How to Lose Weight With IBS

Difficulty losing weight is a common source of frustration for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But, while some healthy foods can aggravate IBS, weight loss doesn't have to be a hopeless endeavor.

Research has offered helpful information regarding food, IBS, and weight loss. Understanding which foods to eat and which ones to avoid can help you make choices that might improve your digestive and overall physical health.

This article explains healthy strategies for weight loss for people with IBS based on current science.

Dietary Tips to Lose Weight With IBS
Verywell / JR Bee

Choose Low-FODMAP Produce

Vegetables and fruit are filling, nutritious, and satisfying. In addition, eating more of them can help you lose weight.

However, if you have IBS, you may be afraid that eating fiber-filled plant food will worsen your symptoms, especially if that has happened to you in the past.

Some people react to a collection of short-chain carbohydrates found in many foods called fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols, or FODMAPs. That's because the small intestine does not absorb these nutrients well.

As a result, bacteria in your gut quickly ferments these foods, triggering IBS symptoms.

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How to Avoid FODMAPs to Lessen IBS

FODMAP researchers from Monash University tested many vegetables and fruits. They identified those that most people with IBS can tolerate.

Low-FODMAP veggies and fruits include:

  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Bell peppers
  • Blueberry
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Potato
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potato
  • Zucchini

You can significantly increase your intake of gut-healthy fruits and vegetables by trying to include produce at every meal. For example, try the following meal ideas:

  • Have a green smoothie with berries or a vegetable omelet for breakfast.
  • Enjoy a salad either as lunch or with lunch.
  • Fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that raw vegetables and fruits may be more challenging for your digestive tract to tolerate. However, you may find that over time you can expand beyond low-FODMAP choices without triggering symptoms.

Recap

Diets high in fruits and vegetables can support weight loss. Opt for choices low in FODMAPs, a type of carb that may trigger IBS symptoms. Examples include carrots, broccoli, blueberries, and bananas.

Choose Protein

Do you constantly battle with cravings? Choosing protein over carbs might help.

Unlike carbohydrates, protein does not raise blood sugar levels. That means it does not cause insulin spikes and lows that result in hunger shortly after you eat.

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. It helps you metabolize food to give your body energy. Problems with insulin production can result in high or low blood sugar and diabetes.

Protein also tends to be easy to digest, so is not as likely to trigger your IBS symptoms.

Healthy sources of protein include:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Pork
  • Seafood
  • Seeds
  • Tofu, tempeh, seitan (for people who do not have celiac disease)
  • Yogurt

Gut flora is the bacteria that naturally exist in your digestive tract. Balanced gut flora plays a vital role in IBS and overall health. To reduce your risk of exposure to things that can throw this off, choose free-range, pastured, antibiotic-free animal products whenever possible.

Consuming adequate protein can be challenging if you are a vegetarian with IBS. Luckily, the FODMAP researchers found that tofu, tempeh, and seitan are well-tolerated. In addition, you can eat thoroughly rinsed canned chickpeas and canned lentils in small quantities.

Recap

Proteins like beef, chicken, tofu, and tempeh satisfy hunger longer than carbs. They also tend to be IBS friendly.

Choose Healthy Fats

For a long time, low-fat diets have been touted as a way to lose weight. However, fat is an essential nutrient, so it's not a good idea to eliminate it.

Problems with a low-fat diet include:

  • You might eat more sugar and carbs: To make packaged foods low in fat, manufacturers replace it with sugar and refined carbohydrates. Both of these cause spikes in the hormone insulin, which lead to cravings and weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Your body needs fat: Your body—mainly your brain—needs fat to function well.
  • Fat satisfies hunger: Fat adds flavor to food and increases your sense of being satisfied after a meal. When you're satisfied, you naturally cut down on those trips to the snack cabinet.

Even so, it is essential to remember that not all fats are created equal. Examples of unhealthy fats include:

  • Trans fats: You can find these types of fats in many processed foods. They are associated with raising the risk for heart disease.
  • Partially-hydrogenated oils: Try to avoid any foods that contain partially-hydrogenated oils as well.
  • Saturated fats: You can find these fats in things like red meat and butter. Eat these in moderation.

Fried and greasy foods are very likely to set off your IBS symptoms. On the other hand, the digestive system tolerates healthy fats well. In addition, these fats nurture your gut flora.

Good sources of healthy fats include:

  • Fish: Although most fish are a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, some are healthier for you than others. For example, eat anchovies, salmon, and sardines, and avoid large game fish like swordfish or king mackerel.
  • IBS-friendly seeds: These may be better for constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C) and include flaxseed and chia seeds.
  • Low-FODMAP nuts: These are perfect for light snacks and as tasty additions to various dishes. They include Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, and walnuts.
  • Oils: When cooking, turn to coconut oil and olive oil to get healthy fats into every meal.
  • Produce: Enjoy high-fat fruits on their own or add them to your favorite dishes. Produce with healthy fats include avocado (1/8 of the fruit is low-FODMAP) and olives.

Recap

Healthy fats are an essential component of a well-balanced diet and will not aggravate IBS symptoms. Good sources include fish, nuts, olive oil, and coconut oil.

