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How to Overcome Poor Appetite and take the Road to Better Health

Written by Julianna Stewart, Communications Partner with integratedliving

Cooking dinner every night of the week and healthy eating can feel like a chore.  As we get older, it’s common to lose enthusiasm for preparing nourishing meals and start looking for easy options, like grabbing snacks or foods with low nutritional value – such as toast or two-minute noodles! 

Why do seniors lose their appetite?  

The reality is, many of us have a loss of appetite as we age and food just doesn’t have the appeal that it used to. We may also notice that our stomachs are more sensitive to different foods which can cause us to eat bland foods and not get the wide variety we need to stay healthy. Sickness and medications can also impact our appetites.   

This was the case for 77-year-old Meg from the Ballina region in New South Wales, who went off her food after a serious illness saw her lose more than 20 kilograms.  

“I’m usually around 68-70 kilos but got down to 49 kilos when I was sick,” Meg said. “I was just skin and bone. I was so ill, my body just wasted.”  

Meg had endured two years of chemotherapy and immunotherapy for cancer treatment which left her feeling weak with little appetite.  

“I even went off vegetables,” Meg said. “I just didn’t feel like eating, and that was making me more tired.”  

After the trauma of surgery and having her right lung removed, Meg’s body needed a lot of tender love and care to get back to good health.  

How can a dietitian help? 

With the help of integratedliving Dietitian Lauren Reardon, Meg adopted a food plan that was easy to prepare and sustain, as well as giving her the best nutrition possible.  

“I now eat things I never used to, like beans and seeds, and I make a big salad and put kidney beans and chickpeas in it which is really good for protein,” she said.   

“I’m now 54.7 kilograms after just a month, and I’m feeling so much better.”  

Lauren, who helps seniors devise better meal and eating plans, said it’s common for older people to experience a lower appetite.   

“In some cases, loss of appetite causes a significant decrease in food intake which results in unintentional weight loss,” Lauren said. “With this kind of weight loss we see a reduction in muscle mass and strength and deterioration of general health. A smaller food intake tends to reduce the appetite further, becoming a cycle that is hard to break without some dietary intervention.”  

Lauren said good nutrition means eating a well-balanced diet in which you can obtain enough protein and energy to maintain weight and strength. A variety of vitamins and minerals are also needed to maintain our overall health and wellbeing whilst preventing harmful deficiencies.

“It’s easy to get off track and there are many causes for loss of appetite in elderly people, especially during periods of change such as a new medical diagnosis, or caring for a loved one. Often it just takes a little bit of support and encouragement to get us back onto a path of eating well and feeling better,” Lauren said.  

We help clients with their health and wellbeing goals by tailoring our programs to their needs. Everyone’s rehab journey is unique – find out about Meg’s. 

Ways to increase appetite for seniors: 

  • Move your body! 20-30 minutes of light-to-moderate exercise each day will increase your appetite (and keep you strong and steady on your feet).   
  • Eat small portions more often. Small, frequent meals and snacks are easier to tolerate than a large meal that fills you up for hours.   
  • Include high protein foods in all meals and eat them first. For example: meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, legumes, nuts.  
  • Work with your appetite. If you feel most hungry in the mornings, plan to have a decent meal then. Some seniors prefer to have their main meal in the middle of the day, rather than the evening.   
  • Munch on finger foods. For some seniors, using utensils can be difficult, especially if you are suffering from arthritis. Foods like pizzas, fish fingers, meatballs might be easier to manage.   
  • Try a smoothie. Liquids digest faster and can be easier to tolerate when appetite is low. Try adding some high energy/protein foods such as nuts, seeds, nut butter, yoghurt, milk with fruits. You can put a batch in the fridge and drink small quantities throughout the day to supplement your food intake.  
  • Make your meals interesting – don’t be afraid to try some different foods. As your tastebuds change over the years, you might be more inclined to like things you didn’t enjoy previously.  

Dietitians play a vital role in helping seniors reach their optimum health, because they understand the science behind nutrition and can provide expert medical nutrition therapy and food advice. They target individual dietary needs and food preferences to promote both physical and mental health, independence and to prevent or manage different health conditions.  

“We will support you to optimise your nutrition, health and wellbeing, whilst building a healthy relationship with food to encourage enjoyment at mealtimes,” Lauren said.  

As well as adopting a more nutritious diet, Meg is also attending the Ballina Wellness Centre twice a week where she participates in exercise classes to help build muscle strength.   

After only 12 months, and with one functioning lung, she is already seeing a lot of improvement in her quality of life and the ability to do everyday tasks.  

“When I come to the Wellness Centre, it makes me feel good and I feel like I can do more at home,” Meg said. I can do the vacuuming. I can shower myself. I couldn’t do that before, I was too ill. 

“I feel like I’m getting the support I need to get stronger and have a better life.”  

If you need help to make the most out of your meals, integratedliving Australia has Accredited Practicing Dietitians who can assist you in your home or work with you via our Telehealth program to assess your nutritional needs and tailor a nutritional care plan just for you.  

Find out how to make the most out of your meals