How to Know When Appetite Loss Is the Sign of Something Serious

SOME PEOPLE DREAM about what's for dinner right after they finish their last bite of lunch. Others sit down at the end of their day and realize they haven't eaten at all.

Meals motivate some (ever been at the gym, knowing you have some leftovers in your fridge waiting for your arrival, and sped through your final round of bicep curls? Same.) and completely bypass the minds of others. Which person you are largely depends on your appetite, or how often you get hungry. Believe it or not—the strength of our appetite actually has a lot to do with our genetic makeup. According to a British study published in 2023, there's a strong correlation between the two, which can mediate weight fluctuations later in life.

That doesn't mean that you're always going to be hungry if your genetics say you will be. Yes, it's based in genetics, but our appetite depends on loads of other environmental factors as well. You may have had a busy day at work and accidentally missed lunch. Or, you find yourself eating very little after the loss of a loved one. Maybe you're just dealing with the common cold and the idea of having to stuff something down your itchy throat makes you feel even more sick. But, what if you haven't been hungry for several days in a row? When should you start to get worried?

Regular loss of appetite could signal that you may have a medical condition, says Kacie Vavrek, R.D., at Ohio State University.

"Some of the main reasons [for appetite loss] are going to be more disease-related, like a cold or some GI issues," Vavrek says. That said, certain medications can also cause loss of appetite. So, just to be safe, read up on these reasons for appetite loss—and then determine if you can relate to any of them so much that it might be time to take yourself to the doctor.And if everything seems a-okay, well, here’s to your next meal.

Causes of Appetite Loss

Common Cold/Infections

As if being sick isn't bad enough.

Losing your appetite is common if you have a cold. This is why you sometimes lose weight when you're sick—you simply just don't want to eat. Your white blood cells release cytokines that help fight off infection, but these chemicals can also cause a loss of appetite.

In fact, appetite loss could be a symptom of Covid-19. Bacterial infections like pneumonia and strep can also lead to a dip in hunger. Of course, this subsides once you recover.

Stress and Anxiety

You often hear about people who "stress eat" their feelings, but sometimes anxiety can make you lose your appetite too.

toss that garbage, guy
Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd

One reason is that stress causes your body to release a hormone called epinephrine, also dubbed adrenaline, which temporarily diminishes hunger, according to Harvard Health. However, this loss of appetite is usually short-lived. Persistent stress can cause your body to release cortisol, a hormone that revs up appetite.


It's no secret that medications come with a long list of potential side effects. Gastrointestinal issues, like nausea, stomach pain, or diarrhea, are commonly found on prescription warning labels.

And it goes without saying that these side effects can make you lose your appetite. Narcotics like codeine and morphine—as well as some antibiotics—are common appetite killers.


There's a reason most people crave lighter foods like salad and fresh fruit in the summer. In fact, some people may feel like skipping meals completely when the temperatures rise, according to Vavrek.

athlete splashing himself with water from his water bottle after a hard morning run

"Hot environments can suppress your appetite where cold environments can increase your appetite," she says.

Your body produces heat when eating. If temperatures are unbearably warm, you'll feel less inclined to dig into a meal and raise your own internal temperature, Vavrek explains.

Food Choices

In fact, if you're eating the right amount of two key nutrients at every meal, you may not even get that hungry between meals. Those key nutrients? Protein and fiber.

Experts agree that eating at least 30 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber at each meal will both help you fill up and not overeat during a meal and keep you feeling full until the next—whenever that may be.

When to See A Doctor

Sometimes, lack of appetite may signal other medical issues including hypothyroidism, diabetes, or even cancer. Each will likely be present with other symptoms, but signs can be subtle. It's important to see your doctor if food is always unappealing.

According to Vavrek, you should head to the doctor if you've lost weight or gone three to four days without an appetite. It's important to determine whether an underlying medical condition is at the root of the problem. You'll also want to remedy the problem quickly because your body will use protein stores as energy, causing you to lose muscle mass.

"It’s very easy to lose muscle and hard to get it back," she says.

How To Get Appetite Back

You need to eat regardless of how much you want to. If you're struggling with appetite loss, there's a few things you can do to get hungry again.

Regularly Schedule Meals. Research has found that appetite control is linked to the circadian rhythms that run on a 24 hour cycle. Eating at the same time everyday can help you maintain an appetite.

Get Excited About Your Food. Find things you're excited to eat—be it old favorites or something new that you've been wanting to try.

Keep Snacks Around. That way, when you do get a quick spark of hunger, you can act on it no matter where you are, the Mayo Clinic says.

Get Your Exercise In. Studies have shown that exercise both increases appetite and increases post-meal satiety. Hit the gym before mealtime if you're struggling with appetite.

Plan to Eat with Family or Friends. Having someone else to eat with will hold you accountable to your meals, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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