Stress and Appetite Loss
While many people deal with the challenges of overeating in response to stress, others struggle to eat enough. Stress and anxiety can lead to a loss of appetite that overtime can cause weight loss, muscle loss and compromised immune function. During stress, our bodies release an enzyme called CRF Corticotropin Releasing Factor which suppresses appetite. For some people this can lead to a prolonged loss of appetite and symptoms of nausea, tense muscles or the feeling of a knot in the stomach. In addition to the loss of a sense of hunger or fullness, some people also feel that the tasks of cooking and eating are daunting. Unfortunately, not eating due to loss of appetite becomes a vicious cycle and as you eat less you have less of an appetite, and it continues. The cycle can be broken but you can’t rely on appetite to do it.
Tips for Increasing Appetite and Gaining Weight
- Identify your stressor. Figuring out what is causing you stress or anxiety and trying to reduce it will help increase appetite. However, you don’t need to wait for your stress to be gone to eat. You need to eat no matter what, you can deal with the stressor after.
- Eat anyway. The more you don’t eat the less you will want to eat so you just need to set regular meal and snack times and stick to it. Set a timer if needed. You don’t need to eat a lot, but you do need to eat regularly. Eventually you will notice your appetite come back. Think of your food as your medicine. Take it every 3-4 hours.
- Exercise. Light activity can stimulate your appetite. Go for a walk or do some yoga. If you have lost a significant amount of weight, some of that will have been muscle. Try to get into a routine of doing some strength training to build that up again.
- Sleep. Regular sleep can help with stress management and improve your energy so you can make yourself something for breakfast.
- Eat Mechanically. Put a bite on your fork and chew. Repeat. Don’t over think it. Just know it is the right thing to do to make you feel better. As your brain gets the nutrients it needs to function properly, you will manage your stress more effectively.
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine can supress appetite
- Avoid high fibre and empty calorie foods. Don’t fill up on salad and jellybeans. Leave room in your stomach for foods with protein and vitamins and minerals. Try to include protein foods such as eggs, chicken, nuts, edamame, cheese and Greek yogurt.
- Choose energy dense foods: Add nut butters or avocado to toast, smoothies or sandwiches. Add olive oil to steamed vegetables, choose full fat milk and yogurt, eat cheese on crackers and drink milk or juice instead of tea and coffee.
- Eat with others. Try to relax at mealtime and have conversations about things other than food.
- Take Thiamin and zinc. If your appetite has been low for a while and you have lost weight you may also have insufficient intake of certain nutrients that can affect appetite. A deficiency in B1 or thiamin and zinc can both affect appetite. A simple multivitamin can help. Speak with your healthcare provider.
- Try to plan ahead so you have food on hand. Accept help from those who offer to prepare food for you. Buy ready to eat items if that helps.
- Eat the foods you love or crave. Don’t worry too much about how nutritious they are, just try to get back to regular eating. The nutrients will come.