Improving a Low Appetite: Response from an R.D.

October 19, 2011

Question: Sometimes I suspect that I do not adequately nourish myself. I tend to eat only when I’m hungry and stop when I’m no longer hungry, and that usually amounts just two small meals a day where an average meal consists of a small salad or a half sandwich and granola w/ yogurt or a piece of fruit. I suspect that this rather meager diet is responsible for leaving me chronically short of energy, but I really don’t like the idea of forcing myself to eat more. What are your opinions?

Response: Hi, great question!

I’m interested to know if your eating habits have been this way for a while, or if there was a trigger that brought this on?  Knowing this may help pinpoint if there is a new stressor or change in your life impacting your appetite.

Are you losing weight?  That is one way to tell if you’re not eating enough to support your current activity level.  I recommend getting a sense of where you are right now by seeing if you’re a healthy weight for height and what your current nutrition needs are based on your height, weight, sex and age.

Overall, it is a good thing to listen to your body when determining when you’re hungry and when you’re full, as most of the time, your body really knows best.  In fact, many of us override our body’s signals and eat not because we’re hungry, but because it’s the right time of day or something smells/looks good.  In addition, many of us have a difficult time knowing when to stop eating and end up feeling “stuffed” because we’re not paying attention (watching TV while eating) or we eat so quickly that our body doesn’t have enough time to say, STOP!

There is no magic number of times to eat each day, but it is important to focus on the nutritional quality of the food, rather than the number of times we eat.

Feeling low on energy can have several causes.  One is that you’re not feeding your brain and body the fuel (calories) it needs to function at a high level throughout the day.   Another concern associated with low appetite and low energy is iron-deficiency anemia.  This occurs when you aren’t eating enough iron to keep up with what red blood cells need.

Below are a few recommendations that are meant to address what may be causing your lack of appetite and low energy levels.  Try one or two each week until you feel your energy levels improving:

1.)   Start a Food Diary: Keep a food diary for a week.  Write down what time you eat, hunger level, the amount you eat as well as what foods and drinks you eat. Online or paper diaries, both work well.

2.)   Calculate: Use an online calculator to tell you what your current calorie/food group intake is each day and compare that to what the recommendation is for someone your height, weight, age, sex and physical activity level.  This will help you see where you can improve in terms of getting the nutrients your body needs.

3.)   Eat breakfast.  Even if you’re not hungry, have a yogurt, handful of raisins, a banana or something light within an hour of waking up.  Breakfast is very important in setting up your energy levels for the day.  It’s important to get your body used to having a little something in the morning to help jump start your day and your metabolism.

4.)   Make it interesting!  Try new foods to keep meals and eating exciting and appealing.  Try herbs, spices, marinades or entirely new foods.  While it’s better to get your nutrients from foods, if you aren’t able to get enough variety and nutrients your body needs, it might be worth considering a daily multivitamin.

5.)   Make sure you’re getting enough iron. Women need 18 mg of iron each day, men need 8 mg per day.  Iron can be found in fortified cereal, lean meats, eggs, beans and more.

6.)   Exercise: If you’re not currently exercising daily, consider adding it to your routine. Exercise not only relieves stress, but also improves overall health and increases energy and appetite.   The current recommendation is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity each day, which can include walking, running, team sports, etc.

I hope these recommendations help you get back on track and full of energy. If you are continuing to feel low energy, but are eating more, please contact your health care provider.

By: Jenny Karl, R.D.

Editor: Kate Sweeney

Entry Filed under: Ask the Expert,Nutrition. .

1 Comment

  • 1.    Winnie  |  October 21st, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Thanks for the response Jenny! I’ll definitely look into your suggestions.

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