Top Tips for People with GERD
GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease is a digestive disorder where the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach doesn’t close properly, allowing for acid and stomach contents to escape into the esophagus. There is also LPR, or LaryngoPharyngeal Reflux, where the stomach acid actually reaches the throat. While having acid reflux once in a while might be common, having it more than twice a week may be a sign of chronic reflux.
I was diagnosed with GERD after having my daughter in 2014 and started posting about my journey and diet changes shortly after that on Instagram.
- chest pain
- nausea (ginger or chamomile tea have helped me with this)
- trouble swallowing
- dental issues (wearing away of enamel)
- shortness of breath
- sore throat
- a bitter taste
- having the need to frequently clear your throat
- post-nasal drip (the sensation of drainage in the back of your nose)
- sensation of lump in throat
Before I was aware of the fact that I had GERD, I was completely clueless as to why I was dealing with multiple unpleasant symptoms: nausea, chest pain, dental issues, anxiety, etc. The symptom that affected me the most was having difficulty swallowing solid foods and liquids (dysphagia). This wouldn’t happen every time I ate, but often and at random. I could feel it getting stuck in my throat and the painful pressure building in my chest, as I would try and breathe through it. I had no idea why this was happening at the time, but what I did know was that these symptoms were affecting my sleep, my social life, and my overall well being. Shortly after being diagnosed, I realized that my food was getting stuck because my esophagus was so inflamed from the acid exposure.
I was diagnosed with GERD by an ENT and prescribed omeprazole (a PPI used to block acid production). While taking this could provide some short-term relief, it does have risks if taken long-term. I decided to not take the PPI’s and began to research ways to treat GERD naturally. After all, gastric acid is something that we need. It activates the enzyme pepsin, which is needed for the digestion of protein. Plus it kills harmful bacteria and parasites that we can ingest with food.
I opted for the acid-reducer, Zantac, which is less powerful, to give my esophagus a chance to heal. Of course, I didn’t want to have to take Zantac forever, (plus taking it while eating whatever I wanted did not provide adequate relief for me) so I decided major diet and lifestyle changes were in order.
First, I compiled a list of foods and beverages that are thought to commonly trigger reflux or irritate the esophagus. After cutting these things out of my diet, I noticed a slight improvement in my symptoms in just the first couple of weeks. I continued to eat that way, but was still having to take Zantac to fully manage my symptoms due to having random flare-ups. While I was thankful to finally feel a little relief at times, I knew I was only putting a bandaid on my symptoms, not treating the cause of them.
After a couple of followers on Instagram asked me if I had heard of The Fast Tract Diet, by Dr. Norm Robillard, it piqued my interest. I joined the Facebook support group for people on the diet and read the e-book, and my perspective on healing and GERD completely shifted. With the knowledge I had gained from his research, I then realized the adjustments I needed to make to my diet.
If you are newly diagnosed with GERD, I suggest discussing these diet and lifestyle changes with your primary care doctor just in case.
Changing your diet is one of the most important parts of treating GERD. And feeling lost after being diagnosed while attempting to navigate through this new way of eating is completely normal.
As stated in microbiologist, Norm Robillard’s ebook, acid reflux is often caused by an overgrowth of gas-producing bacteria in the small intestine. Carbohydrates fuel these bacteria, so going on a diet low in hard-to-digest carbs is shown to control bacteria overgrowth, in turn improving or even eliminating GERD symptoms.
As my symptoms improve, I plan to slowly reintroduce certain foods to determine my tolerance levels. Below is a list of what is currently working for me.
