How to Cope with a Loss of Appetite After 60
According to statistics, up to 30 percent of us will experience changes in appetite as we age. This is a complaint my mom started having in her mid-60s. Foods she loved to eat as a teen or young adult just didn’t whet her appetite anymore.
She didn’t eat as much as before, preferred different foods and would even forget to have a meal sometimes. I never quite figured out why she experienced those changes until I got older, and the same thing started happening to me. That’s when I did the research.
Actually, appetite changes can impact us in many ways. For example, critical nutrients that our bodies need to function may be reduced. We may lose weight or have overall poorer health in general.
Some studies go so far as to say that many of the diseases that affect boomers are the result of dietary factors and these factors are exacerbated by the aging process.
Why Do Boomers Experience a Loss of Appetite?
It turns out there are many reasons why our appetites may change as we get older. Reasons for a loss of appetite include:
Changes in Our Bodies
Almost everything about our bodies changes as we age. Many of these changes may impact what we eat and how much we eat. For example, research shows that “because older adults’ abilities to absorb and utilize many nutrients become less efficient, their nutrient requirements […] actually increase.”
Also relevant are hormonal changes, especially during and after menopause, changes (usually decreases) in our sense of smell and taste and our reduced visual acuity – meaning food won’t look as good.
Changes in Our Living, Emotional, and Social Situations
You should not underestimate the impact our environment, mood, and social interactions can have on our appetites and food preferences. For example, many boomers suffer from depression which is known to impact appetite.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you live and eat alone, you may also suffer reduced appetite and eating patterns. When you live alone, you may have fewer “reminders” about when to eat. It may often happen that you just snack instead of having a balanced, healthy meal.
Chronic or Acute Diseases
In reality, virtually any acute illness, whether the common cold or constipation, can impact appetite. Chronic diseases, especially, can change your appetite and food preferences over the longer term. Most common chronic diseases among boomers are liver disease, diabetes, back or other pain, cancer, and heart disease.
Medications Can Influence a Loss of Appetite
Many boomers take at least one type of medication to treat acute or chronic conditions. Believe it or not, studies show that there are over 250 medications that can affect appetite and/or change how your food tastes and smells.
Therefore, there is a good chance that whatever you have in your medicine cabinet can impact your appetite and food preferences.
What Can You Do?
Luckily, there is a lot you can do to compensate for changes in appetite and food preferences as you get older.
The first, and arguably the most important, is to be aware of those changes before they reach a point where it affects your weight or health. It’s always better to nip it in the bud.
Here are some additional suggestions:
- Talk with your healthcare provider to see if there is any physical issue that could be impacting your appetite or food preferences.
- Enhance the flavor of your food with lemon juice, vinegar, spices, or herbs (limit salt and sugar, though).
- Try to eat a wider variety of foods at each meal – experiment with colors, textures, temperatures (chilled versus hot), mix of vegetables and fruits, and type of protein (vegan, chicken versus fish, for example).
- Increase your activity level since this has been shown to increase appetite – even 15 minutes of walking a day will help.
- Meet friends or family when you can, and share a meal with them. It’s even better if you cook together.
- Talk with your dentist if you’re having problems chewing or if your teeth become sensitive to hot or cold.
- Give yourself a treat and use your good dinnerware (that is why you have it, after all).
- Drink water instead of sugary or diet drinks.
Most Importantly, Be Focused on Good Nutrition as Your Appetites Change
Not needing to eat as much as we once did, not wanting food we may have once liked, and needing fewer calories does not mean that you must sacrifice getting the minerals, vitamins, and other key nutrients you need.
One thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between nutrient-dense foods, which pack more nutritional value per calorie, and calorie-dense food, which fill you up but don’t necessary have a lot of nutritional value.
The latter are often called foods with “empty calories” and include such things as candy, potato chips, and alcoholic beverages. Your best bet is to stick with nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates.
For example, a chicken breast and popcorn each have about 100 calories per serving. But with the chicken breast, you’re getting protein and a variety of nutrients. On the other hand, the popcorn may make you feel fuller, but you’re not really giving your body a lot of nutrients.
While all nutrients are important when taken in the right balance, there are certain ones that you need to make sure you are getting enough of. These include:
- Vitamin B12: Helps with brain function, helps keep nervous and circulatory systems healthy.
- Potassium: Needed for heart health, nervous system health and muscle strength.
- Calcium: Needed for heart health and strong bones.
- Magnesium: Needed for most bodily systems.
- Vitamin C: Helps lower blood pressure, promotes heart health and stimulates immunity.
- Vitamin D: Helps with hypertension, needed for healthy bone growth and helps protect vision.
Another tool you have handy is the nutritional labels on all packaged foods and beverages you buy at the supermarket. While these labels may look intimidating, they were designed to be easy-to-use.
They give you the information you need to make informed decisions about the foods you’re purchasing. The labels include this important information:
- Serving size
- Calories per serving and calories from fat per serving
- How much of the daily value of any given nutrient you get from each serving. For example, 10 percent of your daily need for Vitamin C.
Armed with these tools, there is no reason why you should not get the nutrients you need to stay healthy as you age.
If you’re not sure whether your appetite or food preferences have changed, or whether you’re experiencing nutrition changes, you should consider having your nutrients tested. This is especially important since what you need and how much you need of key nutrients tends to change over time.
As I age, I am constantly learning new things about my health. “Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” according to Henry Ford. So let’s all learn together and be forever young.
Do you find that your appetite has gotten smaller with age? What is your experience with changes in appetite or food preferences, either with yourself or your friends and family? How did you deal with it? What did you do to overcome them? Were your strategies successful? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.