7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Heartburn - Virtua Gastroenterology

COMFORTing Tips to Avoid Holiday Heartburn

By Denne “Donee” Thomas-Patterson, MD, Family Medicine Physician
Virtua Primary Care - Pennsauken

Food unites people. The buying, growing, harvesting, preparation, consumption, passing down of recipes—and even meal cleanup—connects us on many levels.

Holiday feasts are an honored tradition often associated with lavish buffets of food. While these meals are enjoyable, they also can be a source of stomach pain and heartburn.

Gastroesophageal reflux (also known as GERD, heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion) occurs when the valve at the end of the esophagus doesn’t fully close, allowing acid to flow back into the esophagus.

Some people have acid reflux so severe that it causes significant stomach pains, burning in the chest, acid taste in the mouth, sore throat, and cough (from the acid irritation in the throat). The acid reflux can be worse at night, waking you up or causing burning so bad that it is hard to distinguish the pain from a heart attack.

Use the acronym COMFORT to improve your holiday eating experience and avoid uncomfortable heartburn.

C: Comfortable Clothing

Wear comfortable clothes. Tight-waisted clothes can be constricting and feel uncomfortable after a big meal.

O: Overeating

Heartburn often is triggered by overeating. Too much food in the stomach can slow your digestion and push acid into the esophagus, causing significant discomfort. These tips can keep you from overeating:

  • Plan to eat smaller portions on a smaller plate.
  • Don’t pile up your plate.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Most importantly, stop eating when you are full.
  • Ask for a to-go container for foods you didn’t get a chance to eat.

Dairy products (milk, cream, hard cheese) tend to be acidic and can trigger reflux. If you can’t avoid eating dairy, get help from lactose-intolerance supplements or counterbalance them by eating more alkaline foods, like cantaloupe or cauliflower.

M: Move

Movement and exercise help you digest food quicker and keep you from feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Stick to low-impact exercises, like walking, dancing, riding a stationary bike, or practicing yoga. These keep you upright and reduce the chance of acid going backward into the esophagus. Avoid exercises that can make heartburn worse, such as stomach crunches, weightlifting, exercises requiring a lot of bending, and high-impact aerobic exercise.

F: Fluids

Be careful when choosing drinks. Sugary drinks are high in calories and can subtly pack on the pounds, and soda is high in acid. Alcohol, citrus juices, carbonated drinks, and caffeine can trigger heartburn, no matter what you eat. The best option is to stay hydrated by drinking water. If you’re looking for flavor and would typically reach for champagne, wine, or beer, consider instead drinking decaffeinated iced tea or spiced cider.

O: Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

Keep an OTC reflux medication on hand—there’s no need to suffer if symptoms arise. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what medication is best for you.

If your pain is severe, persists for more than a few days, or is associated with other symptoms, such as chest pain, weakness, cold sweats, or shortness of breath, head to the nearest emergency room. 

R: Reach for Veggies

Rich, spicy, and high-fat foods are common triggers for acid reflux. Pile your plate with more vegetables like plain green beans, squash, or brussels sprouts, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Salad is a great way to go, but skip acid-aggravating ingredients like tomatoes, raw onions, and creamy dressings.

T: Treats

Treats like peppermint candy canes, chocolate, and caffeine-infused desserts can trigger acid reflux. Although fruit is a healthier choice, people with reflux should avoid high-acid fruits like grapefruit, lemon, oranges, and pineapples. You may also want to limit eating processed bread and baked goods, like commercially made cakes, cookies, and brownies because they contain enriched flour and preservatives that can make stomach-acid levels rise.

There are many things to look forward to during the holiday, but heartburn shouldn’t be one of them! Avoiding triggers, making wise food choices, and being prepared can keep your holiday joyous and burn-free.

Is your gut health in check?

If stomach issues affect you often, it may be time for an evaluation with a gastroenterologist. 

Find a Virtua Gastroenterology practice near you and schedule an appointment online today.

Updated November 3, 2021

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