10 Things to Stop Doing If You Have GERD

When you suffer from chronic heartburn that can be associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), this condition can affect your entire life. It may be necessary to stop eating some of your favorite foods. The heartburn may interfere with your sleep. It may even interfere with your availability to work well.


Watch Now: Avoid These Things If You Have GERD

Even when you and doctor decide on for your GERD treatment, it's also important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. The following are 10 things you may be doing and should stop if you don't want to suffer from a bout of heartburn.


Don't Overeat

Man eating spaghetti

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Large meals expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the valve between your esophagus and your stomach. This can lead to heartburn. Try these tips:

  • Eat six smaller meals each day instead of three larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full and will also help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
  • Three smaller meals and three snacks can also help.

Don't Eat Too Quickly

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When you eat too fast, it is harder for your digestive system to perform the way it should. You could end up suffering from poor digestion, which increases your chances of experiencing heartburn.

Some way to help you slow down while eating:

  • Put your fork or spoon down between bites.
  • Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Chew 20 times or count to 20 before the next bite.
  • Take smaller bites.

Don't Eat Trigger Foods


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There are a couple reasons why some foods cause heartburn. Either the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't, or the stomach produces too much acid.

When the LES is the culprit, food and stomach acid come back up into your esophagus. Foods that can relax the LES include:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Creamy sauces
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g., soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)

Foods that may stimulate acid production and increase heartburn include:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato-based products

Don't Go out to Eat Unprepared

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Knowing what is safe for you to eat and what you need to avoid is as important for eating out in restaurants as it is for eating at home. You need to know what to ask for and what you should avoid. When you ask how the food is prepared, avoid certain beverages, and watch portion sizes, you can prevent the heartburn.

What you should look for and ask for when in a restaurant include:

  • White meat
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole grain bread
  • Grilled foods
  • Broth-based soups
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Low-fat or no-fat salad dressings
  • Lighter desserts, such as angel food cake

Dining at Chinese, Mexican, or Italian restaurants may be more difficult, since food at these restaurants may contain more ingredients that can trigger your heartburn. It is possible to enjoy dining there if you know what to avoid.


Don't Lie Down Too Soon After Eating

Pregnant woman sleeping

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Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food. Try these tips:

  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed.
  • Avoid late-night snacking.
  • If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of supper.

Don't Lay Flat When You Sleep

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Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure.

You can elevate your head in a couple of ways:

  • Place bricks, blocks, or anything that's sturdy and securely under the legs at the head of your bed,
  • Use a wedge-shaped pillow under your head and shoulders.

Don't Smoke

Woman lighting cigarette

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If you smoke, you should consider quitting. Smoking can cause many health problems, and heartburn is one of them. This is especially true of those persons with GERD. Some of the ways smoking can increase the odds of suffering from heartburn include:

  • Reduced saliva production: Saliva is alkaline, so it can help neutralize stomach acid. Saliva can also relieve heartburn by bathing the esophagus and lessening the effects of acid refluxed into the esophagus by washing it back down to the stomach.
  • Changes in stomach acid: Smoking can increase the production of stomach acid. It may also promote the movement of bile salts from the intestine to the stomach, which makes the stomach acids more harmful.
  • Impaired functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter: Smoking can weaken and relax the LES, which is a valve at the junction between esophagus and stomach. If the LES isn't working properly or relaxes inappropriately, stomach contents can reflux back up into the esophagus.
  • Damage to the esophagus: Smoking may directly injure the esophagus, making it even more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux.​

Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol

Two beers on a wooden barrel table

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Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If you do want to have some alcohol during your festivities, try the following tips:

  • Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one or two mixed drinks, no more than 16 ounces of wine, or and no more than three beers.
  • Drink white wine instead of red wine.
  • Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.
  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn, and avoid them as much as possible.

Don't Wear Tight Clothes

girl trying to button tight jeans

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Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen, such as tight belts and waistbands, can squeeze the stomach and force food up against the LES. This can cause stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.


Don't Get Too Stressed

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Stress hasn't been shown to actually cause heartburn. It can, however, lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. During stressful times, routines are disrupted, and you may not follow your normal routines in regards to meals, exercise, and medication.

Since your stress may indirectly lead to heartburn, it is important to find ways to alleviate the stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely. Try relaxation methods such as breathing exercises, meditation, listening to music, or exercise.​

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • NIH Publication No. 03–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.