Hungry, with no Appetite? Anxiety May be to Blame. Thumbnail

Your experience with a lack of appetite even when you are or should be hungry could have a psychological foundation.

Hungry, with no Appetite?

Your experience with a lack of appetite even when you are or should be hungry could have a psychological foundation. Every emotion is felt deeply in the body in various ways, as well as emotionally, and anxiety is no exception. The physiological warning signs that are commonly described with anxiety are the feeling of butterflies or knots in the stomach. These early warning signs of anxiety express just how deeply connected and rooted this emotion is in the gut.

Other physical symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate
  • impacted sleep patterns
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite

It is expected that we will all experience bouts of anxiety related to stressors in our environment, but when these symptoms persist there can be concerns related to dehydration, malnutrition, and an increased risk of death. Exacerbating the already present symptoms and anxiety, it is important to implement intervention whenever these symptoms begin to rise to unmanageable levels.

Get to the Root

There are many explanations for why you are experiencing a loss of appetite, some related to anxiety and some not. Thus, exploring your experience deeply and objectively will help provide insight into your unique experience. If you are sick, pregnant, or taking a new medication it is possible your lack of appetite is related, and you should speak to your doctor. If not, ask yourself the following questions.

Do you view your body in a distorted way that could be influencing your food intake?
Anorexia nervosa is a medical term used to describe a lack of appetite but is based in the individual’s belief that they are overweight when they are not. Strengthening one’s self-image and changing the negative thoughts related to one’s body can be challenging in these cases but know that you are not alone and there are strategies that can help, simply ask a therapist for aid.

Are you dehydrated?
Lack of sufficient water intake can lead to a loss of appetite, among other things. Make sure to always have water accessible and make it a habit to drink water consistently throughout the day.

Are you experiencing more stressors than usual?
When our body is stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and adrenaline is released throughout the body. This triggers the fight or flight survival response which places our entire system on high alert. Our heart rate and our breathing increases to oxygenate our blood and send it to our muscles, while less important functions like digestion are put on hold. During periods where external stressors are prolonged, so is this state of arousal. So, take time to rest and participate in activities that suppress the sympathetic nervous system (e.g., breathing techniques, laughing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, yoga etc.).

What else are you feeling emotionally?
Sadness is a common feeling that in severe cases, like with depression, can also lead to feeling hungry with a lack of appetite. If you are feeling persistent sadness that is impairing your daily functioning, you should seek support from a professional or from the community. We all experience lows, but when the climb up begins to seem impossible or not worth the effort, we must rely on the support of others to help pull us out. If you are experiencing great distress there are resources out there to help (i.e., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255).

Addressing the Symptoms

If you have asked yourself the above questions and you are still unsure as to the cause try these tips.

Keep a log or journal.
This would bring attention to any patterns related to skipped meals or stressors that are influencing your food intake.

Plan ahead.
If you know that you have a busy day or will be out of the house for long periods, pack small portion snacks and eat them frequently throughout the day. Providing various options and diversifying your snacks could also be helpful. Dried fruits, nuts, granola bars, cut veggies, and/or healthy crackers would do the trick.

Drink fluids after eating.
Drinking heavily before or during a meal can take up space in your stomach and lead your body to feel full faster. Still make sure to hydrate! Instead, focus on balancing your fluid intake and food intake during mealtime.

Provide yourself with appealing food.
If you are experiencing hunger with a lack of appetite, prepare food you typically enjoy. Splurge on some of your favorite groceries and incorporate a variety of colors as to make your snacks and meals more appetizing.

Move your body!
This can not be stressed enough. Exercise and physical movement have an abundance of physical and mental health benefits. In this case, and when our sympathetic nervous system is activated, exercise acts as a cathartic release in the body. It also naturally increases our appetite due to the burning of calories. It can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood or more structured as with yoga but aim for around 20 minutes of movement a day.

When all else fails, seek additional support.
Consult with your healthcare provider or mental health professionals. We all need help at times, and you are not alone in your experience. Health and well-being are daily practices, each day bringing new challenges and obstacles. Thus, we are all here to support one another in the pursuit of health and happiness.

Mental Health Services at CHE

When mental health conditions impede a person’s ability to lead a normal life, both psychiatry and psychology offer effective solutions for treatment and symptom relief.

If you are unsure which provider is best for your condition, contact your primary care physician to discuss the appropriate course of treatment.

CHE offers treatment for a variety of mental health issues virtually with our

network of over 850 licensed psychologists, therapists and psychiatry providers. To learn more about our mental health services and qualified mental health professionals, please call 888-515-3834.

Annika Lundin
Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University, Los Angeles