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How to Stimulate a Poor Appetite

Updated on September 22, 2012

Why do you have a poor appetite?

There are numerous reasons why someone can have a poor appetite and it affects us all at sometime or another. However, the first step in getting over a poor appetite is to discover the reason for it in the first place. Below is a list of some reasons that may cause you to not feel like eating. However, if you have a lack of appetite over an extended period along with weight loss and/or other symptoms then you must speak to a doctor.

Common reasons for poor appetite:

  • Constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, bloating.
  • Feeling sick/nausea
  • The first trimester of pregnancy can cause sick feelings leading to reluctance to eat.
  • Recovering from some viruses for example flu, cold.
  • As a result of serious illness - such as liver disease, kidney failure, cancer, emphysema etc.
  • Oral thrush, dental problems or other problems with the mouth and teeth.
  • Medication side effects - especially strong pain killers, anti-biotics, chemotherapy, radiotherapy etc.
  • Alcohol side effects.
  • Anxiety and/or depression.
  • Food no longer tastes good - this occurs more with elderly people.
  • If sense of smell is affected this can also make food less desirable.
  • Time of day. This could be a problem for shift workers who regularly change the times of their main meal, especially when night shift.
  • Pain - especially if someone suffers from chronic pain.
  • Difficulty swallowing due to a sore throat for example. In addition there could be other conditions - physical or mental health conditions - that makes swallowing difficult causing a fear of choking.

Not only is weight loss a problem with a prolonged poor appetite but other health issues such as malnutrition will also arise. This condition, which is basically a lack of nutrients in the diet, can lead to:

  • Weakness and fatigue that could cause problems in your day to day living
  • Lack of protein may lead to fluid retention causing swelling particularly in the ankles and feet.
  • Nutrient and mineral deficiency conditions.
  • Healing of any wounds takes much longer.
  • The person is more prone to pick up viruses, infections and other disorders.
  • Bowel problems such as constipation or a worsening of a current bowel problem such as irritable bowel syndrome. This is a particular issue when people snack on the wrong kinds of food.
  • Depression and other mental health problems.

Small nutritious snacks throughout the day is a great way to stimulate a poor appetite
Small nutritious snacks throughout the day is a great way to stimulate a poor appetite | Source

Tips on stimulating your appetite when your mouth is sore

Tips when you have a sore mouth
1. Keep your mouth clean and fresh - using a mouth spray, ice lollies or ice cubes can help.
2. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
3. Eat a soft, moist diet and/or nourishing drinks. Use a straw to drink if this helps.
4. Keep food moist by adding a gravy or sauce.
5. Avoid foods that could irritate your mouth such as hot spicy meals, very cold foods, salty, coarse foods and acidic foods could also cause discomfort.
6. Smoking and alcohol should be avoided as they can irritate a sore mouth
7. Chewing sugar free gum, sugar free boiled sweets or pastels are good for stimulating saliva that helps to heal and soothe your mouth. There are also oral preparations you can buy to help a sore mouth.
8. Tangy fruits, fizzy drinks can irritate the mouth rather than refresh it.

How to stimulate the appetite into accepting food

Whether you need to stimulate you own appetite or that of someone else, even a child, there are a number of things that can be done to get the digestive juices flowing again. The National Health Service Patient Advice UK offers a number of tips on how to encourage eating:

  • Prepare small portions frequently throughout the day
  • Eat when ever you or the person you care for is hungry - don't wait specifically for meal times.
  • Try to drink after eating rather than just before as fluid can give the feeling of being full.
  • You can often trick the mind and the appetite into accepting food - for example by using a very large dinner plate with food placed on it - this looks like a very small amount to eat and can encourage people to eat.
  • Eat or offer favourite foods. Even if this means eating conventional food at odd times. When I cared for elderly people, who frequently had poor appetites, I've often given them things such as ice cream at breakfast time simply because they fancied some and it got them eating.
  • Take or offer supplements and/or fortified drinks daily. If a person has lost weight then offer full fat options of milk etc.
  • Ginger is very good for the digestive system. Even a ginger snap biscuit will help.
  • Ensure that all meals are presented as attractively as possible.
  • Ensure that you or the person you care for are allowed enough time to eat their food without hurrying.
  • Make meal times as pleasant and relaxing as possible.
  • Ensure during meal times or when a person is eating that there are no noxious odours in the area or other distractions such as being too hot, too cold, stuffy etc.
  • A small glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage half an hour before a meal can stimulate the appetite
  • If able, a short brisk walk or a swim can stimulate the appetite.
  • For people who are worried about choking or are having difficulty swallowing, chewing or other mouth/throat problems, then concentrate on giving them a soft diet. There are plenty of healthy recipes around to ensure that even on a soft diet nutrition is maintained.

A bowl of nourishing soup can do a lot to stimulate a poor appetite and get nutrients back into the body.
A bowl of nourishing soup can do a lot to stimulate a poor appetite and get nutrients back into the body. | Source

NHS - Ideas for nutritious snacks

Nutritious Snack Ideas
Cereal made with milk/fortified milk
Baked beans, cheese or sardines on toast
Crackers and cheese
Sandwiches - cheese & tomato, ham & pickle, cucumber & tuna
Bowl of creamy soup with bread roll/bread
Creamy yoghurts/milkshakes/malted drinks taken with mixed fruit &nuts, plain biscuits etc.

