The relationship between GERD and your diet
We talk a lot about the relationship between diet and GERD. As we were working on our tips for starting a weight loss program, I realized there were a few key points I want to make sure we address about how your diet impacts your disease:
First, the relationship between being overweight and GERD is not absolute. However, the statistics are compelling, and I encourage you to read our article, Is excess weight destroying your lower esophageal sphincter?
Second, there are many GERD sufferers who are not overweight and there are many people who are overweight who don’t have GERD.
ALL people with GERD should modify their diet.
People who have GERD and are NOT overweight still need to modify their diet to manage their disease. In fact, the relationship between GERD and diet is closer than the relationship between GERD and being overweight. Diet changes are difficult, but you might consider our 5 steps to an effective acid reflux diet if you are thinking about getting started with your diet.
Every meal is critical.
While it is true that losing weight is an excellent way to help control GERD, it is even more important to control the way you eat at every meal, regardless of your weight. Every meal is a critical event for a person with GERD for two reasons:
Avoiding trigger foods.
Certain foods seem to trigger reflux for some unknown reason. Triggers are different for every person (although there are some foods commonly thought to trigger reflux), but they should be avoided as much as possible to prevent reflux. We cannot tell you what foods will trigger reflux. You must identify these yourself and learn that avoiding them can prevent reflux.
Controlling the volume and type of food.
Much more important is the volume of food and type of food consumed during a meal. In essence, the stomach has a certain capacity. If you eat within that capacity at every meal, you will not put any pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and reflux will not happen. If your stomach distends beyond its capacity, pressure is put on your LES, causing reflux. Distension of your stomach happens in a few ways:
- You eat too much food at each meal,
- You eat quickly rather than slowly (slow eating permits some emptying of the stomach during a prolonged meal that prevents distension),
- You eat fat-rich meals, which delay emptying of the stomach
- You drink carbonated drinks where the gas distends your stomach.
Controlling all of these factors during each meal can help you control your reflux.
This is different than trying to lose weight.
Weight loss occurs when there is a decreased intake of calories per day. In general, if you do reduce your intake of calories, you generally eat less with every meal and eat less fatty foods, which satisfies the objectives of a diet aimed at reducing reflux. However, a GERD patient who is not overweight can control his reflux simply by splitting his meals, eating smaller meals (snacking) more frequently. We all know that snacking can make it difficult to lose weight, but it is awesome for people with GERD who are trying to control their reflux.
The key thing to remember is that every meal matters when you have reflux disease, regardless of your weight. If you take steps to control the way you eat, you can help prevent reflux – and the painful symptoms it causes – from happening in the first place.
Learn more: Scale Down for Relief might be the program you need to reach your goal!
A personal note
I am not a GERD sufferer today, but I was a GERD sufferer in the past. About 10 years ago, I began getting heartburn after heavy meals about once a month. I knew that my sphincter function had started to deteriorate. I had very mild GERD, but I knew that the heartburn was a sign that I was doing things that were harmful to my sphincter. I stopped eating heavy meals. My sphincter is still damaged to the same extent that it was 10 years ago, but I am sure that controlling my diet either stopped or slowed the progression of my sphincter damage. The objective of my dietary change was not weight loss (I am thin); it was not control of heartburn (I could have easily taken antacid drugs to do this); it was prevention of progression of my sphincter damage. I have succeeded. I live within the limits of my slightly damaged sphincter and do nothing to cause further damage.
The lesson from this is (and this actually works well for all diseases):
- Understand your disease;
- Listen to what your body is trying to tell you with symptoms;
- Correctly analyze the cause;
- Attack the cause, not the symptoms
If you want to learn more about GERD and diet, please consider Recipe for Relief: A GERD-friendly meal plan and diet program. You can do this!