How to Gain Weight As a Woman With A Sensitive Stomach

For women who are trying to gain weight, it’s already challenging enough. Things get even harder for women who have sensitive stomachs. They know that they need to eat more food to help gain healthy weight but eating more can often cause digestive problems like bloating, nausea, and other issues. Inside, we’ll take a look at helpful strategies for women who want to gain weight in a healthy way while still respecting their stomach sensitivities.

Before we get started, there are clinical medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease that can cause a sensitive stomach. If you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss or other health issues, you ought to see a professional and get a proper diagnosis, as this could be a sign of underlying health issues.

Like anything you find on the internet—all of this is information only—not advice. Always talk to your medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.

The Big Picture

I’m a co-founded of a program that helps naturally thin women gain weight through our Bony to Bombshell program. We do this by helping them understand how much food they need to eat, how to eat more comfortably, and how to make sure that weight gained is “healthy” weight. For example, our program includes lifting weights so that most of the weight gain is healthy lean mass. Lean mass means things like new muscle growth, glycogen storage in muscle, improved organ health, and bone density improvements. But sometimes, some women will struggle with eating more food due to having a sensitive stomach. It can already be hard enough to eat a normal amount, let alone eating enough to give your body more building blocks to work with.

Thankfully, there are lots of things we can play with to help you see real results when it comes to gaining weight. For example:

  • Meal size
  • Meal timing
  • Food choices
  • Lifestyle choices and environmental factors that affect gut health

First, it’s key to understand the types of foods that your gut agrees with and the foods that cause your gut issues. You can see how if you’re eating a food that’s causing digestive distress, and then you try and eat even more of that food to gain weight, things can unravel quickly.

Once you know what foods help you and which ones are causing gut disruption, you can start putting that into play and start getting results.

Understanding Sensitive Stomachs and Gaining Healthy Weight

For those with a sensitive stomach, gaining weight can be more challenging due to the possible discomforts associated with eating more food. Eating more food is the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling nauseous or experiencing constipation and intestinal gas.

Causes of Sensitive Stomach For Females

A sensitive stomach can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Genetics
  • Maternal health while you were in utero
  • Age
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Parity (how many children you’ve given birth to)
  • Dietary choices
  • Eating improperly prepared foods
  • Eating too large of meals for you
  • Medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease

Learning To Trust Your Gut

The reality is that while there’s a lot that recent research has discovered, there’s a lot that we don’t know.

And for that reason, we’re still shooting a bit in the dark. It is important to understand that every woman is different and to pay attention to how you’re feeling. Pay attention to what makes your sensitive stomach feel good, and pay attention to what makes it feel worse.

For example, a 2016 review has found that oral contraceptives might be linked to inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Here’s a quote from the paper:

“studies have shown an association between oral contraceptive use and risk of [Crohn’s disease] and menopausal hormone therapy and risk of [ulcerative colitis]. Although the exact mechanism of these associations is largely unknown, a number of hypotheses have been proposed.”
Oral Contraceptives & Gut Health

Food Intolerances and Allergies

If you have a clinically diagnosed food allergy, you know to avoid that food. But many women with gut issues don’t have a diagnosed allergy but might be suffering from food intolerance. According to a 2015 review, food intolerances might also be linked to also having seasonal allergies. So if you have seasonal allergies, you might already be running into some minor gut issues. You might get symptoms of bloating, flatulence, acne, rosacea, etc.

In a 2018 study on food restriction for those with ulcerative colitis, researchers looked at IgG antibody responses to foods. Basically, they’re looking at the immune system’s responses to food. Food Intolerances And The Gut

We’ve looked at a handful of similar studies. It seems that the most common food intolerances are:

  1. Eggs
  2. Pasteurized dairy
  3. Wheat
  4. Corn
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Nuts & seeds (and that would include nut/seed butter)
  7. Shellfish
  8. Foods with added sulphates
    • conventional dried fruits, conventional dried coconut, wine, gelatin, collagen peptides, maraschino cherries, pickled onions, sauerkraut, pickles, maple syrup, jams, jellies, biscuits, bread, sausages, etc.

One idea is to keep a food diary to track which foods cause gut issues. You can also work with a professional to help you do this.

But something to consider would be to try different levels of restrictions. For example, you could try cutting out eggs and see if your digestion improves. If you’re still running into issues, then you could try cutting out eggs and white flour. Then try eggs, white flour, and pasteurized dairy, and so on.

In general, I’ve noticed that many people I’ve worked with personally do best when cutting out pasteurized dairy and white flour, which is fortified with elemental iron (which can cause inflammation in some people.) Pasteurized dairy includes whey protein powders. Many women do great with whey proteins, but if you have a sensitive stomach already, you may want to try a different protein powder or skip the powders in general.

