults. Changes in the senses, such as smell, taste, and vision, can make food less appealing. Reduced appetite may also be caused by hormonal changes as well as disease progression, pain, and decreased nutritional needs.

Recommended solutions

Decreased appetite in older adults increases the risk for weight loss and nutrition deficiencies that can reduce quality of life and result in poor health outcomes. To treat poor appetite in these populations, it’s important to address the underlying cause.

For example, if your loved one is experiencing alterations in their memory, they may need extra support like providing them with easy meals and reminding them to eat. 

10) Early pregnancy

There are a myriad of hormonal changes during pregnancy that can cause reductions in appetite, particularly during the first trimester. During this time, the hormones leptin and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) fluctuate which can cause nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite.

Recommended solutions

Choose small, frequent meals and snacks and prioritize protein where you can. Don’t be afraid to lean on bland foods that may sit easier in your stomach such as saltine crackers and chicken noodle soup. 

Some foods can help calm nausea, such as ginger. Boiling ginger root to make ginger tea may help reduce nausea symptoms, especially following a meal. Ginger also helps aid in digestion.

>> Find a Prenatal Dietitian

Other tips for dealing with hunger with no appetite

Below are some additional tips for dealing with a lack of appetite:

  • Stay hydrated. Keep your fluid intake up to avoid dehydration or digestive challenges that may spark or worsen appetite challenges. 
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Consuming large meals is unrealistic for those struggling with appetite. Instead, choose small, frequent meals or snacks throughout the day to increase the likelihood that you will meet your nutrient needs.
  • Focus on easily digestible foods. Choosing bland or easy-to-digest foods, such as toast, apple sauce, bananas, rice, and oatmeal, can help avoid discomfort from digestive challenges that can cause low appetite like nausea, vomiting, and upset stomach.
  • Choose nutrient-dense foods. Choose protein and calorie-rich foods that help reduce your chances of nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. Good examples include avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, cheese, and meal replacement or protein supplements.
  • Incorporate more liquids into your diet. Liquids digest faster and tend to be easier on the stomach than solids. They are also better tolerated if you aren’t feeling very hungry. Add in more liquid options such as bone broth, soups, stews, smoothies, and shakes.
  • Don’t shy away from your comfort foods. If your appetite is low, prioritize foods that sound appealing, whatever they may be. Don’t avoid eating because the only thing you want is not a “healthy” choice.
  • Do your best to manage stress. Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, and yoga. Getting outside and being active, calling a friend, and prioritizing sleep can also help with managing stress.
  • Do light exercise to stimulate appetite. Adding in more movement can help to stimulate your appetite. Build activity into your routine by adding in a daily walk in the afternoons.
  • Avoid foods with strong odors. If your appetite is low, highly odorous foods can be off-putting, making it less likely you will eat them. 
  • Work with a dietitian. If you are struggling with maintaining a healthy appetite, consider working with a dietitian to ensure you are getting the support you need to be healthy and nourished.

>> Read More: Hungry After Eating? Possible Reasons Why

Dangers of appetite loss

Appetite loss can have serious health complications if not addressed. While some cases of appetite loss are temporary, even just a few days of low intake can have negative impacts on health that may be long-lasting. Below are some dangers of appetite loss to be aware of:

  • Nutrient deficiencies. Appetite loss can result in undereating which increases the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies. If persistent, these deficiencies can be life-threatening.
  • Malnutrition. Chronic undereating due to low appetite can cause malnutrition which can cause a severe decline in health and even death if not treated.
  • Muscle loss. Acute onset low appetite can result in rapid weight loss which often includes significant losses in muscle mass. This can cause you to feel weak, fatigued, and have difficulty performing daily tasks. 
  • Worsening disease progression. Appetite loss due to a medication or chronic condition can increase the risk of disease progression due to malnutrition. If you are not properly nourished, it makes it more challenging for your body to function, especially if it is fighting, such as during cancer or other progressive diseases.

When to turn to professional help if you’re hungry but have no appetite

While some cases of appetite loss may not be much of a concern as they are anticipated to be short-lived, it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers of persistent changes in appetite.

If you are unsure of the cause of your low appetite, it is persistent, or becoming worse, it’s time to seek medical attention. Make an appointment to see your physician for an evaluation and treatment plan.

If your low appetite is a result of a medication side effect that cannot be changed or is due to a chronic illness, consider working with a Registered Dietitian (RD) to help you meet your needs when eating isn’t easy for you. 

RDs are nutrition professionals who can help come up with a plan to make sure you are getting the proper nutrients you need in a way that feels feasible. They can also help evaluate for and recommend additional feeding options to those in need. 

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians here at Zaya Care, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Meghan is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from San Jose, California. She received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University in 2015. Following an unexpected cross-country trip that landed her in Florida, she completed her didactic training through AdventHealth Orlando. Meghan has extensive experience in multiple aspects of dietetics including critical care, motivational interviewing, writing, and research. She is passionate about health and wellness and has dedicated her free time to breaking down complicated nutrition topics and disseminating them to the public through the arena of writing.