Making changes to what you eat—and how you eat—can help keep GERD symptoms at bay.
If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, you’re not alone—GERD affects about 20% of the population.
That said, symptoms like heartburn don’t have to become the norm. Your doctor may prescribe medication if needed, but making certain lifestyle adjustments can help you control your GERD symptoms.
One key player? Your diet. What you eat—and how you eat—can make a big impact on how well you’re managing your condition. There’s where a GERD diet comes in.
Step 1: Identify Your Food Triggers
One of the main components of a GERD diet is identifying your personal trigger foods and avoiding them. While food triggers can vary from person to person, there are a few common culprits that are known to aggravate GERD symptoms. That includes:
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Citrus foods and drinks
- Acidic foods
- Carbonated drinks
It’s important to work with your doctor or registered dietitian to identify your trigger foods so you know what to avoid. This may involve keeping a food and symptom log, where you track things like:
- Time of day
- What you ate
- How much you ate
- Activity level
- Any symptoms you experience
Track what happens when you eat these trigger foods, and experiment to see if you feel better when you remove them from your diet.
Step 2: Implement Other Strategies That Can Help
Aside from what you eat, your doctor may recommend making certain adjustments to how you eat, as well as other lifestyle approaches that can help you manage GERD symptoms. This may include:
Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
When you overeat in one sitting, the contents of your stomach can overflow through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve between the stomach and esophagus, which is what causes symptoms like acid reflux or heartburn.
Sit upright during—and after—you eat.
Gravity plays a role in GERD symptoms. Lying down during or directly after a meal can cause the food you eat to back up into your LES and trigger GERD symptoms. If possible, try to stay upright for two to three hours after eating, avoiding laying down or leaning back on a couch, reclining chair, or in a bed.
Relax after each meal.
Exerting yourself when your stomach is full can force stomach contents into your LES and trigger heartburn symptoms. That said, standing up and even leisurely walking around after you eat can help aid proper digestion and prevent GERD symptoms.
Elevate the head of your bed.
If nighttime heartburn is an issue for you, try to raise the head of your bed, or prop up your mattress. This elevates your esophagus above your stomach to help prevent heartburn.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Carrying around extra weight around your abdominal area puts pressure on your stomach, which can trigger GERD symptoms. Even a moderate amount of weight loss can help improve your symptoms.
Choose clothing wisely.
Tight clothes, hosiery, or body shapers can put pressure on your stomach can worsen GERD symptoms.
Nicotine is known to relax the LES, which can lead to GERD symptoms. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids if you need help quitting.
It can increase saliva production and reduce the amount of acid in the esophagus. Just avoid minty varieties, which can make symptoms worse.
Work With Your Dietitian
Your registered dietitian can help you figure out how to identify your food triggers, and assess which other types of modifications may be most helpful for you.