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About two weeks ago a dear friend of mine, with whom I speak nearly every day, who is terminally ill, told me she was ready to end it all and she had the means for committing suicide all laid out. I had to think fast, so I came up with a very clear suggestion:

"Don't do that."

To my astonishment (I had thought I would have to call for intervention, and I myself was in the hospital with a nasty infection at the time), she replied, "OK." Then it was possible to get her help in a more orderly fashion than calling the police.

I'll try a similar approach here. When you know are feeling bad because you aren't eating enough, my advice is:

"Eat something."

I don't mean to trivialize the problem, but the first step to feeling better may be simply to eat something bland, whether you want it or not. Don't eat a food you really like when you are feeling depressed (unless someone special is making it for you, and the fact that someone special is making it for you is a pick-me-up). Our brains have memories for mood and smell, and if you eat a food you really, really like when you are feeling really, really depressed, your brain will associate the food with your depression and you will lose your pleasure in eating the food.

Beyond eating something whether you feel like it or not, then it is important to do something about loss of appetite. There are myriad causes of loss of appetite. Among teens and twenty-somethings, the most common reasons for not wanting to eat are:

  • Anxiety. Youth brings lots of reasons to be anxious, and they aren't imaginary. Here you may simply have to rely on willpower. You know you need to eat to perform better, to feel better, and to meet your challenges. You make yourself eat. 
  • Medications. Many acne medications cause loss of appetite. Ask the doctor if there isn't a better treatment if you believe your acne medicine is making you lose interest in eating.
  • Street drugs. Marijuana famously brings on the munchies. (We can't really suggest that you start smoking pot. Various regulatory authorities get upset about that.) Meth, on the other hand, causes severe loss of appetite. Diet drugs, many of which either are methamphetamine or are chemically related to methamphetamine, have the same effect. You don't necessarily lose weight and keep it off if you lose weight by starving, even if you are losing weight intentionally.
  • Boring food. College students in the United States typically have very tight food budgets. While bland food is what you want to eat if you are famished and you feel awful but you don't want to eat right now, bland food at every meal isn't a good idea. Every meal needs to have something sweet, something savory, something tart, and something salty. If you are on a ramen noodles budget, that doesn't mean crumble up Pop Tarts into your noodle soup. Spend just a few cents more to buy a lemon, and squeeze lemon juice on everything on which it is appropriate (which includes ramen noodles). The tart taste wakes up your taste buds. Don't avoid salt. Many college students haven't spent an extra dollar on a salt shaker. However, a little salt on your food stimulates salivation. This enables you taste all the flavors in your food. That's why there is salt in so many recipes. It isn't about the salty taste, it's about all the other flavors you can detect better with the help of salt.

There are long lists of both innocuous and dire medical conditions thtat can cause loss of appetite. Chances are you don't have them. Before you run off to the clinic, try the salt shaker. I hate to sound like a Jewish grandmother, but eat something already!

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