10 Ways to Enjoy Food When Medication Suppresses Your Appetite

Woman looking out the window as she eats her breakfast

Getty Images / Oliver Rossi

One of the side effects of certain medications is that your appetite can decrease, causing you to consume less foods. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, and sensory alterations, which all can deepen your disinterest in eating. A lack of appetite can lead to a host of nutritional and mental health issues, such as anemia, unplanned weight loss, malnutrition, lack of energy, and depression.

To increase your appetite, you can follow a number of peer-reviewed, research- and expert-suggested recommendations to ensure you keep yourself healthy as you take your prescribed

How Appetite Works

In your body, the hormones ghrelin and leptin play a significant role in food intake and body weight. Ghrelin increases your appetite mostly through your stomach, signaling to your brain you’re hungry. Ghrelin levels rise before you eat and decrease for approximately three hours after a meal.

Leptin performs the opposite effect, acting as an appetite suppressor. This hormone signals to the brain that your body contains enough energy stores and you don’t need food.

How Medication Impacts Appetite

According to U.K.-based general practitioner David Beatty, MRCGP, MBBS, DRCOG, certain medications can cause appetite suppression as a side effect. They can also cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, stomach pains, gastroesophageal reflux, and headaches—all of which can lead to a decrease in appetite.

Another downside of appetite suppression is its effect on your mental state. Dr. Beatty says that not eating can cause someone to feel tired or listless, and even get grumpy and downright irritable. Good news: “Sometimes the appetite suppressing effects are worse initially and the problem becomes less as your body gets used to the medication,” he says.

Getting the Nutrients You Need

Losing your appetite can lead to health issues as your body doesn’t get the nutrition needed for optimal functioning.

“Patients who need to take medication without the express intent of weight loss who are experiencing the issues that come with appetite suppression should eat to avoid hypoglycemia or malnutrition,” says Julie Chen, MD, founder of Wisdom in Wellness and the chief clinical officer of Human Longevity, Inc. She suggests the key is making every bite count to allow your body to stay healthy.

To consume needed nutrients, you can try any of these 10 expert-recommended ways to eat when medication suppresses your appetite:

Eat Foods That Look and Smell Appetizing

Boring foods can keep the appetite at bay. According to a study, appetite might improve by enhancing foods’ flavors. Try incorporating aromatic spices, peppers, and herbs based on personal preference to appeal to your senses; taste, smell, and sight are part of food enjoyment. When you smell and taste delicious food, you naturally stimulate your appetite.

Sip on Soups

Try a blended soup that contains balanced nutrients you can drink, suggests Dr. Chen. “For example, chicken, ground turkey, or beans for protein can be combined with vegetables and potatoes to create a nutritious pureed soup.” These warm liquids can also offer soothing properties for nausea, and Dr. Chen says that you can have a bowl more frequently, allowing you to take in more nutrients than when you eat solid foods.

Snack Between Meals

Experts recommend that you snack between meals. Stanford Cancer Nutrition Services advises choosing high-calorie shakes and high-calorie/high-protein drink supplements, as well as sandwiches with avocados, nuts, cream soups, and cooked cereals. These foods can sit easier on the stomach and offer a higher amount of good fats, protein, and calories compared to other options.

During meals, you can use additional oil for salads and cooked dishes.

Drink Your Liquids Between Meals

Save the bulk of your water and tea intake for in between meals. According to the American Cancer Society, taking only small sips of liquids while eating can keep you from feeling full too early. You want to try to keep yourself as hungry as possible so that you eat more calories. If you fill up your stomach on non-calorie water, you could consume less calories, which you are trying to avoid doing at this time.

Try drinking as little as possible during a meal, except for when you need help swallowing food.

Eat at Bedtime

If possible, eat something hearty, such as a handful of toasted nuts, right before you head to bed. This will not affect your appetite for your morning meal and gets you some extra calories that you may have missed earlier in the day.

Avoid Acidic Foods

If your medication causes a metallic taste in your mouth, such as antibiotics, antihistamines, and chemotherapy (which can all create changes in your sense of taste), and this is what is causing your appetite suppression, avoid foods with high acid content, such as lemons, limes, tomatoes, and grapefruits, as this can make the taste worse.

You should also switch to plastic utensils to evade any heavy metals in your mouth.

Stay Away From Dry Foods

If your medication causes dry mouth, try taking regular sips of water between meals, stay away from dry or hard foods, and use saliva replacement products.

Plan Meals the Day Before

Preparation is key. If you plan a meal ahead of time that incorporates your favorite ingredients, you’ll be more likely to eat it, says the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Take Your Supplements

To ensure you hit your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals, “be sure to take appropriate supplements if nutrition is sacrificed by limited appetite,” says Seema Bonney, MD, the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia.

You can purchase these supplements at a grocery or drug store or online. You can find brands that offer products based on your gender and age.

Get Regular Exercise

With a suppressed appetite, you might not feel like working out, as your lack of calories can deplete your energy. Although understandable, try to increase your level of physical activity. Even short walks can stimulate your appetite.

A Word From Verywell

While at-home tips can often come in handy when learning how to enjoy your food on an appetite-suppressing medication, they never replace a medical professional's advice. If your medication is causing adverse side effects and you find yourself unable to eat, keep food down, or participate in daily actives, consult a health care provider.

9 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.
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  7. Roswell Park Cancer Center. Food ideas for cancer patients with no appetite.

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  9. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). Overcoming poor appetite.

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."