Looking for answers on how to gain weight for IBS, leaky gut, SIBO or other gut problems? The struggle is real!
While the majority of society is obsessed with weight loss, many folks with chronic gut problems (like IBS, leaky gut and SIBO) have the opposite “problem”—we want (and need) to gain weight!
In this article, let’s chat how to gain weight for IBS, leaky gut, SIBO and beyond!
My Weight Loss & IBS/SIBO Story
I struggled with “gut problems” and weight most of my life!
Constipation, Processed Foods & Weight Gain
As a kid, I was chronically constipated. My pediatrician, Dr. Joe, prescribed me Fiber One cereal with strawberries for breakfast and Miralax laxative powder for “dessert.” My steady diet of processed foods (a la Goldfish crackers and Lunchables) and sweet tooth didn’t help much, and I actually carried more weight for the first 9 years of my life.
Chronic Dieting, IBS & Weight Loss
Then, anorexia and my eating disorder struggles happened (age 10), along with continued constipation, bloating and IBS (intermittent stool habits) with my crazy, diet-obsessed eating and exercise habits. Artificial sweeteners, 6 hour long workouts, chronic fasting and 500-calorie diets wreaked havoc on both my gut health and my weight—it spiraled! Between both my dieting habits and my horrible gut health, I lost 20 to 30 healthy pounds—only to regain the weight every time I was admitted to eating disorder hospitals and treatment centers where Pop-tarts, pizza and Prozac medication were part of the the “standard diet” and my constipation was exacerbated. Then…I’d lose the weight again. It was a vicious cycle.
Autoimmune, SIBO, IBS, Leaky Gut & Weight Loss
Fast forward to my mid and late 20’s—recovery from my eating disorder, but with a whole new set of health problems (thanks to my chronic dieting and fasting days that further disturbed my gut balance).
Autoimmune diseases galore. SIBO. IBS. Leaky gut. The list goes on.
Although I was healthy (mentally) and no longer struggling with the eating disorder, I lost 15 to 20 pounds without trying in a matter of months as my gut problems and autoimmune conditions really took center stage.
Weight loss went hand-in-hand with IBS, SIBO and leaky gut.
To try to “fix” the issues and gain weight, I counted macros and calories, force-fed myself extra calories (avocado smoothies anyone?), lifted weights, cut the cardio…I did “all the things” to gain weight, but no matter what, I didn’t gain more than half a pound to one pound…only to lose it again.
I felt stuck. Perhaps like many of you reading this article who want to gain weight with IBS, SIBO and leaky gut—stop the weight loss cycle!
If you’re not working with a functional medicine practitioner, I highly recommend it! Because, when I discovered how to actually address my root causes behind my weight loss, my entire gut problems AND weight loss struggles were changed.
Today, I help folks, just like you, with all sorts of health challenges—including how to gain weight for IBS, leaky gut and SIBO if this is your struggle.
Let’s chat 7 hacks on how to gain weight for IBS, leaky gut and SIBO.
How to Gain Weight for IBS, Leaky Gut, SIBO & Beyond – 7 Hacks That Work
Weight Gain Hack #1: Cut the Stress
Stress is the anecdote to weight gain and dialing back stress was the #1 game changer that helped me move the needle forward and easily and effortlessly put (a much needed) 15 pounds back on in a matter of months.
Contrary to popular belief, stress goes far beyond mental stress (like stress in rush hour traffic), it also includes physiological and perceived stresses like overtraining, circadian rhythm dysfunction (looking at blue light at night), eating foods you’re intolerant to, working “too much”, lack of leisure and play.
The thing about stress is, the body sees ALL types of stress the same. Your autonomic nervous system cannot tell a difference in running from a bear in the wild versus “oh my gosh, I am 10 grams of carbs over my limit” versus “can I please get a workout break?”
Your body releases the same amount of cortisol in the face of stress and if stress continues with little to no recovery, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode and inflammation accumulates in the gut.
