Loss of Appetite and Anxiety: How Anxiety Is Linked To Loss Of Appetite And No Appetite

By: Jon Jaehnig

Updated December 21, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa





You've probably heard of stress eating, but did you know that some people do the opposite? Have you ever been so stressed that you cannot eat at all? Anxiety and how a person eats can be linked in a number of ways. Understanding those connections can help you to stay healthy- even when there's a lot on your mind.

What Is Anxiety?

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Appetite Loss Due To Anxiety Can Be Detrimental To Your Health
Work To Treat Your Anxiety With A Mental Health Professional
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Anxiety and Biological Causes for Loss of Appetite - What Are They?

For some, being anxious results in eating less, or decreased appetite, or a loss of appetite. While the reasons have not been proven completely, it is thought to be caused by a combination of factors. When levels of stress and anxiety begin to build, the body goes into a "fight or flight response" - also called the "stress response." The stress response evolved in our ancient ancestors to help our bodies prepare for either running from or fighting off potential threats. Unfortunately, our brains still activate it, even though our stressors today are less likely to be ones that we have to physically avoid or overcome.

Serotonin is also a key element to loss of appetite. This neurotransmitter affects how full someone feels, as well as how anxious they are, and if they have an appetite, decreased appetite, or no appetite. If the amount of serotonin is abnormal, anxiety levels and appetite will also be abnormal because as your anxiety builds your levels of serotonin decline.

Anxiety and Mental Causes for Loss of Appetite

Anxiety isn't just a chemical reaction, it's also a state of mind. How you think when you're anxious can impact how you eat - or don't eat. When some people have too much going on, they try to save time by skipping meals. They may also simply prioritize other concerns over their need to eat, and they more or less forget about their dietary needs, especially while experiencing decreased appetite. For other people, not eating can be a way of proving to themselves, in the face of their anxiety, that they can feel something. This can lead to eating disorders, as will be discussed in the following section.

Anxiety, Eating Disorders, and Loss of Appetite

Anxiety has been linked to the beginning of many eating disorders. As someone feels that areas of their life are out of control, they struggle to gain control in any way that they can. For some, this includes not allowing food to control them. This behavior then leads to disorders like bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. Other people will try to use food as a reward system for getting something done but can have so much to do that they never feel that they "deserve" to eat.

If you believe that you have an eating disorder, you can get help right away by calling a 24-hour hotline. However, if your eating disorder is the result of anxiety, you will need to combat your anxiety in order to gain ground on your eating disorder. Consider reaching out to your healthcare provider or another mental and emotional health expert. We will discuss more options for this at the end of the article.

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What Are the Negative Effects of Loss of Appetite?

There's a big difference between skipping lunch because something came up and not eating regularly for days at a time or longer, especially due to a decreased appetite. If someone stops eating, there will be negative consequences simply because the body needs nutrients to function properly. Appetite loss due to anxiety affects a person's general health, as well as their energy level and sleep cycle. While it may not seem pervasive, loss of appetite, decreased appetite, or no appetite can have consequences in much of one's life.

Depleting the body of nutrients lowers an individual's energy levels, and can leave you feeling like you have no energy at all. When energy levels are low, the body seeks sleep. When someone is fatigued and anxious, this does nothing to lower their level of anxiety because the body is now worse equipped to handle the stress. General health also suffers because of anxiety. A big part of this is that people become nutrient deficient when they stop eating. Not getting enough nutrients can lead to unusual sensations, which in turn increase levels of anxiety. The longer you go without eating, the less you want to eat, and when you do try to eat it feels like the food is wreaking havoc on your digestive system. Overall, loss of appetite only serves to increase the levels of anxiety a person feels. Loss of appetite or decreased appetite can be a difficult cycle, but it's one you can break.

"A licensed therapist is equipped to identify the underlying causes behind your anxiety, so that you can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms in the future."

Anxiety can have a huge impact on your body, so it is important to consider the things that are causing your anxiety. Your physical health and mental health are closely related. Once your mental health begins to impact your physical health, it becomes a difficult cycle to break. The key is to understand what is causing the stress in the first place.