Other things that can cause issues are:

  • alcohol
  • high-salt meals
  • spicy meals
  • high-fat foods (deep-fried in particular)
  • and ultra-processed foods

Nutrition for Weight Gain with Sensitive Stomach

Caloric Surplus and Protein

To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than your body burns daily. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 200-300 calories more each day. This doesn’t need to be anything crazy. You could slightly increase the size of each meal, but we’ve found it’s best to just add in a snack somewhere. (We’ll cover more about meal frequency in just a minute.)

You’re also going to need more protein to help with muscle growth. We like to aim for 1 gram of protein per bodyweight pound, but even 0.8 grams is solid. So if you’re 120 pounds, that could be aiming for 96-120 grams of protein each day. The easiest way to do that in a way that’s easy on the stomach is to eat more seafood and meat. Eating muscle meat will also help your muscles grow because they contain other helpful things for muscle like creatine, carnitine, carnosine, etc.

Meal Frequency

Eating smaller, frequent meals can support weight gain while easing sensitive stomach symptoms.

When you eat big meals, you might eat beyond your pancreatic and digestion threshold, and that can cause acid reflux or other digestive woes.

It’s a complex process for your body to digest foods. It involves chewing, tasting, generating hormones like gastrin to produce more hydrochloric acid in the stomach, enzyme generation, etc. It’s easier to digest littler amounts of food throughout the day rather than eating less often and binging with big meals with is harder on a sensitive gut.

Aim for eating a few real meals per day, with easy-to-digest snacks in between. For example:

  • Breakfast
  • Small snack
  • Lunch
  • Small snack
  • Dinner
  • Pre-bed snack

Food choices For Women With Sensitive Stomachs

As we mentioned earlier, women should avoid foods that they are intolerant to. You might already know what foods agree with you and don’t agree with. We’re all different, so this is just a loose guideline to experiment with.

Consume more:

  • Fish and meat.
  • Easy-to-digest carbs like raw honey, white rice, cooked squashes, fresh fruits, and frozen fresh berries, and consider organic dried fruits which do not use added sulphates to dry them.
  • Easy to digest fats like fatty seafood, avocado’s, etc.
  • Fermented foods with living bacteria. Think of homemade sauerkraut and kimchi (or found in the fridge section of a high-end grocer), kefir, Kombucha, apple cider vinegar (great for salad dressings) or raw dairy.
  • Cooked veggies (and even cooked fruits!). Roasted carrots, roasted apples, cooked green peas, cooked collard greens, etc.

Eat less:

  • Ultra-processed foods (deep-fried foods, extra salty foods, foods with lots of additives and preservatives)
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Deep fried foods
  • Foods with too much salt
  • Foods with too much sugar
  • Hard to digest carbs like brown rice, whole wheat, etc.
  • Hard to digest fats like Crisco, modified vegetable oils, etc.

Things to consider:

  • Many people don’t do well with pasteurized dairy, including butter and cheese. You may want to investigate tested raw dairy if it’s appropriate for where you live. Like many uncooked foods (including salads), raw dairy has a risk attached to it, but testing can help reduce this risk, and then the dairy would include probiotics and enzymes, which help with digestion. Some women with particularly sensitive stomachs may want to avoid all dairy—raw included.
  • Consider avoiding white flour, which is mandated to add elemental iron, which can cause stomach issues.
  • Consider avoiding “nightshades.” Nightshades include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Not everyone reacts to nightshade, but some do.

Smoothies are often a go-to for weight gain, but some ingredients can cause digestive upset. For example, I love raw baby spinach leaves to add some greens. But I’ve seen anecdotes that uncooked spinach can cause digestive troubles for some people with easily-triggered stomachs. So you may need to experiment with different smoothie ingredients to find one that agrees with your gut. (Or consider just sticking to food eating food that you’ve cooked.)

Healthy Weight Gain Is From Muscle Growth

While some underweight women might become healthier by gaining only fat, most women would like more than just fat gain. They would like to feel stronger and more independent and have more curves from more muscle in all the right places.

Resistance training, such as lifting weights, is key for improving the muscle-to-fat ratio during weight gain. Without resistance training, most weight gain will come from fat. With resistance training, most weight gain will come from lean mass, such as new muscle tissue, glycogen, and bone density improvements.

Most styles of resistance training will stimulate some muscle growth, but hypertrophy training is the easiest and most effective way to do it, and it has great carry-over into general health and fitness.

What Is Hypertrophy Training?

Hypertrophy training is the type of exercise designed to build muscle. Hypertrophy training also comes along with a host of other benefits: greater strength, improved fitness, better general health, greater bone density, increased longevity, and even improved cardiovascular health. However, since hypertrophy programs are designed with muscle growth in mind, these other benefits are just byproducts.

With hypertrophy training, you’ll gain a maximum amount of muscle, whereas any cardiovascular improvements will be more moderate. If you wanted to get the full cardiovascular benefits, you’d also want to add in cardio.