Ultimately, when the body is in constant “fight or flight” mode, it cannot be in a place of optimal homeostasis (ie. “Balance”). For some folks, “stress” means weight gain (and a further disrupted gut). For others (like me and you), “stress” means weight loss (and a further disrupted gut).
“De-stressing” the body looks different for each person, but a few game changers that have helped me and my gut “cut the stress” include:
- Daily yoga classes and/or meditation (like the Insight Timer app)
- Infrared sauna sweat sessions
- Doing something “fun” and creative for me—outside of work and working out (I took up acting classes and reading)
- Fresh air walks (most days)
- Starting my day off with a morning routine before diving into work, emails and social media feeds, including prayer, celery juice, listening to an encouraging podcast and my morning workout
- Doing “less”—creating a “To Don’t List” and focusing only on accomplishing 1-3 essential tasks each day for work
- Deleting the News app on my phone
Weight Gain Hack #2: Love Your Gut
It goes without saying, if you have “gut problems”, your gut is begging for some “gut love.” This too looks different for everyone (depending on your underlying gut issue). This is where working with a functional medicine practitioner can come into play (for lab testing and customization).
For example, if you have SIBO, then “gut love” may look like commencing an anti-microbial herb treatment and triple probiotic therapy; whereas if you have constipation every time you eat, then “gut love” may look like adding in more soluble fiber, supporting your gallbladder with digestive bitters, digestive enzymes and cutting the chronic cardio. Or, one more, if you have insufficiency dysbiosis (not enough healthy gut bugs), then high dose probiotics and prebiotics are going to be your BFF.
Ever seen the studies where mice gain weight when they are transplanted with bacteria from a heavier person; whereas other mice lose weight when they are transplanted with bacteria from a leaner person? All this without changing their diet at all! The bacteria in your gut dictate your body composition.
The good news is that you don’t need a gut transplant to change your gut bacteria or gain weight. Strategic use of probiotics and prebiotics, coupled with working with a functional medicine practitioner to help you figure out the best strains for your gut via gut testing and assessment can be helpful!
Weight Gain Hack #3: Add in Prebiotic Fiber
Speaking of prebiotic fiber, prebiotics are the fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria.
When I added prebiotic fiber (ie. A few more carbs) into my diet, my gut and body began to transform!
Prebiotics and carbs can be “touchy” subjects—both in the metabolism and gut healing worlds. While the words “eat carbs” is a “sin” to many, carbs—just like protein and healthy fats—are an essential macronutrient for energy and metabolic health.
In my gut healing journey, I didn’t tolerate a “ton” of carbs—often feeling bloated, constipated, IBS, fatigued, and blood sugar symptoms (brain fog, energy dips) when I ate a large sweet potato, a large banana or white rice for instance.
However, when I learned my ‘carb threshold’ and began to slowly introduce a few more carbs and fiber into the mix, my body said “thankyou.”
Every body has a unique carb threshold—and you can also push that threshold a bit more, the more you also support your gut in doing so (ie. Taking digestive enzymes with meals, boosting stomach acid, taking probiotics and/or antimicrobial herbs to clear out dysbiosis).
For me, my ‘carb threshold’ looked something like going from only 20 to 30 grams of starch and fruit per day to about 60 to 100 grams of starch and/or fruit each day, including:
- Half a large banana and a green juice in the morning (approximately 20-25 grams)
- Roasted carrots and beets (or another starch) with lunch (20-25 grams)
- 1 to 2 cups of winter squash (kabocha, butternut, acorn) or half a sweet potato at night (20-25 grams)
- Olipop drink (or other prebiotic fiber) with my supplements (13-15 grams carbs)
Just one example.
Weight Gain Hack #4: Kick Intermittent Fasting + Eat Balanced Meals
Speaking of introducing carbs, another ‘stigma’ I needed to personally get over is the stigma that ‘eating breakfast is bad’ and the stigma that ‘eating 3 meals per day is bad.’
