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Here’s Everything You Should Know about Appetite


Most people use appetite and hunger interchangeably, but there is a difference. In simple terms, appetite is the desire to eat. We often think about enjoying our favourite foods or what to eat next. This desire for food is called appetite. The job of appetite is to drive you to eat enough to meet your body’s nutrient and energy needs. Therefore, appetite is essential. Eating according to your appetite is the best way to consistently eat the right amount of food. However, there are circumstances when you can’t trust your appetite. It means that some factors can either suppress or increase your appetite. But there are ways to manipulate them to make your appetite more reliable.

Appetite vs Hunger: What’s the Difference?

Hunger is the body’s way of telling you that you need to eat. It is the body’s physiological need for food. While hunger is often a feeling of discomfort arising from a lack of food, appetite is simply the desire to eat. And unlike hunger, appetite is not necessarily due to the psychological need to eat. You can develop an appetite after seeing, smelling, or thinking about food. For instance, smelling warm cookies in the oven might increase your appetite, but it doesn’t mean you’re hungry. 

Hunger is a result of biological changes taking place within your body. These changes signal the brain that the individual needs to eat or else they will suffer from depleted energy levels. The body initiates these changes when the blood glucose levels drop below a specific range. A set of hunger hormones control your hunger, particularly ghrelin. It sends messages to your brain to increase gastric acid secretion and make you hungry. Ghrelin release stops when the stomach is filled with food and tells your brain that you’re no longer hungry. However, a study shows that ghrelin equally plays a role in your appetite and is not just a hunger hormone. 

Characteristics of Appetite

Your appetite does not remain constant. Instead, it changes across your lifespan as you age. For example, the arrival of puberty and development drives the hormonal signals to increase appetite, while old age brings poor appetite. 

Some other characteristics of appetite are:

  • Your appetite often changes according to your personality traits and different coping strategies.
  • Appetite is a motivational force and makes the food more appealing. 
  • Appetite gets stimulated through sight, smell, touch, taste, and even sound. 
  • The appetite can suffer ups and downs depending on your state of mind. 

Factors That Affect Your Appetite

Under normal circumstances, your appetite works well according to the body’s natural cues. However, certain factors affect appetite, sometimes leading you to eat less than average, sometimes more.

Here are some factors that affect your appetite and influence your interest in eating:

Age

A study shows that many older people experience a decrease in appetite. As a result, poor appetite is a common problem in old age. Many changes occur with ageing, responsible for a reduction of appetite. For example, older adults are likely to be taking at least one medication, and most drugs alter their sense of taste and smell or cause nausea. It leads to impaired appetite. In addition, changes to the digestive system due to old age can contribute to declining appetite. 

Heart Failure

A cross-sectional study shows that many patients, around 38%, who had sustained heart failure were affected by poor appetite. The decreased appetite was due to demographic, psychosocial and medical factors. With heart failure, you may experience a feeling of being satiated or nauseous even if you have eaten very little. Therefore, it is crucial to regularly check these individuals’ appetite levels, nutrition levels, and weight to prevent any additional risks from appetite loss. 

Mental Health

A study says that depression is one of the components of mental health that contribute to poor appetite. It mainly occurs due to an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure in depressed people. The exact cause is still unknown, but appetite changes due to poor mental health are sometimes severe and can lead to significant loss or gain in body weight. Hence, your emotional well-being plays a crucial role in controlling your appetite. 

Stress

Stress is a prevalent condition in modern society. But what you might not know is that stress can either cause you to eat less or eat more. A study shows that being in stressful conditions reduces appetite and slows the natural contractions of your digestive tract. So if you eat at times like this, the food can make you nauseous, bloated, or constipated. However, there are cases when people overeat to cope with stress. 

Cold Climate

You’re more likely to develop an increased appetite when you’re in a colder place than in a warm one because the cold climate often tempts you to eat high-calorie dishes. As a result, there is an increased craving for salty soups, roasts, and fried snacks.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation or not getting uninterrupted sleep for days can alter hormones that regulate appetite. Also, sleep loss appears to stimulate appetite, but it also causes an increased craving for high-fat, high-carb foods. Sometimes both fatigue and poor appetite accompany severe sleep deprivation. Further, about five nights of poor sleep can make you feel less satiated after eating, but you still find no desire to eat.

Medications

Anticholinergic and sedative medicines cause diminished appetite, poor physical function, and frailty. Some drugs used to treat common conditions like fever and cold might affect your appetite. However, it is a rarely mentioned side effect of medicines because it isn’t life-threatening. In addition, appetite changes usually disappear when you stop taking the drug.

Ways to Increase Appetite

Stimulating Appetite In Elders

In older people, flavour enhancement of food with spices, herbs, and sauces can help encourage them to eat. Adding extra salt and sugar is not healthy for older people, but pepper, herbs and spices are safe to use according to personal preference. However, since old age negatively impacts appetite, you need to take extra by improving mealtime ambience, serving smaller portions of enriched foods, and serving the food in good lighting. Another habit that elders can incorporate into their lifestyle to improve their appetite is moderate exercise. 

Nutritious Dense Snacks for Boosting Appetite

Eating what we crave can help when experiencing appetite loss. Enjoying your favourite snacks is an excellent way to boost your appetite. In addition, since appetite loss can also result in weight loss, it can be beneficial to eat calorie high yet nutrient-dense snacks. 

