How To Gain Weight With IBS? 5 Tips May Help You To Gain Weight 2023

Sevginur Akdas

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

how to gain weight with ibs

While there are a great number of people that are trying to lose weight, just as many people are trying to gain weight. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is similar[1] in symptoms to a health condition called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD is also a gastrointestinal[2] health condition; both of these can make it hard to gain weight. If you’re wondering how to gain weight with IBS, not to worry – there are things you can do that can help with IBS that may also be effective for IBD.

Those with IBS experience various changing bowel symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation in the different stages of this syndrome. Due to the lack of knowledge about disease progression, there aren’t any specific therapy protocols established. If IBS is uncontrolled, it can affect your ability to fully absorb your food, making it harder to gain weight. 

In this article, we look for solutions and tips for IBS weight gain based on recent literature research.

5 Tips To Gain Weight With IBS

  1. Clean eating for healthy weight gain
  2. Low FODMAP diet to reduce IBS symptoms
  3. Meal planning to consume high calories
  4. Exercise support to increase muscle mass
  5. Stress relief to improve health

How Does IBS Affect Your Weight?

IBS is a gastrointestinal health condition that can make it hard to gain weight. It is characterized by symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, or pain which leads to a decrease in food intake.

IBS affects[3] 5-20% of the general population and it is commonly diagnosed in adults before 50 years old. IBS is seen more frequently[4] in women than in men.

During the attack periods[5] of irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, cramps, eating habits, a restrictive diet, and psychological challenges cause IBS weight loss.

This makes it challenging to gain weight because of the symptoms and the diet restrictions that are often prescribed to control these symptoms.

Does IBS Make It Hard To Gain Weight?

Diarrhea, one of the main symptoms of IBS, prevents digestion and absorption, resulting in a large amount of calorie loss and leading to weight loss.

Thus, another reason making it difficult to gain weight with IBS is that those with IBS cannot eat many foods due to their trigger effects. Preferring other foods rather than foods that may trigger IBS symptoms may be beneficial to gain weight.

IBS patients’ self-reports[6] showed that:

  • Wheat products
  • Dairy products
  • Caffeine
  • Hot spices
  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Onion
  • Peas
  • Fried and smoked food choices can trigger IBS symptoms

Especially, dairy products and wheat products are important sources of calories, carbohydrates, and protein for many healthy people. When IBS patients have to exclude these food groups from their daily diet it creates a large calorie deficit, which can make it hard to get enough calories to maintain weight. 

Furthermore, an aversion to all foods may arise during IBS flare-ups due to increased discomfort and sensitivity in the digestive system during these periods. This is the main cause of weight loss in IBS. Supporting digestion with digestive enzymes may help to reduce IBS symptoms.

On the other hand, increased gut motility is also a great challenge for many, and slowing down bowel movements is essential along with modified dietary habits or gut supplement treatments.  

How To Gain Weight With IBS? 5 Tips To Follow

Clean Eating for Healthy Weight Gain

Clean Eating for Healthy Weight Gain

A clean diet is a diet rich in nutritious whole foods that are beneficial for health. This contains different foods from gut-friendly diets that may help control symptoms.

The foods that will cause inflammation in the body or worsen IBS symptoms are removed from the diet, and healthy, easy-to-digest foods take their place to meet energy needs. This approach may be valuable in controlling inflammatory bowel disease as well.

Nutritious Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source and are essential in the diet, as they contain B vitamins and many essential minerals. A healthy weight gain diet should include quality sources of carbohydrates that are easy to digest. 

These carbohydrate sources should be gluten- and fructose-free foods that are less likely to  trigger IBS symptoms such as

  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Gluten-free pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat

High-Quality Proteins

Consumption of high protein foods is essential to promote healthy weight gain and preserve muscle mass. Getting in enough protein helps prevent muscle loss, provides necessary calories, and can stave off weight loss. 

Gaining weight by supporting muscle mass is essential for healthy weight gain.

Although it is sometimes overlooked, many high-protein food sources are high-calorie foods that can promote weight gain n a nutritious way. Here are the high-protein foods for those with IBS:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Lactose-free dairy products
  • Seeds and nuts

Healthy Fats

Fat sources are rich in calories and essential for gaining weight. Healthy fats provide essential fatty acids to improve general health.  Here are the good options as healthy oils to increase calorie intake. 

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado 

Enriching any kind of meal or snack with healthy oils helps to consume more calories.

Olive oil may also help reduce stomach pain associated with IBS, according to research[7]. Coconut oil is a good lactose-free milk alternative. There are also several other types of oil products that may relieve IBS symptoms. 

To deal with bloating there are also supplements such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, immune boosters, etc. Also, several plant-based products may help to improve gut health.

