This Is What Really Causes A Loss Of Appetite

Many different systems in the body signal to your brain that you're hungry. An empty stomach, empty intestines, your blood sugar level, and certain hormone levels all play a role in determining when it's time for you to eat in order to function (via University of Michigan Health). While hunger is driven by physical necessity, your appetite is characterized by desire. Sometimes, even after you've eaten until you're completely full, you still might want to indulge in a tempting morsel of something because it looks or smells too good to pass up. It's that appetizing.

On the other hand, you can experience loss of appetite, even though your stomach may be empty. You've probably seen a character in a movie claim to have lost their appetite after a companion at the dinner table does something gross. That kind of loss of appetite is short-lived. But in some cases, a loss of appetite can be long-lasting. What are the causes of loss of appetite, and are they related to physical health, emotional health, or both?

Loss of appetite is associated with certain health conditions

It's not uncommon to lose your appetite when you feel sick. Sometimes, the congestion that comes with having a cold, sinus infection, or upper respiratory infection can cause you to lose your sense of smell or taste, which in turn curbs your desire to eat (via MedicineNet). According to Healthline, the stomach flu, morning sickness during pregnancy, even skin infections all can trigger a loss of interest in food, too. Additionally, certain antibiotics and chemotherapy medications can reduce appetite. 

A loss of appetite can occur, as well, as a result of certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, liver or kidney disease, COPD, heart failure, hepatitis, HIV, and cancer of the colon, ovaries, stomach, or pancreas (per Mount Sinai). In older adults, loss of appetite is also seen in combination with dementia. According to Better Health Channel, dementia can make remembering to eat, chew, and swallow challenging, while embarrassment, environmental distractions, and stress can contribute to difficulties in maintaining an appetite.

The relationship between appetite and emotional health

A loss of appetite may have emotional root causes, such as anxiety, depression, grief, boredom, or stress (via Healthline). Director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, Dr. Gary Kennedy, explains the relationship between appetite and depression via Everyday Health, stating, "Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating." Additionally, those with certain eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can experience a loss of appetite as a result of efforts to maintain below average weight.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You also can receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.