We all need food to survive and most of us enjoy it too, but sometimes, we're too sad, scared, or angry to eat, and that's what this trope is.
If they're sad, maybe they're grieving or getting over a bad breakup, but they could also have just had a bad day. Likewise, if they're afraid, their fear could be crippling anxiety or a response to a serious threat, but it's just as likely to be a mild thing like Performance Anxiety.
Whatever the reason, they just can't bring themselves to eat much, if at all. This can lead to someone immediately noticing that something is amiss if the person usually loves to eat or loves the food in particular, and in these cases, the person will either lie and say, "I'm just not hungry", "I'm just tired" (followed by going to bed), or "I think I'm coming down with something" or open up.
Opening up will usually lead to the other person giving them a pep talk (which might also happen if they lie and the person doesn't believe it, prompting a line such as "Come on— I know something's bothering you. Spill."), and/or the person whose appetite was gone going on a long, angry rant. The emotional non-eater might also be mistaken for being unwell by a character who thinks Appetite = Health. Another variation is for someone to offer a sad character some Comfort Food, only for the character to turn it down.
Quite often the character's behaviour depends on their emotion: scared characters often pick at their food or eat it slowly, sad characters do either of those or push it away, and angry characters will often angrily play with it before pounding their utensil into it, throwing it, or similar.
There is a grain of truth to this trope: nervousness does indeed tend to cause a loss of appetite (although not in all cases, in fact some people's appetite actually increases when they're afraid) and if the fear/sadness/anger is keeping someone preoccupied, they may simply be too distracted to eat. Loss of appetite related to sadness is less common though and when it does happen it's usually connected to a psychological trauma such as grief or depression (though loss of appetite connected to ordinary sadness isn't unheard of) and loss of appetite related to anger is even rarer.
Compare Lost My Appetite and its sub-trope Put Off Their Food where the loss of appetite is due to simple disgust, Does Not Like Spam where they'd never eat that food anyway, Too Upset to Create for another instance of not doing something due to a low mood, I'm Not Hungry for when they actually are hungry but are choosing not to eat in protest, and Forgets to Eat for when they're simply distracted. Contrast Heartbreak and Ice Cream, Post-Stress Overeating, and Inappropriate Hunger. In extreme cases, it might lead to Death by Despair.
Note: When adding examples, remember that "depressed" doesn't just mean "sad"; depression is a psychological condition.
- In episode 46 of Inazuma Eleven, Endou became depressed due to blaming himself for Fubuki's injury and Kazemaru leaving the team. When when Aki tries to give him a plate of rice balls, Endou refuses to eat.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, Tsukiyama, a ghoul known as "The Gourmet", becomes so depressed after Kaneki's apparent death that he refuses to eat anything, wasting away to a skeleton in the process. It takes the news that Kaneki is alive to snap him out of his depression and begin eating again.
- Happens to Gluttony in the 2003 anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist, after the death of his Platonic Life Partner, Lust. Given that Gluttony lives to eat, it's a clear sign that his grief is getting to him. His creator fixes that by erasing his mind.
- In a 1960s Peanuts arc, after Lucy buried Linus' blanket, he lamented that all the food tasted too sour to eat.
- In The Lorax, the Once-ler tries to cheer up Pipsqueak with a marshmallow after he's sad about being forced to leave home. Pipsqueak rejects it.
- Following her breakup in Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel is shown apparently too despondent to eat, even when brought food. She gets better.
- In one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies, Greg feels guilty about not owning up when Rowley gets punished for something he (Greg) did because Greg was wearing Rowley's coat. His mother Susan observes that he hasn't "badgered [her] for any snacks" and asks if he's OK.
- Referenced in The Goonies. After Troy's father and his lawyer drop off the papers for the foreclosure on the Walsh house, Chunk says, "I think I lost my appetite." Subverted a minute later when he's seen spraying a can of whipped cream into his mouth.
- In Les Fugitifs, Jeanne refuses to eat after getting separated from her father and placed into an orphanage.
- Played with in Thor: there's a scene where Thor's friends are worrying about the dire straits Asgard is in, and one of them points out that Big Eater Volstagg's appetite hasn't been affected, obliging him to assure them that that doesn't mean he's not just as worried as the rest of them.
"Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!"
- In Anne of Green Gables, Anne often declares she doesn't want to eat when she is in despair.
