How to lose weight with IBS

Have you ever tried to lose weight but as soon as you start eating more salads and higher fibre foods your belly bloats and you're rushing to the loo? You’re not alone. 

In the UK in 2020 the majority of adults were found to be overweight or obese; 67% of men and 60% of women. We also know that IBS is very common, thought to be 10-20% of the population will experience it at some time.

Weight loss challenges with IBS

If you have got IBS you probably have a list of foods you know help you symptoms, and food which you avoid. If this diet has led to weight gain it can feel very challenging to try to change what feels safe and comfortable. You may be feeling stuck, and trapped. 

It’s hard for any of us to get the right headspace to buy new foods, find new recipes and adjust eating habits. 

Think about your brain as a computer, it only has a limited amount of processing power, or working memory. Going on a diet takes up this mental space because we need to create new habits and actions. Our brain likes things to stay the same, so we opt for the route that keeps to what we know. 

So change at any time is hard, and it’s much harder to do when we are stressed or worried about our finances, family health or relationships. It can be worse if you fear new foods will give you stomach cramps, bloating or constipation. 

What to eat to lose weight with IBS

If you're trying to lose weight with IBS you might have experienced the frustrating cycle of changing your diet to lose weight, only to revert back to the safe foods when you feel it’s not worth the symptoms. 

Everyone with IBS will have very different triggers. Anna Mapson, a Registered Nutritionist mBANT, recommends getting a personalised approach to weight loss with IBS by understanding the root causes of your symptoms. Addressing the reasons behind your IBS symptoms is really important, to allow you to expand your range of accepted foods. 

The bacteria in our gut are vital for our digestion, and we are learning more about how they interact with our immune health and metabolism. Some people with IBS may have an overgrowth of bacteria, some people will be low in beneficial bacteria. Both scenarios can cause distressing digestive symptoms. 

Some people find the low FODMAP diet useful to identify triggers, but this is a very restrictive diet and should only be undertaken under the support of a nutritional professional. This way of eating removes any fermentable carbohydrates which may be causing IBS symptoms. The low FODMAP diet should not be followed long term because it will starve the beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

Some studies have found removing gluten from the diet may improve IBS, but this won’t help everyone. For some people it’s just wheat rather than gluten. 

Things to consider as part of your weight loss plan include:

  • Getting enough sleep - aim for 8 hours every night. When we are tired we tend to eat more and crave sugary carbs to give us an energy boost. 
  • Prioritising time for relaxation and mindfulness - when we are stressed digestive symptoms will be worse, and weight loss will be harder due to increased stress hormones. 
  • Movement every day - Intensive exercise may exacerbate IBS symptoms so include gentle movement such as walking, swimming, yoga
  • Decreasing your sedentary time - getting up and moving around throughout the day is important. 
  • Consider the timing of your food - aim for a break from eating overnight of 12-14 hours if you can manage it will give your body time to rest from digestion and allow your hunger hormones to reset