Eating food and fueling your body is your birthright, and contrary to popular heresy that humans only ate one meal per day in the cave days, Aryuvedic medicine and Chinese Medicine often shed light on the fact that many ancestral cultures actually ate 3 balanced meals per day, with the largest meals in the earlier part of the day (breakfast and/or lunch).
According to the Chinese Medicine clock ideal digestion times include eating breakfast between 5 to 7 am and lunch between 11 and 1 pm. Most Instagram and keto or IF (intermittent fasting) influencers are not talking about this.
Given your goals are to ‘gain weight,’ I personally found that nourishing my body three times per day prevents me from losing weight. Given my own struggles with constipation and poor gut motility, one of these meals is typically a liquid based meal (either a shake or a soup or broth), yet, nonetheless, this eating style helps me a.) consume enough calorically and b.) balance my blood sugar (so my body is not more stressed out during the day).
Consider working with a functional medicine practitioner and/or nutritionist who can help you determine a good eating schedule per day.
As for what to include in each meal, keep it balanced, including:
- Protein (organic, wild-caught, pastured—preferably a complete animal protein source for the most complete amino acids—4 to 6 oz is appropriate for most adults)
- Something green
- Something colorful (a fruit, veggie starch/tuber or root—cooked) or a ‘real food’ starch (cooked and cooled white rice, properly prepared oats or legumes)
- Healthy fats (2 to 3 servings)
Weight Gain Hack #5: Dial Back Your Exercise Intensity
Some blogs and ‘weight gain’ advice tells folks to quit exercising altogether. Other advice says to ‘lift heavy weights.’ How should you work out?
If you’re anything like me, you like to move! I love working out—CrossFit, bootcamps, spin, dance, yoga, hiking, weight training. I am always up for anything!
However, in order to gain weight, too much burn or intensity is counter productive.
In my gut and weight healing journey, I had to find that “Goldilock’s approach” (just right) that allowed me to still do things I love to move, while also moving the needle forward (and de-stressing my body.
For me this looked like building a solid foundation of strength training and yoga at the core of my program (I like to lift and do yoga most days of the week week), while also continuing things I love (like CrossFit or a HIIT workout) 2 to 3 times per week at a lower intensity (60-70%) and also incorporating one “fun” day one day per week—bodyweight style workouts, hiking, yoga, etc.
Similar to your carb ‘threshold,’ every body is different, however, cutting the chronic cardio and intensity is pretty much an essential if weight gain is your goal.
Weight Gain Hack #6: Have Fun with Fitness (& Life Outside the Gym)
On the fitness note, fitness should be FUN. If you are in obsessive workout mode or ‘militant’ mode with your fitness, I’ve found this only shot me in the foot with my goals to gain weight.
Life was meant to be lived outside the gym and the hour or two spent in the gym or workout should be a small fraction that enhances the other 22 to 23 hours outside the gym.
Additionally, what are your other hobbies and interests outside of food, health and working out?
I mentioned it earlier, but tapping into my creative genius with acting classes and writing and blogging were two things that brought me to “life” outside the focus on weight, food and fitness. Socializing with friends was another—most days I aim to do at least one thing with someone or connect with someone on a social level outside work hours (even if it’s just a genuine conversation via phone).
Basically, enrich your life with hobbies, passions and people to foster “balance” and healing.
Weight Gain Hack #7: Speak Healing into Your Body
Last but not least, never forget, when given the right tools, your body innately wants to heal itself.
Mentally, see yourself “as if”—as if you are already healed, weight restored, whole and ABLE to gain and/or maintain your weight.
Speak “I am” statements over your healing.: “I am healing.” “I am healthy.” “I am X-number of pounds.”
Then, embody “that girl” or “that guy” who IS healthy and whole.
There you go! 7 hacks that work to gain weight for IBS, leaky gut and SIBO. Want support in restoring those “last 5 to 20+ pounds” too? Don’t go it alone.
I love nothing more than helping individuals just like you find more body love, gut healing and food freedom in my functional medicine and nutrition practice and virtual clinic. I’d be thrilled to help you too!