The tricky thing is most of these “bodybuilding” programs are designed for men. As soon as you start googling about bulking, you’re going to find sites for skinny guys who are trying to build muscle. And perhaps you don’t want to be “bulky” in the first place, so why would you be looking for a “bulking” program?

By that same token, most bodybuilding information is geared toward men who want to be bodybuilders. And again, if you aren’t trying to look like a bodybuilder, there can be a big disconnect there.

To be fair, a lot of the information on these sites could be used by women who are trying to gain weight by building muscle. If you want to build a bigger butt while gaining overall strength, a bodybuilder’s approach to squatting and deadlifting will be quite good for that. Not perfect, but quite good. Certainly better than weight-loss “toning” workouts marketed towards women.

One way to think about it is that curviness is found on the path to bulkiness. If you gain 13 pounds of muscle like Cecile, you may wind up looking curvier but still slender: Woman Gains 13 pounds

Depending on how skinny you’re starting off, you be able to gain even more weight while still looking quite slender. Regardless, at a certain point, you’ll build enough muscle that you start to look remarkably strong and curvy. Here’s a good example of that:

A Sample Hypertrophy Workout For Women Who Want To Gain Weight

Here’s a simple example, your hypertrophy training workout routine might look something like this:

  • Goblet squats: 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
  • Raised push-ups: 3 sets of as many push-ups as you can do (AMRAP)
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets of 12 repetitions.
  • Bodyweight hip thrusts: 3 sets of as many reps as you can do. If you can do more than 20 reps, try doing single-leg hip thrusts.

The Gut & Stress, Environment, and Lifestyle Factors

Role of Stress

Stress can play a role in digestive issues for women with sensitive stomachs. When you experience stress, your body may produce more cortisol, a hormone linked to changes in appetite. This will look different for everyone and will require some experimentation. In general, some things that might help are outdoor walks, getting enough sleep, visiting family and friends, investing in your local community and getting to know your neighbours, lifting weights, and getting a reasonable amount of sunshine and fresh air.

Water Quality

Recent research shows evidence that water fluoridation might be causing dyspepsia, which means an upset stomach without cause.

Water Fluoridation And Upset Stomach

Water fluoridation might also be linked to higher cases of IBS and other gut-irritated diseases.

Fluoride and IBS

If you believe that this could be an issue for you, you could try a bottled water experiment. Go to your local store and buy lots of bottled water from a tested spring source. (Make sure it is spring water and not bottled public tap water.) Only drink and cook with bottled water for two weeks and see if your gut feels better. Some people recommend reverse osmosis filters to use on tap water as a long-term solution, but they can strip natural minerals like calcium and magnesium, which may be necessary for heart health. There are pros and cons to every water solution and it’s beyond what we can cover in this article.

Sunshine, Vitamin D, And Gut Health

Recent research (2019) has shown that ultraviolet-B-rays that are found in sunshine that help us generate vitamin D, improves good gut bacteria. Sunshine and gut health

Burning and too much sunshine is not a good idea and can cause skin damage and wrinkling. However, sunshine may help with gut troubles through natural vitamin D generation. Consider what reasonable sunshine might look like for your skin type, what latitude you live at, etc.

A Healthy Sleep Routine

Getting enough sleep is essential not just for gaining healthy weight but also for gut health. Here are some quick tips to get better sleep:

  • Ditch the alarm clock. Most women aren’t sleeping enough. We sort of know this already, which is why we need alarms to get up. Instead, you could try going to bed early enough that you would wake up early enough for your day’s task.
  • Consistency helps. If possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Invest in your bedroom for sleep. Get some blackout curtains to keep out the light pollution like streetlights, cars passing by, etc. Get a dim clock that displays the time in red light. Buy an orange reading light that will help lull you to sleep. (Blue light, like from a bright blue sky outside during the day, will wake you up.) Invest in comfortable bedding like a nice pillow, bed, and 100% cotton sheets.
  • Destress before bed. Turn the lights down low. Maybe skip the horror movie right before bed. Consider an herbal tea with some raw honey mixed in. Consider taking a bath and adding some Dead Sea Salt to relax.

The Wrap-Up

Gaining weight with a sensitive stomach can be challenging, but it’s a goal that you can reach with the right strategies.

  • Eat more of the foods that agree with your stomach to get into a calorie surplus to see weight gain.
  • Eat more often instead of eating bigger meals to give the stomach time to digest.
  • Don’t eat more of the foods that cause digestive distress.
  • Eat enough protein to help you gain healthy muscle mass.
  • Lift weights to improve the muscle-to-fat weight gain ratio during weight gain.
  • Improve your lifestyle and environment (get reasonable sunshine, get enough sleep, drink clean water, go for walks outside in the fresh air, etc.)
Burn Stubborn Fat, Gain Muscle

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