Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that can cause symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea. Some people with IBS may also have difficulty managing their weight.
There are subtypes of IBS, and the symptoms of the condition can vary among individuals. Due to this, strategies that help some people manage their symptoms and weight may not work for others.
In this article, we investigate whether IBS can cause weight gain or weight loss. We also provide tips for those seeking to lose or gain weight while also managing their IBS symptoms.
In some cases, doctors may associate weight gain with IBS.
Losing weight or maintaining a moderate weight can also be more difficult for some people with the condition. This may be due to the challenges of exercising frequently and adhering to a restricted diet while avoiding symptoms.
Below, we look at some of the factors that can trigger weight gain for people with IBS.
Evidence suggests that about
Although IBS trigger foods can vary from person to person, certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains commonly provoke symptoms. Some people avoid these foods in an effort to prevent uncomfortable IBS symptoms. In doing so, they may opt for foods that are easier to digest and do not create as much waste. These foods may be more calorific, so eating lots of them could lead to weight gain.
Examples of easily digestible, high calorie foods that could trigger weight gain include:
- refined white bread
- white rice
Another potential cause of weight gain among people with IBS is a lack of physical activity. People with IBS can experience a sudden, urgent need to use the bathroom, which can lead to stress and worry when leaving the house. This worry may make it tempting to stay in more and be less active.
Research suggests that depression and anxiety levels are higher in people with IBS. Although depression affects everyone differently, it can
Although more research is necessary to investigate this link further, it is possible that these differences in gut hormones may affect a person’s weight management.
However, weight loss may occur if a person is following a restricted diet to manage their symptoms, or if they develop anxiety around food.
Following a restricted diet
Symptom management often involves making dietary changes to avoid known trigger foods. A doctor may recommend a low FODMAP diet to help identify potential triggers and manage symptoms.
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These short-chain carbohydrates can cause discomfort for people with IBS.
High FODMAP foods that may cause symptoms include:
- dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream
- wheat-based foods, including bread and cereals
- some fruits, such as apples, pears, and peaches
- some vegetables, particularly onions and garlic
As the FODMAP diet is so restrictive, people typically follow it in the short term to help identify trigger foods before slowly reintroducing safe foods.
A person who is following the FODMAP diet may overly restrict their diet and unintentionally consume fewer calories, which could lead to weight loss.
Anxiety around food
A person with IBS may also develop anxiety around food, causing them to consume less food, less frequently. A
- limiting food
- skipping meals
- following a restrictive diet
The following factors could help a person with IBS lose excess weight.
The symptoms of IBS, as well as the worry associated with them, may make it more difficult for a person to exercise regularly. This, in turn, may make it difficult for a person to manage their weight.
It is common for people with IBS to worry about needing quick access to a bathroom, and this may make activities more difficult. However, a person can practice
A person may wish to try various types of moderate exercise, such as daily walks and swimming. Regular daily exercise should help with weight management. In addition, a
However, some people may find that
A person with IBS may try to eliminate certain high FODMAP foods from their diet and choose safer foods instead. This approach can lead to weight gain if their chosen foods are high in carbohydrates and fats.
A low FODMAP diet does exclude a range of nutritious foods. However, people can incorporate the following low calorie, low FODMAP fruits and vegetables into their diet to help manage their weight:
- green beans
- red bell pepper
- unprocessed lean meat
If a person is struggling to manage their weight and IBS symptoms, they may wish to speak with a dietitian to create a diet plan that works for them. It can be helpful to keep a food diary to track which foods trigger certain symptoms and to share this information with the dietitian.
A person with IBS may skip meals due to uncomfortable IBS symptoms or as a result of developing a negative association with food.
Eating frequent smaller meals rather than fewer larger meals is one way to maintain adequate calorie intake while lessening the chance of IBS symptoms.
If a person is finding it difficult to consume enough calories, they can fortify their meals with low FODMAP but high calorie ingredients. Examples include:
- sauces, such as dressings and mayonnaise
- coconut milk or cream
- low FODMAP cheese, such as brie and parmesan
- olive oil
- starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
- nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
Some low FODMAP snacks that a person can have between meals include:
- rice cakes with nut butter
- coconut yogurt with nuts and seeds
- smoothies containing blueberries, raspberries, unripe bananas, and low FODMAP sweeteners, such as maple syrup
IBS is a common digestive disorder that can affect a person’s day-to-day life. Some people with the condition may have difficulty managing their weight. This is likely due to the techniques that people use to control their IBS symptoms rather than being a symptom of the condition itself.
People with IBS may gain weight as a result of eating easily digestible but high calorie foods or avoiding or limiting exercise due to physical discomfort or psychological unease. Alternatively, people with IBS may lose weight as a result of eliminating certain foods from their diet or developing anxiety around food.
If a person is finding weight management overly challenging, they may wish to speak with a doctor to rule out other underlying conditions. A doctor can also help a person find a diet or exercise plan that works for them.