Appetite Loss During Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and Advice
Many women experience appetite loss during pregnancy.
You may occasionally find food unappealing, or you may feel hungry but can’t bring yourself to eat.
If you’re dealing with these symptoms, you may want to know possible reasons for your appetite loss, tips for treating it, and when to see a health professional.
This article explains all you need to know about appetite loss during pregnancy.
It’s normal for your appetite to fluctuate, especially as your body undergoes numerous changes during pregnancy.
If you lose your appetite, you may experience a general disinterest in all foods or a lack of desire to eat. Keep in mind that appetite loss differs from an aversion to a few specific foods, which is also fairly common during pregnancy.
Several factors may cause appetite loss during pregnancy, such as the following.
Nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester — though some women may experience these symptoms throughout their pregnancy (1).
Both mild and extreme cases of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can significantly affect food intake and appetite.
Research has shown that fluctuations in the hormones leptin and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) during pregnancy may lead to decreased appetite and more nausea and vomiting (2).
A study in 2,270 pregnant women demonstrated that among women with moderate or severe nausea and vomiting, 42% and 70% reported a reduced level of food intake in early pregnancy, respectively (3).
If you’re experiencing appetite loss due to nausea and vomiting, try to avoid fatty or spicy foods, drink fluids separately from your meals, and eat small, more frequent meals.
You may more easily tolerate dry, salty snacks like pretzels and crackers, as well as bland foods like baked chicken breast.
However, you may need to see a health professional if you experience more serious cases of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
Mental health conditions
Various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, may affect your appetite.
In fact, pregnant women may be more prone to mental health issues due to various physical and biochemical changes. In particular, depression may lead to altered eating habits, including decreased appetite and a reduced intake of nutrient-dense foods (4, 5).
In a study in 94 pregnant women, 51% of those diagnosed with depression had poor dietary intake, which increased to 71% after 6 months (6).
What’s more, depression during pregnancy is linked to a decreased appetite for healthy foods, an increased appetite for unhealthy foods, and lower intakes of important nutrients like folate, fatty acids, iron, and zinc. This may negatively affect fetal and maternal health (7).
Mental health disorders commonly go undiagnosed during pregnancy due to the shame that some pregnant women feel talking about them. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s important to consult a trusted health professional.
Certain medications that are safe to use during pregnancy may cause side effects like decreased appetite.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and Prozac are sometimes prescribed to pregnant women diagnosed with depression or anxiety (8).
SSRIs can cause decreased appetite. In fact, some pregnant women have reported a complete loss of appetite, early fullness, and weight loss after starting fluoxetine (Prozac) for depression (9, 10).
Olanzapine and buprenorphine are other drugs that may lead to decreased appetite (11, 12).
Some pregnant women may experience eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Experts estimate that the prevalence of disordered eating in pregnant women is 0.6–27.8% (13).
Disordered eating can lead to changes in appetite, a phobia of weight gain, and decreased food intake (14, 15).
If you’re pregnant and have an eating disorder, ask your healthcare provider for treatment options.
Other potential causes
Pregnant women may also experience appetite loss due to medical conditions like tumors, delayed stomach emptying, heartburn, and Addison’s disease (16, 17, 18, 19).
Furthermore, high levels of stress may affect maternal health and cause a loss of appetite (20).
Additionally, pregnancy-related changes to taste and smell, nutrient deficiencies in vitamin B12 and iron, and general discomfort from carrying a baby may cause appetite loss in some pregnant women (21, 22, 23, 24, 25).
Nausea and vomiting are some of the most common causes of appetite loss during pregnancy, though there are numerous other factors.
If you’re experiencing appetite loss, you may wonder how to get your eating back on track.
Foods to prioritize
There are a few foods you can prioritize even if you feel you can’t eat whole meals. These will help ensure adequate nutrient intake for you and your baby.
Many of the following foods are simple to make, small in portion size, filling, and easy on your stomach.
