How can I keep from starving?
November 4, 2005 12:11 AM   Subscribe

I forget to eat. What should I do?

For some reason, I don't really feel hunger anymore- it registers, slightly, as a sensation in my stomach, but I just tend not to notice, and most days I only eat one normal-sized meal, when I remember, hey, I haven't eaten. I know that this is probably extremely bad for my body, although the silver lining is that I've gone down a pants size. Other than setting an alarm on my phone every day that tells me to eat, what can I do to minimize malnutrition? Can multivitamins help? What are any long-term effects?
posted by 235w103 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you be depressed or experiencing a large amount of stress recently? I've experienced something like that before.

How long have you been only eating one meal a day? Your body will generally start to give you signs when it's unhappy about what's going on as well. So you could look out for those.
posted by alexst at 12:16 AM on November 4, 2005

Response by poster: I was depressed at the start of the summer, but am now medicated happy, for better or for worse. None of the things I'm on have loss of appetite as side-effects (although short-term memory loss is a side-effect of one, which doesn't help remembering to eat), and I feel physically fine if I get enough sleep. I work 3 days a week, which sort of structures my day, so I eat at least 2 meals on those days, and this has been going on for, hmmm, maybe 3 weeks?
posted by 235w103 at 12:22 AM on November 4, 2005

Sudden appetite loss can signal a host of medical problems. You should definitely consult with a doctor.

Having said that, I've had an appetite that can come and go my whole life. Days go by and the idea of food just doesn't register very much (though sometimes I'll suddenly be reminded because I get a hunger headache or am really dizzy all of a sudden). Times like that, there's just no way I'm going to eat a full meal, but I'll certainly always graze on a certain array of foods, provided that they're immediately available and don't take much (if any) preparation -- things like cheese and french bread, olives, pickles, and salami (frankly, that's my dinner about one or two nights a week), as well as peanut butter & crackers, power bars, instant oatmeal, dried fruit, and Greek yogurt with honey.

I keep a stash of this stuff at home and at my office, so I can nosh whenever it occurs to me -- it's not stuff that requires me feeling actually hungry to eat, unlike a full meal. It's especially handy at work, because since it's all in my drawer next to my computer, it's impossible not to notice the food at least a couple times a day, so it's easy to at least nibble on a power bar or nuke up a bowl of instant oatmeal.

In short, find out the easy-to-eat stuff that you'll always at least nibble on (preferably healthy!), and keep a well-stocked (but not well-hidden!) supply of them at work and home.
posted by scody at 12:25 AM on November 4, 2005

I've done this before, to the tune of 50 lbs lost. Luckily, I weighed enough that it wasn't dangerous to me.

Talk with your doctor if you can. Professional advice is best. Stress, depression, anxiety, and illness can all cause a lack of appetite, and internet diagnosis just won't cut it. You mentioned being medicated for depression, this could easily be a side effect. Mention this to your doctor, it could be a sign of something more.

If all else fails, take a note from Memento. Tattoo it on your stomach, upside down for you to read. "EAT"
posted by Saydur at 12:28 AM on November 4, 2005

Oh, and also: some antidepressants can have the side effect of suppressing appetite -- that may also be something to ask your doctor about.
posted by scody at 12:29 AM on November 4, 2005

Some people use marijuana medicinally to stimulate appetite when it has been supressed by something else, like an AIDS cocktail.
posted by scarabic at 1:01 AM on November 4, 2005

Response by poster: Some people use marijuana medicinally to stimulate appetite when it has been supressed by something else, like an AIDS cocktail.

That is, literally, the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. Thank you, scarabic. Thank you so much.

Actually, thanks everyone so far- my dad's a doctor, and I'll be seeing him this weekend, so hopefully I can get some information there!
posted by 235w103 at 1:32 AM on November 4, 2005

actually, marijuana got me onto the diet you speak of. personally i think it's great to be free of hunger, why give it up? read about calorie restriction on wikipedia. if you take vitamins, you're actually on track for a longer life.
posted by foraneagle2 at 1:42 AM on November 4, 2005

I work 3 days a week, which sort of structures my day, so I eat at least 2 meals on those days, and this has been going on for, hmmm, maybe 3 weeks?

I don't think one meal a day is going to do any lasting damage, especially as you say that three days a week you eat twice a day.

The truth is that most people in the Western world eat too much - we don't need three squares a day to be healthy. If one or two meals a day is working for you and you're not nutritionally deficinient in anything, I don't see it to be a problem.

For some people, there can be a link between depression and eating and it could be the case that you are no longer 'eating your feelings' now that your depression is being treated.

My work pattern is very similar to yours - I work three days a week in the office, two at home, two off, and on my office days, I will have oatmeal in the morning and then be busy in the office all day to the extent that I will 'forget to eat'. I make sure that I have fruit, nuts, carrots, etc to snack on at my desk. It's become a habit to start grazing at around 11am for an hour or so.

In the evening I have dinner, usually home-made soup followed by steak/chicken/fish & veggies/salad, then fruit. I'm not 'dieting', just eating healthily. According to FitDay, I am taking in around 2500 calories a day, more than adequate for a sedentary 46-year-old woman, and I'm not missing out on any nutritional essentials.

On my 'at home' days, I sometimes have the oatmeal for breakfast, but more often than not will just have one meal at around 4pm, with perhaps some fruit or nuts at 9 or so. This has been my eating pattern for coming up to two years, and I think that for me it's a healthy way of living. I am not overeating, I rarely get that bloated, sluggish feeling I used to have when I had breakfast-lunch-dinner, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are great.

If you're worried about malnutrition, try tracking your food intake on FitDay for a while, or see a dietician.

