Today, we are going to talk about digestive disorders that can cause weight gain. Yes, you heard that right! We are not going to talk about food, carbs, junk, sugar or a sedentary lifestyle that causes weight gain, but the digestive disorders that can cause weight gain instead. When you seem to be doing it all right, following a healthy diet and following an exercise schedule, maybe the reason you aren’t losing weight is because of the underlying disorder with your digestive system.
A routine health check is as important as a diet plan and exercise routine. Now, you may be wondering what a digestive disorder is in the first place and how it can be diagnosed. And what are common digestive disorders that can prolong your weight loss journey?
Common Digestive Disorders
A digestive disorder is any type of pathology that is related to your digestive system. There are two categories of disorders related to your digestive tract.
a) The first category is the one that damages the organs of the gastrointestinal tract. For example – liver cirrhosis.
b) The second category is the one that directly interferes with the absorption and digestion process. For example – celiac disease.
Both types of these disorders can contribute to weight gain. (3).
Liver cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver has been scarring for a long time as a result of damage caused by diseases that directly affect the liver.
The patient presents with symptoms of tiredness, a decrease in appetite, itching on different parts of the body, edema on ankles, swelling of the abdomen due to fluid accumulation among others Major cause of liver cirrhosis is hepatitis B and hepatitis C in third world countries and alcohol intake in first world countries. Though, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, chemicals, toxins, metals are also some causes of liver cirrhosis.
As the liver is damaged, liver cells can’t produce an adequate amount of albumin in the body. Now, what is albumin? Albumin is a major protein in your body that maintains your body’s extracellular volume. It is responsible for creating the oncotic pressure. When sufficient albumin is not produced in the body, fluid is retained in the body which causes swelling.
As a result, you gain weight and your whole body becomes swollen. So, if you are looking to lose weight and you are an alcoholic, then you need to stop drinking. Similarly, if you are suffering from hepatitis B or C, you need to start treatment of those conditions through proper care otherwise, you will not be able to reach your goal weight.
Peptic ulcer disease
Peptic ulcer disease includes:
a) A stomach ulcer is a condition in which the lining of the stomach is damaged. Its common symptom is a pain in epigastrium.
b) Duodenal ulcer is a condition in which the lining of the duodenum which is the first part of your small intestine is damaged. As a result, the patient feels pain in this area.
The pain caused by a duodenal ulcer is temporarily relieved by the intake of food since food along with saliva soothe the ulcers by providing a coating on the area. Due to this patients suffering from a duodenal ulcer eat more than required for some semblance of relief thus leading to weight gain.
This weight gain is not directly linked to duodenal ulcer but it is a consequence of symptomatic relief measures. Peptic ulcer disease is quite common due to Helicobacter pylori infections and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. So, rule out any possible ulcer and if present, treat it properly. Then, go for any diet regimen and exercise routine.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is known to cause weight gain in its patients. (1) When bacteria grow in your small intestine, they can cause weight gain in the following ways:
- a) Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth decreases your metabolic rate, thus causing weight gain.
- b) It disturbs the balance of your hormones related to hunger, particularly insulin, thus causing weight gain.
- c) It also prolongs the process of food absorption in your body, which causes your body to take longer to realize it’s full, thus causing you to gain weight.
- d) SIBO produces certain gases in your body which interfere with your normal digestion process, thus causing weight gain.
So, if you are suffering from small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, you need to take proper medication to treat the condition. , Once your physician says your small intestine has healthy flora, you are good to go. You can then follow a diet plan and exercise routine.
Constipation is an irregularity in bowel habits. Increased frequency of one or no bowel movements per day with normal food intake could mean you suffer from constipation. Constipation can present solely or it can be a component of irritable bowel syndrome.
People who remain constipated tend to look fat or seem like they have a belly pouch. Many studies have revealed that people think that constipation is responsible for extra pounds on their scale. This statement is partially true as weight gain in constipation is mainly due to extra fecal matter present in the body but not due to water weight or absolute weight gain.
So, in order to relieve constipation, you could eat plenty of salads and drink lots of water. Both of these habits will help treat constipation.
However, if your constipation is due to another ailment such as irritable bowel syndrome or damage to the autonomic nervous system, then you need to see a physician immediately.
