Help for Unexpected Weight Loss

Foods to increase your appetite if you have unexpected weight loss.
Nibbling at small savory dishes may help you gain some weight back. Yadid Levy/Getty Images

Sudden or unexpected weight loss can happen for a variety of reasons even though you're not actively trying to lose weight. Sometimes it's due to a change in eating habits caused by a stressful situation. Usually, your weight returns to normal once you've alleviated or adjusted to the stress. But unexpected weight loss can also be due to health conditions such as cancer, eating disorders, thyroid problems, or depression.


Losing too much weight can lead to immune system problems, loss of muscle tissue, and can also contribute to complications of some diseases. Gaining weight or preventing any further weight loss is imperative if you have a severe illness, so any dietary restrictions you've been following (like low-fat, low-carb or low-sodium) may have to go, in favor of a liberalized diet.

How to Follow a Liberalized Diet

A liberalized diet is one in which you have the freedom to choose whatever foods you want even if they're higher in fats or sugar than what is considered healthy. The idea is that if you're allowed to eat foods you enjoy, you'll have an easier time putting the weight back on. Of course, It's still important to choose nutritious foods whenever possible, so you should still work with a dietitian or nutritionist who can help you make the best choices.

Tips for Following a Liberalized Diet

  • Eat small frequent meals of your choosing (large meals might be overwhelming if you haven't been eating much).
  • Add seasonings and salt to improve the flavor of savory foods.
  • Drink flavored liquid supplements that help boost your calorie, protein, and nutrient intake.
  • Strive for several servings of fruits and vegetables every day. You can add calories by serving them with sauces and cheese.
  • Choose foods you can eat with your fingers if you're having trouble with using forks, spoons and knives.
  • If you're having a difficult time with chewing or swallowing, you can have your food mechanically altered (blended, chopped or pureed).
  • You may have certain dietary restrictions that you have to keep in place (like avoiding gluten if you have celiac disease or dairy products if you're lactose intolerant). Use alternatives to those foods if necessary.

If you've lost weight without trying, even if you don't have any health conditions you know about, you should speak to your health care provider to find out if there's a problem.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Evidence Analysis Library. "Recommendations Summary Unintended Weight Loss (UWL) in Older Adults: Diet Liberalization." Accessed April 11, 2015.

American Family Physician. "Evaluating and Treating Unintentional Weight Loss in the Elderly. Accessed April 11, 2016.

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