Anyway, that's my experience. YMMV, as always.
posted by essexjan at 2:08 AM on November 4, 2005

Here is a related thread on dealing with a nonexistant appetite.

It's funny, I've been thinking lately of making a similar post. Like you, I have no appetite, but usually I scrape by okay. This week I've sort of lost the will to take care of myself, and I've gone a few days without eating or drinking, or, well, doing much of anything aside from sleeping and looking at the floor. I don't know why that is, because I don't think I'm stressed or depressed or anxious, and I feel sort of detached.

Anyway, sorry to be a downer in your thread. Here's what worked for me: having friends MAKE SURE I eat. I don't mean calling me up and reminding me, I mean handing me a plate of food and watching me eat. It also helps to have things directly in my sight, like a pear next to the keyboard or a bag of peanuts in my tote bag. Also, if you're like me and you hate to waste things, put something perishable out at a set time, like say a fruit salad every 10 AM. If it's sitting out and spoiling, I am much more likely to remember to eat it because my desire to not let it go to waste trumps my lack of interest in eating. Do it often enough and you'll get used to a schedule of eating by yourself. In the other thread, I suggested getting a slow cooker. It's a great thing because you can just toss stuff in there in the morning and when you come home, the smell is a strong reminder to eat.

The key, I think, is positioning food so that you cannot ignore it. Oh, I tried the multivitamin thing and it didn't seem to do anything for me, but ymmv. This can be frustrating to deal with. Good luck.
posted by Marit at 2:47 AM on November 4, 2005

You might have lost the sensation of hunger, and possibly even your appetite, but do you still enjoy eating at all? If eating makes you feel sick, then you have major problems. If you can still really enjoy your favorite foods (possibly to the point of overeating), then it's less likely to be a problem.
posted by wackybrit at 3:55 AM on November 4, 2005

I've sort of lost the will to take care of myself, and I've gone a few days without eating or drinking, or, well, doing much of anything aside from sleeping and looking at the floor. I don't know why that is, because I don't think I'm stressed or depressed or anxious, and I feel sort of detached.

Uh, Marit? You're depressed. Please see a professional about it. Losing the will to take care of yourself is not good.
posted by languagehat at 8:04 AM on November 4, 2005

I've been on one meal a day for a few months, and loving it. I feel extremely lucky that my failure mode when not eating enough is to start feeling cold, rather than headachy, sleepy, irritable, etc.

I'd just say you should be on the lookout for other problems (are you getting weak? cold? less libidinous?) rather than focusing on food as an end in itself. Your body was not designed for three meals a day, but rather a state of what Westerners today would call semi-starvation.

Warning: when I've overdone it, the crash has come pretty quickly. Keep food at hand, especially fats (I prefer cheese and chocolate for emergency calories).

Oh yeah: make sure you drink enough! That's much more worrisome than not eating enough.
posted by Aknaton at 8:29 AM on November 4, 2005

Even if you're not 'feeling' depressed, you could still be manifesting symptoms of depression, and loss of appetite is a major indicator. See your physician AND your psychologist/psychiatrist.
Good luck to you.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2005

There's a difference between 'not being hungry' and 'being hungry but ignoring it'... sounds like you're experiencing the latter.

I do this too. Sometimes its helpful to try to set a time (i.e. lunchtime) to stop every day and take a quick read on what you're feeling... be it hungry, sad, tired, whatever... it brings the sensation more into your conscious mind, which will probably say "eat something, fool!" in which case you can get a snack or a meal or whatever.

posted by softlord at 12:04 PM on November 4, 2005

i've had some stomach troubles recently that prevent me from eating much some days. i find that if i don't eat much on a given day, i may feel terribly hungry all day, but the *next* day, i don't feel hungry at all, even though it's been longer since the last time i ate. i've been working under the assumption that my brain acclimates to a lack of food after a day or so and stops nagging me to eat, but i don't really know. also, like another poster, my appetite tends to go in cycles.
posted by clarahamster at 2:05 PM on November 4, 2005

I do what scody does to keep myself fed. Cured chorizo, cheese, bread, and olives are often my dinner, too.
posted by desuetude at 7:40 PM on November 4, 2005

Eat a light breakfast of rice or rice porridge. Sometimes in the morning I don't eat because my stomach is basically intimidated by food. Rice is light enough to be ok, and gets my stomach thinking about what it wants for lunch.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:27 PM on November 4, 2005

I have little to no appetite a lot of the time and haven't for year and it doesn't bother me, I do fine, play lots of sports, do lots of exercise and am healthy. I have been the same weight since I was 18 years old +/- 10lbs. The only thing I try to do is avoid processed or prepared foods and eat organic and lots of fruti and veg to maximise nutrition. On a typical day I might eat one big meal (stir fry or fish/ veggies or at a restaurant) and some snacks: cheese, bread, fruit, nuts etc.

Other days I'm starving and devour everything in sight, so I think it's just a natural variation for me.
posted by fshgrl at 9:32 PM on November 4, 2005

Eating one meal a day may be enough food, but it may not be the right kind of food spread out in an optimal way. If I don't eat anything in the evening, I feel like crap when I wake up. If I don't eat anything in the morning, I crash after about an hour of wakefulness. I typically leave half my plate full at restaurants and am considered a light eater. But that doesn't mean 1 burger at lunch is going to sustain me.

Try keeping healthy snacks around. Unroasted nuts. Edamame. Olives. Supplement that one meal with some protein throughout the day.
posted by scarabic at 12:02 PM on November 5, 2005

Depression isn't the only cause of this type of behavior. I once went through a stage of forgetting to eat when I was manic. Deep into the day I'd feel light headed and weak and only then realize I hadn't eaten. I coped with it by carrying around toasted edamame and drinking protein shakes.
posted by furvyn at 2:48 PM on November 5, 2005

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