How to Lose Weight With IBS

Are you finding it difficult to lose weight when healthy foods seem to make your IBS worse? It's a common source of frustration for people dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Yet, weight loss doesn't have to be been a hopeless endeavor.

There is now a shining ray of hope. Science has provided us with helpful information regarding food, IBS, and weight loss. You can take advantage of this to not only successfully lose weight, but also optimize your digestive and overall physical health.

Nutrition and diet advice can be confusing. One expert will tell you one thing, while another tells you something different. And sometimes long-held beliefs about weight loss turn out to be faulty.

We're going to look at a number of healthy strategies for weight loss that are based on up-to-date science. We will also tailor these so they dovetail nicely with your attempts to get your IBS under better control.

Dietary Tips to Lose Weight With IBS
Verywell / JR Bee

Choose Low-FODMAP Produce

Everyone knows that vegetables and fruit are filling, nutritious, and satisfying and that eating more of them helps you to lose weight. However, if you are like most people with IBS, you may be afraid that eating fiber-filled plant food will make your symptoms worse because that is exactly what happened in the past.

Science is here to help reduce these concerns. Some people may have a reaction to fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs), a collection of short-chain carbohydrates found in many foods.


How to Avoid FODMAPs to Lessen IBS

The low-FODMAP diet researchers from Monash University tested many vegetables and fruits. They identified those that can be tolerated by most people who have IBS.

You can start your weight loss effort by choosing low-FODMAP veggies and fruits like avocado, bananas, kale, and tomatoes. You may find that over time, you can expand beyond the low-FODMAP choices without triggering symptoms.

You can significantly increase your intake of gut-healthy fruits and vegetables by trying to include produce at every meal. 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 harder for your digestive tract to tolerate.

Choose Protein

Do you constantly battle with cravings? Choose protein over carbs.

Protein does not raise blood sugar levels. This means it does not cause the insulin spikes and lows that send you off to find something to eat a couple of hours after your last meal. Protein also tends to be easy to digest and therefore is not 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

To reduce your risk of exposure to things that are not good for your gut flora choose free-range, pastured antibiotic-free animal products whenever possible.

Consuming adequate protein can be a challenge if you are a vegetarian with IBS. Luckily, the FODMAP researchers have found that tofu, tempeh, and seitan are well-tolerated. Canned chickpeas and canned lentils can be eaten in small quantities if they are rinsed thoroughly.

Choose Healthy Fats

The problem with a low-fat diet is three-fold:

  • Food manufacturers replaced the fat in products with sugar and refined carbohydrates. Both of these cause insulin spikes that lead to cravings and weight gain, as well as increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Our bodies—particularly our brains—need fat in order to function well.
  • Fat adds flavor to food and increases our sense of being satisfied after a meal. When you're satisfied, you naturally cut down on those forays to the snack cabinet.

Lose the fear that fats will make you fat and add them to your daily diet. It is important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Trans fats are found in many processed foods and associated with raising the risk for heart disease.

Try to avoid any foods that contain partially-hydrogenated oils as well. The risks and benefits of saturated fats—found in things like red meat and butter—is a subject still up for debate, so ask your healthcare provider.

Fried and greasy foods are very likely to set off your IBS symptoms. On the other hand, healthy fat should be well-tolerated and will do a great job of nurturing your gut flora.

Good Sources of Healthy Fat


Although most fish are a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, some are healthier for you than others:

  • Eat: Anchovies, salmon, and sardines
  • Avoid: Large game fish like swordfish or Mako shark, due to chemical contaminants

IBS-Friendly Seeds

These may be better for constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C):

  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds


These are perfect for light snacks and tasty additives on various dishes:

  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts


Keep these in mind when cooking as they're a good way to get healthy fats into every meal:

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil


Enjoy these on their own or add them to your favorite dishes:

  • Avocado (a serving of 1/8 of a whole fruit is low-FODMAP)
  • Olives

Cut the (Simple) Carbs

Sugar and refined carbohydrates—the simple carbohydrates—are seemingly everywhere. The most prevalent form of refined carbohydrates is wheat flour, which is flour that has had its outer layer of bran removed.

White flour, and its partner in crime—sugar—can be found in breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, donuts, and processed foods. All of these things play a large role in the diet of most people in Western society.