- In Armada, Zack refuses to partake in the pre-battle feast with his comrades because he feels that if he's going to die, he wants his last meal to be the breakfast that his mother made for him that morning.
- In Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, after Beauty's father loses his fortune, Beauty and her sister Hope need to take turns persuading him and their eldest sister Grace to eat. The father's despair is over the financial disaster, while Grace's is because her sailor fiancé was presumably drowned in the same storm that wrecked their ships.
- In Charlotte's Web, when rain prevents Fern from paying her usual visit to Wilbur and none of the other barn animals want to play with him, Wilbur feels too sad and lonely to eat his slops. The humans worry that he might be sick and give him a tonic of sulphur and molasses, which only makes him more miserable.
- In Danny, the Champion of the World, Danny and his father are too afraid to eat their food because they plan to poach a whole lot of pheasants the next day. Downplayed though as they're not really unhappy, they're excited as well as afraid.
- In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book "Dog Days", Greg's fish dies, leaving him "bummed out", so he picks at his food over brunch.
- in Elsie Dinsmore, Elsie is punished by her father for freeing a hummingbird he trapped in a jar. When she's sent to her room with one of her hands tied up, she's extremely upset. Later, he tries to get her to come down and eat dinner, but she's too sad to do so. Instead of understanding the problem and giving her her space, Horace forces her to eat, thinking she's being willfully disobedient and naughty (Which she isn't, but her father is too much of a stern authoritarian Jerkass to believe otherwise, even when he's told by others she's not like that), scolding her for sulking about the punishment.
- The Fault in Our Stars: At the beginning, Hazel barely eats due to depression over her terminal cancer. Later, she also does this while grieving Augustus's death.
- In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean stops eating after he's separated from his adopted daughter Cosette. It's ambiguous whether sheer despair or starvation is what causes his death in the end.
- In Madeline In London, Pepito is so unhappy about having to move to London and leave his Paris friends behind that he just picks at his food and loses weight until he looks like a stick. This is what makes his parents invite Miss Clavel and the girls to London for a visit.
- In the Mog book "Mog and the V-E-T", Mog doesn't want her food because she's too sad about the pain from her splinter. Truth in Television as cats are often off their food when they're injured.
- In Murder On The Links, Madame Renauld is deeply shocked and sinks into grief after her husband's murder and doesn't want to eat.
- Discussed in Thrymskvidha, one of the standalone songs of Poetic Edda. Freyja's maidservant tells the giant Thrymr that Freyja was so anxious to get to Jotunheim and marry Thrymr that she hasn't eaten for several days, that's why she eats so much at the wedding feast. The truth, however, is that Thor is disguised as Freyja and Loki as the maidservant.
- Subverted in Ruslan and Lyudmila by Alexander Pushkin. When Lyudmila is kidnapped by Chernomor who then presents her with a lavish feast, she says a long monologue that she'd rather die than take his gifts, thinks a while, and starts eating.
- Played straight in the opera based on the poem, where Lyudmila does adamantly refuse any of Chernomor's gifts until she gets rescued.
- In Stuart Little, when Stuart goes missing, the rest of the Littles don't enjoy their stew.
- In There Lived an Old Lady Who Wore Green Boots by Yulia Voznesenskaya, Natasha tries it after her boyfriend dies, she says, while actually he has simply insulted her so deeply that she decides he is dead to her. Her grandmother gently talks her out of it, citing her own experience with grief and reminding Natasha starvation can do her growing body no good.
- In The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst, the little boy narrator won't eat his chicken on the night after his cat Barney dies.
- In Wuthering Heights, Catherine Earnshaw Linton locks herself in her bedroom and refuses to eat for days after a fight between her lover Heathcliff and husband Edgar. This is partly out of genuine despair and partly a deliberate choice to make Heathcliff and Edgar feel guilty.
Joey: Mornin' Pheebs. Well, my movie has officially been canceled.Phoebe: Oh Joey, I'm so sorry. You want some of my breakfast?Joey: Nah, I'm too depressed to eat. I'll probably eat in like 5 minutes.Five minutes later...Joey: Where is the waitress? I'm starving!
- Played with in the episode "The One After Vegas". Big Eater Joey has just heard bad news about the movie where he was supposed to play the lead. At the hotel breakfast buffet...
