Reasons You Could Have No Appetite and Feel Sick

A loss of appetite means that you no longer feel hungry or have the desire to eat as you normally do. The medical term for this is anorexia, which can be a symptom of a wide range of conditions, some physical and some psychological.

As we age, loss of appetite becomes more common. Also, certain medications may contribute to a lack of hunger. Frequently, nausea will accompany a loss of appetite.

This article will examine some possible explanations for feeling sick or nauseated and having little to no appetite and treatment options to help.

Someone throwing pizza into the garbage.

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Why Appetite Loss and Nausea Occur Together

Appetite is regulated by a complex system of interactions in the body involving several hormones and signaling pathways. The central nervous system (CNS) regulates hunger and fullness and responds to internal and external signals that indicate hunger.

Hormones, including leptin, ghrelin, insulin, peptide YY (PYY), and glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), are key players in controlling appetite and letting your body know when you are hungry or full.

In certain conditions that cause inflammation, such as infection, cancer, stress, and others, these signals get disrupted or blocked, leading to anorexia, or loss of appetite. However, inflammation is not the only cause of suppressed appetite.

In many cases, nausea—a feeling of queasiness, stomach upset, and sickness that may or may not be accompanied by vomiting—can lead to a low appetite. For some people experiencing nausea, the thought of food or eating may increase feelings of sickness.

Possible Causes of Suppressed Appetite With Nausea

There are many possible causes of low appetite and nausea. These include physical illness, psychological issues, food intolerance, medications, intense exercise, and aging. 


Certain bacterial or viral infections can cause nausea and/or a loss of appetite. These infections may be contagious diseases, such as the flu or COVID-19, or food-borne illnesses, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli). Some common infections that can cause nausea and a loss of appetite include:

Medical Conditions

Other medical conditions can also cause appetite loss and nausea. These may either be chronic illnesses that require lifelong management or acute conditions that resolve with proper treatment. Some medical conditions that may be causing your nausea and appetite loss include:


Certain cancers, especially those located in the abdominal area, can cause anorexia and nausea. If you suspect your symptoms may be linked to cancer, talk to your healthcare provider for a complete evaluation and diagnosis. Types of cancer that frequently cause nausea and appetite loss include:

Food Intolerance

Food allergies and intolerances can make you feel nauseated and lead to a loss of appetite. Avoiding the food or ingredient you are allergic or intolerant to helps relieve symptoms. Some food intolerances include:

Psychological Conditions

Loss of appetite and nausea can often be caused by mental and psychological conditions, not just physical ones. Stress, anxiety, grief, and depression are often to blame for lack of hunger and feeling sick.

In addition, eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa (extreme reduction in caloric intake to prevent weight gain) and bulimia nervosa (bingeing and purging to prevent weight gain), can also contribute to these feelings.


Many types of medications may list anorexia and nausea as side effects. You may also experience other gastrointestinal (GI) side effects, such as constipation or diarrhea. Some medications that can cause nausea and loss of appetite include:


Many people experience a loss of appetite as they age. This may or may not be accompanied by nausea. There are several reasons this may occur. Physiological changes, such as changes to the digestive system, hormonal shifts, taste and smell alterations, and decreased energy needs, may play a role.

Psychosocial factors may also cause anorexia in older people, such as feelings of depression, isolation, and dementia. Additionally, older individuals tend to be on more medications that may contribute to low appetite and nausea.


Long periods of intensive exercise may contribute to appetite loss and nausea. Studies have shown that extended periods of activity can suppress ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone.

Additionally, exercising in certain conditions, such as in the heat, can lead to dehydration, which can also cause nausea and appetite loss.

If you are constantly feeling sick and not hungry after exercise, talk to your healthcare provider or a sports dietitian to figure out how to adjust your activity levels and nutrition strategies.

Integrated Treatment Options

There are many ways to tackle a suppressed appetite and feelings of nausea. Sometimes dietary and lifestyle changes are enough to help stimulate appetite and reduce nausea, but certain medications can also help relieve these symptoms.