Tips For Proper Nourishment When Dealing With Anxiety

The only way to truly cure the problem you are dealing with, when it comes with your eating, is to treat your anxiety. However, while you are in the process of learning how to do that, there are several things you can try to make better decisions with your eating.

  • Start the day with protein - When you have a breakfast that includes protein, it will help you to feel full for longer. While this might not be your problem since you are dealing with the loss of appetite, it also keeps your blood sugar levels higher for longer. This will help you to have more energy for your day.
  • Eat whole grains - Carbohydrates are known to boost your brain's levels of serotonin. Choose whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, and quinoa.
  • Avoid dehydration - Make sure you are drinking lots of water, and avoid alcohol consumption. Even being slightly dehydrated can impact your mood. The same goes for caffeine.
  • Find out if you have food sensitivities - Some people report that when they eat food that they are sensitive to, it causes them to feel more anxious and feel out of control with their emotions. If you have never been tested for food allergies and sensitivities in the past, it might be something you want to look into. Starting a food journal can also help you to identify food sensitivities on your own, or it could at least give you and your healthcare provider a foundation to build on. For example, you may notice that on days when you have coffee you feel more anxious than on days when you don't. This doesn't necessarily mean that coffee is causing your anxiety, but it could be a contributing factor.
  • Focus on balanced meals - Make sure you are getting fruits and vegetables and having balanced meals. If you aren't eating properly or consistently, having junk food and unbalanced meals can also harm your health. Even with a decreased appetite, try to eat from a few different food groups per meal.

decreased appetite

Appetite Loss Due To Anxiety Can Be Detrimental To Your Health
Work To Treat Your Anxiety With A Mental Health Professional

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    • Eat to fit your schedule- Being busy doesn't mean that you can't eat. If you have to, take food with you. Think about what times of day you have the most appetite, and pick up foods that travel well like fruits, vegetables, and even portable meals like sandwiches.
    • Look at eating like an investment- When you feel overwhelmed, eating can feel like a waste of time. However, as discussed above, eating makes you capable of handling your stressors. Whatever your obligations are, eating can help you meet them, even if you experience a loss of appetite.
    • Eat on the clock if you have to- Many of these tips are for people who deliberately don't eat when they're stressed. However, if you're one of the people that just forgets to eat or doesn't feel hungry when you're stressed, set times to eat- whether you're hungry or not, even with no appetite. Leave no obstacles between you and food- making meals a priority can help you with loss of appetite. Set alarms if you have to.
  • Don't worry about portions- It's important that overall, you choose to eat foods that are going to provide your body with the nutrients that it needs. However, if you are experiencing a loss of appetite because of your anxiety, don't focus on trying to make yourself eat the same size portions that you typically eat; focus on starting with small amounts at a time. This can help you to start eating when have a decreased appetite.

Addressing Your Anxiety

As mentioned above, addressing your diet is important, but if your diet is bad because of your anxiety, you will need to address your anxiety before you can have lasting and positive change in your diet. So, how do you address your anxiety?

Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises are one important step. Mindfulness meditation trains you to focus on your thoughts and feelings in order to address them in healthy and productive ways- before they can get the better of you. When your anxiety gets the better of you, breathing exercises can help you to recover.

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Another step that you can take is focusing on or improving your support group. Family, friends, and even coworkers and colleagues can all help us to face the challenges that we have in our lives. Spending time with friends and family may be something that you've sidelined in your attempts to keep up with your workload, but, like eating, spending time with people you care about is an investment that will make it easier for you to keep up with your obligations.

Finally, just like spending time with others, eating, and sleeping are important to help you complete your tasks and fight off anxiety, exercise is important too. Your body rewards you for doing things that are good for it, and that includes engaging in physical activity. If your job keeps you active, it might be enough, but if you don't get up and out too much, make it a point to try.

While the tips above can help you eat while you deal with anxiety, they will only get you so far. You need to deal with your anxiety and its root causes to truly heal. A licensed therapist is equipped to identify the underlying causes behind your anxiety, so that you can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms in the future. If you are not experiencing relief in your anxiety on your own, it's important that you talk to a therapist about your situation. If you find yourself in need of professional mental health help, there are many resources available for you.

