What is abnormal weight loss?

Abnormal weight loss: Overview

There are two types of weight loss—normal and abnormal. The normal kind happens when you are trying to lose weight by exercising more or eating less. The abnormal kind happens when you are not trying to lose weight.

Many medical problems can cause abnormal weight loss. These include problems with your thyroid gland, long-term infections, mouth or throat problems that make it hard to eat, and digestive problems. They also include depression and cancer. Some medicines also may cause you to lose weight.

You can work with your doctor to find the cause of your weight loss. You will probably need tests to do this.

How is unplanned weight loss treated?

If your weight loss is caused by a medical problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland, digestive problems, or depression, your doctor will treat that problem. Your doctor may also suggest a change in what you eat. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe medicines that help you gain weight.

Helping someone get enough to eat and not lose weight

COPD, heart failure, and other long-term (chronic) conditions can make it hard to eat enough and stay at a healthy weight. Losing weight can mean losing muscle mass. This can make it hard for someone to be active, to care for themself, or even to breathe.

Here are some ways to help someone stay at a healthy weight.

  • Help the person boost their appetite.

    They may have a low appetite or need some encouragement to eat regularly. To help encourage them to eat:

    • Encourage them to eat whenever they are hungry. Some people may find that they are able to eat a bigger meal in the morning. Other people may be hungrier later in the afternoon or evening.
    • Offer food more often, including snacks throughout the day.
    • Prepare a variety of foods that are easier to chew. Some examples of soft foods are mashed potatoes, shredded meats, soft fruit like bananas, or applesauce.
    • Limit foods that cause gas or indigestion. These may include vegetables such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or onions.
  • Help the person gain weight, if needed.

    You can help them add calories and protein to meals or snacks. Try these tips.

    • Use whole-fat dairy products, like whole milk, half-and-half, and whole-milk yogurt.
    • Add cheese, olive oil, butter, or mayonnaise to sandwiches, casseroles, soups, vegetables, potatoes, or pasta.
    • Serve high-calorie snacks, such as crackers topped with peanut butter, honey, or cream cheese.
    • Serve a liquid meal replacement or supplement between meals.

    If the person has other diet limitations, talk with their doctor or a registered dietitian before you make any changes to what they eat.

  • Help the person breathe easier while eating.

    If someone has a condition such as COPD, they may have a hard time breathing while eating. But there are things they can do to make it easier. Encourage them to:

    • Clear the airways about an hour before eating, and use any medicines that make breathing easier.
    • Use oxygen (if needed) while eating.
    • Drink the beverage at the end of the meal. Drinking before or during the meal can make the person fill up too quickly.
    • Try eating smaller, frequent meals each day to prevent getting too full. A full stomach can push on the muscle that helps the person breathe (their diaphragm) and make it harder to breathe.

Treating your unplanned weight loss AC

There are several things you can do to help gain back any weight you lost.

  • Talk to your doctor about what you can do to gain weight.

    Don't use expensive supplements for quick weight gain. Your doctor may suggest that you see a dietitian, who can help you make a meal plan that fits your lifestyle.

  • If your doctor says it's okay, find ways to eat more high-calorie, nutritious foods.

    These foods include:

    Put cheese on crackers or sandwiches, or add it to soups and salads. Eat string cheese as a snack.
    Dried fruits or nuts.
    Put dried fruit on cereal or in salads or yogurt. Put nuts on mashed potatoes or ice cream or in a gravy.
    Granola bars.
    Carry them with you as a snack.
    Peanut butter.
    Use it in a sandwich, or spread it on bread, bagels, bananas, or celery.

What is unplanned weight loss?

Unplanned weight loss means losing weight without trying to. It may be caused by a medical problem, so be sure to see your doctor if you are losing weight without trying. If you are losing weight because you're exercising more or eating less, that's normal weight loss.

What causes unplanned weight loss?

Lots of medical problems can cause you to lose weight without trying. These include long-term infections, digestive problems, depression, and cancer. Other causes include taking certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Abnormal weight loss: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • You continue to lose weight.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.