Our weight fluctuates; it goes up and down. A number of factors influence our weight, including lifestyle choices, activity levels, diet, and even health status. Digestive disorders also play a role in our body weight, and in this post, we are going to discuss the conditions that cause weight gain. Scroll down to learn more about them.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is diagnosed when symptoms of acid reflux occur more than twice a week. You have acid reflux when the contents from the stomach move up to the esophagus. GERD is a common condition that affects about 20% of the adult population in western culture. In most people, symptoms of GERD are mild, but reflux esophagitis (esophageal mucosa damage) develops in the third of patients. About 7% of people with GERD experience symptoms on a daily basis, 14% every week, while 15% to 40% of patients have GERD symptoms on a monthly basis. Although the prevalence of GERD is similar in women and men, the latter are more likely to develop complications (1).

    The most common signs and symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, the sensation of a lump in the throat, and regurgitation of food or a sour liquid (2). People with nighttime acid reflux may experience symptoms such as chronic cough, sleep disturbances, laryngitis, and new or worsening of existing asthma.

    Evidence shows that GERD is directly associated with even small weight gain, even if without an affected person having to be overweight. Additionally, the increase in GERD risk is correlated to the increase in BMI. Scientists don’t advise people with ideal weight to slim down if they are suffering from GERD. That being said, if a person of ideal weight puts on a few pounds and notices GERD symptoms are becoming more serious, then shedding a few pounds could help relieve the severity of those symptoms (3). 

    WHAT TO DO: Some people may experience relief in GERD symptoms when they’re eating something, but it's only temporary, and you should avoid that practice because it can cause even more weight gain (4). Identify triggers that increase the severity of symptoms and avoid those foods. Consult a doctor regarding medications you can use to relieve heartburn and other symptoms of GERD.

    • Ulcerative colitis 

      Ulcerative colitis is defined as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) indicated by persistent inflammation and long-lasting ulcers in the digestive tract. The condition develops in the innermost lining of the colon and rectum. Ulcerative colitis is the most common in North America and Western Europe. Figures show that more than 750,000 Americans are affected by ulcerative colitis (5), but some reports demonstrate that the number could be even higher. The exact cause of ulcerative colitis is unknown, but various factors can play a role such as age (usually starts at the age of 30), family history, being Caucasian, and of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. But, the truth is that everyone can develop ulcerative colitis, which is indicated by symptoms such as fatigue, fever, diarrhea (often with pus or blood), abdominal pain and cramping, rectal pain, and often bleeding, the urgency to defecate, among others.  

      One of the most common misconceptions about ulcerative colitis and IBDs, in general, is that people who have them are thin. Sure, weight loss is a common symptom of this disorder, but some people can also put on a few pounds. The treatment for ulcerative colitis, steroids, can cause weight gain. A little known fact is that a common treatment for ulcerative colitis can make the body fat redistribute itself, e.g., instead of being in glutes or stomach, the fat can move to neck and face. Evidence shows that obesity and IBD are linked through shared environmental risk factors and mediated through changes in the intestinal microbiome (6). 

      Reasons why ulcerative colitis and other IBDs can cause weight gain are numerous, but unfortunately, they are not fully studied, and we can only hope this will change in the near future. For example, eating a healthy diet can be a challenge for people with IBD, particularly for patients who have undergone surgery on their intestines. Some people find the consumption of fruits and vegetables uncomfortable and feel like eating processed foods is easier on their stomach, which can subsequently cause weight gain. Let's also not forget the fact that exercise is difficult for people with ulcerative colitis and other IBDs. As you are already aware, a lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain, even if you have this digestive disorder (7)

      WHAT TO DO: Keeping weight in a healthy range can be a complicated task for men and women with ulcerative colitis. Ideally, you should adhere to the doctor's recommendations. Make sure you work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you and helps alleviate symptoms. Also, we strive to be active. While strenuous activities can be a problem, you can opt for some easier alternatives, walk more, do some low-intensity exercises, etc. 

      • Peptic ulcer disease 

        The term peptic ulcer disease refers to painful ulcers or sores located in the lining of the stomach or the first part of the duodenum, your small intestine (8). These ulcers occur when acid in the digestive tract eats away the inner surface of the small intestine or stomach. Although everyone can develop peptic ulcer disease, some people are at a higher risk than others. Common risk factors include the consumption of spicy foods, unmanaged stress, drinking alcohol, and smoking. The biggest telltale sign of peptic ulcer disease is a burning stomach pain. The pain becomes worse due to stomach acid, or when a person has an empty stomach. Other symptoms of this disease include the feeling of fullness, bloating, nausea, heartburn, and fatty food intolerance.

        Due to the fact that patients feel eating relieves duodenal pain, they may experience weight gain (9). This is why it’s important to clarify that the condition itself doesn’t cause weight gain, but eating habits of patients may lead to putting on a few pounds. Overeating to relieve pain can become a strategy for some patients, and consequences are felt in the form of weight gain. 

        WHAT TO DO: If you have peptic ulcer disease, you may want to consult the doctor about medications you can use. Some medications prescribed for this condition include antibiotics, drugs that block the production of acid and promote healing, drugs to reduce the production of acid, antacids to neutralize stomach acid, and drugs that protect the stomach lining and small intestine (10). Follow instructions provided by your doctor and report the frequency and severity of symptoms so that the healthcare provider can adjust the treatment if necessary. While overeating seems like a good way to stop the pain, you should still choose a well-balanced diet abundant in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients particularly vitamins A and C. In order to establish the balance of bacteria and improve digestive health thereby to maintain weight in healthy range you may want to consider eating probiotics-containing foods. Avoid smoking and drinking, and manage your stress properly.