For example, BetterHelp offers online counseling and therapy. Online therapy is professional, affordable, and convenient, but it may seem strange to people who are used to the idea of therapy happening in person. Instead of taking the time to go to an office for an appointment, you can access your counselor from anywhere with an internet connection. You can also choose to talk to your counselor via text, phone, video chat, or messaging. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Natasha has given me realistic and helpful tools for improving my anxiety and self-esteem. She has a keen ability to shift my perspective when I am intensely worrying about something. And I see a difference in the way I handle my anxiety the last few months. I highly recommend Natasha!"

"An amazing therapist that really listens to what I'm saying and gives me sound advice. Kris has upped my confidence in my own ability to control my anxiety, something I didn't think was possible. Im incredibly thankful and grateful."

Mind-Body Wellness

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand that our mental and physical health are closely related, and how anxiety can impact your physical self, including causing a loss of appetite, decreased appetite, or causing no appetite. It's critical to take care of your mental health, as it can impact your physical health. Not eating or experiencing a decreased appetite as a result of anxiety can cause many problems for you. It's critical to take care of your mental health, in order to protect your physical health. With the right tools, you can do both. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What causes you to lose your appetite?

What does it mean when you have loss of appetite?

Having no appetite may mean you are coming down with the common cold, you have chronic liver problems, kidney disease, or on a less severe note, you simply aren’t hungry. If you continue to experience a loss of appetite or don’t have a desire to eat for multiple days, you should concentrate on just eating small meals of your favorite foods. If you still have a poor appetite after trying this, it is time to seek out medical advice diagnosis. A doctor will be able to tell you about any possible medical conditions you are suffering from, so you can know for sure if you need to be treated for an illness. This advice diagnosis will come from medically reviewed information, for both men’s health and women’s health. At the first sign of unexplained weight loss, it is recommended you talk to your doctor.

What to do if you have a loss of appetite?

When you have a loss of appetite, the first thing you should do is start noticing any other symptoms associated with it. Try to remember if you have experienced weight loss, abdominal pain, or any other type of digestive disorders. Check with a health care professional who can provide medical advice and let you know if you have underlying health conditions that need to be addressed. In some cases, you may have irritable bowel syndrome, which can change the way you are able to eat. If your loss of appetite has been a long-term issue, it’s important you seek professional, medical help. Doctors rely on medically reviewed information, which helps ensure you’re receiving proper treatment.

Is loss of appetite normal?

A loss of appetite can be normal in certain instances. For example, if you are taking drugs supplements for bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or have been diagnosed with heart disease or high blood pressure, the prescriptions you are taking may cause you to have a decreased appetite. You can check out a symptom checker online before you visit with a professional if you want to know the symptoms to look out for. You may also want to look at medically reviewed articles online, so you can see how other people deal with their loss of appetite issues.

Does stress cause loss of appetite?

It is possible that stress is a cause of loss of appetite. When you find yourself unable to eat, you should make sure you are taking care of yourself, and staying away from high calorie foods, if you are eating too many of them. If you are suffering from additional side effects because of health conditions, you may also experience a loss of appetite. In some cases, irritable bowel syndrome will cause a loss of appetite. Be aware that you can investigate a symptom checker, to figure out the main reason you have a decreased appetite. You can also look into health topics to see if there is anything that you need to be aware of concerning your health. This is especially important as we become older adults, since taking care of your health becomes paramount as you age.

How do I get my appetite back?

If you want to get your appetite back, the first thing you should do is check out home remedies, in order to determine if anything will work well for your needs. You must eat to keep living healthy, so it is necessary to be able to eat at least3 meals a day, even if they are small meals. You should also do your best to get the sleep you need and to stay hydrated. When you are low on fluids, you may experience difficulty swallowing, which can make it harder to eat. If you are in the demographic of older adults, you should get checked out too, and listen to medical advice presented to you.

Can anxiety cause lack of appetite?

Anxiety may be the reason why you have a loss of appetite. When you are anxious, your stress levels can be high, leading you to not want to eat. You may experience abdominal pain, and it may feel like you have irritable bowel syndrome or some other bowel syndrome. If this sounds like you, you should get advice diagnosis or treatment as soon as possible, so a doctor can rule out serious illnesses. In some cases, you may have to get blood tests done, so you can get the best health care available to you. Getting checked out earlier when you have a decreased appetite can help you in the short term and the long term.