Protein-rich snacks: hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, roasted chickpeas, cheese and crackers, and sliced chicken, turkey, or ham served cold
Bland, fiber-packed veggies: sweet potatoes, green beans, baby carrots (steamed or raw), and raw spinach salad
Sweet, simple bites: fresh berries, oatmeal, dried fruit, and cold dairy products like plain cottage cheese
Bland grains/starches: quinoa, brown rice, pasta, macaroni and cheese, and baked or mashed potato
Soup: chicken noodle soup and chicken rice soup
Liquids: simple broths and healthy smoothies
If your appetite loss is linked to nausea or vomiting, try eating small, more frequent meals, avoiding spicy and fatty foods, and supplementing with ginger and thiamine. If acupuncture is an option for you, it may also help (26).
Severe nausea and vomiting may require different treatment methods, including medications and intravenous (IV) fluids (27).
If you have nutrient deficiencies linked to appetite loss, you may need high-dose supplements to restore normal levels. Any supplements should be prescribed and monitored by a medical professional (24, 25).
You can also consult your healthcare provider for individualized treatment.
If you’re experiencing appetite loss during pregnancy, you should prioritize bland, filling foods that are rich in nutrients.
If you’re experiencing occasional appetite loss or a loss of appetite for specific foods, there’s usually no need to worry as long as you’re consuming enough nutrients on a daily basis.
For example, if you’re eating nutrient-dense meals consistently and your weight gain is appropriate to promote fetal growth, occasional appetite loss should not be a concern.
Additionally, some pregnant women may lose their appetite for specific foods, including highly fragrant foods and meat. Yet, this is a relatively common occurrence and not typically a cause for concern.
However, if you’re regularly skipping meals or lose your appetite for more than a day, you should contact your healthcare provider for advice.
This is because it’s crucial to get enough nutrients to support your health, as well as the health of your growing baby.
Potential complications related to poor intake during pregnancy
Undernutrition can lead to many pregnancy-related complications, including poor fetal growth, low birth weight, and maternal weight loss. It’s also associated with lower mental function and behavioral problems in children (29, 30, 31).
Both macronutrients and micronutrients are essential to sustain a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnant women with chronically poor appetites run a risk of anemia, fetal growth abnormalities, and preterm birth (32, 33).
Chronic appetite loss during pregnancy can lead to undernutrition, which can cause many adverse health effects in both you and your baby.
As your body adjusts to pregnancy, you may find certain foods unappealing or experience a loss of appetite. Sometimes, you can’t bring yourself to eat even if you’re hungry.
Keep in mind that appetite loss is fairly common and often linked to other symptoms like nausea and vomiting. You may find that your appetite fluctuates, which is perfectly normal.
If you lose your appetite but still feel hungry, you can try eating small servings of bland, simple foods that are filling, rich in nutrients, and easy on your stomach.
If you experience chronic or long-lasting appetite loss, consult a health professional.
Appetite changes and food aversions during pregnancy
Appetite changes and food aversions during pregnancy | Pregnancy Birth and Baby beginning of content
Appetite changes are very common during pregnancy and may affect weight changes.
A food aversion is an intense dislike of a specific food, together with unpleasant physical symptoms when you see or smell a particular food.
Eating for 2 during pregnancy is a myth. It is the quality not quantity of food that matters.
When you are pregnant, your body needs certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients, including iron, folate and iodine.
If your nausea prevents you from getting enough nutrition, or if you are vomiting, not able to keep food or fluids down or losing weight, see your doctor or maternal health nurse.
What are food aversions, and why does appetite change during pregnancy?
A food aversion is an intense dislike of a specific food, together with unpleasant physical symptoms when you see or smell a particular food. These reactions are usually triggered by emotions associated with food rather than the food itself. You might also experience food cravings (an intense urge to eat a specific food). While these appetite changes are quite common, they can make healthy eating during pregnancy a challenge.
Is it normal for my appetite to change during pregnancy?
It is normal to experience either a loss of appetite or a change in food preferences during pregnancy. This may play a part in how much your weight changes during pregnancy.
Food aversions are common, and around 6 in 10 people experience a food aversion while pregnant.
When are food aversions likely to start and end?
