What Are the Causes of Loss of Appetite?

Everyone loses their appetite now and then. Having a cold or flu, feeling stressed, bored, lonely or depressed, or getting run down can all cause a temporary reduction in how much you eat. However, if this goes on for a prolonged period, you may not meet your body’s daily caloric needs, which can lead to several health problems. If your desire to eat is severely diminished or continues for days, there may be an underlying medical condition causing your loss of appetite.


Clinical depression is defined as feeling sad, blue or down to the point where it interferes with everyday life for a prolonged period of time. It is a medical condition that for some can cause a drastic change in appetite, says the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). It is most common in teenagers and the elderly. There are many different types of depression, which may run in the family. Any period of depression that lasts longer than two weeks should be discussed with your doctor. There are medications and treatment options that can help.


Hypothyroidism is a condition where your thyroid does not produce enough hormones. According to the American Thyroid Association, this can be from disease, surgical removal of the thyroid or from radiation treatment. This disease slows down many processes in the body. It may leave you feeling depressed, which can cause you to eat less. However, hypothyroidism also slows your metabolism. Even though you eat less, you may still experience weight gain.


The anxiety and depression that can accompany the diagnosis of cancer, along with side effects of treatment, may cause you not to feel like eating. The National Cancer Institute recommends making changes to the way you eat in order to maintain strength. This includes eating the foods you like on days you do not have treatments, eating smaller meals throughout the day, eating with others and trying to not fill up on fluids right before a meal.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious medical condition that causes a person to severely reduce the amount of calories eaten. There is a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even when body weight is normal or even under normal limits. Along with calorie reduction, over-exercising, a need for perfection in all tasks and a negative self image are all warning signs. Genetics and hormone imbalances may play a role in this condition, which requires medical intervention.

Other Medical Conditions

If you have a medical condition that makes it hard to eat, your appetite may suffer. If you have a type of breathing problem or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may get out of breath while trying to eat. Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors, cerebral palsy and others that make it hard to move normally can interfere with your ability to get food to your mouth. At this point, eating may become too frustrating.


There are multiple medications — both over the counter and prescription — that may induce loss of appetite as a side effect. Any unexplained changes to your eating habits or unintentional weight loss should always be discussed with your doctor to rule out serious medical conditions.

About this Author

Lori Newell of Living Well Yoga and Fitness holds a master’s degree in health promotion. She is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. Newell has taught classes for the general public and those with chronic illness for 25 years. She has four books and writes for many sites and magazines including the “International Journal of Yoga Therapy” and eHow.