Many parasites are known to cause digestive disorders and research has shown that Teania solium, which is a type of tapeworm present in pork meat can be responsible for weight gain. While such a parasitic infestation is uncommon, if you eat pork frequently and seem to be gaining weight for no reason, you need to get examined. It is possible that some parasites may be causing you to gain weight.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a type of digestive disorder which causes inflammation of the bowel and includes
a) Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease in which there is inflammation of any part of your digestive system from the upper end of your esophagus to your anus. A common complaint is a pain in the abdomen and diarrhea. Some patients also complain of weight loss.
b) Ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that mostly affects the areas of the large intestine. It rarely affects any area of the small intestine. Patient complaints are somewhat similar to Crohn’s disease as ulcerative colitis also causes diarrhea and pain in the abdomen.
Now, these diseases don’t directly cause weight gain but the problem is with their treatment. These diseases’ mainstay treatment is steroids. Steroids relieve the symptoms and treat the inflammation caused by inflammatory bowel disease. Steroids are notorious for causing weight gain and their chronic use can lead to both water weight gain and absolute weight gain. (4)
Bloating is not a severe permanent illness such as inflammatory bowel disease however bloating is caused by foods that produce gases, such as milk and milk products and as a result, you become bloated.
Bloating also occurs in people who suffer from lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
So, either you are suffering from any pathology or you are eating food that your body is not properly digesting, it will ultimately cause weight gain. Now, weight gain is water or gas retention weight or is it absolute weight gain? The answer is it is gas retention weight. Once, gases are out of the system, you will be right on your scale. So, if you want to look slim, you need to avoid such foods that can cause bloating. (2)
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a pathology in which there is a cluster of symptoms that occurs at the same time. For example, diarrhea followed by constipation and abdominal pain commonly occurs. Patients gain weight due to gas or water retention and in some cases due to extra fecal matter as in constipation. Moreover, people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome become picky eaters.
Picky eaters meaning they tend to eat foods that don’t aggravate their symptoms. Different surveys have concluded that people with irritable bowel syndrome prefer to eat rice, white bread, and potatoes. These foods are rich in starch and cause weight gain. Apart from this, irritable bowel syndrome is also associated with stress.
People with type A mostly personality suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. So, for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, people take antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These medications are also known to cause weight gain.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Well, as is evident from the name, gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs due to the incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter. Lower esophageal sphincter becomes incompetent due to obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia among other reasons. Sometimes after eating, excess acid reflux back into the esophagus from the stomach, thus causing heartburn and discomfort. The patient feels a burning sensation in the chest and remains anxious. So, people who are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease tend to eat more because eating brings temporary relief to symptoms by providing food and saliva coating and as a result, such overeating can lead to weight gain.
Gastroparesis is a condition that causes your stomach to become partially paralyzed. A person who is suffering from gastroparesis is unable to follow the normal pattern of stomach emptying.
As a result, food remains accumulated in the stomach which ultimately causes weight gain. The patient suffers from a variety of symptoms, especially heartburn. Most of the time, treatment is surgical. So, if you are suffering from gastroparesis, see a physician immediately.
Intolerance to a type of food
There are many types of intolerances to food and food products like lactose intolerance, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and many more. Such intolerance to food will lead you to only eat foods that you feel comfortable with. For example, people with lactose intolerance do not eat dairy products due to indigestion and bloating. Similarly, patients with gluten sensitivity only eat gluten-free foods. Patients with celiac disease avoid eating wheat-products.
This kind of food intolerance makes you a picky eater. So, if you are suffering from any food intolerance, then try to manage it by finding alternative foods that contain essential nutrients rather than symptomatic relief measures. Once you become aware of your intolerance, talk to a dietitian about a healthy diet plan in order to avoid weight gain.
Damage to the enteric nervous system
The enteric nervous system is a part of the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for controlling movements of your gastrointestinal tract, such as peristalsis and secretory functions. It has both sympathetic and parasympathetic components. You can call it the brain of your gastrointestinal tract.
If it gets damaged as a result of any disease, it can result in impairment of gut functions. It will directly affect gut motility, thus causing constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux and many other symptoms(7) It will also affect gut secretory functions. These consequences due to damage to the enteric nervous system, cause weight gain thus keeping you away from your goal weight.
The Bottom line
Any disorder which is related to your digestive system can interfere with your weight loss goals. So, before starting on a diet & exercise plan, you should also consider getting a health checkup. When your physician rules out all possible digestive disorders, then you are free to follow any diet plan and exercise routine.