5 Tips to Help Prevent Holiday Heartburn

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
December 17, 2021
5 Tips to Help Prevent Holiday Heartburn

It’s the holiday season – a time of joy, cheer and heartburn. Mainstream holiday fare – high fat foods, alcohol and desserts – can trigger heartburn. Of course, heartburn isn’t just a holiday thing – many of us experience bad heartburn anytime we eat foods that are spicy or high in fat or drink alcohol – whether it’s New Year’s Eve or Super Bowl Sunday.

“Celebrations can trigger heartburn because people tend to sit down, socialize and eat and drink much more than usual,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. 

Heartburn (also known as acid reflux) affects nearly one third of Americans. In 2015, Americans spent about $2 billion on over-the-counter antacids to ease heartburn and indigestion. And the amount of money continues rising.

Most people recognize heartburn as a painful burning sensation behind the breastbone that tends to worsen at night, after eating, when bending over or lying down. It’s caused by stomach acid backing up in the esophagus (the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach). There’s a band of muscles around the bottom of the esophagus – known as the esophageal sphincter. Normally, the sphincter is tight, until you eat or drink something. At that point, the sphincter relaxes to allow the passage of food and liquid into the stomach. When you are finished eating and drinking, the sphincter tightens. However, if the sphincter begins relaxing abnormally or weakens, you can experience a backflow of acid – hence the term acid reflux.

Many people deal with heartburn on an occasional basis, particularly after holiday festivities, such as a dinner, cookout or party. If this sounds like you, here are five tips to help you prevent it.

  1. Avoid overeating. Too much food can expand your stomach, placing pressure on the esophageal sphincter and causing heartburn. Limit your portion sizes and overall amount of food you’re eating. 
  2. Eat slowly. Eating too quickly makes it more difficult for your digestive system to breakdown food, raising your chances for heartburn. Taking smaller bites and chewing food 20 times also helps.
  3. Skip foods that elicit heartburn by relaxing the esophageal sphincter and increasing acid production. Foods that can relax esophageal sphincter include high fat foods (fried, marbled meats, cream sauces, whole dairy products), peppermint and caffeinated foods and beverages (chocolate, coffee, tea, cocoa). Foods that increase acid production comprise caffeinated foods and beverages, carbonated beverages, alcohol, spicy foods and acidic fruits and vegetables like oranges, grapefruits and tomatoes.  
  4. Wait a few hours after dinner before going to bed. Lying down after eating can trigger heartburn, so give yourself sometime between dinner and going to bed and skip late night snacking. Once you’re in bed, try to not sleep flat on your back as it can cause stomach contents to press against the esophageal sphincter. You can ease the pressure on your esophageal sphincter by prop your head higher than your stomach with a wedge pillow
  5. Wear loose fitting clothes. Tight pants and belts can cause the stomach to jam its contents against the esophageal sphincter, causing heartburn.

“Of course, if your heartburn goes beyond the occasional overindulgence, you should talk to your primary care doctor,” Kaminetsky says.

Talk to your doctor if you:

  • Struggle with heartburn multiple times a week.
  • Find that antacids have become ineffective
  • Are experiencing nausea, vomiting or a loss of appetite

Don’t have a physician? Consider working with MDVIP. MDVIP-affiliated physicians have the time and resources to help you focus on heart health. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

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