You can experience food aversions resulting from generalised nausea (also known as 'morning sickness') at any time of day, and it tends to peak between week 6 and week 14 of pregnancy.
For this reason, if you've gone off certain foods that are important for your diet, you can try again later in your pregnancy to see if the aversion has passed. If your nausea prevents you from getting enough nutrition, or you are vomiting, not able to keep food or fluids down or losing weight, it's time to see your doctor.
What food aversions are common?
Common food aversions include:
coffee / tea
What causes food aversions?
While the cause of food aversions during pregnancy isn't clear, hormonal changes could affect the food you enjoy, particularly early in your pregnancy. For example, human gonadotropin (also known as hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. It can cause feelings of nausea, appetite changes and food aversion. Pregnancy can also cause a greater sensitivity to smell and taste, which can influence the foods you prefer to eat.
More research is needed to better understand why food cravings and aversions occur. Some reasons may include hormonal balance or protecting the unborn baby from harmful substances and/or nutritional deficiencies. This is to encourage good nutrition and growth in the pregnancy.
How can I eat well and have a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is important for both you and your baby. Eating for 2 during pregnancy is a myth. It is the quality not quantity of food that matters, and there is no need to eat twice as much. It is the quality not the quantity of food that matters most. Your diet should include a variety of the five food groups:
vegetables and legumes
breads and cereals
milk, yoghurt and cheese
meat, poultry, fish and alternatives
During pregnancy, your body also needs plenty of water (8 to 10 glasses each day). You will also need extra vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to help your baby develop, including these:
Folate (Folic acid) helps build your baby’s brain cells and prevents risk of the baby being born with a birth defect of the brain and/or spinal cord. This is especially important in the early stages of pregnancy. Folate-rich foods include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, oranges, avocado, or fortified breads and cereals.
Iodine is also important for your baby’s growth and development. Choose foods that are sources of iodine, such as low-fat milk products, eggs, cooked fish and seafood. Foods that contain seaweed, such as sushi, are also a good source of iodine, but if you’re pregnant only eat sushi without raw fish, cold meat or egg, and that is freshly prepared. If you add salt to your food or in cooking, choose iodised salt. If you have a thyroid condition, seek advice from your doctor before taking an iodine supplement.
Iron-rich foods are recommended during pregnancy. These include red meat, poultry, tofu, and iron-fortified cereals. Eating foods high in vitamin C such as oranges, kiwi fruit, capsicum and broccoli can help iron absorption. Do not take an iron supplement during pregnancy without first checking with your doctor. Too much iron can pose health risks to you and your baby. A blood test will help your doctor know if you need to take iron tablets.
If you develop an aversion to meat or another essential food, consider how you might substitute these for alternatives. For example, substitute meat for nuts.
It is also important to limit foods containing:
saturated fats (biscuits, cakes, pies, butter and cream)
added salt (processed meats, pickled fish, fast foods)
added sugars (confectionary, sugar sweetened soft drinks, fruit juice and cordial)
Alcohol is not safe for developing babies, and not drinking alcohol is the safest option while you’re pregnant.
There are also certain foods you should avoid during pregnancy, so ask your doctor or maternal health nurse for more information.
Appetite changes during pregnancy are unlikely to harm you or your baby or significantly compromise your nutrition. If you are not sure which foods are most important for your diet, or you have no appetite for foods containing important nutrients, seek advice.
More information on changes in appetite
For more advice on food aversions or appetite loss in pregnancy speak to your:
accredited practising dietitian
Epworth Hospital (Ask an Epworth midwife Your guide to early pregnancy), Royal Women Hospital Melbourne (Common concerns in early pregnancy), Queensland Health (During pregnancy), ACT Government (Good Nutrition in pregnancy), Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (Food Intolerance), University of Queensland (What the health: Why do women crave certain foods when they are pregnant), Australian Government (Healthy eating during your pregnancy), Science and Education Publishing (Psychological Factors in Food Aversions, Nausea, and Vomiting During Pregnancy), National Health and Medical Research Council (Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol)
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: July 2022
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Nutrition of a pregnant woman
So, your plans and decisions to give birth to a child have come true - you are pregnant! But this news causes you a double feeling: - on the one hand, a feeling of joy, and on the other hand, a feeling of certain fear and even fear of unknown trials for your life and the fate of the unborn baby. What will he be like? - healthy, beautiful, happy?...
