Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Lifestyle Changes to Manage Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Lifestyle changes may help manage problems related to GERD. Not all changes will work for everyone. Keep a journal of foods, drinks, or other activities that cause discomfort. It can help you find which changes may be most helpful.

General Guidelines for Managing GERD

Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes affects the body's nerve and blood supply. This makes it harder for the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to work as it should. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit. Quitting may help ease problems you have with GERD.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess belly weight makes pressure on the stomach higher. This makes it harder for the LES to work as it should. Obesity also raises the risk of a hiatal hernia. If you're overweight, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about how to lose weight safely. If you are in a healthy range, maintain your weight to help control GERD symptoms.

Avoid Certain Eating and Drinking Habits

Overeating can overwhelm the stomach and make it difficult for LES to close. To avoid overfilling the stomach:

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eat at a slower pace. This allows your stomach time to manage the food.

Be aware of foods that make GERD symptoms worse. The exact foods can vary from person to person.

The most common problem foods are:

  • High in fat
  • Spicy
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomato based
  • Chocolate
  • Mint

The most common problem drinks are:

  • Alcohol based
  • Carbonated
  • Caffeinated

Position and Timing

The stomach needs time to break down food and move it in the right direction. To help ease problems after you eat:

  • Wait at least 2-3 hours before lying down. This will give your stomach time to empty. Allow enough time between your last food of the night and bedtime.
  • Avoid bending over or straining.
  • Avoid large meals for a couple of hours before exercise. Experiment for which snacks are best before working out or to support endurance activities.

Lying down makes it easier for content to flow backwards from the stomach. Elevating your head 6-8 inches allows gravity to help keep stomach contents in place. Placing blocks under the legs at the head of your bed may help.

Don’t Wear Tight Clothes or Belts

Wearing clothing or belts that are too tight makes pressure in the belly higher. This causes the reflux of stomach acid. This may be more of a problem for those who have excess weight around the midsection.

REFERENCES:

Eating, diet, & nutrition for GER & GERD. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/eating-diet-nutrition. Updated November 2014. Accessed August 20, 2018.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: https://aga-cms-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/2018214195040---All_GERD_2017.pdf. Updated July 2017. Accessed August 20, 2018.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116914/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-GERD. Updated September 14, 2017. Accessed August 20, 2018.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Merck Manual Professional Version. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/esophageal-and-swallowing-disorders/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd. Updated April 2018. Accessed August 20, 2018.

Katz PO, Gerson LB, Velva MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.

Treatment for GER & GERD. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/treatment. Updated November 2014. Accessed August 20, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD  Last Updated: 8/20/2018