How To Recover Your Appetite If You've Lost It From COVID-19

At a glance, eating might seem like a simple behavior. When you need nutrition, you eat. But sometimes you have food cravings, and other times you ignore those signals and decide not to eat. There's a reason for these complexities, and the answer is found in the difference between appetite and hunger. 

Hunger is a bodily response that occurs when you need to eat more food, while appetite is related to the desire to eat (via Medical News Today). Put simply, hunger is a need, and appetite is a want. Your stomach might rumble and ache when you are hungry, but you might not have any desire to eat. On the other hand, you might be full from a meal, but all of a sudden have a craving for dessert.

Both hunger and appetite are regulated by certain biochemicals. Ghrelin is a hormone that's produced in the stomach and communicates to the brain that you are hungry (per Cleveland Clinic). Ghrelin influences the brain's production of orexin, which can increase cravings for food (via Scientific American). Leptin, on the other side of the coin, inhibits both ghrelin and orexin, which enables it to curb food intake. Appetite is not exclusively an internal process. Other factors like culture, social influences, and sensations also play a role, says Psychology Today. But another novel factor that can affect appetite is COVID-19.

Tips for regulating appetite

According to Healthline, more than 27 million people experienced impairment to their sense of taste or smell for a minimum of 6 months due to infection from the coronavirus. Cleveland Clinic says that both taste and smell are intertwined senses that both affect appetite. The smell of a food can impact taste. Loss of smell or taste can decrease your appetite, which can lead to negative health consequences like malnutrition. While a healthy diet may help you recover from COVID-19, Medical News Today warns that those with a loss of taste or smell may crave comfort foods — often high in fats, sodium, or sugar — because they are easier to taste.

A 2021 study published in the journal Foods provides a few tips for maintaining a healthy appetite during recovery from COVID-19. These tips were thematically identified strategies from in-depth interviews with 19 people who were "suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19." One strategy involves focusing on your senses that are working well. For example, try focusing on texture instead of flavor. The researchers also found that trying new foods could lead to feelings of disgust, so try to eat familiar foods. Eating in a social setting — with family or friends — also positively affected appetite. Finally, the researchers found that eating healthy foods could be framed positively, which increased appetite. For example, prime your mind before the meal by lowering your expectations for the sensory experience, instead focusing on and the health benefits of the nutritious food.