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Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Body Weight

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. 

The exact cause of IBS is unknown. The condition could be due to a miscommunication between the brain and the gut that affects the digestive system and bowel movements. Genetics or past stressful life experiences (such as trauma) are thought to play a role.

Since IBS can affect the type of foods a person can tolerate, it may result in weight changes. Weight loss or weight gain is rarely a symptom of IBS. It occurs in response to certain dietary or lifestyle changes that a person employs to manage their IBS symptoms.

IBS 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.

Can Ibs Cause Weight Gain?

In some cases, doctors may associate weight gain with IBS. Research has linked obesity 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.

Some people may experience significant abdominal pain and cramping and may stick to certain foods that contain more calories than required. Factors that can trigger weight gain for people with IBS include the following:


Research indicates that about two-thirds of individuals with IBS relate their symptoms to particular foods. In many cases, symptom management involves making dietary changes to avoid these foods.

Although IBS-trigger foods (caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, dairy products, foods that contain gluten, like wheat and rye products, and high-fat foods), symptoms can vary from person to person, certain whole grains, vegetables, and fruits commonly provoke symptoms. 

People with IBS usually opt for easily digestible but high-calorie foods such as white rice, pasta, and refined white bread, so eating lots of them could lead to weight gain. According to a study published in 2012, IBS patients often ate sweets, processed meats, and unhealthy canned food with only some grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Physical activity

Another potential cause of weight gain among people with IBS is physical inactivity. 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.

study published in 2018 reported that IBS symptoms can significantly affect a person’s mental health and restrict their activity levels.

The uncertainty of IBS—not knowing which food items can give rise a flare or when symptoms will appear can cause anxiety for people living with the condition. Research suggests that anxiety and depression are higher among people with IBS. Although depression affects everyone differently, it can alter a person’s appetite and eating habits, and decrease their physical activity. These factors could lead to weight gain.


A review published in 2017 indicated that some people with IBS may have abnormal endocrine cells in their stomachs. These cells secrete hormones that impact appetite and feelings of fullness after meals. Differences in gut hormones may influence a person’s weight management.

Can Ibs Cause Unintentional Weight Loss?

Unlike other GI conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, IBS does not tend to cause weight loss directly. However, weight loss may occur if a person is following a restricted diet to manage their symptoms, or if they develop food anxiety. Diarrhoea-dominant IBS, in particular, may result in weight loss. 

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 IBS patients.

High FODMAP foods that may cause symptoms include:

  • Fructans-containing wheat-based foods, including cereals and bread
  • Lactose-containing dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream
  • Fructans-containing vegetables such as garlic and onions
  • Vegetables rich in oligosaccharides such as asparagus, artichokes, and beans
  • Fructose-containing fruits, such as peaches, pears, and apples
  • Polyol-containing artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol

A person who is following the FODMAP diet may overly restrict their diet and unintentionally consume fewer calories, which could lead to weight loss.

Food Anxiety

A person with IBS may develop food anxiety, causing them to consume less food, less frequently. A study published in 2019 reported that people with IBS frequently skipped meals and limited food intake by following restrictive diets.

How To Lose Weight With IBS?

Certain foods and lifestyle habits can help in maintaining a moderate weight and managing IBS symptoms. Factors which could help a person with IBS lose weight are as follows:

Moderate-intensity exercises

People with IBS can practice at-home exercises such as yoga or meditation, where they may feel more comfortable without worrying about frequent bathroom visits.  Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could help in managing emotions.

Intense or prolonged exercises may trigger IBS. However, moderate-intensity exercises such as swimming and walking could also be performed. According to a study published in 2020, regular physical exercise could help manage IBS symptoms.

Dietary changes

A low FODMAP diet excludes various a range. However, individuals can incorporate the following low FODMAP foods into their diet to help manage their weight:

  • Vegetables: kale, green beans, red bell pepper, eggplants, celery, spinach, lettuce, carrots, squash, and cantaloupe
  • Fruits: Honey dew, bananas, grapefruit, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, kiwis, grapes, and blueberries
  • lean proteins, including eggs, chicken, turkey, and fish
  • lactose-free dairy
  • sweeteners such as cane sugar, and maple syrup

Including more protein in the diet may also help with weight management. Proteins tend to be low FODMAP foods that are also filling and can help prevent overeating. Good sources of protein include tofu, fish, and unprocessed lean meat

Avoid foods such as fried rice, potato waffles, oven chips, crisps, and reheated or undercooked potato, corn, pizza or garlic bread, ready-to-eat foods, manufactured cakes and biscuits.

Instead of consuming the above-mentioned food items, you could consume fresh pasta, fresh bread, baked potato, and boiled rice. You can also opt for a gluten-free beer that contains plain seltzer with no added sugars.

It can be helpful to keep a food diary to track which foods trigger certain symptoms and to share this information with the consulting healthcare professional.

How To Gain Weight With IBS?

Eating smaller meals frequently rather than fewer larger meals can help 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 as follows:

  • Healthy oils, such a coconut, olive, or avocado oil
  • coconut cream or milk
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
  • low FODMAP cheese, such as parmesan, Feta, and brie
  • nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, Pine nuts, peanuts, macademia
  • seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds
  • avocados
  • sauces, such as mayonnaise and dressings

Final Thoughts

IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder that can impact an individual’s day-to-day life. Some people with the condition may have difficulty managing their weight, likely due to the techniques used to manage their IBS symptoms rather than being an IBS symptom itself.  

People with IBS may gain weight due to eating easily digestible but high calorie foods or limiting exercise due to physical or psychological discomfort. Alternatively, people with IBS may lose weight as a result of eliminating specific foods from their diet or developing food anxiety.

Eating more fibre (especially soluble fibre) and avoiding gluten may reduce IBS symptoms. One must also avoid whole grains, pulses, green bananas, muesli, and sweet corn. In addition to dietary changes, stress management, drinking plenty of water, and over-the-counter remedies (such as probiotics, laxatives, and loperamide) could help ease IBS symptoms).


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