Ask the Expert: Mom’s Not Eating

My mom won’t eat any of the food I cook for her. She just got new teeth, and she says it’s hard to chew and she has “lost her taste” for food. I have tried cooking everything and nothing seems to appeal to her. I don’t want her to be hungry, and I’m afraid she’s not eating enough. What can I do to help her eat more if she says she doesn’t feel hungry?

The loss of appetite, change in taste/smell and subsequent weight loss can be a very real challenge and health risk, especially as a person ages. It is important to have a benchmark weight to track changes. I recommend keeping a journal or small notebook, with a normal weight and then each week or month you can document any changes. You can also keep a food log that records what she is eating. This will provide valuable insight for her primary care physician or nutritionist.

One of the first steps is to determine what might have triggered the change. You mentioned that she just got new teeth. I would schedule an appointment to make sure they fit correctly. Also check for any areas of the mouth they may be rubbing against and creating sores. If her mouth is hurting, it will be difficult to get her to eat, especially solid foods. Weight loss can greatly impact the correct fit of dentures, so continue to monitor this.

Another consideration is to ask about a swallow study, to ensure she is not having difficulty swallowing and to determine if a different consistency of food might be better for her.  Has she tried eating with her teeth out? Soft or pureed foods?  Keep track of the foods she will eat and see if there is a pattern. For example, if she will eat pudding and mashed potatoes but not meat that requires her to chew. Also note anything that triggers her to choke when eating; this could have many causes and you would want to get it evaluated. You may need to work with a speech pathologist or nutritionist to alter her diet.

Make every calorie count; if your mom is not eating as much, try to use nutrient dense foods. If she prefers ice cream for dinner, let her eat ice cream. There are powders and liquid supplements you can add to foods to increase the calorie count. Taste buds can change as we age. There can be many reasons for this from allergies to medications. You may need to over season things (but watch the salt) for her to pick up on the taste. There are also appetite stimulants you can talk to her doctor about.

Smell plays a significant role with taste and appetite as well. If her sense of smell is diminished, this will play a role. Cooking foods with pleasant aromas, can help stimulate appetite. There is also a social side to the desire to eat. Eating with other people might help. Try creating a pleasant environment and make the meal more about the experience, than her feeling hungry.

Lastly, remember that it may be a combination of factors. Keep trying different strategies and keep good notes. If her weight declines, make sure you keep her physician informed.

Ask the Expert: Mom’s Not Eating was last modified: June 21st, 2023 by Sprout Media Lab Testing