Research states that 86% of snacks people eat are high in calories and often contain chocolate. However, one must be careful while eating high-calorie snacks and ensure that their snacks are nutritious. 

Exercise

Exercise can be another effective way of stimulating appetite. It is because exercise will consume your energy, depleting blood glucose levels. This depleted blood glucose will then trigger the production of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin will initiate appetite stimulation by signalling the brain to produce saliva and secrete digestive enzymes. Therefore, people who exercise regularly are likely to have a healthy appetite. 

Bringing Back Communal Eating

Eating was a communal activity in the traditional society. Perhaps it was for its appetite and mood-enhancing reasons. Making eating a collaborative activity can increase the interest in the event. Seeing others eat can also entice one into eating. One can invite people to eat with themselves or join potlucks to increase their appetite. In other instances, going out to eat with friends can help. A meal or two with the entire family can help too.

Eating in small portions can also help to prevent feeling overwhelmed by food. If one experiences hunger after finishing their small portion, they can easily take a second helping of food. The key here is to encourage eating in a non-threatening way. Parents widely use this method to encourage their kids to eat since children are known to be fussy eaters.

Always Have the Most Important Meal of the Day

Research calls breakfast the most important meal of the day. It keeps your appetite in the normal range throughout the day. Hence, some easy to eat and nutritious breakfasts like overnight oats and yoghurt or even green smoothies are beneficial to increasing a healthy appetite. Furthermore, consumption of high-protein breakfasts promotes satiety and reduces unhealthy evening snacking. It forms a successful strategy to evoke your appetite when required. 

Conclusion

Appetite is your body’s built-in mechanism for food intake regulation. The senses play a crucial role in stimulating appetite: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. An example of this is the desire for food from hearing the sizzle of cooking. A compromised appetite can cause nutritional deficiencies. Conversely, an increased level of appetite can cause obesity. Appetite and hunger are different yet related to each other. Unlike appetite, hunger isn’t something you should try to control or suppress. 

If the hormones could solely control our appetite, no one would overeat or be overweight. However, your appetite can change due to environmental, social and psychological factors. Given the complexity of appetite control, it is not surprising that we eat more than our body needs and begin to put on excess weight. In addition, food can be a source of comfort or distraction. Therefore, appetite comes off as a pleasurable experience, but you must not overdo it. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What causes loss of appetite?

A. People can experience a decreased appetite for a wide range of reasons. Old age, heart failure, mental health issues, stress, sleep loss, and medication cause loss of appetite. Most often, having appetite loss is a short-term problem. 

Q. Is appetite the same as hunger?

A. No, appetite is the desire to eat, while hunger is a physiological phenomenon caused by decreased blood glucose in the body. Plus, you can develop an appetite when you’re not hungry. However, appetite and hunger are related to each other. For example, the hormone ghrelin plays a crucial role in appetite and hunger. 

Q. Which organ is responsible for appetite?

A. Three parts of the brain, namely the hypothalamus, the limbic centre of the emotional brain, and the hindbrain, are responsible for appetite. The hormone ghrelin also plays an important role where it signals the brain to signal the salivary glands to produce excess saliva and the gastric glands to produce gastric enzymes.

Q. How do I get my appetite back?

A. Appetite can be regained through regular exercise, eating breakfast, cooking flavoursome meals, and eating nutritious meals. Exercise causes depleted blood glucose, which insights the brain to initiate the eating process to replenish blood glucose. Eating breakfast is linked to eating the rest of the day’s meals. On the other hand, flavoursome meals engage the senses linked with appetite. High-calorie meals tend to raise appetite. However, they must also be nutritious to replenish diminished nutrient levels.

Q. How do you cure loss of appetite?

A. Exercise, communal eating, cooking flavoursome meals and eating nutritious meals help reverse the loss of appetite. Communal eating creates interest around the activity of eating, while flavorful meals engage the senses related to appetite. High-calorie snacks and meals are associated with an increase in appetite too. Some people resort to appetite stimulants for faster results. 

Q. How can I fix my appetite loss?

A. You can regularly eat breakfast to increase the desire to eat the rest of the meals in the day. Cooking food with flavour-enhancing spices, herbs, and sauces can also entice the meal. People can also try to eat with friends and family to increase interest in the activity of eating. Exercise lightly before meals to stimulate appetite. Even a short walk shows significant changes.

Q. What is the best medicine for loss of appetite?

A. The best medicine for loss of appetite depends on the cause. You can use appetite stimulants or medications like dronabinol, megestrol, and oxandrolone. You should never self-medicate and always talk to your doctor first. 

Q. Does appetite decrease with age?

A. Yes, research has shown that as people age, their appetite diminishes. It is irrespective of where they live. Decreased appetite can be due to changes to the digestive system, hormonal changes, disease, medications, and changes to the sense of smell and taste. The elderly can eat with a company, pair their food with a beverage of choice, and eat some flavourful meals to enhance their desire to eat. 

Q. Can depression make you lose your appetite?

A. Yes, depression can decrease appetite. It can cause you to eat unhealthily or eat less than usual. Depression can also push you to eat more. Depressed individuals can benefit from exercising and eating in the company of people to aid their loss of appetite. 

Q. Is there a hormone that makes you hungry?

A. Yes, there is a hormone called ghrelin that plays a vital role in hunger. Ghrelin signals the brain to start creating excess saliva and gastric enzymes in preparation for digesting food. Therefore, the body increases ghrelin if a person is undereating and decreases it if they overeat.

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