And this largely depends on the woman herself, on what lifestyle she will lead during pregnancy and, most importantly, how she will eat.
Nutrition of a woman in different periods of pregnancy
The main thing in the menu of a future mother is variety. She should consume foods from all food groups: meat, fish, vegetables and fruits, dairy products, bread and cereals.
A woman's nutrition during pregnancy can be roughly divided into three periods (trimesters).
If before pregnancy a woman ate normally, felt comfortable, did not experience allergies to any products, then it is not worth changing her diet at an early stage of the first trimester of pregnancy.
During this period, all organs and systems in the child's body are formed, tissues are formed. The body needs complete proteins and vitamins: lean meat (rabbit, chicken, turkey), fish and seafood, dairy products. Be sure to eat rice, fresh or frozen vegetables, seasonal fruits. In the first trimester, many expectant mothers are still working. No matter how difficult it is to control your diet in the workplace, you need to do it - find time for a full breakfast and lunch.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, there is an active restructuring of the body and adaptation to a new state. During this period, it is recommended to switch to a low-calorie diet, which includes more fruits, juices, decoctions of dried fruits, including rose hips. At the very beginning of pregnancy, especially if toxicosis torments, more frequent, but less plentiful meals are recommended.
Always keep a hematogen, a bag of nuts or dried fruit in your pocket to have a snack on the street. If your condition does not allow you to eat regular food, you should pay attention to baby food. Baby products literally save expectant mothers suffering from severe toxicosis. These are boxed cereals, children's curds, cookies and fruit purees.
In the first trimester, special attention must be paid to the quality of products. Gradually abandon sauces, semi-finished products and canned food containing harmful chemical additives. Do not forget that the placenta freely accumulates and passes chemistry. The importance of products containing folic acid is great, without it intensive metabolism is impossible, its deficiency can cause developmental abnormalities. Folic acid is found in greens, nuts, white cabbage and broccoli, beets, legumes, and eggs.
According to nutritionists, the diet of pregnant women should be 300 kcal / day higher than that of non-pregnant women, but in the first trimester there is no need to increase the energy value of the diet at all; in the second trimester, an additional 340 kcal / day is required; in the third trimester - 452 kcal / day. Pregnant women generally get enough calories, and more than 80% of women achieve and even exceed the required weight gain. These extra calories benefit the fetus. An underweight woman should gain 16-20 kg during her entire pregnancy, an overweight woman about 7 kg, and a normal body weight of 11-12 kg.
In the second trimester there are active jumps in the height and weight of the baby and uterus, so the caloric content of the diet needs to be increased. It is desirable to eat more and better. At this time, the need for trace elements increases: iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, calcium, potassium. The child creates his own "reserve" of trace elements using the mother's resource, which means that the mother should have enough of them for two.
Very often in pregnant women in the second trimester hemoglobin drops, this is a normal physiological phenomenon, if it is not threatening to health. You can increase hemoglobin by eating red meat, chicken, fish, dried fruits, pomegranates, green vegetables and fresh herbs, buckwheat, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, pomelo, lemons), rosehip and berry infusions.
In the second trimester, a pregnant woman should limit the intake of smoked and fried foods, as well as salt in her diet. In no case should you limit the liquid. Pure water is the best drink for a pregnant woman, and water should be consumed up to 2-2.5 liters per day. Water is a natural drink for the body, it does not cause complications and has no contraindications. Edema is caused not by water, but by salt, which we not only add in its pure form, but also consume with canned food, mayonnaise, cheese, and sausage. The absence of salt is not harmful, it is naturally found in many products: vegetables, bread, so the diet will not remain completely without it. Excess salt disrupts metabolism.
