Food is a common centerpiece of American celebrations, especially during the holiday season. School parties, work events, charity balls, neighborhood get togethers, religious ceremonies and family time — what do they all have in common? Food. Drinks. Desserts. A lot of it. And if we aren’t careful, it’s a lot of joy followed by a lot of discomfort as the reflux sets in.
As food sits pretty on the self-serve table, we tend to graze so our stomach never feels very full, yet the calorie-dense foods slowly trickle in over the hours. Add to that a few alcoholic beverages, often high in sugar, and you are well on your way to a not-so-fun night of reflux. At other events, we may sit around a table and while visiting, scarf down and entire plate, or 2, sometimes 3! The sheer amount of food stretches the stomach and temporarily compromises the natural reflux barrier, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Stomach contents are able to escape (reflux) into the esophagus and your once joyful evening has turned painful.
The first —and arguably the most powerful technique— is to practice mindfulness when eating. This simply means to bring your attention to the food you are eating. By temporarily disengaging from conversation or anything else distracting, you turn your attention to your food and more fully enjoy it. Start by paying attention to what you are putting on your plate. Are you selecting only sweets? Only chocolate? Or is it full of meat? What about the veggies, do they get some love? Examine all the available options and select wisely. You’re at a party, enjoy the food! But don’t overdo it. When you’re ready to eat, slow down and continue to bring your attention to every bite. Chew thoroughly to savor the flavors and give the enzymes in your mouth time to start breaking down the food. You might notice that simply by focusing extra attention on the food, you actually eat less!
If you suffer from reflux, you have probably identified some personal trigger foods and/or behaviors. Many refluxers find chocolate, alcohol (particularly wine), spicy foods, tomatoes, caffeine, mints, and high fat foods result in symptoms. These foods aren’t necessarily problematic, so if they aren’t triggers for you, there’s no reason to avoid them. A recent study (2019) looked at the impact of diet on reflux and found that a diet consisting of high-fat, low-protein, high-sugar, acidic foods and beverages is associated with more laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) episodes (1). We can simplify these results further by saying, an unhealthy, unbalanced diet is more likely to lead to reflux. If you eat a balanced diet and enjoy goodies in moderation, you’ll probably make it without waking the beast.
You’re probably not going to show up to your office holiday party and start doing jumping jacks (that might raise a few brows), but make sure to keep exercise a priority, especially during this “extra food required” season. The official recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are as follows: 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Keeping your weight down will help alleviate abdominal pressure, helping acid stay where it belongs.
If your symptoms are above and beyond just the holidays and special events, see what you can do to incorporate mindfulness and healthy choices into your everyday routine. If you are unable to control your reflux through lifestyle changes, there are plenty of medical interventions available. Visit our website to learn more.
(1) Lechien, J.R., Bobin, F., Muls, V. et al. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00405-019-05711-2