Things to remember about having a poor appetite

There are many ways to stimulate the desire for food when we don't really feel like it. Remember as well, you don't have to eat a lot to maintain nutrition. What is in the food is much more important than how much of it you eat.

One of the reasons that, for elderly people in particular, they can suffer from malnutrition even in hospital or care settings is that the quantity given may be high, but the nutrient content of the food is low. You can eat constantly, be over weight and yet still be malnourished. Therefore, the important thing about stimulating a poor appetite is not the quantity but the quality of food that is taken.


Submit a Comment

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi toknowinfo, a pleasure as always to hear form you and thanks for leaving such an interesting comment!

    We do have drink supplements in the UK, but I don't think they actually do much to stimulate the appetite - so that's very interesting that this company makes these drinks for weight gain as well as appetite. I'll need to have a look around the web to see if there are any companies here that do something similar to the one in the US.

    Many thanks for this information - greatly appreciated!!

  • toknowinfo profile image


    5 years ago

    As always, this is an excellent hub. There is a product called Enlive at least in the U.S., that is made by Abbott Laboratories. It is a drink that is packed with nutrients in a juice box size container. It is packed with calories in its small size and works well to help stimulate the appetite and assist in weight gain. I don't know if it is available in England and other countries, but it is worth looking into for its benefit to help weight gain and stimulate an appetite. Thanks again for a great hub.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy, many thanks for the visit and glad that you enjoyed the hub!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Gypsy, glad that you enjoyed the hub - many thanks for the share!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay - well I'm glad that there is someone else like me! More often I have snacks rather than a meal! I try to keep them healthy but I've never been a big eater and huge plates of food put me right off! But, yes, there are the days I think I've done nothing but eat!! I also have a very sweet tooth and I really have to watch the chocolate intake. I've no problems yet weight wise, but the older you get the harder it is to keep the pounds from building up and then getting them back off!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kashmir56 always lovely to hear from you and glad that you found the hub useful! Many thanks for the vote up - really appreciated!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Gordon, I can also relate to shift working as I worked night shifts for many years and I could probably count on one hand the actual proper meals I would sit down to over a months period. It's not until you stop working shifts that you realise just how little you eat and how tired you are as well!

    I'm trying to give up on cigarettes - again! But yes, smoking definitely upsetst he appetite and I guess that's why people who stop complain about the weight they have put on. A colleague I work with gave up smoking and she did very well. However within 18 months she was clinically obese and had to go to a doctor and dietician to get help! Sometimes I think we're better off with the ciggies!!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ChitrangadaSharan, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub useful, always lovely to hear from you!

  • Eiddwen profile image


    5 years ago from Wales

    So well written and very useful;some great tips.

    Enjoy your day.


  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Informative and useful hub. Thanks for sharing and passing this on.

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    I should bookmark this and come back regularly, quite often I think about a meal and just don't fancy anything so will just have a biscuit if anything, even if I'm cooking for someone else. Other days I can eat like a horse, thankfully my weight seems to stay steady.

    But great ideas nutritious snacks to tempt, especially the elderly, I used to help in a nursing home so I know how tough it can be sometimes finding something that will tempt them to eat, as you say even ice-cream for breakfast.

    Awesome and very useful

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Great hub and very informative and very useful to anyone who needs this type of information . Well done !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • Gordon Hamilton profile image

    Gordon Hamilton 

    6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

    Hi, Seeker7. Lots of great advice here and I can relate in particular to the one about working irregular hours. I have long since stopped eating breakfast and even lunch, with dinner about 8 o'clock at night my first meal of the day, followed usually by a second about 3 or 4am before I go to bed. The other thing I know from personal experience that seriously affects my appetite is the number of cigarettes I smoke... :( Fortunately, I'm glad to say I'm going to try some of your ideas and see if I can re-establish at least a semi-normal eating routine.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 

    6 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Very useful hub. You have mentioned the causes as well as the possible remedies. I am sure it would be helpful to many--especially the children and the elderly. Thanks for sharing some nutritious snacks as well.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Many thanks to you learner365 - hopefully the tips will be of some use for people who have this problem. The elderly people in particular I used to care for often had poor appetites, especially when they would first come into our complex. Basically these poor souls either hadn't been fit enough or motivated enough to cook for themselves and so we had to build up their desire for food again.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Thanks EfficientAdmin - glad that you found the hub useful and helpful. I agee also about elderly people. When I cared for the elderly it was always an issue we had to be on top off - a poor appetite as well as the danger of poor nutrition.

  • learner365 profile image

    Saadia A 

    6 years ago

    Helpful tips for stimulating a poor appetite. I am sure your remedies will come in handy for many people who face issues dealing with the less desire of eating anything.

    Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful !!!

  • Efficient Admin profile image

    Efficient Admin 

    6 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    I never had a problem so far with not wanting to eat. The scale verifies that as well. I really like the ideas for nutritious snacks too. This would be really great advise for someone working in a nursing home or around the elderly. Voted up, awesome, interesting.


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