During this period, you can increase the calorie content of food. Childbirth must be approached physically strong. It is better to eat meat and fish in the morning, for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner, prepare dairy and vegetable dishes: cheesecakes, stewed vegetables, cottage cheese and vegetable casseroles. It is necessary to minimize the intake of canned food, smoked meats, pickles and marinades, hot spices and fatty foods. Frequent walks in the air, physical activity are recommended.
In the third trimester, it is necessary to reduce the calorie content of foods at the expense of confectionery and flour products, eat less fatty meat, as well as cheese and sour cream.
By the end of this period, many experts advise pregnant women to give up meat altogether in order to increase tissue elasticity and prevent ruptures.
During the entire period of pregnancy, special attention should be paid to the combination of products. If you combine foods wisely, you can ensure more efficient absorption of food. If the food is digested poorly, then this can lead to rotting and fermentation of products and the formation of substances harmful to the body of the mother and child. In addition, the fermentation process is accompanied by gas formation, which can lead to flatulence (bloating) and discomfort. This is especially harmful in the last stages of pregnancy.
Try not to take the first, second and third course at the same time; this overflows the stomach and presses on the fetus, the food is poorly digested and poorly absorbed. Eat little and often. It is not recommended to eat immediately before starting work, a long walk, before charging and immediately after it; it is advisable to rest for 10 minutes before eating.
Eat only when you are hungry, try not to snack on the go. Follow the diet, eat at about the same time.
Proper preparation of food will help to maximize the useful substances contained in the products. Do not overcook food, try not to reheat the same dish several times, it is better to set aside only the portion that will be used. Cook in the most gentle way: baking, steaming, stewing. Avoid frying, boiling in large amounts of water, with this method of processing products, many useful substances are lost. If possible, do not cook for several days at once. Do not use aluminum cookware when cooking. Remember that for a pregnant woman, it is not calories that are important, but the quality of food, its naturalness, primarily a “living cell” (whole cereals, raw vegetables and fruits, fresh meat and dairy products).
What can harm the pregnant woman and the fetus
Smoking and alcohol – quit smoking from the first days of pregnancy, if you have smoked before, avoid "passive" smoking, and do not consume alcoholic beverages in any doses.
Lack of vitamins and microelements in the body - their absence or deficiency can lead to irreparable consequences. So, for example, iodine deficiency can lead to mental retardation of a child, folic acid deficiency - to severe fetal deformities, calcium deficiency - to a violation of the formation of the child's skeleton, iron deficiency - to anemia and a delay in the physical and neuropsychic development of the child. It is necessary to consult a doctor, perhaps he will recommend switching to iodized salt, as well as supplementing your diet with a vitamin-mineral complex and folic acid.
Excess weight is the risk of having a large child, which means the risk of complications during childbirth and the child's tendency to become obese at an older age.
The use of food additives (sauces, seasonings such as vegeta, bouillon cubes), exotic fruits, semi-finished products, carbonated drinks - the risk of allergies and anomalies in a child, unfortunately, increases.
Recommended for pregnant women:
Do not eat hot dogs and other snacks containing meat that has not been heated on fire or boiled in boiling water.
Avoid soft cheeses. Hard cheeses are safe.
Do not eat raw frozen pies and meat pastes, seafood. Canned analogues are safe.
Do not consume raw vegetables, unpasteurized juices, liver, meat, poultry and eggs that have not been sufficiently cooked. These products may contain Salmonella taxins.
In no case do not resort to starvation and various diets.
Regularly monitor blood pressure and do not miss visits to the gynecologist.
Your child's development and health depend on your diet and lifestyle during pregnancy!
The cause of pregnancy food whims: it's not because their body lacks something
it will help you figure it out” in events.
Image copyright Getty Images
What's behind pregnancy's weird eating habits? Most likely, not at all what we are used to thinking about.
We have all heard stories a thousand times about a pregnant woman who, in the middle of the night, wanted a pickled cucumber with ice cream so much that she sent her husband in search of the desired products. Or who passionately wants chocolate - but not any, namely one that cannot be found in stores nearby.
However, why "heard"? Perhaps you yourself experienced an inexplicable desire to eat something special when you were pregnant.
