Pain, bloating, cramps, diarrhea and constipation are just the short, introductory list of potential symptoms you may be experiencing with your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Another troubling symptom can be changes when you step on the scale.
Both weight loss and weight gain can occur in IBS patients, and can even happen in the same person at different times during their battle with IBS. When your pain and cramps are particularly bad, you may not be getting enough nutrition and you drop pounds without trying. When your symptoms ease up, you can end up eating food that increases your weight. Neither situation is good for your long-term health.
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Weight Loss and IBS
The symptoms of IBS can definitely contribute to weight loss. The pain of your cramps is enough to make you think twice about eating anything. The gas and bloating can make you feel too full to eat or can make you nauseous. The strength of those cramps and diarrhea may actually prevent you from digesting necessary nutrients.
Substantial weight loss is considered by many doctors to be a "red flag" symptom of IBS. If you have IBS and lose more than a few pounds without trying, you may have a more serious illness, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. In these conditions, permanent changes in the intestinal tissue make it less functional. Alert your doctor if you have IBS symptoms but are losing significant amounts of weight.
Weight Gain and IBS
The cramping, bloating, and nausea associated with IBS can cause you to lose your appetite, which is a common symptom. How is it possible to gain weight under those circumstances?
Many people with IBS are familiar with the sensation of a swollen, painful belly—almost like you've swallowed a melon. This is caused by intestinal gas, which is created by undigested food that is being broken down by bacteria. This same undigested food can also cause water retention. This can cause bloating and diarrhea as well as water weight from the retention.
Foods that may cause water retention include:
- salty foods
- artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol
- foods with a high level of fructose, such as some fruits, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, or honey
- dairy products with lactose, another sugar that may not be completely digested and the source of lactose intolerance
- beans and lentils, which contain phytic acid that can block certain minerals from being absorbed and are hard to digest
But bloating and water retention are not the only ways you can gain weight with IBS. You likely have figured out some of the foods that cause your symptoms, or at least which foods seem to be "safe" and don't cause symptoms.
Unfortunately, those foods may be carbohydrates that may seem neutral and easy to digest, but in the long run increase your calorie consumption and you gain weight. Examples include carbohydrates such as pasta and bread.
How to Maintain a Healthy Weight with IBS
High-fiber foods include:
- whole wheat or whole grain breads and cereals
- fruits such as raspberries, pears, apples, and strawberries
- vegetables such as artichokes, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- legumes, nuts and seeds such as split peas, lentils, black and lima beans
Fiber supplements may also help, but talk with your doctor before starting this treatment.
Exercise is essential to limiting stress and improving muscle tone, including the abdominal muscles. For both weight loss and weight gain issues, exercise can decrease intestinal spasms and improve your overall health.
Keep a food diary so that you can learn your triggers and avoid them. With a food diary, you can find out what kinds of healthy, nutrient-rich food you are able to eat without painful symptoms that can lead to weight gain or weight loss.