Eating should be enjoyable, so when you’re stuck with some pretty bad acid reflux afterwards, it can be really hard to keep on snacking. Depending on what and how you eat, it can lead to indigestion, where you might experience heartburn, an upset stomach, or a weird taste in your mouth.
Basically, it’s not so fun. And it can be hard to know exactly what’s causing it to act up in the first place, where you are unsure as to how to treat acid reflux or prevent future attacks. Yet we’re here to help make dining pleasant, once again. Here are six things that are making your acid reflux worse, so you can prepare yourself in advance before your next meal.
Eating Too Quickly
“By eating too quickly and not taking the time to chew your food, you may experience symptoms of acid indigestion. The muscular reaction of the stomach to unchewed food, or even eating too much in one sitting, can upset normal peristalsis during digestion,” explains Brooke Zigler, MPP, RDN, LD.
Peristalsis consists of wavelike muscular contractions that help to push food along the GI tract. Essentially, this movement helps to push food down the GI tract, where you can digest it smoothly. However, by eating too quickly, you might disrupt these contractions.
“People who overeat or eat too quickly are likely to suffer from indigestion. When normal peristalsis is disrupted, someone may taste stomach acid and feel pain. This is when people typically take antacids or acid controllers,” she explains.
Taking the time to chew food more thoroughly and eating at a slower pace can help improve symptoms. “When it comes to chewing food, much if it depends on the type of food and how much chewing it actually involves (steak involves more chewing than a banana),” she explains.
“However, it is important to take the time to fully chew your food so that enough of the enzymes are produced in your mouth to fully break down your food,” she says. Use your best judgment depending on what’s on your plate.
Eating Large Meals
Sometimes having a large meal in one sitting can lead to acid reflux symptoms. The breastbone, or your chest, might start to feel irritated, where you are having symptoms of heartburn.
“When eating large meals and experiencing reflux, the acid and contents from your stomach come back up into your esophagus, irritating the sensitive lining. This results in the painful sensation known as heartburn,” she says.
A fix? Don’t eat too much at a time to make digestion easier. By eating smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day, you can avoid reflux.
Unfortunately, that apple martini can trigger your acid reflux symptoms. “Alcohol consumption can also cause symptoms of heartburn. In order to decrease the exposure of the esophagus to gastric contents, it is best to avoid or minimize drinking alcohol,” she says.
There are several factors involved when it comes to alcohol, but part of it is that it can cause direct damage to the esophageal and gastric lining. It also relaxes the valve between the esophagus and stomach, and it may encourage the stomach to produce more acid, she says.
“However, many of the results of alcohol and reflux are inconclusive. It could also be what is being mixed with alcohol (if it's a citric drink, etc),” she says.
“Excess weight can increase the amount of pressure on the abdomen. As a result, the lower esophageal sphincter is more likely to allow the content of the stomach to reflux into the esophagus,” she says, which can lead to discomfort after eating a meal.
Your best bet is to try and lose a few pounds. “Losing weight, if overweight, has been shown to decrease symptoms,” she says. Being overweight does not mean that you will definitely have acid reflux, but it does increase your chances.
Your Morning Cup of Joe
Yes, you might want to put down that cup of coffee or dark chocolate bar. “Caffeinated food and beverages can increase the acidity of gastric secretions. In order to decrease the acidity of these secretions, it is best to minimize the amount of caffeine in your diet,” she says.
Caffeine may relax the lower esophageal sphincter, triggering acid reflux or making it worse. “However, a lot of it depends on the person and how sensitive they are to caffeine and acidic foods,” she says. “Certain foods may trigger reflux in one person and not in another. It really comes down to the individual many times,” she explains.
Beyond caffeinated foods and drinks, like coffee, dark chocolate, certain protein bars, and energy drinks, acidic foods include citric juices, tomatoes, and soda, all of which can cause pain in someone when the esophagus is already inflamed, she says.
Yet not all studies agree or have found the same results when it comes to caffeine and acidic foods in relation to worsening acid reflux, so it’s best to go by how your body reacts. If it makes it worse, ditch it.
Eating Right Before Bed
It’s not just how big the meal is, but also the timing. “If you are having a large meal right before going to sleep, you may not be giving yourself enough time for the food to properly digest and the full stomach might be keeping you awake,” she says.
Instead of having a big dinner right before going to sleep, try having a meal containing both fiber and protein approximately 3-4 hours before jumping under the covers.
“This will give your body enough time to properly digest the food and will also provide you with a steady blood glucose level,” she says. And be sure you don’t lie down immediately after eating, as that may also result in heartburn or worsen acid reflux, she adds.