However, sugar and refined carbohydrates are making us sick. Obesity, heart disease, and ​diabetes have been directly tied to diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.

When we eat sugar and refined carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels rise quickly. This prompts our 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 our fat cells and blood vessels.

This is why refined carbohydrates contribute to obesity and heart disease. Once the glucose has been cleared out, the body sends out the call for more. This prompts cravings for more highly refined carbohydrate foods, which are the bane of the dieter's existence. Over time, insulin resistance develops, increasing one's risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Restricting refined carbs is one of the hardest recommendations. Yet, the silver lining is that cutting out refined carbohydrates may have an extremely beneficial effect on your IBS symptoms.

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

  • Wheat contains gluten, a protein that cannot be consumed at all by anyone who has celiac disease. IBS patients are considered to be at higher risk for celiac disease. Even if one does not have celiac disease, it is theorized that some cases of IBS are thought to be the result of a gluten sensitivity.
  • Wheat contains fructans, one of the FODMAP carbohydrates that have been associated with causing unwanted digestive symptoms in people who have IBS.

Do your best to cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates. It may take a few days for your body to stop sending you for those savory and sweet goodies. Once you are off the "cravings train," your energy levels will stabilize and you will feel more satisfied between meals. You will do your overall health a great service. Your gut flora will thank you as well!

For weight loss success, 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 going forward.

Avoid Junk Food and Fast Food

Convenient foods may be good for time-saving and for corporate bottom lines, but they are very, very bad for your health.

Processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods are filled with sugar, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and all sorts of chemicals (food additives, food coloring, food stabilizers). All of this can contribute to both weight gain and IBS symptoms—the two things you are looking to avoid.

The solution is to eat whole foods whenever possible. Whole foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and animal products. 

  • Cook at home whenever possible. Home cooking allows you to be in total control over what you eat.
  • Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Avoid foods that come in boxes and have a long shelf life. These are often filled with preservatives that may be good for the food manufacturer but are not good for your body.
  • Only eat foods that your great-great-grandmother would recognize. If she wouldn't recognize it as food, how would you expect your digestive system to do so?

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.

What they do offer is many of the unhealthy ingredients we have been talking about. This includes refined carbohydrates and food chemicals. To make matters worse, most contain artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners may temporarily satisfy your sweet tooth, but they trick your body. These may leave you at risk for cravings as your body seeks to get some real nutrition. In addition, some artificial sweeteners can cause IBS symptoms, particularly gas and bloating.

Stock up on IBS-Friendly Snacks.

Another dietary myth is that to lose weight, one must go hungry. Like the myth about fats, this one can also backfire as deprivation can lead to binging.

You will be more successful in your weight loss if you eat nutritious meals on a regular basis and have healthy snacks around for those times when you have the munchies.

IBS-Friendly Snacks

  • 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

Drink Plenty of Water

Every cell in our body needs adequate amounts of water to function well. In our busy lives, many of us neglect to make sure we are drinking enough water. We also tend to not be in tune with our body signals that we need more water.

What may happen is that we think we are hungry, when we are really just thirsty. So before you go for a snack, drink a full glass of water and see what happens. Perhaps you didn't really need that snack after all and you can wait until your next meal to eat again.

Drinking plenty of water will help with your IBS:

  • If you are prone to constipation (IBS-C), drinking enough water will help to keep your stools soft. When you don't drink enough water, your body compensates by pulling water out of the stool, contributing to hard stools.
  • If you are prone to diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D), the water you drink will help to replace the water that is lost during diarrhea episodes.

Dare to Be Different

Many people who have IBS lament the fact that they can't eat like everyone else. That is a good thing.

In the Western world, the average person eats a very unhealthy diet. Find the silver lining in your IBS and nourish your body with healthy, nutritious whole foods—vegetables, fruits, animal protein, and healthy fats.

This might mean that your plate looks very different from your friends, or that your choices are quite limited when dining out or at social gatherings. But, your body will reward you with weight loss, improved energy, a quieter digestive system, and a lowered risk of chronic disease. Who knows, maybe you will start to get your friends and family to eat more like you!

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 the real key to weight loss is a healthy diet. However, several studies have found that probiotics may help with some 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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Article Sources
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