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GERD: Feel the Burn

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man with heartburn

Occasional heartburn is something we are all likely to experience. However, when it becomes chronic, it may point to a more serious issue known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While symptoms or even actual tissue damage may or may not be present, GERD is defined as the return of stomach contents into the esophagus, mouth or, at worst case, the lungs.

The treatment of GERD requires personalized diet and lifestyle modifications. Restricting your consumption of reflux-inducing foods may be needed, and it’s important to work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to customize your eating plan. Adopting appropriate eating patterns and lifestyle changes that support overall wellness and healthy weight maintenance will be essential. 

Below are a few key aspects to explore when working with an RDN to specifically target reflux through diet and lifestyle.  

  • A 5-10% weight loss is recommended for individuals who are overweight or obese. Excess weight especially when carried in the abdominal area is an independent risk factor for GERD as it increases pressure in the abdomen and esophagus.
  • Smokers are encouraged to stop smoking because it can improve indigestion and GERD symptoms. If overweight, the above recommended weight loss is likely necessary in combination with smoking cessation to yield symptomatic improvement.
  • Depending on your needs, eat smaller and possibly more frequent meals. Smaller meals are more easily processed by the stomach and empty faster. They also prevent prolonged relaxation of the esophagus, a cause of GERD that allows more entry of stomach acid into the esophagus.
  • Structure your meal times so your last bite of food is three hours before lying down for bed, allowing your stomach to empty before reclining for the night. 
  • Elevate the head of your bed by 30 degrees using a wedge pillow or an adjustable mattress and try to sleep on your left side. These accommodations aid esophageal clearance and limit acid exposure.
  • If needed, your RDN may recommend restricting or moderating your consumption of mints or mint-flavored gums, fried or greasy foods, overall excessive fat intake or fiber intake, alcohol, regular and decaffeinated coffee, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, citrus, acidic and spicy foods.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Cooper Clinic Nutrition Department.