Lifestyle Modifications For GERD

  • Nikom Sonia Purohita Doctor of Medicine - MD, Co-Assistant, Clinical clerkship of Medical School, Univerity of Lampung

Brief overview of GERD

When acid from your stomach repeatedly runs back into your oesophagus, it causes a chronic illness known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Over time, it may lead to complications such as oesophagitis, oesophageal stricture, and Barrett's oesophagus. The most common symptom of GERD is a burning sensation that typically affects the chest and moves upwards to the neck, throat, and oral cavity1


GERD develops due to a weakened or relaxed oesophagal sphincter. A lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscular ring at the bottom of your oesophagus, which connects your mouth and stomach. It is a valve that opens to let food and liquids into the stomach and closes to keep stomach contents from coming back up.1,2

These days, GERD is becoming a health concern due to its symptoms that will lower the patient’s quality of life. Acid reflux in GERD can be triggered by several risk factors that, fortunately, can be modified. You can get better control over your symptoms by making adjustments to your lifestyle.While you are here, you probably want to know the exact step-by-step way to make your living better. This article will help you to get there.

Adjust your diet

  • Avoid acidic food and beverages: Acidic beverages are often associated with GERD as they will lower the pH of stomach contents and increase acid production. Avoid eating citrus fruits such as lemons, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, limes, and their products.4
  • Choose lean meat: High-fat and fried foods lower LES pressure and delay stomach emptying, which will increase the risk of acid reflux. Therefore, you can choose meat that is grilled, poached, broiled, or baked. Additionally, high-fat egg yolks are also more likely to cause reflux symptoms, so it is advisable to use whites only.5
  • Consume complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates are high in fibre and will slow digestion. If you have GERD, try to choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables like potatoes and root vegetables.5
  • Avoid other triggering foods: Spicy food is commonly associated with the risk of acid reflux, along with chocolate, onions, coffee, mint, and alcohol. These foods will reduce your oesophageal sphincter tonus, resulting in reflux. Avoiding these foods in your day-to-day life will help to ease your symptoms.4
  • Eat smaller and more frequent meals. Heartburn can be prevented by eating in small portions but frequently instead of a few large meals. This gives your system proper time to digest the food you eat and prevents stomach contents from putting high pressure on the oesophageal sphincter and flowing backinto the oesophagus.6

Weight management

Overweight and obesity are often associated with GERD. If you have excess weight, you will have an increase in stomach pressure, a problem with gas emptying, a decrease in pressure in the oesophagus sphincter, and an increase in relaxations of the oesophagus sphincter, all of which can cause GERD. Therefore, weight management is indicated in patients with this disease. 

Regular physical activity is also recommended. Research indicates that physical exercise can prevent reflux symptoms. However, it is crucial to strike a balance because excessive exercise can heighten reflux symptoms. Doing low-intensity exercises tends to yield more favourable outcomes. Additionally, timing matters—avoid engaging in physical activity immediately after eating to minimise the risk of reflux symptoms.7

Habit changes

Keep the right posture during and after meals.

When you eat, it is best to be sitting down. After eating, avoid lying down for at least two hours because the acid will backflow even easier. Some people find that standing up or walking around after eating will increase the flow of gastric acid in the correct direction. However, if these activities make your symptoms worse, you might want to avoid them and do something more gentle instead.5

Avoid late-night eating or before bed.

Eating late at night might be very appealing sometimes. When you eat, however, your food requires a specific amount of time to be digested properly. It takes three to four hours to digest food, limiting the possibility of stomach acid backflowing into the oesophagus. Therefore, it is not advisable for GERD sufferers to eat a full meal less than three or four hours before bed.5

Quit Smoking

Smoking can cause an increase in stomach acid production and a decrease in the function of the lower oesophageal sphincter. Smoking can also reduce the amount of saliva the body produces, which neutralises acid6

Keep your head elevated while you sleep

Elevating your head while sleeping can help prevent GERD symptoms by decreasing the chances of stomach acid regurgitating into the oesophagus.  You can use one or two additional pillows to be in a recline position.6

Wear loose-fitting clothes

Wearing tight clothes can cause high pressure on your stomach, worsening heartburn and reflux. Try to pick the loose one to ease pressure on your stomach.6

Eat slowly

If you eat too quickly, you might not give your stomach enough time to signal your brain that it is full, which can cause overeating and worsen GERD. Also, eating slowly allows for better digestion and can help prevent the stomach from becoming too full, which can also worsen GERD symptoms.2

Manage Stress 

Stress can worsen symptoms of GERD by enhancing the sensitivity to acid exposure in the oesophagus. According to research, individuals experiencing stress are more prone to heightened acid reflux symptoms and chronic GERD. Stress may amplify your perception of symptoms, making you more responsive even to smaller amounts of acid in the oesophagus. 

Furthermore, stress can contribute to increased stomach acid production, exacerbating GERD. Studies have demonstrated that individuals exposed to life stressors are more likely to report GERD symptoms. Therefore, suitable coping mechanisms for your stress may play a pivotal role in reducing GERD symptoms.8


Can I have a normal life if I have GERD? 

The unpleasant recurring symptoms are one of the main concerns of this disease. Living with GERD may require several lifestyle adjustments, but it is possible to have a normal life. You need to consult with a medical professional for accurate diagnosis and strategic medical treatment while also modifying factors associated with reflux risk to keep the symptoms under control.

What lifestyle habits may contribute to symptoms of GERD?

  • Lying down after a meal
  • Consuming acidic foods and drinks
  • Too much spicy food, coffee, alcohol, chocolate
  • Eating a large meal instead of small but frequent meals
  • Smoking
  • Late night eating6.

What activities should you avoid with GERD?

  • Exercise that jumps up and down a lot, such as jumping rope, vigorous running, and high-impact aerobics.
  • Exercise that puts high pressure on the abdominal wall or stomach, such as weight lifting, gymnastics, and climbing.
  • Exercise that needs bouncy movement over a long period, such as a marathon or sudden burst, such as cycling.9

How can I permanently cure my GERD?

GERD is a relapsing disease that can be managed effectively and, if treated correctly, can be cured. Adhering to treatment protocols and adopting risk-modifying behaviours is crucial for symptom resolution, decreasing the likelihood of complications, enhancing quality of life, and minimising the economic burden associated with this condition.10

Can you reverse GERD with diet?

GERD is a chronic condition and may not be completely reversible through diet alone. You need to balance diet modifications with other approaches, such as medications and habit changes. However, certain dietary changes can help minimise symptoms and improve overall well-being.7

What foods neutralise stomach acid immediately?

Foods that may help include bananas, ginger, melons, and cold dairy products such as milk and yoghurt.5,11

What is the best dessert for acid reflux?

A gastroenterologist and an author, Will Bulsiewicz, suggests mango ice cream, frozen mango, and frozen bananas for dessert if you have GERD. Choose mangos as a substitute for fruits with higher acidity, such as oranges and kiwi, which may induce acid reflux. With their elevated pH levels, ripe bananas can effectively calm your stomach and prevent acid reflux symptoms. Another source suggests that cookies, ginger-based desserts, and frozen desserts are recommended if you have GERD.11


Lifestyle adjustments are crucial for effectively managing GERD symptoms and preventing complications. The optimal strategy involves combining medical treatment with these modifications to control your symptoms. Identify triggers that provoke your symptoms and then try to modify them.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Avoid triggering foods such as acidic fruits, spicy foods, chocolate, mint, coffee, and alcohol.
  • Be mindful of your habits, don’t lie down immediately after meals. Allow at least 3 to 4 hours before bedtime after a large meal, and maintain a reclined sleeping position to prevent acid reflux. Choose smaller, more frequent meals and consume them slowly. 
  • Quit smoking
  • If you have excess weight, focus on weight management to decrease stomach pressure. 
  • Lastly, as stress also plays a role in acid production, work on stress management to effectively address your GERD.


This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nikom Sonia Purohita

Doctor of Medicine - MD, Co-Assistant, Clinical clerkship of Medical School, Univerity of Lampung

Nikom is a medical doctor with clinical experience working in primary health care and hospital across rural and urban areas in Indonesia. Following her medical practice, she expanded her career into medical writing and communications. Her interest extends from precision medicine, mental health, and global health, with particular focus on advancing health equity.

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