'Tis the Season. For eating. Everything. Let's face it, the mountains of treats in the office breakroom, your mom's specialty dishes (secret ingredient: extra butter), and the spicy meatballs at the neighborhood parties… there's no escaping the food that's come to represent celebration of the holidays, and it's easy to overindulge. Unfortunately for some of us, there's a sinister companion to all this merrymaking: acid reflux, or GERD.
Not only can it put a major damper family and social time, causing significant pain and interrupted sleep, GERD can be damaging to your general health, even leading to esophageal cancer if left untreated. Millions of Americans suffer from symptoms of GERD every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Stay mindful of the pitfalls out there as you prep for holiday fun. Starting with:
Slow down, eat less
It sounds simple, but it's so easy to forget when you're looking at that plate full of cheesy mashed potatoes with a side of chocolate cake. Don't gobble your food. Eat slowly enough to realize when you're overdoing it. Overeating is a big trigger for reflux. Consciously choose the smallest plate you can and load up on GERD-safe options first, like salads and fruit. Then enjoy small amounts of the riskier choices.
Don't get fooled by hidden fat
Creamy casseroles, dips and sauces, pecan pie, eggnog, and a holiday staple – grandma's famous gravy. These things are so good for a reason – they're full of fat. High-fat foods can cause GERD symptoms because fatty foods hang around in the stomach longer. It doesn't seem fair, but smaller portions will save you from pain.
Choose desserts wisely
Okay, here's the biggest challenge for many of us: sweets. How can we say no to the baking, gift baskets of chocolates, cookies, and wonderful things parading past? Sweets are the worst offenders of all, really, containing fats, chocolate, citrus, peppermint – all GERD aggravators. Think hard about how many pieces you're having. Don't allow yourself to say "just one more!" You'll pay the price later in misery.
Make a battle plan
Your food choices make the biggest difference, but there are other ways to try to avoid heartburn at the holidays. Wear loose-fitting clothing to alleviate pressure on your stomach. Nibble your food slowly while you mingle. And don't come home and take a load off right away. Staying upright for a few hours after eating is the best strategy, but if it's late, and you need to get to bed right away, prop your head and upper body up with pillows as much as you can to sleep. You'll thank yourself in the morning.
If you suffer from symptoms of acid reflux, talk to your doctor. It's a serious disorder that can be addressed with a variety of treatment options.
About Dr. Inayat
Irteza Inayat, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist and the Medical Director of the Center for Esophageal & Swallowing Disorders at Florida Hospital. To make an appointment call 407-303-1355.