Many factors influence appetite, including a person’s age, current medications, and underlying mental or physical health conditions. Sometimes, the cause is temporary, such as a stomach virus. However, never being hungry may indicate a more long-term issue.

Appetite refers to how much or how often a person feels like eating. It is not always consistent with the amount of food or nutrients that a person really needs. Depending on the cause, a person may be able to boost their appetite by making changes to their diet or lifestyle.

In this article, we look at the possible reasons why a person may never feel hungry and the treatment options. We also provide tips on how people can improve their appetite.

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If a person never feels hungry, they are experiencing a loss of appetite. This can occur for many reasons, and it may feel different depending on the root cause. A lack of appetite may present as:

  • having no urge to eat
  • feeling no sensation of hunger
  • feeling nauseated at the thought of food
  • bloating, pain, or other symptoms that make eating uncomfortable

If appetite loss causes someone to eat less food, they may also experience unintentional weight loss, tiredness, or nutritional deficiencies.

Many physical health conditions can affect appetite. These include short-term illnesses, such as a cold or the flu, which can temporarily decrease appetite. However, once these illnesses resolve, a person’s appetite usually returns to normal.

When a loss of appetite lasts longer, it can be a sign of an underlying condition. Some examples of chronic conditions that can cause appetite loss include:

Pregnancy can also cause a loss of appetite due to hormonal changes, morning sickness, or pressure in the abdominal cavity.

A person’s mental and emotional health can also affect appetite. For example, some people may lose their appetite when they feel stressed. If stress occurs frequently or becomes chronic, these individuals may often have a low appetite. However, a 2018 study notes that chronic stress is typically more associated with overeating than undereating, particularly if high calorie foods are readily available.

Grief, sadness, and other emotions can decrease appetite, too. Several mental health conditions can also have this effect, including:

In the case of a substance use disorder, either a specific drug, such as cocaine, or disruption to a person’s eating habits can cause a loss of appetite.

A wide variety of medications can alter a person’s appetite. They may reduce feelings of hunger, change a person’s sense of smell or taste, or cause nausea. Any of these side effects could reduce a person’s interest in food.

Some medications and medical treatments that could have this effect include:

A person’s appetite can change with age. A reduced appetite is especially common among older adults, especially those who are female, reside in a nursing home, or are staying in the hospital.

Aging can affect appetite in various ways, including:

  • Physiological changes: These include age-related changes in hormones, the digestive system, and the senses, such as smell or taste. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic illnesses that may affect their appetite.
  • Psychosocial factors: Older people who are lonely may have a lower appetite. Mental health conditions, such as depression, can also play a role.
  • Pharmacological factors: Many older adults take medications that can decrease appetite.

If a person’s loss of appetite has a specific underlying cause, addressing it may improve this symptom. This may mean seeking medical treatment for physical health conditions, seeing a therapist or counselor, or speaking with a doctor about adjusting the type or dosage of a current medication.

People can also take steps to stimulate their appetite at home, including those below.

However, anyone who experiences a persistent loss of appetite should consider contacting their doctor as the first step.

Eating habits

Some people may find it helpful to eat at regular times each day. If larger meals feel like too much, they can try eating smaller meals more frequently. This approach can help a person get enough calories and nutrients, even if they do not feel hungry.

Other ways to boost appetite include:

  • Eating with friends: An older 2006 study found that people tended to eat more when they were eating with friends than when they were eating alone. Distractions can also take a person’s mind off what they are eating, which may help if someone feels nauseated.
  • Eating enjoyable foods: Varied and tasty meals can stimulate a person’s interest in eating. People can try new recipes or return to old favorites. However, it is important to strike a balance between foods that are enjoyable and foods that are nutritious, if these do not overlap.
  • Eating less fiber: While fiber has many health benefits, a high fiber diet is associated with appetite and weight loss due to its ability to help people feel fuller for longer. If someone eats a lot of fiber, reducing certain types of this nutrient may help them feel hungrier.

If eating enough is a struggle, people can try focusing on healthy, calorie-dense foods, such as avocado, sweet potato, nuts and nut butters, and olive oil.

Lifestyle changes

A person may be able to boost their appetite by making simple changes to their routine. These could include:

  • A regular sleep schedule: The body’s circadian rhythm dictates when someone feels sleepy or awake. However, circadian rhythm also regulates appetite. People who have irregular sleep schedules may find that this affects when they feel hungry. Where possible, it is advisable to try to go to sleep and wake up at similar times each day.
  • Getting moderate exercise: Studies on the effects of exercise on appetite have had mixed results. However, some people find that moderate exercise stimulates their appetite.
  • Staying cool: Exposure to heat can decrease appetite and food intake. This may occur during certain seasons, in hot climates, or during exercise. If heat could be a factor, a person can try to stay cool by drinking cold liquids, wearing lightweight and breathable clothes, and staying in the shade or in rooms with air conditioning.

Supplements

If a person has a nutritional deficiency, getting more of that nutrient in their diet or taking a supplement may improve their appetite. For example, a person with a zinc deficiency could try taking zinc.

Fish oil may also help stimulate appetite. A 2013 randomized controlled trial found that after 3 weeks of taking fish oil, participants experienced a 20% reduction in feeling full after meals. The female participants also had an increased desire to eat.

It is important to speak with a doctor about a persistent disinterest in food, especially if it is making it difficult to eat enough. It is also important to mention any other new or unexplained symptoms, such as:

  • feeling full quickly after eating
  • nausea
  • bloating and indigestion
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • stomach pain
  • dark urine
  • blood in the stool
  • significant or unintentional weight loss

A doctor can diagnose the underlying cause. If appropriate, they may also be able to prescribe appetite-stimulating drugs.

A person should not stop or change their dosage of any existing prescription medications that may be affecting their appetite without consulting a doctor first.

There are many possible causes of never feeling hungry. Short-term illnesses or medications may cause a temporary loss of appetite, while chronic physical or mental health conditions may cause longer lasting disruption.

Seeking help and support from a doctor is the first step in addressing any underlying conditions that may be affecting someone’s interest in food. People can also adjust their eating habits and lifestyle to try to stimulate their appetite. However, this is not a substitute for medical care.