Diet and Herbs

Sometimes, dietary changes can help resolve the loss of appetite and nausea. Here are some nutrition tips for managing a lack of appetite and feeling sick:

  • Notice times of day when you feel more hungry and try to eat what you can when your appetite is good.
  • Stick to five or six smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals.
  • Keep easy snacks around for whenever you may feel hungry.
  • Try calorie and protein-rich beverages, like smoothies, shakes, and oral nutrition supplements, like Ensure.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian for more personalized nutrition advice.

Certain herbs and spices have been shown to reduce nausea in some individuals. If your nausea is contributing to a loss of appetite, these herbal remedies may help you feel better:

  • Citrus 
  • Ginger
  • Peppermint

Stress Management

If you are experiencing nausea and low appetite due to stress, you are not alone. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) and counseling can be effective ways to help manage stress, anxiety, depression, grief, eating disorders, or other psychological issues that may be affecting your appetite.

Finding different ways to manage stress, such as practicing self-care, talking to a trusted friend or family member, or journaling, may also help reduce your symptoms. 


Movement can be an excellent tool in increasing appetite and reducing nausea. Physical activity can improve your metabolic rate and aid in digestion, leading to increased hunger and decreased feelings of nausea and indigestion. Try going for a 20-minute walk before your meal to help stimulate your appetite and feel less sick.


If your loss of appetite and nausea are chronic and cannot be managed in other ways, some medications can stimulate appetite, reduce nausea, or help manage depression and anxiety that may contribute to your symptoms. These medications include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Marinol, Syndros (dronabinol) (appetite stimulant)
  • Steroids
  • Zofran, Zofran ODT, Zuplenz (ondansetron) (anti-nausea medication)

Are Loss of Appetite and Nausea an Emergency?

While appetite loss and nausea could be signs of something more serious, the symptoms are not an emergency. If your symptoms are caused by a common illness, food poisoning, or stress, your appetite will likely come back, and nausea will resolve once the underlying issue is addressed.

However, if your anorexia and nausea persist and you are unintentionally losing weight, feeling weak or fatigued, vomiting, or fainting from lack of nutrition, this could signify a more serious issue.

For more vulnerable populations, such as people with cancer and older individuals, loss of appetite could contribute to malnutrition. This can lead to serious health consequences, increased hospitalization risk, and poor health outcomes.


Having no appetite and feeling nauseated can be caused by various physical and psychological conditions, including infections and viruses, food poisoning, food intolerances or allergies, certain cancers, anxiety, or depression. Stress, intense exercise, and factors associated with aging may also affect appetite. Certain medications or treatments, especially those for cancer, may have side effects of suppressed hunger and nausea.

There are many approaches to treating a low appetite and nausea, from diet and lifestyle changes to medication. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine which treatments work best for your situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does COVID-19 cause appetite loss and nausea?

    Yes, COVID-19 can cause a loss of appetite and feelings of nausea. While these are not the most common symptoms, low appetite and nausea leading to weight loss and other adverse health consequences have been reported in COVID-19 patients.

  • What are the best foods for a suppressed appetite?

    If you are experiencing a loss of appetite, try starting with your favorite foods. Bland foods like plain pasta, rice, crackers, and applesauce may also appeal more. If you can, try adding more nutrient-dense foods, like peanut butter or protein powder, to smoothies or shakes. 

  • Why am I full after I start eating?

    There may be many reasons you feel full right as you start to eat. Infection, medical conditions, food intolerances, stress, medications, or other factors may cause low appetite. Talk to your healthcare provider if you consistently feel full as soon as you start eating.

  • Should you force yourself to eat?

    You don’t want to force yourself to eat so much that it causes intense discomfort or symptoms like vomiting. However, in many situations, it is essential to keep nourishing yourself even if you do not feel hungry, especially when you have increased nutritional needs, such as healing from sickness or injury or supporting a pregnancy. Trying smaller, more frequent meals may help.

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By Rebecca Valdez, MS, RDN
Rebecca Valdez is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant, passionate about food justice, equity, and sustainability.