9 Steps for Losing Weight with IBS

9 Steps for Losing Weight with IBS

smiling woman being weighed by doctor
Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

"How can I lose weight when healthy foods make my IBS worse?" Has this been a source of frustration for you? Has losing weight with IBS seemed like a hopeless endeavor?

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

Nutrition and diet advice can be so 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. In this article we will be discussing some healthy strategies, based on up-to-date science, for weight loss. But we will tailor these strategies so that they dovetail nicely with your attempts to get your IBS under better control.

Choose low-FODMAP produce.

strawberries and blueberries
Kelly Cline/Vetta/Getty Images

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 quite afraid that eating fiber-filled plant food will make your symptoms worse, because that is exactly what happened in in the past!

Well, you no longer have to live in fear as science is now here to help you! The low-FODMAP diet researchers from Monash University have tested many vegetables and fruits and have 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. You may find that over time, you can expand beyond the low-FODMAP choices without triggering symptoms. Here is a list of low- and high-FODMAP foods.:

You can significantly increase your intake of gut-healthy fruits and vegetables by trying include produce at every meal. Have a green smoothie with berries or a vegetable omelette for breakfast. Have a salad either as lunch or with lunch. Fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables. Just, keep in mind that raw vegetables and fruits may be harder for your digestive tract to tolerate.

Choose protein.

pecan covered chicken breasts over salad
nicolebranan/E+/Getty Images

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

Protein does not raise blood sugar levels and therefore 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 off your IBS symptoms. Healthy sources of protein include:

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

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 well-rinsed.

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

Choose healthy fats.

salmon over spinach
alle12/E+/Getty Images

Wouldn't you know? The saying, "fat makes you fat," while catchy, 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. Number one, food manufacturers replaced the fat in products with sugar and refined carbohydrates, both of which cause insulin spikes that lead to cravings and weight gain, as well as increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Number two, our bodies, particularly our brains, need fat in order to function well. The third problem is that fat adds flavor to food and increases our sense of being satisfied after a meal, therefore cutting down on those forays into the snack cabinet!.

So, lose the fear that fats will make you fat and add them into your daily diet!

However, it is important to remember that not all fats are created equal. Trans fats, found in many processed foods, have been associated with raising one's risk for heart disease. Avoid any foods that contain partially-hydrogenated oils. 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 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. Here are some good sources of healthy fat.

1. Fish: Although most fish are a good source of those 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

2. IBS-Friendly Seeds (may be better for IBS-C)

3. Low-FODMAP Nuts

  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts

4. Oils

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil

5. Produce

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

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--flour that has had its outer layer of bran removed. White flour, and its cousin in crime, sugar, can be found in breads, pastas, cakes, cookies, donuts, and processed foods--all things that play a large part 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 up quickly. This prompts our pancreas to send out insulin. Insulin does a great job of clearing out the excess blood sugar (glucose), but does this by packing it into our fat cells and blood vessels, hence the contribution of refined carbohydrates to obesity and heart disease. Once the glucose has been cleared out, the body sends out the call for more - thus prompting cravings for more high refined carbohydrate foods - the bane of the dieter's existence. Over time, insulin resistance develops, increasing one's risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Although this is probably one of the hardest recommendations, 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 has been associated with causing unwanted digestive symptoms in people who have IBS.

So, do your best to cut out sugar and the refined carbohydrates. It may take a few days for your body to stop sending you on the lookout for those 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. 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, but pay close attention to how it makes you feel and what it does to your cravings going forward.

Stay away from processed foods, junk food, and fast food.

woman choosing between fast food and a salad
Choose whole foods!. Glow Wellness/Glow/Getty Images

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 which can contribute to both weight gain and IBS symptoms -- the two things you are here looking to avoid.

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

1. Cook at home whenever possible. Home cooking allows you to be in total control over what you eat.

2. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. Avoid foods that come in boxes and have a long shelf life as they are often filled with preservatives that may be good for the food manufacturer but are not good for your body.

3. 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.

man throwing out a bag of garbage
Hybrid Images/Cultura/Getty Images

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 and lots in the way of all of the unhealthy ingredients we have been talking about, e.g. refined carbohydrates and food chemicals.

To make matters worse, most contain artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners may temporarily satisfy your sweet tooth, but since they trick your body, they may leave you at risk for cravings as your body seeks to get some real nutrition into itself. In addition, some artificial sweeteners can cause IBS symptoms, particularly gas and bloating.

Stock up on IBS-friendly snacks.

bowl of pecans
Bill Noll/E+/Getty Images

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 some healthy snacks around for those times when you have the munchies. Here are some IBS-friendly options:

  • Low-FODMAP nuts (Brazil, Macadamia, pecans and walnuts)
  • Low-FODMAP cheese sticks (cheddar, mozzarella)
  • Low-FODMAP fruits (banana, blueberries, canteloupe, grapes, kiwi, oranges, pineapples, raspberries, strawberries)

Drink plenty of water.

smiling woman with a glass of water
Rolf Bruderer/Blend Images/Getty Images

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 not to 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 going for a snack, drink a full glass of water and see what happens. Perhaps you didn't really need that snack after all and so can wait until your next meal to eat again.

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.

Don't worry about eating like everyone else.

woman eating salad with friend
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Most of the people that I speak to 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. And who knows, maybe you will start to get your friends and family to eat more like you!


"Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" health.gov Website accessed February 2, 2015.

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

Continue Reading