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Creating a GERD-Friendly Lifestyle: 5 Helpful Tips

Sep 01, 2023
Creating a GERD-Friendly Lifestyle: 5 Helpful Tips
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can make you uncomfortable both night and day. Acid reflux changes the way your food tastes and may disrupt your sleep. Try these simple lifestyle changes to help acid stay in your stomach where it belongs.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association, about a third of women, men, and children in the United States suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly known as heartburn. If you have GERD, you may notice a burning sensation in your chest and a sour taste in your mouth as stomach acid washes up into your esophagus.

Although many people get heartburn on occasion, if it’s a chronic problem, you may be diagnosed with GERD. In addition to that burning sensation and acid taste — which can make you uncomfortable and even wake you up at night — you could develop symptoms or complications such as: 

  • Cough
  • Laryngitis
  • Chest pain
  • Asthma
  • A lump in your throat
  • Trouble swallowing

Continual exposure to acid reflux can damage your esophagus over time. Long-term GERD puts you at increased risk for Barrett’s esophagus, which, in turn, slightly increases your chances of developing esophageal cancer.

At Slim Vegas Bariatric & General Surgery in Las Vegas, Nevada, our fellowship-trained specialist, Jon Williams, MD, diagnoses and customizes treatment for patients with GERD. In addition to medications, severe cases may benefit from surgery.

However, many cases of GERD can be managed or reduced with lifestyle changes alone. No matter how mild or severe your GERD, you can benefit from adopting these habits.

1. Sleep on an incline

If the pain of heartburn disrupts your sleep, elevating your upper body can help keep acid in your stomach, where it belongs. Simply using a pillow or two, however, may not be enough.

Ideally, you should raise the head of your bed by 6-8 inches, creating a gradual incline from head to toe. This allows your body to maintain a healthy sleeping position but also uses the force of gravity to keep acid out of your esophagus.

If you can’t raise the head of your bed, consider a foam wedge instead, but be sure that the wedge starts at your head and doesn’t taper out entirely until reaching your feet. Inclined sleeping may also help with sleep apnea and snoring as well as aid in glymphatic brain detoxification.

2. Lose weight

Excess weight puts pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, which is the gatekeeper between your stomach and esophagus. The pressure can cause acid to flow upward. Losing even a small amount of weight can help improve your GERD.

Switching to a whole foods diet and exercising regularly should help the pounds melt away. However, if you’re obese, talk to Dr. Williams about whether you may benefit from bariatric surgery to ensure that you take off the weight and keep it off.

3. Eat slowly and mindfully

Your body can’t determine that it’s full if you eat so quickly that you barely chew. Chewing breaks down your food so it’s more easily digestible and also mixes it with saliva, which increases the availability of its nutrients.

You not only feel sated with less food when you eat slowly and mindfully, but you also enjoy it more. In addition, eating too quickly is stressful, which may make your GERD worse.

You may also find that you do better if you eat smaller meals and more regular intervals rather than loading all of your nutrition into 2-3 large meals. Also try to avoid too much fat, which can stir up stomach acids.

4. Walk after eating

A quaint custom that’s fallen into disuse is the post-meal “constitutional.” This archaic term refers to a light stroll taken after eating. The combination of fresh air and stress-free exercise is beneficial for your overall health, too.

Walking after meals increases blood flow and gives you a boost in energy and mood. It also seems to speed up the clearance of triglycerides and glucose after a meal, which is especially good news if you also have Type 2 diabetes.

A nice stroll can also help you break a habit that’s absolutely a no-no if you have GERD: a post-meal nap. Lying down after you eat increases your chances of reflux.

5. Avoid acids and spices

Changing your diet can minimize your GERD episodes. The main culprits associated with heartburn and GERD are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Onions and garlic
  • Coffee and tea
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages

In addition to these tips, if you’re a smoker, now’s the time to stop. The nicotine in cigarettes (and possibly vaping) relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter so it can’t keep acid in your stomach. 

If you need help making lifestyle changes to manage your GERD, or if you can’t lose weight on your own, contact the Slim Vegas team today. Just call or use our online scheduling form to make an appointment.