When acid reflux becomes more common than occasional heartburn, it is what is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. So if you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, your doctor has probably told you to limit or avoid citrus, chocolate, coffee, tea, mint, onions, garlic and spicy foods — they may have even suggested an antacid – for the short-term – in addition to a prescription proton pump inhibitor, or PPI.
But what you include (or exclude) in your GERD eating plan may not be enough if you are making these six common mistakes.
Mistake #1: You are eating too much in one sitting.
If you find yourself choosing GERD-friendly foods and not making progress, it may simply be a cause of “how” and “when” you are eating. Too much food (even the foods that are suitable for acid reflux), can wreak havoc on your system and not only cause indigestion, but trigger reflux. Not eating at regular intervals can leave you famished by the end of the day and you’ll be more likely to over-indulge.
The fix: Eat smaller meals, spaced evenly throughout the day so you aren’t starving. A good rule of thumb: Eat every 3 to 4 hours. Choose 1 to 2 servings of vegetables, 2 to 3 ounces of protein and 1 serving of whole grains. That means being mindful even when you order a veggie or grain bowl at a cafe or restaurant: Your veggie bowl may include the healthiest of ingredients; but you may want to consider cutting it in half.
Mistake #2: You are including too much fat in your meals.
Sure, avocado has become all the rage. But eating half or a whole avocado in one sitting can be way too much. Your portion should be just ⅕ to ⅓ of a medium avocado. Fat takes longer to digest and eating high-fat meals (regardless if it’s a healthy fat), will stay in the stomach longer promoting more risk for reflux later on.
The fix: Be mindful of your fat intake. If you are serving up two vegetables at one meal, choose one steamed and the other lightly sauteed. And of course, limit that avocado to no more than ⅓ at a time. That’s plenty to spread on a slice of whole-grain toast (and a perfect base for adding plenty of colorful crunchy veggies such as radish, cucumber and bell pepper slices).
Mistake #3: You aren’t getting enough fiber.
So you are including more fruits and vegetables, yes. But you aren’t seeing results. It’s easy to add more fruits in your diet, and these include healthy vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and some fiber. Vegetables on the other hand may be more tricky. Yes, you’ll want to include leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables, but whole grains and legumes are just as important.
The fix: Add more fiber into your diet by varying your plant food sources (that includes whole grains, legumes, leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables). Include high-fiber whole grains such as freekeh, quinoa, oats and brown rice; 1 to 2 servings of legumes (beans, lentils and peas) per week and serve up at least one of your meals over 1 to 2 cups loose leafy greens.
Mistake #4: You aren’t drinking enough water.
Fiber is great for regularity; and meeting your goal of 25 grams of fiber per day if you’re a woman and 38 grams per day if you’re a man is recommended. But if you aren’t drinking enough water, you can still become backed up and constipated. When your intestines are blocked up and your bowels aren’t moving, you not only feel bloated and uncomfortable. But increased gastric pressure and decreased intestinal mobility are risk factors for GERD.
The fix: Be sure you are drinking 8 to 10 glasses of still water per day. Start off with 1 to 2 glasses of water first thing in the morning when you take your meds and any supplements and stay hydrated throughout the day by spacing out your drinking so it is manageable and realistic.
Mistake #5 You are eating too late in the day.
Once you’ve eaten, you need at least three hours before reclining. Otherwise gravity will cause reflux if you lay down too soon. Eating too late may not give you adequate time to start digesting food before you find yourself ready to hit the sack.
The fix: Give yourself 3 to 4 hours from your last bite until laying down in bed. Plan to start your evening meals earlier in the evening, regardless of those extra long days we get during summer. Bed times may fluctuate (and it’s always a good idea to get plenty of sleep by setting an earlier curfew). Try eating earlier in the evening — as soon as 5 p.m.
Mistake #6 You are overdoing the antacids.
An antacid works to neutralize stomach acid. But if this is becoming a regular and constant habit throughout your day, every day, you could be overdoing it. Over dosage of aluminum-containing antacids can trigger constipation. And consuming too many calcium-containing antacids can stimulate excess acid secretion by disrupting the calcium balance in our bodies.
The fix: Stick with diet as a way to manage GERD. Limit usage of antacids and use only on occasion. If you must take a PPI, do so, but beware that going off the medicine without proper weaning can also trigger increased acid. Talk to your doctor about the best medications for you.