By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Feb 23, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "What can I do if I forget to eat or have a low appetite?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 23 Feb. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-can-i-do-if-i-forget-eat-or-have-low-appetite. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, February 23). What can I do if I forget to eat or have a low appetite?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-can-i-do-if-i-forget-eat-or-have-low-appetite.

Dear Alice,

For as long as I can remember, I've had a fairly low appetite. I love food — cooking it, eating it, savoring it — but if it's not in front of me, I can easily forget about it. In high school, it wasn't uncommon for me to make it through a whole day without realizing I'd only had half a sandwich and a handful of M&Ms to eat. I'm living on my own and cooking my own meals now, but without predetermined family meal times, I'm struggling with portion control and meal planning. So many resources say that I should just "trust my body" when it comes to my diet, but my body won't tell me what it needs! Some days I feel like I'm packing too much food for lunch; other days, I completely forget about lunch altogether. How can I make sure I don't accidentally become a chronic under eater — or overcompensate and eat too much? When and how much should I be eating?

Dear Alice,

Lots of people worry about overeating. I have the opposite problem. I just don't get hungry. Some days I'll realize it's 10 pm and I haven't eaten anything in 24 hours, but I don't feel any need to have food. (At this point I'll usually make myself eat something).

I maintain a healthy weight, but I'm sure this habit of forgetting to eat isn't good. Do you have any advice for boosting appetite?

Thanks,

— Really, I'm Not Hungry

Dear Reader 1 and Really, I’m Not Hungry, 

Relationships with food are often complex and may look completely different from person to person. You both mention experiencing difficulties with remembering to eat, and the good news is an abundance of research has been dedicated to learning more about this challenge and how to fix it. Getting yourself to eat, despite having a low appetite, is something that can be done through various methods. For example, you may consider planning your meals and mealtimes, incorporating a variety of foods into meals to reduce boredom, or taking medications to stimulate your appetite. Keep in mind that recommended portion sizes are based on your body and activity level, so exploring this further may help you with meal prepping. Keep reading to learn more about different tactics you can implement as helpful reminders to pause and grab a bite to eat! 

Understanding what appetite loss is, and what it can be caused by, may help you decide which methods to adopt in addressing the issue. Appetite loss—not feeling hungry or desiring to eat—can lead to developing an aversion to food, feeling full, or not wanting to eat with others. This condition may eventually also lead to irregular bowel movements, nausea, fatigue and muscle weakness, or changes to hair, nails, and skin. Appetite loss may be caused by: 

  • Physical changes to your body: pain, injury, dehydration, or loss of smell and taste. 
  • Psychological changes: anxiety, depression, or strong emotional reactions. 
  • Health conditions: cancer, diabetes, dementia, diseases, food poisoning, HIV and AIDS, hypothyroidism, or common colds. 
  • Medications: antibiotics, amphetamines, chemotherapy, digoxin, fluoxetine, hydralazine, or opioids. 

List adapted from Cleveland Clinic 

Additionally, eating disorders disrupt both hunger and fullness cues, in this case, due to prolonged starvation. Disrupted eating patterns can also be seen as an effect of diet culture, which, at times, may promote ignoring hunger cues for the goal of weight loss. Studies have also shown that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may lead to disordered eating. This is because the diagnosis is associated with inattentiveness to hunger and fullness cues. 

After exploring where your appetite loss could be coming from, you may have an easier time deciding your game plan. Planning your meals and choosing designated mealtimes may help create a routine. Research has shown that planning your meals to avoid eating late at night is a great way to stay energized throughout the day and get a better night's sleep. When planning your mealtimes, it’s recommended to eat breakfast within an hour and a half of waking up and to spread meals four to six hours apart. To ensure you digest all your food before sleeping, consider eating your last meal at least three hours before going to bed. To help you keep track of your eating schedule and avoid accidentally missing meals, consider using a calendar app, setting up alarms, or planning to eat with others. 

If you find eating three larger meals a day challenging, it’s advised to consume six to eight smaller meals a day. This can be helpful in ensuring you’re still getting enough nutrients. You may also try supplementing smaller meals with a nutritional drink, such as a smoothie, to make your meals more varied. If you want to boost your desire to eat before your planned mealtimes, you may also consider doing a quick exercise or going on a short walk before eating. 

If you’re having trouble knowing where to start with planning your meals, understanding your recommended portion size may help steer you in the right direction. Recommended portion sizes are based on your age, weight, height, metabolism, sex assigned at birth, and activity levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 provides information on which portion size is appropriate for you and which foods should be included in your diet. 

If some of these tactics aren’t effective for you, another option to consider is taking medications that stimulate appetite.  These medications require prescriptions and should only be used if advised by a health care provider. 

Hopefully, these recommendations provide you with a starting point to ensure you’re eating throughout the day. If you notice that your appetite loss persists and you feel that you aren’t able to maintain an eating schedule, consider speaking with a health care provider or mental health professional. They may be able to help uncover where this concern is stemming from and provide more pertinent suggestions for the challenges you’re experiencing. 

Wishing you all the best, 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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