A loss of appetite occurs when you have a low desire to eat. Different factors can cause poor appetite, including mental and physical illness.
If your lack of appetite lasts for more than a couple of days, it can cause weight loss or malnutrition.
Not having an appetite can be frustrating for anyone, especially people who are underweight and trying to gain weight or build mass.
This article lists 16 easy ways to increase your appetite.
1. Eat Small Meals More Frequently
Eating three full meals might seem like a challenging task when you don't have a healthy appetite.
A more motivating way to eat is to divide your three main meals into five or six smaller meals.
As your appetite improves, you can start increasing the portions of these meals, or adding more ingredients to consume more calories throughout the day.
For example, if you're eating a tuna sandwich, incorporate some veggies and cheese to add more calories and nutrients.
Summary: Have five or six smaller meals per day instead of three large ones. As your appetite improves, you can start increasing portions and adding more ingredients.
2. Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods
People with poor appetites tend to eat empty calories like candy, chips, ice cream and baked goods to gain weight.
Even though these kinds of foods might seem more appetizing and contain high amounts of calories, they’re a bad idea since they provide very few nutrients.
Instead, concentrate on foods that provide you with calories and a wide array of nutrients like protein and healthy fats.
For example, instead of ice cream for dessert, you can eat 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt. Add some berries and cinnamon for sweetness.
Similarly, if you feel like eating pizza, you can make your own and add extra veggies and some protein for extra nutrients.
Summary: Decrease your intake of empty calories. Instead, make easy substitutions to focus on more nutritious foods that contain protein, healthy fats and whole grains.
3. Add More Calories to Your Meals
Another way to increase your appetite and ensure you’re eating enough during the day is to add more calories to your meals.
One way to do this is to cook your foods with calorie-dense ingredients like butter, nut butters, olive oil or whole milk.
- Add 45 calories: Cook your eggs with butter.
- Add 80 calories: Cook your oatmeal with whole milk instead of water.
- Add 80 calories: Add some olive oil and avocados to your salads.
- Add 100 calories: Spread some peanut butter on apple slices for a snack.
Simple additions like these can pack more healthy calories into your meals and increase your total calorie intake.
Summary: Add calorie-rich ingredients as you’re preparing your meals to consume more calories throughout the day.
4. Make Mealtime an Enjoyable Social
Cooking and eating a meal with others may help stimulate your appetite more than eating alone.
To make foods more pleasant to eat, you can invite friends and family over for meals. If they cannot come over to keep you company, try eating while watching TV.
These strategies can help by turning your attention away from the food. In fact, a study showed that eating with friends can increase food intake by 18%, and eating while watching TV could increase it by 14% ().
Turning meals into occasions for socialization and entertainment may help you enjoy your food more and could increase your appetite.
Summary: Having meals with friends and family, or eating them in front of the TV, can distract you from the food you are eating and lead you to eat more.
5. Trick Your Brain With Different Plate
If you have a poor appetite, seeing big portions of food can be overwhelming and discouraging.
A way to avoid feeling overwhelmed is to trick your brain into thinking you are still eating small portions. You can do this by serving your food on a big plate instead of a small plate.
Some studies have shown that increases in plate size can make you serve larger food portions. This is true even when you do not like the food all that much (, ).
In other words, you could eat more food if you serve it in a larger dish. This could increase your daily calorie intake, especially if you eat high-calorie foods.
Summary: Serving your food on larger plates could help you serve yourself larger portions and eat more.
6. Schedule Meal Times
Hunger usually cues people to eat. However, if you do not get hungry, you might not be able to rely on your appetite to remind you when to eat.
If this is the case, try scheduling your meals and setting a reminder at each mealtime to make sure you’re eating regularly.
Additionally, having a regular meal schedule is important for stimulating appetite, helping you consume enough calories and nutrients every day.
Summary: Scheduling and setting reminders for meals can help you promote appetite and keep track of your food intake.
7. Don't Skip Breakfast
Consuming breakfast on a daily basis is important when you want to increase your appetite and gain weight.
A review study showed that skipping breakfast can lead you to eat less throughout the day, which is the opposite of what you want ().
Furthermore, breakfast helps increase the body's thermogenesis effect, making you burn more calories throughout the day. This can increase your appetite ().
If you’re trying to eat more, having breakfast every day is as important as having regular meals throughout the day.
Summary: Eating breakfast every day could promote your appetite and increase thermogenesis, which could motivate you to eat more.
8. Eat Less Fiber
High-fiber diets have been proven to promote feelings of fullness and decrease calorie intake for those looking to lose weight (, , ).
Even though high-fiber foods are recommended in a balanced diet, they can slow down digestion and keep you feeling full for longer. Thus, you may want to moderate your intake if you’re looking to increase your appetite.
Eating a low-fiber diet could prevent you from feeling too full, and might help you eat more during the day.
Summary: Decreasing the amount of fiber in your diet could reduce feelings of fullness and make you eat more food during the day.
9. Drink Your Calories
Drinking your calories might be a more motivating way to increase your calorie intake than having to chew your food when you do not feel too hungry.
A practical way to drink your calories is by replacing some of your meals with nutritious, high-calorie drinks.
Smoothies, milkshakes and juices can all be good meal-replacement drinks. Try making them using nourishing ingredients like fruits and vegetables.
You can also add good sources of protein like whole milk, yogurt or protein powder for extra calories and nutrients.
