Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Are you losing your appetite?

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Some years ago, after battling with dengue fever, I had the worst experience with loss of appetite. Taking a spoon of my favourite food to my mouth felt like bench-pressing 200 pounds. When it finally got in, I had no interest or desire to chew or swallow it. As sophisticated as health care has become with CT scans, MRIs and all that stuff, there is still a lot of value to be found in the very basic things - like your desire for food.




Generally, I see two sets of patients coming in for appetite problems. The concerned parent who complains that their younger child is not eating. Usually, the child has already developed interests in either very sweet or very salty foods, which basically railroads their appetite for healthy foods. So they do eat and drink, but mostly the wrong things. Then the tables turn, and I see the older parent who is brought in by their child who is really worried about mom or dad's loss of interest in food, and tied with that, the obvious loss of weight.







As we move into the 50s and beyond, our desire for food will go through some changes. Some of this is tied to a slowing down of our metabolic rate, loss of taste bud's and overall fatigue with the routine. "Doc, ah just tired to eat the same rice and peas and chicken every day!" But teasing out your appetite changes can be quite challenging as serious conditions such as depression and cancer might be lurking in the bushes. Also loss of loved ones, changes in living conditions, loneliness, and social isolation can also contribute to loss of interest in food.




Hippocrates, back in 400 BC, noted that "it augurs well if the patient's mind is sound, and he accepts all food that's offered him; but, if the contrary conditions do prevail, the chances of recovery are slim." It's no different today! If you lost it and it is not coming back, then it's not a good sign. Now, writing off all of those different feelings to 'old age' is risky. As the years go by, you should be more and more of an expert on understanding your body and that includes knowing when to seek an opinion. Appetite loss for more than two weeks and worse if your weight is falling off, merits a doctor's visit.




"Doc, can you give me something for the appetite?" If there's no major disease and taking the 'best vitamin' did not work, then here are some tips for an appetite tune-up:

- Eat with others as much as possible. Invite family and friends from time to time.

- Have scheduled meal times so that you don't forget to eat, get busy, or let something else take its place.

- Manage your emotions and stress.

- Exercise and get fit - you will make better food choices.

- Go grocery shopping and experiment with new foods and recipes. So, how about rice and split peas this Sunday?

- Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston. Email: