How your appetite might be bringing you down & what to do to reignite it

Posted on July 07, 2021

Your appetite is something that can really make or break your night.  What you might not realise is that other than being a complete buzz kill, a low or no appetite can have some undesirable impacts. Those with IBS might feel this at a deeper level as symptoms can contribute to a decreased appetite.

Have you ever been really excited to try a new restaurant, only to feel a bit funky or have sudden abdominal bloating or cramps and then poof you’ve got no appetite?  Well you’re in luck, on today’s blog we are delving into what affects our appetite, how a poor appetite can impact us and some helpful strategies to help navigate and increase our appetite.

Quick IBS run-down

Approximately 1 in 7 people suffer from IBS where it’s predicted there are even more undiagnosed. It’s a functional bowel disorder, meaning nothing is physically wrong with the bowel, and symptoms aren’t causing damage in addition to symptoms. Its lengthy diagnosis leads to potential late and misdiagnoses and those who have IBS would know it can be a very stressful and long process.

Based on the sub-type of IBS, an individual may have symptoms in varying severity, some of these include:
o Abdominal pain
o Abdominal distention and/or bloating
o Excessive flatulence
o Altered bowel habits including diarrhoea or constipation

How my IBS impacts my appetite?

How many of you really wanted to eat a bit more, but have been restricted by the feeling of pain, bloating or even needing to run off to the loo? As IBS involves your gut, it’s a given that its symptoms can also impact your appetite.  Many IBS symptoms, whether it is abdominal pain, constipation or bloating, can make you feel a bit off and a common complaint of individuals with IBS is a loss of appetite when symptoms flare up.

A common feeling with symptoms is nausea, which is described as queasiness in your stomach. It’s the body’s response to stress in an attempt to decrease appetite and potentially stop you eating and causing further aggravation to the gut. It can be quite common for individuals with IBS to have nausea accompanying their symptoms. A study found that up to 40% of women and 30% of men with IBS reported to have feelings of nausea.

A feeling of nausea accompanies symptoms of bloating or distension due to excess of gas whether it is from eating poorly tolerated or too much food. Similarly, if you’ve noticed increased constipation or diarrhoea, it can also make you feel nauseous, both leading to little desire to eat.

It’s not a helpless abyss!

Following the low FODMAP diet and IBS in general can be a kick in the guts (literally), having to do a full 180 making dietary changes whilst having the fear of symptoms worsening. Any increased stress, lack of motivation, limited food choice or food avoidance, may impact appetite.

There’s no doubt the low FODMAP diet can be tricky, which is why we work so hard at FODMAP Friendly to give you the information, support and resources to help you through it.

In saying that, there is a big variety of foods that are low FODMAP.  Check out our blogs on easy food swaps you can make on the low FODMAP diet and if you’re stumped for snacks we have you covered in our 20 low FODMAP snack ideas blog post.

If you’re new to the low FODMAP diet we also have a 7-day meal plan and step-by-step guide to shopping on a low FODMAP diet, not to mention hundreds of FODMAP Friendly certified products to help you eat and shop with confidence!

Not just IBS?

Losing your appetite isn’t explicitly related to IBS, where other things in daily life can alter appetite. These include:

Common offenders include opiate pain medications; such as codeine, some antibiotics, blood pressure medication as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen that can cause stomach upsets leading to a reduced appetite. Always have a chat with your doctor if appetite is a concern when being prescribed new medications.

Getting sick
Bacterial or viral infections, like gastroenteritis and food poisoning can temporarily reduce your appetite, as your body is working in overdrive to help, leaving you with an upset stomach.

Lack of exercise
Whilst some people argue that exercise suppresses’ appetite, it only does so for a small period of time. Overall, a lack of exercise can cause a reduction in energy and motivation to eat.

Why is having a flourishing appetite important?

Other than the fact that eating food is AMAZING, having a poor appetite, especially if this is long-term, isn’t ideal.  A compromised appetite can lead to:

Nutrient deficiencies
Simply put, if we have no appetite, we aren’t going to meet our daily nutritional needs. Over a period of time, this opens the door to potentially suffer nutrient deficiencies, which have multiple ramifications.

If we aren’t getting enough food, this can lead to a lack of energy and contribute to a feeling of fatigue and lack of motivation to do anything. This can also put a psychological strain on your daily life if it is a regular occurrence.

As discussed earlier, a low appetite can be related to the feeling of nausea, where it can contribute to a general feeling of discomfort or restlessness (which is referred to as malaise). This in combination with other IBS symptoms can be frustrating.

Reduced concentration
Eating less due to a low appetite can cause a drop in blood sugars which causes your body to send signals to the brain.  These same signals can cause a tightening of blood vessels in your body, triggering a headache. Likewise, trying to do work on an empty stomach is a challenge; it can cause headaches and impact our ability to focus.

Worsening bowel symptoms
If you aren’t eating or are eating significantly less due to a low appetite, it can worsen already existing symptoms such as constipation.  As there is nothing going in, there can be nothing coming out.

Increasing Appetite
Increasing appetite can lead to improving overall nutritional status, energy, performance,  concentration, ability to focus as well as improving bowel consistency. For those with IBS, this can help overall management and assist reduce the burden you may experience with symptoms.

How to fire up that appetite?

So if you find your appetite hasn’t been up to par or if you’ve noticed your appetite is completely gone, here are some ways you can get that fire burning:

o Look after yourself when you are sick, it helps you bounce back quicker.
o Have smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. This ensures you don’t go too long without food or too much food. Appetite is like a fire, if you put too much on it it’ll go out, but if you put the right amount it’ll burn bright.
o Make meals enjoyable, incorporate your favourite foods, flavours and smells or eating with other people can make meal times fun.
o Exercise regularly. The more you burn, the more fuel you’ll need.
o Have drinks in between meals instead of with meals, ensuring you don’t fill up too quickly when eating and minimise post-meal bloating.
o Sleep well. When our sleep is out of whack we tend to notice changes with the rest of our body as well. Sleeping well can contribute to an improved appetite.

Wrapping it up

Many things can impact your appetite and it is very important to encourage a good appetite to keep us healthy, happy and moving. Some key take-homes include keeping those energy levels up through good sleep, exercise, regular small meals and snacks and making meal times enjoyable.  If you are struggling or are concerned about your appetite with IBS and while following a low FODMAP diet, seek out the help and support of an IBS and FODMAP trained Dietitian.

Written by: Lauren Theodore (Accredited Practising Dietitian)
Reviewed by: Kiarra Martindale (Accredited Practising Dietitian)

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