9 Steps for Losing Weight With IBS

1
The Challenge of IBS and Weight Loss

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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.

2
Choose Low-FODMAP Produce

strawberries and blueberries
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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 in the past.

Don't Fear Produce, Just Choose Wisely

You no longer have to live in fear as science is here to help you! 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.

3
Choose Protein

pecan covered chicken breasts over salad
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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:

  • Beef*
  • Chicken*
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Pork*
  • Seafood
  • Seeds
  • Tofu, tempeh, seitan (for non-celiacs)
  • 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.

Protein for Vegetarians

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.

4
Choose Healthy Fats

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The saying, "fat makes you fat" is catchy, but is based on faulty science. The recommendation to eat a low-fat diet has backfired, as rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune conditions have sky-rocketed.

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

  1. 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.
  2. Our bodies — particularly our brains — need fat in order to function well.
  3. 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 into 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 doctor.

Where does fat fit in with an IBS diet? Fried and greasy foods are very likely to set off your symptoms. On the other hand, healthy fat should be well-tolerated and will do a great job at nurturing your gut flora.

Good Sources of Healthy Fat

Fish. 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 IBS-C.

Low-FODMAP Nuts. These are perfect for light snacks and tasty additives on various dishes.

  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts

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

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil

Produce. 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

5
Cut the (Simple) Carbs

strawberries, blueberries and kiwi fruit salad
Satisfy your sweet tooth with some IBS-friendly fruits. Julie Rideou/Moment Open/Getty Images

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.

What Simple Carbs Do to Your Body

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 high 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.

But This Restriction Is Good for IBS

This is probably 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:

  1. 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.
  2.  Wheat contains fructans, one of the FODMAP carbohydrates that have been associated with causing unwanted digestive symptoms in people who have IBS.

It's Okay, Your Body Will Adjust

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 okay 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.

6
Stay Away From Processed Foods, Junk Food, and Fast Food

woman choosing between fast food and a salad
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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?

7
Ditch the Diet Foods

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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.

8
Stock up on IBS-Friendly Snacks.

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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.

9
Drink Plenty of Water

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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.

Water Eases Some IBS Symptoms

Drinking plenty of water will also 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.

Alternatively, if you are prone IBS-D, the water you drink will help to replace the water that is lost during diarrhea episodes.

10
Don't Worry About Eating Like Everyone Else

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Many people who have IBS lament the fact that they can't eat like everyone else. To this, I say, "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!

Sources:​

U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2015. 

Eswaran S. Low FODMAP in 2017: Lessons Learned From Clinical Trials and Mechanistic Studies. Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2017;29(4).doi:10.1111/nmo.13055.

Gibson P, Shepherd S. Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2010;25:252-258.

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