Sharon Gillson is a writer living with and covering GERD and other digestive issues.
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Updated on April 07, 2022
Medically reviewed Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Jay N. Yepuri, MD, MS
Medically reviewed byJay N. Yepuri, MD, MS
Jay Yepuri, MD, MS, is board-certified in gastroenterology. He is a partner with Digestive Health Associates of Texas and a medical director at Texas Health Harris Methodist HEB Hospital.
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Chronic heartburn can impact your whole life. It may interfere with your sleep. You may have to stop eating some of your favorite foods. Heartburn can even impact your work.
Chronic heartburn is often associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When you have this condition, stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. This can cause heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest.
Watch Now: Avoid These Things If You Have GERD
You and your doctor will decide on a treatment for your GERD. Still, it is just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.
This article describes 10 habits and activities that could trigger heartburn, and how to avoid them.
Large meals make your stomach expand. This increases upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is the valve between your esophagus and stomach. Increased pressure against the LES can cause heartburn.
Instead of eating three large meals a day, try eating six small meals or three small meals and three snacks. This will help keep your stomach from getting too full. It will also help prevent excessive production of stomach acid. Stomach acid is the fluid that helps you digest your food.
Don't Eat Too Quickly
When you eat too quickly, it is harder for your digestive system to function properly. Poor digestion increases your chances of getting heartburn.
Here are some things you can do to 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
Some foods cause heartburn. There are a couple of reasons why. Some foods relax the LES. Others can cause production of too much stomach acid.
When the LES is relaxed, food and stomach acid come back up into your esophagus. Foods that can relax the LES include:
- Fried or greasy foods
- High-fat meats
- Creamy sauces
- Whole-milk dairy products
- Caffeinated drinks like soft drinks, coffee, tea, and cocoa
Foods that may stimulate acid production include:
- Caffeinated drinks
- Carbonated drinks
- Spicy foods
- Citrus fruit and juices like oranges and grapefruit
- Tomato-based products
Don't Go Out to Eat Unprepared
It can be harder to make the right choices when eating out. That's why it's important to plan ahead. If you know what you can eat and what you should avoid, you can make better choices.
You can prevent heartburn by asking the right questions and knowing what to avoid. It is easy to eat too much at a restaurant, so watch the portion sizes.
Good choices when eating out 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
Looking at the menu before you arrive can help you make good choices. Don't be afraid to ask your server how the food is prepared.
Being careful of what you eat is a key to preventing heartburn. Avoid trigger foods, don't eat too much, and don't eat too quickly.
Don't Lie Down Too Soon After Eating
When you lie down, stomach contents press harder against the LES. This can trigger reflux. Some ways to avoid this include:
- Wait two to three hours after eating to go to bed.
- Don't snack late at night.
- Eat larger meals earlier in the day. Try to make your last meal small.
Don't Lie Flat When You Sleep
When you lie flat your stomach contents press against the LES. Keeping your head higher than your stomach helps reduce this pressure.
You can elevate your head in a couple of ways:
- Place bricks, blocks, or something sturdy and secure under the legs at the head of your bed.
- Use a wedge-shaped GERD pillow under your head and shoulders.
Don't Wear Tight Clothes
Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen can trigger heartburn. Tight belts and waistbands can squeeze the stomach and force food against the LES. This can make the stomach contents reflux.
There are lots of good reasons to quit smoking. Smoking can cause many health problems, and heartburn is one of them.
This is especially true if you have GERD. These are some of the ways smoking can trigger heartburn:
- Reduced saliva production: Smoking can reduce saliva production. Saliva helps neutralize stomach acid. It can also wash refluxed acid back into the stomach.
- Changes in stomach acid: Smoking can increase stomach acid production. It may also cause bile salts to move from the intestine to the stomach. Bile salts are a component of bile, a substance that helps you digest fats in your small intestine. Bile salts in the stomach can make stomach acid more harmful.
- Impaired functioning of the LES: Smoking can weaken and relax the LES. A weakened or relaxed LES can let stomach contents reflux back up into the esophagus.
- Damage to the esophagus: Smoking may directly injure the esophagus. This makes it even more susceptible to acid reflux damage.
Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol
Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces. It also relaxes the LES. If you drink, try these tips:
- Dilute the alcohol with water or club soda.
- Limit consumption. Have one or two mixed drinks, no more than 16 ounces of wine, or no more than three beers.
- Drink white wine instead of red wine.
- Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.
- Keep track of which alcoholic drinks trigger your heartburn. Avoid these drinks as much as you can.
Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are two good ways to avoid getting heartburn.
Don't Get Too Stressed
Stress itself hasn't been shown to cause heartburn. It can, however, lead to behaviors that trigger heartburn.
When you are stressed you may not follow your normal routines. You may not eat, exercise, or take medications according to your regular schedule. This disruption can trigger heartburn.
Finding ways to alleviate the stress can help. Try relaxation methods like:
- Breathing exercises
- Listening to music
GERD Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.
There are things you can do to help keep heartburn at bay. Avoid eating habits that may trigger reflux, such as eating fatty foods, drinking too much alcohol, eating too quickly, and eating large meals.
Avoid lying down after a meal and try to sleep in a reclined position. Smoking, stress, and wearing tight clothes are some other habits that may make heartburn worse.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I take to neutralize stomach acid naturally?
Baking soda in water is a common home remedy for acid reflux because it helps to neutralize stomach acid. You can also try ginger tea, lemon water, or low-fat milk.
Why should you avoid lying down after eating?
Lying down after you eat can cause indigestion and slow digestion. If you have GERD, lying down after a meal can cause your symptoms to worsen. The stomach contents push against the lower esophageal sphincter when you lie flat. If your sphincter is already weak, this can cause reflux.
If you feel you must lie down after a meal, prop up your torso with pillows or a wedge.
What foods make heartburn worse?
Foods that are high in fat, salt, or hot spices can make heartburn worse. This includes full-fat dairy, fried food, breakfast meats, chili, and fast food. Acidic foods, like citrus fruits and tomato-based sauces, can also contribute to heartburn, as can peppermint, alcohol, and carbonated beverages.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Harvard Medical School. What to eat when you have chronic heartburn.
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By Sharon Gillson
Sharon Gillson is a writer living with and covering GERD and other digestive issues.
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