        • Food intolerance

          Food intolerance is the difficulty digesting certain foods, but it's not uncommon for people to confuse it with food allergy. So what's the difference? Food allergy triggers the immune system, while food intolerance doesn't. Numbers show that about 20% of people in the world have a food intolerance (11). It can be difficult to uncover the root cause of food intolerance. Some causes include the absence of an enzyme that digests a certain food group, certain chemicals in foods, toxins, among others. Compared to food allergy, symptoms of food intolerance take longer to manifest themselves. Some of the most common food intolerance symptoms include bloating, hives, irritable bowel, migraines and headaches, runny nose, cough, stomachache, feeling under the weather.

          The link between food intolerance and weight gain is quite complicated (12). The first reason is histamine and other immune factors that make capillaries "leaky," thus allowing the immune system's white blood cells to move into the battlefield. As a result, more fluid reaches the tissues, and you become waterlogged. It's also worth noting that the immune reactions impair the balance of prostaglandins, which can cause abdominal bloating and water retention. Moreover, when the immune system reacts to certain foods you consume, chronic inflammation occurs and disrupts the appetite-suppressing messages that the hunger hormone is sending to the brain. As a result, you keep eating more and more, which can cause weight gain.

          WHAT TO DO: The best way to maintain weight in a healthy range and prevent various complications is to avoid or limit eating foods that trigger the symptoms and increase their severity. Take an antacid if you eat something that bothers your stomach (13). Remember, just because you feel that you've gained weight with peptide ulcer disease, the truth is that you may just be bloated. Visiting your doctor regularly can be practical in terms of proper management of this condition.

          • Gastroparesis 

            Gastroparesis is defined as a condition wherein the stomach is unable to empty itself in a normal manner (14). The specific cause is still unknown, but in many cases, the disease occurs due to nerve damage of the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach muscles. Various factors can make you more susceptible to developing this condition, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, nervous system diseases, abdominal or esophageal surgery, infections, scleroderma (connective tissue disease), among others. Many people with gastroparesis don’t experience any symptoms at first. Signs and symptoms of this condition include nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite, acid reflux, abdominal bloating, and pain, just to name a few.

            Bearing in mind that the normal digestion is unable to occur in patients with gastroparesis, it’s not uncommon for people to feel like they have already put on a few pounds. Some people feel fullness and notice bloating, but the important factor in the management of gastroparesis is to make the changes in your diet. To keep your weight in a healthy range, it is crucial to avoid more fatty and fiber-filled foods because they are difficult to digest. You may also decide to chew your food thoroughly, eat smaller meals more frequently, reduce the intake of fibrous fruits such as broccoli, orange, etc. which can cause bezoars.

            • Crohns disease

              Crohn’s disease is a type of IBD wherein parts of the digestive system become inflamed (15). Numbers show that 3.1 million people in the US have IBD, while 780,000 Americans have Crohn’s disease. The precise cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown, but various factors could play a role such as a heredity and immune system problems. Not all people have the same Crohn’s disease symptoms, but in most cases, they include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and cramps, fever, abdominal pain, and weight loss, among others.

              Crohn’s disease is one of those digestive disorders that people associate with weight loss only, but the truth is it can cause weight gain as well (16). How? It’s simple, steroids can increase cravings for carbs, and they also make you hold on to more water, which can cause bloating. All of this can lead to weight gain.

              WHAT TO DO: Advise your doctor about medications that do not have weight gain as a side effect.  Adjust your diet so that it doesn’t have foods that trigger your symptoms. There are many drugs for Crohn’s disease that you can buy in the over-the-counter form, but it doesn't stop you from consulting your doctor. It's also crucial to avoid drinking more coffee, smoking, and drinking alcohol.

              Other conditions that can cause weight gain

              • Irritable bowel syndrome 
              • Bacteria overgrowth 
              • Constipation
              • Ulcers

              Bottom line

              Digestive disorders are associated with weight loss, but they can cause weight gain too. Unfortunately, this particular consequence of digestive conditions is poorly studied, although it deserves wider recognition. Most digestive disorders cause problems because eating can seemingly alleviate their symptoms. To avoid gaining weight, you need to work with your doctor to create a plan that you will follow for easier and more effective management of the condition.


              (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441938/

              (2) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940

              (3) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/44383.php

              (4) https://www.aboutgerd.org/diet-lifestyle-changes/diet-changes-for-gerd.html

              (5) https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/ulcerative-colitis#statistics

              (6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5028803/

              (7) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/physical-activity-and-obesity/

              (8) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peptic-ulcer/symptoms-causes/syc-20354223

              (9) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gastroenterology_hepatology/diseases_conditions/faqs/peptic_ulcer_disease.html

              (10) https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/peptic-ulcer-diagnosis-treatment

              (11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695393/

              (12) https://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/food-sensitivities-can-make-you-fat

              (13) https://www.healthline.com/health/antacids

              (14) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15522-gastroparesis

              (15) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/crohns-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353304

              (16) https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/crohns-disease/qa/what-are-the-mild-side-effects-of-steroids-for-crohns-disease

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