- There's an example in "The One Where Chandler Takes A Bath." Joey is struggling with his (to him) inappropriate feelings for Rachel, so he's a bit dejected. He goes to Chandler for advice...
Joey: (entering) Hey, Chandler, you got a minute? I-I really need to talk to you.Chandler: Oh! Uh, yeah! Is this a cold pizza talk or a leftover meatloaf talk?Joey: Well, neither.Chandler: Oh my God, what's up?
- In the Halt and Catch Fire episode "Goodwill", Joe spends a day in a deep depression over Gordon's death, and snaps at Bos when the latter tries to offer him some food.
- In episode 3 of Horatio Hornblower, Archie becomes so depressed about his prolonged captivity in El Ferrol that he stops eating. Horatio has to nurse him back to health when this nearly kills him.
- In the miniseries based on Going Postal, Moist discovers that one of his large-scale cons caused the ruin of his beloved Adora's family. He is so struck with guilt and remorse that, when he meets Adora in a restaurant, he admits he can't think about food.
- In Prehistoric Park, Martha the mammoth loses her appetite after she's brought to the park. The zookeepers first assume they're feeding her the wrong kind of plants, but then they realize she's sad because she's a herd animal kept in solitary confinement. They introduce her to a herd of African elephants, which brings her appetite back.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark goes to stay with his mother because he's in a funk and he claims he's too sad to want his dinner. Later, after the Grand Nagus breaks up with his mother, she's too sad to want her dinner.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Imaginary Friend", Troi feels guilty about trying to wean a little girl off her imaginary friend, so she doesn't want her cake.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Extreme Risk", B'Elanna is going through psychological trauma as a result of the fact that everyone in an organisation she used to work for have been imprisoned or killed. When Neelix offers her banana pancakes, she doesn't want them.
- In an episode of Worzel Gummidge, Aunt Sally gets fired and when Worzel offers her acorns to eat, she says, "I don't want acorns. I don't want anything. I'm so miserable!".
- In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode, "So Long Sucker", Tails adopts an alien creature from another dimension as a pet, naming him Goobster. At the end of the episode, Sonic reunites Goobster with his parents, and Tails tearfully waves goodbye to him. To cheer Tails up, Sonic offers to take Tails to lunch, but Tails tells him he isn't hungry. Sonic then tells Tails that after lunch, he'll get him another pet (but not an alien this time).
- The Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers episode "Love Is A Many Splintered Thing" has the Rangers battle with a group of thieves at the start. Afterwards, Monterey Jack is upset about something to the point where he even refuses to eat cheese. It turns out it's because he smelled his former girlfriend's perfume during the battle.
- In The Legend of Korra, when Korra goes home to recuperate after being poisoned by Zaheer, and is struggling with PTSD, her mother mentions that she's barely eaten in the weeks since she arrived.
- In the Little Princess episode "I Didn't Do It", Scruff is sad about having to stay in his kennel and Princess tries to cheer him up by feeding him chicken, which he doesn't want.
- The Loud House:
- In the episode "The Crying Dame", Lily is very sad because she misses her favourite toy, so when her big sister Leni tries to feed her, she just pushes the food away.
- Played with in "House of Lies". Lisa installs lie-detecting cameras around the house to try to reduce the family's habit of lying to each other. When everyone finds out the truth about each other, Lynn Jr. leaves the table with her bowl of cerealnote , claiming she lost her appetite. One of the cameras tells Lynn Jr. she's lying and that she still has her appetite.
- In Madeline in London, as in the book, Pepito is so depressed about having to move to London and leave Madeline and friends behind that he barely eats until his parents arrange for Miss Clavel and the girls to come and visit.
- In Madeline and the Toy Factory, the morning after Madeline's adventure pretending to be a doll in little crippled girl Giselle's house, neither Giselle nor Madeline will eat their breakfast. Giselle is too sad about the loss of her wonderful "doll," while Madeline feels too guilty about having tricked her.
- Referenced briefly in The Simpsons in Flaming Moes when Homer is sad over Moe's success after taking his drink idea.
Marge, I'm too upset to eat. I think I'll go to Moe's. ...D'oh!
- Many people with anxiety report some degree of loss of appetite. People with social anxiety might feel self-conscious about being seen eating as well.
- Even without anxiety disorders, it's also common to not feel hungry when nervous.
- People with severe depression will often not eat, sometimes for days at a time.