Often they try to explain this by saying that the food whims of pregnant women occur due to the fact that their body (or the body of a developing fetus) suddenly needed certain nutrients, and there is even something attractive, touching in such an explanation.
After all, bearing a child is a difficult, long, not always pleasant and sometimes mysterious process. And if a burning desire to urgently eat a burger, or even two, has such a good reason - well, so be it.
However, when you look at the scientific research on this phenomenon, things are much more complex and fascinating.
Researchers have found that the food whims of pregnancy (as a concept) did not exist in all cultures.
And in those non-English speaking countries where pregnant women sometimes report their sudden food cravings, they want something completely different than, for example, women in the US and the UK. For example, in Japan, most often they want such a prosaic thing as rice.
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Going further: studies that have tried to find out whether the body gets the special nutrients that it needs from the foods that pregnant women most often want to eat have found no evidence of this.
In fact, women who reported cravings for food ended up gaining much more weight than is considered healthy during pregnancy as a result, which could lead to more complications.
This, however, does not mean that women invent all their desires. And the fact that the reasons for their whims are completely different, they are not dictated by biochemical need.
Understanding why people suddenly crave certain foods in the first place can help, says Julia Hormes, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany, who studies food cravings in a variety of ways.
For example, she says that about 50% of women in the US report craving chocolate during the week leading up to their period.
The scientists decided to investigate whether this craving is due to certain nutrients in chocolate that are important for menstruation, or whether it reflects hormonal changes.
Image copyright, Getty Images
Food vagaries may be related to the psychology or cultural traditions of a particular society
In one experiment, a psychologist gave women a box and asked them to eat the contents when they suddenly felt the urge to eat something.
Some of the boxes contained milk chocolate, which had all the usual chocolate ingredients and also had a pleasant melt-in-the-mouth sweetness.
In others, white chocolate that does not contain cocoa solids (which give milk and dark chocolate its dark color) but still has a pleasant texture.
Third, cocoa candies with all the nutrients of cocoa, but without the mouthfeel that chocolate does.
It turned out that white chocolate had the greatest success in satisfying desires, which suggests that whims are not spurred on by any particularly useful cocoa ingredients.
Other studies of "chocolate whims" have not been found to be associated with hormone levels.
In fact, even during menopause, women continued to feel the desire to eat chocolate, Horms emphasizes, they simply began to attribute it to other reasons.
All this brings us to the conclusion that the source of food vagaries is in psychology or in cultural traditions. A craving for a cookie, a chocolate bar, or a bag of chips can start as a simple thought and then grow bigger and bigger, becoming an obsession that is hard to resist.
At the same time, thoughts of something delicious can coexist with feelings of guilt.
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"There is a certain ambiguity in this, - says Horms. - On the one hand, the same chocolate is undoubtedly tasty by definition, and on the other hand, the culture in which I live tells me that I should not eat it. I really want it, but I can’t ... "And this has its consequences.
In particular, if you hold yourself back for a long time and you already have a barrier in your head (you are not allowed to eat this food!), it will be extremely difficult to resist and not lose control of your desires when you reach for a forbidden treat.
And then, after eating a piece of cake, instead of feeling satisfied and doing something else, you eat three more pieces.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that women during pregnancy can limit themselves to certain foods - either by following a healthier diet or following the recommendations of a doctor.
Image copyright, Getty Images
Eating a piece of chocolate regularly can keep you from falling into uncontrollable devouring of tiles
All of these circumstances give rise - at least in some countries of the world - to situations in which food cravings are more frequent and more likely to occur and are harder to control, which can lead to, say, weight gain.
In addition, during pregnancy, a woman's whims in eating are not customary to condemn.
"There are certain moments and situations in our culture where women are not judged for eating foods that are normally supposed to be avoided," says Horms. "PMS and pregnancy, for example, are considered such situations in society."
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Understanding what leads to a craving to eat something can prevent the transition from just thinking about cake to eating cake, Hormes emphasizes.
One way is to use distractions, both visual and, for example, olfactory. The other is, with the help of self-contemplation and awareness achieved in meditation, to recognize the presence of desire and let it go, let it go.