Does anxiety cause loss of appetite?

Anxiety can cause a loss of appetite. It can cause you to experience weight loss and other symptoms include constipation, nausea, and indigestion. Stay aware of the symptoms you are experiencing, so you can decide for yourself if you need to get treatment for it. Techniques that can improve your appetite include lessening anxiety, exercising, and limiting alcohol and fatty foods.

Should you force yourself to eat when you have no appetite?

It depends on how long you have had no appetite for. If you are not hungry for a few hours in the morning, there is no reason to force yourself to eat. However, your body needs food to survive. Reasons for no appetite include stress, anemia, pregnancy, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or you simply ate too much the night before. You may also be experiencing the side effect of a prescription. Its best to read medically reviewed articles to learn more about having no appetite, if you are interested.

What should I eat if I have no appetite?

When you find yourself with no appetite, you can concentrate on eating smaller meals or snacks. You don’t need to force yourself to eat. Moreover, older adults may stop feeling hungry as they age, and this is to be expected. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bowel syndrome or any health condition, since reasons for loss of appetite include things that can be managed, such as stress, anxiety, and a cold.

How long can you go without food?

The human body may be able to go without food for up to 40 days, but this is not recommended, since this is likely to lead to starvation mode. On the other hand, some people rely on fasting, where they don’t eat for 12 hours a day, which is thought to help with weight loss. Medically reviewed articles can help you learn more about fasting in healthy ways, if you think this is something you want to do.

Can dehydration cause loss of appetite?

When you feel full after you just eat small amounts of food, you may have some sort of bowel syndrome, such as GERD or acid reflux. You can look at a symptom checker online to see if you have the symptoms associated with these conditions before you visit your doctor. There are medically reviewed prescriptions that can help you alleviate the symptoms associated with different types of bowel syndrome, so there is hope out there if this is what you are experiencing.

What vitamin is good for loss of appetite?

It is thought that Vitamin B1 is good for your appetite. When you don’t have an appetite, you may need more of it in your diet. Sources of B1, or thiamin, are nuts, oats, beef, eggs, and peas. Some foods are also fortified to have this vitamin in them. If you experience weight loss because you aren’t intaking enough B1, you likely need to integrate this vitamin into your balanced diet.

What Vitamin increases appetite?

Vitamin B1 is good for your appetite. When you are eating the proper amount, you shouldn’t have to worry so much about a loss of appetite. You can investigate medically reviewed research to find out more about this vitamin and what else it is capable of, in addition to helping someone suffering from no appetite. Other ways to support a decreased appetite or loss of appetite include limiting the amount of fiber you are eating and integrating exercise into your routine.

What are home remedies to increase appetite?

A few remedies for fixing a loss of appetite or decreased appetite include eating up to 6 small meals a day, staying away from fried foods, and eating with other people, even if you have no appetite. These things can make it easier for you to eat and prevent you from experiencing weight loss from not eating. If you only have an issue with loss of appetite and don’t have many other symptoms, the problem should clear up without much effort. However, if you are having a problem with abdominal pain or think you have irritable bowel syndrome, this cause for loss of appetite cannot be handled by yourself. You may need diagnosis or treatment for the loss of appetite to be cleared up. The way to know for sure is to search for a symptom checker before going to the doctor, and this can provide information on what the possible causes are. Older adults may have to worry about more serious issues when they have a loss of appetite, such as heart failure or rheumatoid arthritis. You can investigate other medically reviewed articles to see additional methods that are suggested for fixing appetite problems in your home.

How do I get my appetite back after stress?

In order to get your appetite back after you experience stress, you will need to do your best to lessen the stress levels in your body. You will also need to do everything you can to make sure you are eating right, getting proper sleep, and exercising when you can. You may want to talk to a professional about how you are feeling, so you can begin to feel better. Your fears about men’s health or women’s health may be keeping you up at night, and they should be addressed. Also, look at medically reviewed research, so you can determine other things that increase appetite.

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