Acid reflux is more than uncomfortable. Prolonged bouts can lead to serious health concerns such as an inflamed esophagus and respiratory issues. As we highlight in our article, How excess weight is destroying your LES and driving your GERD symptoms, obesity is not only responsible for GERD symptoms, but it can also be an important factor in disease progression.
Maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index) is an important part of managing or eliminating GERD symptoms, and medical research has validated this fact. Because weight loss is a difficult process, many people need a GERD weight loss plan to achieve and maintain a healthy BMI of 19 to 24. (calculate your BMI online)
If you are considering a GERD weight loss plan, we have developed some tips to help you get started and to minimize or eliminate acid reflux symptoms.
GERD Weight Loss Tips
The more tips you can put into action, the more success you will have with your BMI, and the less you’ll experience the discomfort of acid reflux.
Tip #1 – Eat smaller meals
The stomach is a remarkable organ. It can expand to accommodate as much food as you put in it. But not without consequence. An overstretched stomach can’t easily contract. A full stomach slows digestion and keeps acid levels high for a longer time than normal.
To avoid having the acid regurgitate up into the esophagus, eat small amounts at each meal. The best way to know what “small” means, is to make a fist and try to limit meal portions to that approximate size.
If you reduce your meal portions, you should also consider eating three small meals and 2 or 3 small “healthy” snacks daily. Eating every 2 to 2.5 hours will help you avoid hunger pangs that trigger overeating, and help keep your blood sugars in balance.
Tip #2 – Eat fewer calories
This tip differs from #1 because it’s about the energy contained in the food you eat, not the volume. Eating fewer calories forces your body to draw some energy from reserves (fat cells) to keep you going. Avoid a starvation diet since it works against burning those reserves. Likewise, eating too many calories from carbohydrates will slow the process of burning those reserves.
Reducing your daily intake of calories to a healthy level is key to a successful GERD weight loss plan. The definition of a healthy level varies based on age, gender and activity level. We recommend using the “GOAL” tool in MyBusinessPal, which determines the number of calories to consume daily based on these factors as well as the rate of weight loss desired.
Computing your ideal daily calorie intake is a critical first step in any GERD weight loss plan. Without that information, you might ease some of the discomforts of GERD short-term, but you won’t achieve long-lasting results.
Tip #3 – Give yourself three hours between eating and bedtime
Digestion relies on chemical processes, but it isn’t immune to gravity. When you lie down, the contents of your stomach will level out horizontally. That increases the risk of food and digestive juices slipping back into the esophagus and causing reflux for those with a weak lower esophageal sphincter. To illustrate this, imagine if you have a partially-filled juice jug with a narrow neck. When it’s upright, the contents stay at the bottom. But when you lie it on its side, the juice can also fill the neck, depending on how full the jug is. (Another reason to eat smaller meals!)
The reason for the three-hour delay before bedtime has to do with the average time for food to digest for most adults. Of course, that depends on the foods consumed, but in most cases, that’s how long it takes for approximately half of your meal to move from your stomach into the small intestines, and four to five hours for total emptying. (see gastric transit)
Another idea that may help reduce nighttime symptoms and reduce the chance of disease progression is to sleep on your left side as much as you can. The stomach wraps under the lung on the left side and gravity will help keep the stomach contents in that pocket. If that is difficult for you, we suggest you consider a unique wedge that inclines the upper torso and encourages sleeping on the left side.
Tip #4 – Eat slowly
No matter what’s on your GERD weight loss menu, eat it slowly. There are two benefits to developing this habit.
One benefit is that you’ll chew your food more thoroughly. That will improve the ease of digestion and shorten the digestion cycle. Small pieces of food mean less acidic digestive “juices” are required.
Another benefit of eating slower is that it allows your brain time to register the stomach’s signals of satisfaction. On average, it takes about 20 minutes after the stomach is full before the brain receives that signal. There is a high correlation between eating fast and overeating.
Tip #5 – Stay away from “trigger” foods
All GERD weight loss plans recommend avoiding acidic or acid-producing foods. These are also known as trigger foods.
Foods that commonly cause or aggravate GERD are “hot” (as in spicy) or high in either saturated fats and trans fats. Other trigger foods include coffee (even decaf); tomatoes and tomato products; chocolate; alcohol; carbonated beverages; and excessive refined sugar. Many people also need to limit or eliminate their intake of citrus and mint.
Tip #6 – Eat helpful foods
When planning your GERD weight loss menu, try to incorporate alkaline foods such as avocado, olives, bananas, and eggs. If you can digest dairy products, you can add a limited amount of cheese to that list.
Alkaline foods provide a natural balance to the acid in other foods and well as stomach acids. Also, avocados and olives have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can provide additional health benefits.
Tip #7 – Walk after eating
This tip helps you follow your GERD weight loss plan in several ways. First, it makes it easier to act on Tip #3 which says to not lie down after eating. Second, knowing that you have to go for a walk after lunch or dinner can prevent you from overeating. And, if you do overeat, it can help ease the discomfort of a distended stomach and acid reflux.
The third way walking can assist you with your weight loss goals is by aiding digestion. There is evidence that walking after a meal accelerates the rate at which your meal leaves your stomach for the small intestine.
Walking can help you stick with your weight loss plan since a 30-minute walk at a 3.5 mph rate will burn approximately 165 calories, and increasing that to a 4.0 mph pace can burn up to 220 calories. It can also increase your metabolism and help you burn extra calories when you are not exercising. Walking also strengthens your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems and helps keep blood sugar levels in check, which helps combat those hunger pangs.
If You Need Some Additional Help
Getting your weight and BMI into a healthy range is one of the safest and natural ways to reduce your GERD symptoms. In addition to these seven tips, we encourage you to read 5 steps to an effective acid reflux diet.
The truth is that it’s seldom easy to do. But through our weight management program, our team of health coaches has worked with thousands of people who have succeeded. Yes, calorie reductions, food programs, and exercise are the keys to achieving and maintaining a healthy BMI. However, the “secret sauce” in the process is a talented, knowledgeable, and committed health coach to provide instruction, motivation, and support. We hope you will consider Scale Down for Relief and allow RefluxMD to be your partner.
No matter where you are on your journey to reduce your weight and gain control over GERD, we are here to answer questions and offer support.
Good luck on your journey! It will be worth it!