Cut the (Simple) Carbs

Sugar and refined carbohydrates—also called simple carbohydrates—are seemingly everywhere. Sugar and refined carbohydrates include:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Processed food

All of these things play a significant role in the diet of most people in Western society. However, too many simple carbs can lead to diseases such as:

Blood Sugar

When you eat sugar and refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels rise quickly. This spike in blood sugar prompts your pancreas to send out insulin. Insulin does a great job of clearing out the excess blood sugar (glucose), but it does this by packing it into your fat cells and blood vessels.

Once your body clears out the glucose, it sends out the call for more. Unfortunately, this signal prompts cravings for more highly refined carbohydrate foods. Over time, this cycle can cause you to develop insulin resistance, increasing your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Restricting refined carbs can be difficult. Yet, the silver lining is that cutting out refined carbohydrates can positively affect your IBS symptoms.

Wheat

Wheat, in particular, has been associated with IBS for two reasons:

  • Gluten: People with IBS may be more prone to develop celiac disease. Wheat contains gluten, the protein that those with celiac cannot consume. Even those with just a gluten sensitivity may experience IBS symptoms from eating gluten.
  • Fructans: Wheat contains fructans. These carbohydrates are one of the FODMAPs associated with unwanted IBS digestive symptoms.

Do your best to limit sugar and refined carbohydrates. It may take a few days for your body to stop craving savory and sweet goodies. But once you are off the "cravings train," your energy levels will stabilize and you will feel more satisfied between meals.

Recap

Sugar and refined carbs, like pastries, bread, and processed foods, can cause food cravings and IBS symptoms. To support weight loss goals and manage IBS symptoms, limit sugar and simple carbs.

Limit Junk Food and Fast Food

Convenient foods may be good when you're in a rush, but they are not ideal for your health. That's because processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods contain sugar, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and food additives.

All of this can contribute to both weight gain and IBS symptoms.

Instead, eat whole (unprocessed) foods whenever possible. They include things like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and animal products. 

Some ways to incorporate more whole foods into your diet include:

  • Cooking at home: Home cooking allows you to be in total control of what you eat.
  • Shopping the supermarket perimeter: The outside aisles contain fresh produce, meat, and dairy products. Purchasing most of your items from these sections can help you avoid highly processed foods.
  • Eating foods your great-great-grandmother would recognize: Highly processed foods are a pretty recent innovation. So, consider wholesome foods that your ancestors might have prepared.

Recap

Junk foods and fast foods are convenient, but full of unhealthy ingredients that aggravate IBS and lead to weight gain. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods instead.

Ditch the Diet Foods

Food advertisers love to tempt you with diet soda and those little 100-calorie snack packs. However, these foods offer little in the way of nutrition or satisfaction.

"Diet" foods offer unhealthy ingredients, including refined carbohydrates, food additives, and artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners may temporarily satisfy your sweet tooth but often result in food cravings as your body seeks some real nutrition. In addition, some artificial sweeteners can cause IBS symptoms, particularly gas and bloating.

Stock up on IBS-Friendly Snacks

You don't have to go hungry to lose weight. But, like the myth about fats, not eating enough food can also backfire as deprivation can lead to binging.

Some snack options to keep at the ready:

  • Low-FODMAP nuts like Brazil nuts, Macadamia, pecans, and walnuts
  • Low-FODMAP cheese sticks like cheddar and mozzarella
  • Low-FODMAP fruits such as bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, oranges, pineapple, raspberries, and strawberries

Eating nutritious meals regularly and having healthy snacks on hand can help you succeed in your weight loss efforts.

Drink Plenty of Water

Every cell in your body needs adequate amounts of water to function well. Unfortunately, busy days can sometimes lead to neglecting your water intake. In addition, it's not uncommon to misread cues that your body needs more water.

For example, many people often think that they are hungry when they're really just thirsty. So, before you go for a snack, try drinking a full glass of water and see what happens. You may feel satisfied with that alone.

Drinking plenty of water can also help with IBS symptoms, including:

  • Constipation: If you are prone to constipation, drinking enough water will help keep your stools soft. When you don't drink enough water, your body compensates by pulling water out of the stool, making them hard and difficult to pass.
  • Diarrhea: If you are instead prone to diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), the water you drink can help replace what's lost during diarrhea episodes.

Recap

Low-fat processed foods can trigger IBS symptoms because of ingredients like artificial sweeteners. Remember to snack, but choose low-FODMAP options. And drink plenty of water.

Summary

Some people with IBS have difficulty losing weight because they have a hard time finding foods that are supportive of their efforts and won't aggravate IBS symptoms.

Incorporating low-FODMAP produce, protein, healthy fats, and enough water can satisfy hunger and be kind to your system. In addition, limiting things like processed foods can minimize food cravings and IBS flare-ups.

A Word From Verywell

It can be frustrating to have limited choices when dining out or eating at social gatherings, especially if those you're with don't have these restrictions.

Try to change your mindset and remember that "missing out" on an appetizer or dish in the moment can mean saving yourself pain and discomfort later on.

It is OK to allow yourself an occasional treat. However, pay close attention to how it makes you feel and what it does to your cravings and IBS symptoms going forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are probiotics helpful for both weight loss and IBS?

    Research has not been able to prove the theory that probiotics contribute to weight loss. There is some evidence that healthy gut bacteria can help maintain overall health, but a healthy diet is the real key to weight loss. However, several studies have found that probiotics may help with IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, and urgent bathroom visits.

  • How common is IBS?

    IBS is very common, occurring in 10% to 15% of adults in the U.S.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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