Loss of Appetite in Anxiety
There’s nothing like a little uncertainty to launch us into a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment we’re feeling great and hopeful and the next we’ve lost our footing as events we looked forward to are changed, postponed, or canceled.
The rhythm, schedule, and predictability of our lives have shifted a bit. Some people turn to food as a way to find solid ground and distract themselves from frustration and anger. Still others struggle to eat as their anxiety takes away their appetite and interest in food.
In part 1 of our series we talked about emotional eating, part 2 we gave tips to navigate stress eating, and now we will explore loss of appetite in anxiety.
Everyone responds to anxiety differently. Some seek food to cope and soothe and others lose their appetite entirely. Not eating has a cascade of effects – loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, heightened emotions, difficulty concentrating, and so much more. If you or someone you support has lost their appetite due to anxiety, consider these support strategies:
Set a reminder for meals
Anxiety causes us to lose touch with our physical body. We are less aware of feeling hungry or tired until those feelings are extreme (or we pass out). Setting an alarm for every 3-5 hours to eat is a great place to start. Even if you don’t feel physical hunger, the body typically still needs fuel at this frequency.
Make meals simple and convenient
Anxiety robs us of rational thought. It’s harder to make decisions and that includes deciding what to eat (much less what groceries to buy). Make food simple – identify simple, prepared foods you can grab and go that still provide nourishment. Frozen meals, rotisserie chicken, or simply a deli meat sandwich are all reasonable to stay fueled.
Even ordering takeout is better than not eating! Create a list of 5 items you like and find easy to prepare and keep it on the fridge to make meal decisions easier.
Identify when appetite is best
Most people have a time of day when they’re more connected (or disconnected) to their body than other times. Whether that’s the morning, midday, or evening – maximize that time to get more fuel in your body.
It’s much easier to drink food than eat during periods of anxiety. That doesn’t mean guzzling juice or soda is a great idea. Instead, consider blending milk / yogurt or another protein source along with frozen fruits, vegetables, avocado, and nuts / seeds! Add smoothies to meals to maximize a small appetite (note protein powders are optional – not necessary)
Maximize energy dense foods
For once, forget vegetables (unless you’re drinking them). While they have wonderful health promoting properties, they are tough for a small appetite because they take up a lot of room in the stomach without giving much energy. It’s better to maximize energy dense foods like proteins (chicken, beef, pork, eggs, beans), grains (bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, oats), and fats (avocado, nuts, seeds).
Eat with others
Scheduling time to eat with others either in person or virtually is a great way to not only distract yourself from anxiety but also to hold yourself accountable.
Eating is an essential part of human existence. Regardless of your size, it is essential to continue to fuel your body to get through physically and emotionally tough times. Please, never ever say to someone, “I wish I had that problem!” That only minimizes their experience and prevents them from getting the support they need. Feeling forced to eat when you do not have an appetite is a very unpleasant experience and requires compassion to work through.
Nutrition is one piece of our fitness journey. See how schools use PLT4M to take a holistic approach to fitness and training.
Meet The Author: Rebecca Toutant, MA, RDN, LDN, CDE
Rebecca is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and certified diabetes educator living and working in the Boston area.
Learn more about Rebecca and her background here: Fuel 4 Fitness – Rebecca Toutant