I would like to open this article with a general caution about a sudden loss of appetite or a suddenly insatiable appetite. Both cases can be an indication of another, more serious health condition, which may require the use of appetite stimulants. When you’re struggling to gain weight, correcting a chronically poor appetite should become a high priority in your life. There is no cure-all solution, but the ideas presented here may help some of you take control of your appetite. We have all experienced the hunger for a particular meal but it is unlikely that this reflects our bodies innate communication of nutritional need. Craving certain foods is more emotional than physical, and appetite in general is more an indicator of what sounds good to us than what is actually good for us.
Thirst, for example, is very misleading. Thirst is quickly quenched and stops being a signal for additional fluids long before sufficient fluid volume has been made up. Athletes must maintain a disciplined consumption of fluids during events in order to insure proper hydration. The appetite is not a good gauge for caloric intake needs either. It will keep you from starving to death in the absence of an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia, but we are talking more than basic survival here. There are many stages between starvation and a normal healthy diet, and an entire continuum between RDA and the nutritional requirements of an athlete in training.
In addition to meeting caloric requirements you need to consume sufficient protein for tissue repair and growth, sufficient essential fatty acids for hormonal and neurological functions, sufficient vitamin C to prevent scurvy, sufficient zinc for healing damaged tissues, and a whole list of additional nutrients. So if you have a poor appetite you may be shortchanging your growth in more ways than just the obvious. Your goal then should be to find a way to ensure that you take in all of the macro and micro-nutrients which are required for health and perhaps even for growth. Rather than offer a lengthy recitation of all the foodstuffs you should consume, we recommend that you take a look at a food pyramid. The US Department of Agriculture issues one and many unofficial versions are available for special diets such as Asian or Mediterranean. If you are vegetarian, use one of the last two choices, and plan on replacing meat products with sufficient servings of your preferred protein sources. That will be a sufficient starting point for meeting nutritional requirements.
Assuming that your poor appetite is only a function of your current dietary regimen, the following list of tips can be used to increase your food intake. Most people don’t enjoy the luxury of wanting to eat more after being full, so some of these tips might seem weird at first; but those with a sincere interest in appetite modification might benefit.
One simple tip is to reduce the fat in your diet. This may seem strange, as fats are the most concentrated source of calories. Unfortunately, fats also induce satiety and can make a small meal feel like a large one. Some diet plans exploit this fact by inducing satiety and thus trick the individual into consuming fewer calories than are needed to maintain their weight. So the dieter loses weight.
People who have poor appetites may be unwittingly following diets which induce satiety prior to having taken in sufficient calories for growth. The response to fats is not uniform among all people. There are three distinct degrees of taste sensitivity: insensitive, normal and hyper sensitive. The demographic distribution of taste sensitivity is something like 20% insensitive, 60% normal and 20% hyper sensitive. Taste insensitive people may consume much more fat before the sensation of satiety is felt, while taste hyper sensitive people may respond to small amounts of fat.
Try to eat the less satisfying “light” versions of entrees and see if this doesn’t have you looking for more food. Cutting out desserts can have the same effect like desiring another meal and sooner than you might ordinarily eat it.
A second tip is to make a great variety of foods available at any meal. Go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant and only put small portions of everything on your plate. Keep track of how much you eat and then ask yourself if you could have eaten that much of just a few items.
A third tip is to eat healthy snacks between meals. It is not difficult to consume a small amount even when you are not really hungry, but after a while you will develop a craving hunger for that snack. Avoid eating candy, junk food and soda, all of which take up digestive tract space (and thus fill you up too early) for little nutritional return. An off-topic comment on soda, some people drink sodas after hard activity because the sodas satisfy thirst faster than water. This is counterproductive; the idea isn’t to satisfy thirst, it is to rehydrate.
A fourth tip is to eat a bit more at each meal. Treat the food just like weights in the gym, slowly and gradually increase the amount consumed. After a few months you will be surprised at how much you are eating.
Obviously not all of these tips will work for all individuals, but experiment with them and see which work for you.