Summary: Drinking your calories and nutrients instead of eating them could help motivate you to consume your food.
10. Incorporate Healthy Snacks
Eating big meals can be intimidating, whereas small and easy-to-eat snacks can be more convenient and take less effort to increase your food intake.
Snacks can also be helpful while you are on the go.
However, snacks are not meant to replace your big meals, but rather to complement them. So avoid eating snacks close to mealtime, because it could affect your appetite.
Here are some examples of healthy snacks:
- Fruits like bananas, apples and oranges
- Protein bars or granola bars
- Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and fruit
- Nut butter and crackers
- Salty snacks like popcorn or trail mix
Summary: Eating small, healthy snacks throughout the day can help boost your calorie intake and increase your desire to eat.
11. Eat More of Your Favorite Foods
The logic for this rule is pretty simple — choose foods you like.
When you sit down in front of a meal you know you will enjoy, you’re probably much more inclined to eat it than a dish you find unappealing ().
In fact, research shows that if you can choose what to eat, you will tend to eat more of it and more often than if you did not have the option to pick your foods (, ).
To ensure you consume more of those foods, it is important you take some time to plan and prepare them ahead of time so you can always have them available.
However, if your favorite foods are not healthy — such as from fast food restaurants — you can try cooking or serving them with more wholesome ingredients to make them more nutritious.
Summary: Eat more of the foods you like. This will help motivate you to eat and stimulate your appetite.
12. Use Herbs and Spices
Some foods can delay digestion and produce gas, which can result in a "heavy stomach" feeling and reduce your appetite.
A type of seasoning called carminative herbs and spices can help reduce bloating and flatulence and improve your appetite. They can also stimulate the production of bile to facilitate fat digestion ().
Some examples of carminative herbs and spices are fennel, peppermint, black pepper, coriander, mint, ginger and cinnamon ().
As well as helping reduce the "heavy stomach" feeling, these herbs and spices can help make your meals more appealing. When your food has a pleasant smell and taste, it can trigger your appetite ().
Bitters tonics are another type of herb preparation, which can help increase appetite by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes. Examples of bitters tonics include gentian, blessed thistle and centaury ().
You can introduce some of these herbs, spices or bitters into your diet by cooking with them, or you can consume them as teas or tinctures.
Summary: Some herbs, spices and bitters tonics can improve your appetite by aiding digestion and reducing flatulence while making your food more appealing.
13. Exercise More
During exercise, your body burns calories to sustain your energy levels. Physical activity can increase your appetite to replenish the calories burned (, ).
In fact, one study put 12 people through 16 days of continuous training. After this period, they burned 835 extra calories a day, on average.
Additionally, they increased their food intake and were able to replenish 30% of the calories they had burned during exercise ().
However, your appetite is more likely to improve after several days of exercise, not after just one day (, ).
Also, physical activity can influence several processes in your body that have been shown to stimulate hunger. These include increased metabolic rate and muscle mass, as well as changes in hormone production ().
Summary: Physical activity can make you burn more calories and stimulate your appetite by increasing metabolic rate and hormone production.
14. Limit Beverages With Meals
Drinking fluids prior to or during your meals could affect your appetite negatively and make you eat less ().
In fact, studies have shown that consuming water prior to meals can reduce calorie intake and help with weight loss (, , ).
This seems to affect older adults more than younger adults ().
In contrast, refraining from pre-meal water intake could increase your calorie intake by 8.7% ().
Therefore, try to limit your water intake 30 minutes before meals and see if your appetite improves.
Summary: Drinking water or other liquids before or during meals can affect your appetite and make you eat less.
15. Some Supplements Could Also Help
A deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals could be reducing your appetite.
If you would like to increase your appetite, consider including some of these supplements in your diet:
- Zinc: A lack of zinc in the diet can lead to appetite loss and taste disturbances that could promote a low desire to eat (, ).
- Thiamine: A thiamine deficiency could cause decreased appetite and increased resting energy expenditure, leading to weight loss ().
- Fish oil: Some studies have shown that this supplement may increase appetite and reduce feelings of fullness in women after meals (, ).
- Echinacea: Echinacea is an herb used for its ability to boost the immune system and fight diseases. Studies have shown it also contains compounds called alkylamines, which can stimulate your appetite (, , ).
Summary: Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies can produce a lack of appetite. Taking certain supplements may give you an appetite boost.
16. Keep a Food Diary
Keeping a food diary can help you track your meals and ensure you are consuming enough calories throughout the day.
Recording your food intake and hunger levels can also help you understand how your appetite is progressing.
Aim to record every meal and snack, no matter how small it is. When your appetite is poor, every calorie counts towards your daily goal.
Summary: Keeping a food diary can help you track your food intake and promote better eating habits and appetite.
The Bottom Line
Many factors can affect your appetite, including physical conditions, mental conditions, medications and vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
However, small changes can make a big difference.
You could try increasing your appetite by inviting people over for meals and cooking with new recipes using spices, herbs and high-calorie ingredients to make food more appealing and nutritious.
Try limiting your beverages before and during meals, and moderate your intake of high-fiber foods, since they can sap your appetite. If you find large meals daunting, motivate yourself to eat by having frequent, small meals instead.
Another trick is to eat your largest meal when you are the hungriest. The rest of the time, you can incorporate smoothies and high-calorie drinks that can be easier to consume.
If you have a hard time eating, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor, who can advise you about boosting your hunger and gaining some healthy pounds.