Low FODMAP Diet to Reduce IBS Symptoms

how to gain weight with ibs

FODMAP is a functional diet that restricts certain carbohydrate-containing foods called Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides, and Polyols (FODMAPs). It is a special approach to help reduce IBS symptoms.

It involves a full elimination diet of these foods first, with the gradual reintroduction of each food to identify the biggest food triggers for IBS symptoms.

Avoiding high FODMAP foods and focusing on more low FODMAP foods may help to avoid symptoms and weight loss in IBS. The reason behind the restriction of these high FODMAP foods is to avoid symptoms in the digestive system or not to exacerbate.

High FODMAP[8] foods are short-chain carbohydrates that increase water volume in the bowel which are quickly fermented by gut bacteria. This can lead to bloating, distension, discomfort, and eventually abdominal pain in many people with IBS. 

Recent studies indicated that avoiding certain high  FODMAP foods decreases an inflammatory reaction in the digestive tract. It helps to lower[9] harmful fecal bacteria and cuts off their energy source. Limiting high FODMAP foods such as

  • Dairy products with lactose such as milk, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
  • Wheat products with gluten such as cereal, bread, biscuits, etc.
  • High-fructose fruits such as apples, cherries, pears, peaches, etc.
  • Legumes
  • Some vegetables, such as onion, garlic, cabbage, artichokes, asparagus, etc. may reduce discomfort and abdominal pain. 

A meta-analysis study[10] including randomized control trials showed that those who followed the low FODMAP diet reported a significant reduction in abdominal pain and bloating compared to a traditional diet or high FODMAPs-containing diet.

Meal Planning to Consume High Calories

Meal Planning To Consume High Calories

Having frequent meals help support weight gain with irritable bowel syndrome, as this makes it easier to meet your nutritional needs at the end of the day. 

For example, women who ate three main meals a day versus just one had a 32% reduction[11] in IBS symptoms, and also are more likely to meet their daily calorie needs for weight gain.

Consuming your meals in a drink form can also make it easier to boost calorie intake in a meal. Incorporating snacks in between meals can also help provide additional calories.

Exercise Support to Increase Muscle Mass

Exercise Support to Increase Muscle Mass

Exercise can help increase muscle mass and support weight gain. With the right exercise strategy, you can gain weight. 

Weight training or resistance exercises[12] are specifically beneficial to increase muscle mass for healthy weight gain. Also, it can help relieve the stress[13] associated with IBS. It is well-known that reducing stress helps to improve IBS symptoms and disease severity.

Data obtained from 683 patients[14] with IBS showed that exercise has significant beneficial effects and can be accepted as an effective treatment, and can support weight gain when done right.

Stress Relief to Improve Health

Stress Relief to Improve Health

Meditation over medication. Yes, even though it is hard to believe for some people, meditation has the power to relieve symptoms of many diseases.

In addition to the physical symptoms associated with IBS, it also can negatively impact mental health and affect the quality of life. 

For these reasons alone, it is important to receive psychological and spiritual through methods such as meditation or other spiritual practices[15]. Various psychotherapies[16] can also be used to support mental health and well-being. 

The Bottom Line

IBS is a common digestive system health problem that affects digestion and can make it difficult to gain weight. Different approaches are used to deal with IBS. The basis of these approaches lies in adapting the diet pattern to IBS.

Achieving healthy weight gain with IBS involves a combination of avoiding food triggers and incorporating more easy-to-digest, high-calorie nutritious foods that support weight gain. Eating more frequently, incorporating strength training exercises, and managing stress can all further promote healthy weight gain. 

With a combination of these strategies and a personalized care plan, it is possible to gain weight with IBS and improve your symptoms at the same time. Always consult with a medical professional for individualized guidance on gaining weight with IBS.

In addition, exercise and stress management are among the effective methods to reduce IBS symptoms and achieve healthy weight gain with IBS.

+ 16 sources

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  7. Vrdoljak, J., Kumric, M., Vilovic, M., Martinovic, D., Tomic, I.J., Krnic, M., Ticinovic Kurir, T. and Bozic, J. (2022). Effects of Olive Oil and Its Components on Intestinal Inflammation and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Nutrients, [online] 14(4), p.757. doi:10.3390/nu14040757.
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Sevginur Akdas

Written by:

Sevginur Akdas, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

Sevginur Akdas is a researcher, medical writer, and clinical dietitian, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in metabolism, chronic diseases, and clinical nutrition fields. She has many scientific articles, meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and book chapters on nutrition, chronic diseases, dietary supplements, maternal and child nutrition, molecular nutrition & functional foods topics as a part of a research team currently. Besides her academic background, she is also a professional health&medical writer since 2017.

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

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