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 the natural desire a person feels to eat food. It differs from hunger, which is the body’s response to not having enough food. A person can be hungry with no appetite, have a strong appetite with no signs of hunger, or be hungry with an appetite.

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 

Appetite isn't constant—it can vary from day to day. 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.

Factors That Affect Appetite

Appetite can be impacted by a number of factors: 

  • Diet: What you eat and how often can affect your appetite. For example, one study from 2011 found that in men with obesity trying to lose weight eating a high protein diet improved appetite control and satiety. The findings from a 2016 study suggest that a low-carb diet is better for satiety than a low-fat diet.
  • Medical conditions: Several illnesses can contribute to a reduction in appetite, namely bacterial and viral infections, cancer, and thyroid diseases. Diseases that cause a loss of taste or smell may also lessen appetite.
  • Medications: Some medicines can lead to weight gain, including antidepressants and antipsychotics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diabetes medications like insulin.
  • Mental health: A person's mood or emotional state may contribute to their desire to eat. Stress can cause a person to over or undereat. Certain mental health conditions, like depression and some eating disorders, may also impact a person's appetite. 
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant people can experience an aversion to certain foods and strong cravings for others. Feelings of nausea or constipation, both common complaints during pregnancy, may decrease appetite.

How to Increase Your Appetite

If you're sick, losing weight, and have no appetite, it could be due to illness, an emotional issue, or a side effect of treatment. You know you need to eat more to gain the weight back (or at least maintain your current weight), but you just don't feel like eating anything.

You can try to force yourself to eat, but that may just add to the stress of being sick. Here are some simple ways you can increase your appetite. This advice is also good for caregivers who are trying to get a loved one to eat a bit more. 

1

Stock Up on Favorite Foods

You'll find that it's much easier to eat something you really enjoy, so keep some favorite snacks on hand. If you're not feeling up to making a trip to the grocery store, consider a grocery delivery service or asking a caregiver, family member, or friend to pick up some of your favorite foods and stock your fridge and shelves with foods you love to eat.

Local delivery services can also make it easy to shop, and you can have your food as early as the next day. 

2

Eat Snacks Instead of Meals

The thought of a huge plateful of food may leave you feeling queasy, but a small snack probably won't seem quite as bad. So rather than forcing yourself to eat three big meals a day, nibble on six or seven small snack-sized meals instead. Try a small sandwich, a cup of soup, or a handful of nuts with some fresh fruit.

3

Choose Energy Dense Foods

Energy-dense is a polite way of saying something is high in calories. If you're only able to eat small snacks or infrequent meals, it's a good idea to choose foods that are higher in calories so you can meet your body's daily caloric needs.

Healthy energy-dense foods include cheese, nuts or nut butter, avocados, and legumes. Add your favorite sauce, dressing, shredded or melted cheese, butter, or gravy to a serving of potatoes, rice, or pasta to boost your caloric intake.

4

Bring Out the Flavors

Perhaps part of the problem is that you can't taste your foods, which can happen as a symptom of some illnesses and even as part of normal aging. Add herbs and spices to your meals to enhance the flavor. Or perhaps a dash of Tabasco or Sriracha sauce will do the trick. Salt also enhances flavor, but if you have high blood pressure, you should speak to your doctor before adding more salt to your meals.

5

Make Mealtimes Enjoyable

A relaxed and happy atmosphere makes eating more pleasant. So bring out your best place setting and light a candle or two if you're up to it, or eat your meal with your favorite music playing in the background. It's even better if you can enjoy meals with friends or family members. 

6

Drink Water Between Meals

Drinking water right before and during a meal might cut back on the amount of food you'll eat due to the volume of the fluid. It's OK to enjoy a beverage with your meal, but just take a few sips so you can focus on the food. Then drink water or suck on ice cubes between meals.

7

Change the Texture

If you're having trouble chewing or swallowing food, it may help to ​mechanically alter your foods. You can chop or mince meats and raw vegetables into small bits to make chewing easier. Or you can add liquid and puree your foods so they're easier to swallow. Consume liquids like soup and smoothies and eat soft foods like yogurt and very ripe fruit.

8

Drink Liquid Meals

If you just don't feel like eating, talk to your doctor about liquid meal replacement products like Ensure or Carnation Instant Breakfast. You can also make your own delicious fruit and veggie smoothies if you have a powerful blender. Add more calories to your smoothies with a spoonful of peanut butter or protein powder.

9

Get Some Exercise

Physical activity releases brain chemicals that can improve your mood and stimulate your appetite. Taking a brief walk about an hour or so before eating may just help make that next meal a bit more appealing.

A Word From Verywell

It's completely normal to experience fluctuations in your appetite. There are a host of factors that can influence appetite, from your emotional or mental state to your physical health. 

However, if you notice a sudden and unexpected change in your appetite, talk to your doctor. A rapid increase or decrease in appetite may be a sign of a medical or mental health condition that should be addressed with your physician. If you are taking any medications, it could also be a sign that your medication needs to be adjusted.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CLH, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese menObesity. 2011;19(4):818-824. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203

  2. Hu T, Yao L, Reynolds K, et al. The effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite: A randomized controlled trialNutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016;26(6):476-488. doi:0.10162Fj.numecd.2015.11.011

  3. Simmons WK, Burrows K, Avery JA, et al. Depression-related increases and decreases in appetite reveal dissociable patterns of aberrant activity in reward and interoceptive neurocircuitryAm J Psychiatry. 2016;173(4):418-428. doi:10.11762Fappi.ajp.2015.15020162

  4. Brown AJ, Smith LT, Craighead LW. Appetite awareness as a mediator in an eating disorders prevention programEat Disord. 2010;18(4):286-301. doi:10.1080/10640266.2010.490118

  5. Petit O, Merunka D, Anton JL, et al. Health and pleasure in consumers' dietary food choices: Individual differences in the brain's value system. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(7):e0156333. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156333

  6. Drewnowski A, Dwyer J, King JC, Weaver CM. A proposed nutrient density score that includes food groups and nutrients to better align with dietary guidance. Nutr Rev. 2019;77(6):404-416. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz002

  7. Sergi G, Bano G, Pizzato S, Veronese N, Manzato E. Taste loss in the elderly: Possible implications for dietary habits. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(17):3684-3689. doi:10.1080/10408398.2016.1160208

  8. Chan JSY, Liu G, Liang D, Deng K, Wu J, Yan JH. Special Issue - Therapeutic benefits of physical activity for mood: A systematic review on the effects of exercise intensity, duration, and modality. J Psychol. 2019;153(1):102-125. doi:10.1080/00223980.2018.1470487

Additional Reading