Many people notice a drop in appetite as they age. For people who are struggling with their weight, this can be great news. It’s a lot easier to lose our craving for snacks and treats than it is to build up our willpower. Sometimes, however, loss of appetite can do more harm than good. It can lead to too much weight loss. It can even cause malnutrition. When this happens, weight loss can become unhealthy.
The relationship between appetite and aging is complicated. When we cut back on our exercise it’s normal to have a decrease in appetite. It’s also normal to lose some muscle. If we start to lose our appetite, it’s important to ask ourselves if this is due to a normal lifestyle change or if there could be something else at work.
Here are some ways in which aging can affect our appetite:
- As we get older, we tend to become less active. This causes the inside of our body to slow down at the same time that the outside of our body is slowing down. Food takes longer to move out of the stomach and into the intestines. Since our food is staying in our digestive system longer, we feel full longer after eating.
- The hormones that regulate appetite also change as we age. Our bodies may not respond to these hormones as they once did.
- Aging can lead to constipation, which can cause a loss of appetite.
- Aging has been linked to a reduction in saliva production. When this is combined with dental problems, chewing and swallowing can become uncomfortable.
- Many older people begin to lose some of their senses of taste and smell. This takes away from the flavor and appeal of food.
- Eating is an emotional and social aspects. Sadly, isolation is often a consequence of old age. Our friends may move away to be closer to family. Our family may move away for jobs or education. People we know get old and pass away. Life as we age can become very lonely. Depression and social isolation eventually lead to loss of appetite.
When a loss of appetite starts affecting our health or quality of life, it’s time to take notice. The best place to start is with a trip to our primary care provider. Many seniors have had the same primary care provider for years and have developed a strong relationship. Experience with our health over time has given this provider a better understanding of the changes we are experiencing.
Here are some tips for managing a decreased appetite:
- Eat nutrient-dense foods.
- Look for foods that can do double duty, from a nutritional perspective. Sweet potatoes, for instance, provide complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as fiber, vitamin A and potassium.
- Look for foods that are compact sources of protein, such as fish, cheese or nuts.
- If your mouth tends to be dry, rinse with mouth wash or chew sugarless gum before eating. Get in the habit of taking a sip of your drink in between bites.
- Drink nutrient-dense liquids, either a full, liquid meal or as a high-calorie drink between meals.
- Schedule your meals. If you associate certain meals with certain times, you’re less likely to skip meals. This also gives the time between meals to schedule additional snacks. This way your snacks can add nutrition to your diet, rather than removing nutrition by letting mere “nibbles” take the place of a meal.
- Plan social meals into your week. The saying, “good company makes the meal”, is particularly true for those who live alone. Whether setting up a pot luck birthday or card club meeting, or arranging dinner out with a friend, combining food and good company helps make eating an occasion to enjoy rather than a trial to endure.
- Plan your meals around foods that you enjoy. Limit foods that you don’t enjoy. The goal is to increase the pleasure of your meals so that eating is more attractive to you.
RMH Healthcare Associates: 765-932-7591