- hard-to-digest carbohydrates
- resistant starch
- sugar alcohols (except erythritol)
- gluten (I have Celiac Disease, so I avoid this completely)
- dairy (food allergy)
- egg (food allergy)
- most grains (except for jasmine rice and puffed rice)
- legumes (I consume these occasionally, in moderation)
- alcohol (I also have this occasionally, in moderation)
- tomatoes (I consume occasionally, in moderation)
- raw onions
- raw garlic
- processed sugar
- most fruit (except for berries, apples, and melon in moderation)
- quality meats
- leafy greens
- low carb veggies
- brussels sprouts
- potatoes and sweet potatoes in moderation
- some fruit
- honeydew melon
- apple (peeled and in moderation)
- healthy fats
- nut butter (cashew and sunflower seed butter are my favorites)
- olive oil
- avocado (in moderation)
- herbs and spices
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- pink himalayan salt or sea salt
- herbal teas
- chamomile w/ a little raw honey
- ginger (works amazing for nausea)
- collagen by drinking homemade bone broth and adding collagen peptides to my teas and other recipes
The Fast Tract Diet app has been a huge resource to me while learning how to eat this way. Each food item in the app is assigned a number of points (FP or fermentation potential) based on the serving size and symptom potential. You can track your points and symptoms, as well as make shopping lists and look up the FP of each item.
It can be really disheartening having to let go of so many foods. It was for me and still is at times. However, I’ve found that after a while, I started to fall in love with the way I was feeling, and even developed a whole new/different relationship with food; one that makes me feel empowered, rather than guilty.
Try and remember that some people are able to reintroduce certain foods they’ve been avoiding with success. So, eating strictly for 6 or so months (it’s different for everyone) may mean that your body might be able to tolerate certain foods in the long run.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for acid reflux, so try not to get discouraged if something that I’ve listed above bothers you. We are all unique in what we can tolerate. You know your body the best, so follow your gut. If you do decide to check out the Fast Tract Diet, you can use it as a starting point and customize it to fit your health needs.
Along with diet changes, there were a number of things that I needed to modify in my life that were contributing to my symptoms such as:
- How I ate: It’s easy to get carried away and rush through eating. However, our mouth is where digestion begins. Our food mixes with our saliva which contains digestive enzymes that begin to break food down. By chewing our food properly (especially for those with digestive issues) we are doing our bodies a huge service.
- When/how much I ate: I went from eating anytime I was bored or stressed to following the cues of my body and eating when I’m hungry. Rather than eating 3 big meals during the day, I eat around 5 smaller ones. I won’t lie down until at least 3-4 hours after eating and sleep inclined.
- Sleep: Studies show that sleeping inclined can greatly reduce symptoms for those with acid reflux and/or a hiatal hernia, so I find it helpful to sleep inclined using a good quality wedge pillow that not only elevates the head but the upper torso of the body as well. Some other options for sleeping inclined are raising the head of your bed 6-8 inches with risers, using an inclined bed frame, or an adjustable mattress.
- Other things you can do to reduce acid reflux symptoms: quit smoking, cut back on alcohol, lose weight if you are overweight, avoid tight-fitting clothing, and review your medications (some can cause or worsen symptoms).
While stress isn’t usually the cause of GERD (though I have heard of some stress-induced cases), it can certainly exacerbate symptoms. Studies show that stress and GERD are strongly associated with each other. Ever notice how when you are having bad anxiety, a flare-up isn’t too far behind? Anxiety is something I’ve struggled with since childhood, so it was so important that I sought out ways to manage it. I know everyone’s version of self-care look different, but below I’ve listed some things that I do to cope with anxiety and stress:
- yoga (I’m new to it, but I find even doing just a little bit every day to be helpful)
- diaphragmatic breathing
- being in nature
- surrounding myself with supportive people
- soothing cups of herbal tea
- meditation, or just being mindful of my breath for a few minutes
- alone time
- doing things I enjoy
Stress is inevitable. It can be a good thing at times actually: like when it pushes us to meet a deadline or makes us more cautious when there’s danger. I’ve learned that it’s helpful to accept the stressful situation, instead of resisting (easier said than done), then seek out healthy ways to cope.
What I’ve listed above are just examples of what helps me, your list may look completely different. Your list may even include seeking out therapy or medication to manage anxiety, and that’s okay. The key here is setting ourselves up for success when we are facing stressful times
What tips for GERD do you know of? What helps you, personally? Please share in the comments below!
I am not a doctor and this post is not to be used as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor before starting a new diet or taking any new dietary supplements.
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