Part of living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) means thinking about food a great deal; trigger foods, safe foods, nutrient intake and counting calories can all be part of maintaining a balanced IBD diet. If you have a chronic illness, keeping your weight at an ideal level is crucial to maintaining a healthy baseline that will help you manage symptom flares and to minimize the impact of that condition on your life. For people with IBD, being under or overweight can have grave consequences for your health and lead to further complications relating to your illness.

Unwanted weight loss is common with people living with IBD, as malabsorption restricts the nutrient intake their digestive system is capable of handling. As a result, a large percentage of the IBD community struggles to keep their muscle and fat at levels recommended by health professionals.

Being underweight can have severe complications for those hoping to have life-changing surgery. Malnutrition limits the body’s ability to recover at a regular rate, meaning that some patients end up having surgeries in stages, rather than all at once. This will not only increase the time spent in hospital, but also the surgery cost and overall recovery time.
Being malnourished has also been shown to weaken the immune system, causing everyday bugs to become increasingly dangerous in instances where the body is unable to fight them off quickly. Persons who are underweight are also at greater risk of anemia, hair loss and infertility.

Whilst IBD is often thought of as a ‘thin-person’s disease’, that’s actually not the case for many. It is possible to be overweight and be diagnosed with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis and sometimes the illness can make it hard to lose weight, due to fatigue, certain medication side effects and dietary complications.

Exercise, that old friend of weight loss, can sometimes be challenging if you have IBD – you might find it hard to get out of bed and start moving if you’re constantly feeling ill and fatigued. But being overweight brings with it a range of other risks including diabetes and heart disease – all of which can complicate the management of your IBD, as well as affecting your overall health.

Your healthcare team is your best resource and should be your primary authority when it comes to getting your weight to an ideal figure. Part of what makes IBD such a tricky condition to live with is the difficulty of working out which foods you can and can’t eat without triggering discomfort, cramps, diarrhea and other pleasantries. The combination of your doctor, a dietitian, as well as an exercise physiologist, could help you tackle the situation on all fronts. They can help you form an exercise and eating plan that caters to your fitness, nutritional and IBD needs, so think of these people as the driving force behind your wellness strategy.

Always remember, keeping your body at a healthy weight whilst living with IBD is absolutely achievable and something that you don’t need to do on your own. Support is out there, so make sure you get it when you need it.

Date: 22/09/2014 IRIS number AU-REM0328