Appetite disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviours that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
A decreased appetite occurs when you have a reduced desire to eat. It may also be known as a poor appetite or loss of appetite. The medical term for this is anorexia. A wide variety of conditions can cause your appetite to decrease. These range between mental and physical illnesses. If you develop loss of appetite, you may also have related symptoms, such as weight loss or malnutrition. These can be serious if left untreated, so it’s important to find the reason behind your decreased appetite and treat it. Most eating disorders involve focusing too much on your weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviours. These behaviours can significantly impact your body's ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases.
Symptoms vary, depending on the type of eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. Other eating disorders include rumination disorder and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.
Anorexia (an-o-REK-see-uh) nervosa — often simply called anorexia — is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of weight or shape. People with anorexia use extreme efforts to control their weight and shape, which often significantly interferes with their health and life activities.
When you have anorexia, you excessively limit calories or use other methods to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, using laxatives or diet aids, or vomiting after eating. Efforts to reduce your weight, even when underweight, can cause severe health problems, sometimes to the point of deadly self-starvation.
Bulimia (boo-LEE-me-uh) nervosa — commonly called bulimia — is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. When you have bulimia, you have episodes of bingeing and purging that involve feeling a lack of control over your eating. Many people with bulimia also restrict their eating during the day, which often leads to more binge eating and purging.
During these episodes, you typically eat a large amount of food in a short time, and then try to rid yourself of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. Because of guilt, shame and an intense fear of weight gain from overeating, you may force vomiting or you may exercise too much or use other methods, such as laxatives, to get rid of the calories. If you have bulimia, you're probably preoccupied with your weight and body shape, and may judge yourself severely and harshly for your self-perceived flaws. You may be at a normal weight or even a bit overweight.
When you have binge-eating disorder, you regularly eat too much food (binge) and feel a lack of control over your eating. You may eat quickly or eat more food than intended, even when you're not hungry, and you may continue eating even long after you're uncomfortably full.
After a binge, you may feel guilty, disgusted or ashamed by your behaviour and the amount of food eaten. But you don't try to compensate for this behaviour with excessive exercise or purging, as someone with bulimia or anorexia might. Embarrassment can lead to eating alone to hide your bingeing.
A new round of bingeing usually occurs at least once a week. You may be normal weight, overweight or obese.
Rumination disorder is repeatedly and persistently regurgitating food after eating, but it's not due to a medical condition or another eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder. Food is brought back up into the mouth without nausea or gagging, and regurgitation may not be intentional. Sometimes regurgitated food is rechewed and reswallowed or spit out.
The disorder may result in malnutrition if the food is spit out or if the person eats significantly less to prevent the behaviour. The occurrence of rumination disorder may be more common in infancy or in people who have an intellectual disability.
A number of conditions can lead to a decreased appetite. In most cases, your appetite will return to normal once the underlying condition or reason is treated.
Loss of appetite can be caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, or other infections at any location.
Here are just a few of what it could result from:
After proper treatment for the illness, your appetite will return.
There are various psychological causes for a decreased appetite. Many older adults lose their appetites, though experts aren’t exactly sure why.
Your appetite may also tend to decrease when you’re sad, depressed, grieving, or anxious. Boredom and stress have also been linked to a decreased appetite.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, can also lead to a decreased appetite overall. A person with anorexia nervosa undergoes self-starvation or other methods to lose weight.
People who have this condition are typically underweight and have a fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa can also cause malnutrition.
The following medical conditions may cause your appetite to decrease:
Cancer can also cause loss of appetite, particularly if the cancer is concentrated in the following areas:
Pregnancy can also cause a loss of appetite during the first trimester.
Some medications and drugs may reduce your appetite. These include illicit drugs — such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines — along with prescribed medications.
Some prescription medications that reduce appetite include:
Teenage girls and young women are more likely than teenage boys and young men to have anorexia or bulimia, but males can have eating disorders, too. Although eating disorders can occur across a broad age range, they often develop in the teens and early 20s.
Certain factors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:
Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as: