The Traditional Path
By Jim Notto
Initially I believed I should follow the advice of the several physicians I had consulted or read, and take a few simple actions: lose weight, exercise regularly, quit smoking and avoid foods which are overly acidic. Sound advice I’m sure, but I failed miserably at making even one of these changes.
Dieting to lose weight
I tried to diet to lose weight, but dieting has never been my strong suit. If it was I would not have been overweight for so many years. Sure, I had lost a great deal of weight on a diet when I was younger and even kept it off for a few years, but every diet I tried as an adult had only temporary success if any at all, and I was miserable the whole time I was on it. I enjoy food. I like the way good food tastes. I enjoy the warmth of sweet baked goods. I enjoy the way food feels in my mouth, from the creamy smoothness of a rich dessert, to the spicy heat of a seasoned meal, to the crunch of a crisp snack, to the almost-melt-in-your-mouth pleasure of a tender cut of meat when it’s cooked to flavorful perfection. Besides, I was off the medication and since the only relief I got at times was while eating, I consumed even more, and put on more weight.
I knew I should not eat too much, but when eating provides even a temporary relief from a searing pain, who can resist? Not I. All too often I felt that dieting is just another way to limit the enjoyment we have in life. It is too restrictive, too limiting. I’m not about limitations. I believe food, like life itself, should be enjoyed, and unfortunately many of the foods I enjoy seemed to trigger production of excess stomach acid.
Obviously, my solution would not be found in dieting or great dietary changes.
Exercise is, to me, very much like dieting. I know I should, but I really don’t want to. It’s a chore I do not enjoy. I tried exercising, and while active I would experience a temporary reduction in GERD symptoms; but when at last the exercise session was over and I began to relax, the reflux would seem even worse. Furthermore, if I exercised too strenuously it seemed to actually trigger acid reflux.
Since exercise is something I know I should do, but something I don’t really want to do, I would find excuses to procrastinate on getting my exercise. Then I would feel guilty about not exercising, and the ensuing negative self-talk would create stress. The stress, in turn, would trigger a flare-up of GERD symptoms. That’s no solution, just another path to the problem.
Cigarette smoking is a dangerous and destructive habit. Cigarette smoke contains carcinogens, poisons, that have a profound negative effect on the health of your body. There’s a great deal of evidence to show this is true. Tobacco use is highly suspect in exasperating the effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease, that is to say, it probably assists in causing GERD in some people, or at least it makes GERD even worse.
There’s evidence that the chemicals in cigarette smoke soften or weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the “muscle-valve” that normally keeps gastric juices, stomach acids and enzymes, inside the stomach. Perhaps the effects are systemic as well. I noticed that I could light up a cigarette and a few minutes later be suffering from acid reflux. It was a no-brainer that I should quit smoking. But knowing and doing are two different things.
I have smoked cigarettes since I was far too young, and I have set out to quit many times. I’ve tried to quit cold turkey. I’ve used hypnosis, acupuncture, affirmations, and meditation. I have tried the gum, the inhaler, the patch, and the pill. I have pleaded with myself, threatened myself, and hated myself for smoking.
As of this writing I am still a smoker. It is a habit I have struggled with for many years. When it comes right down to it, if overcoming GERD was dependent on quitting the habit I would still be having symptoms. I required a solution that did not depend on whether or not I was smoking.
Avoid Acidic Foods
So I was down to one last tactic: avoiding overly acidic foods. I never really researched which foods were acidic. It was pretty easy for me to tell. If I ate greasy beef with onion and tomatoes I would have acid reflux all night long. It didn’t take a genius to know my favorite Italian foods were causing me pain.
My wife cooks amazing and delicious dishes which are part of her ethnic heritage. These foods also triggered my symptoms. So did dairy products, sourdough, soft drinks, and chocolate. The more I paid attention the more I realized that most of the foods I really enjoyed would cause excessive stomach acid.