How to Heal Acid Reflux and Restore Your Gut with Food

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear acid reflux? It’s probably the burning sensation in your chest or throat. Heartburn and acid reflux are used interchangeably however, heartburn is caused by acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus.

Heartburn is the burning you can feel in the throat or chest. It occurs when the stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus. That’s where the burn comes from. It’s not fun. I learned about the various types of acid reflux because of my own health journey. It completely changed how I look at nutrition and how I practice my nutrition lifestyle.

Growing Up with Italian Cooking

Eating food is such a joy. My Italian family worked in the old California orchards of Silicon Valley. My sisters and I would play in the orchards and explore the tractor barn every chance we had to play out there. It was a special time and place for growing up. Our family gathered around the table for homemade Italian dishes like spaghetti and meatballs, veal and eggplant parmesan. It was always delicious. 

We sat at the table for hours talking, laughing, and eating. Then we ate more and more. Back then the food was not ultra-processed as it is today, but everything we did centered around eating.

The downside I learned later in life was that the constant flow of food, the encouragement to eat more, and the never-ending sweets formed my binge-like eating behaviors and over time those habits spun out of control.

The Acid Reflux Diagnosis

When I arrived in my mid-forties, I believed my eating habits were healthy, but deeper exploration revealed I had some healthy nutrition mixed with many comfort foods and alcohol. I mean, you can’t drink a glass of wine without cheese and crackers, can you? And how can you enjoy the sauce-loaded hot wings without the mega pint of beer?

Physically, I felt bloated, fatigued, and tired. My brain was foggy and had headaches all of the time and woke up many nights gasping and choking. My first thought was I just had a dry throat. It was actually the stomach pepsin moving into my throat while I slept and I was literally choking in my sleep due to acid reflux and didn’t know it.

Being at my highest weight since pregnancy, I was miserable and felt a lump in my throat. My health world was turned upside down after a visit to a new Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor. I answered a series of questions about my food and beverage habits and then completed an examination. The diagnosis was Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR). The name is still difficult for me to pronounce, but it meant I had to make some swift changes to my diet and lifestyle.

The doctor handed me a nutrition list of dos and don’ts, then told me to come back in 3 months. The next option was medication if I didn’t get the reflux under control. I cried. I also took a solid look at what my diet consisted of and how it was wreaking havoc on my body, mind, and spirit. What we eat really impacts us mentally and emotionally, not just physically.

What is Acid Reflux?

GERD and LPR are the two types of acid reflux. They have some similar symptoms but are different in many ways. With GERD, you will likely have a burning sensation in your lower chest (heartburn). Heartburn from GERD is usually felt following a meal. Not so with LPR.

LPR is called “silent reflux” because the symptoms are often mistaken for other health issues. It’s a condition in which the acid made in the stomach travels up the esophagus (swallowing tube) and gets into the throat. It can travel as far as the nasal passages. LPR symptoms are often obscure and not what your think of as heartburn symptoms. A person with LPR might experience:

  • Voice hoarseness
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Throat clearing
  • Feeling that you have something stuck in your throat or a lump in the throat
  • Some don’t experience heartburn at all (I didn’t and still don’t)
  • Waking up choking due to pepsin from the stomach reaching your throat

With LPR, the sphincters don’t work right. Stomach acid backs up into the back of your throat (pharynx) or voice box (larynx), or even into the back of your nasal airway.

It can cause inflammation in areas that are not protected against gastric acid exposure. The scary part of this disease is that the acid (pepsin) coming up and continually assaulting your throat tissue can cause serious health conditions over time, including throat cancer or Barrett’s Esophagus.

How to Get Rid of Acid Reflux

If it were only that easy to “get rid” of any form of acid reflux. There’s no way to completely rid yourself of LPR or GERD. You can reduce the symptoms and inflammation with nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Below are some of the suggested changes you’ll see associated with LPR. I noticed improvement once I eliminated these items from my diet.

  • Caffeine. It sounds crazy to eliminate. It’s possible and it’s worth it.
  • Alcohol. You can also learn about the pH in alcohol to determine the best for low-acid enjoyment. For me, Tito’s vodka and fresh watermelon juice. Yum! It’s a rare occasion when I drink these days.
  • Fried foods, fast food, and processed food. I don’t miss them! It just took some willpower and I don’t crave them now. I’ll still fry food at home with olive oil. Once in a while, I indulge though.
  • Citrus, tomatoes, garlic, onions, chocolate, mint. I found substitutes for all of these!
  • Soda. I didn’t drink it really anyway.

New Day, New Diet

The word “diet” is not one of my favorite ways to describe nutrition. It has many negative meanings. In fact, I don’t refer to how I eat as any kind of diet. It’s my nutritional lifestyle. What we’re talking about with a new nutrition plan is change. It’s behavior change that will improve our health– mind, body, and spirit. 

My nutrition includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. The meals do include chicken and turkey, very little of red meat. Olive oil is a healthy one to use for baking and cooking. My nutrition lifestyle is closely based on the Mediterranean Diet and focused on alkaline foods (foods with a pH of 6 and over). It was a change in my eating habits and behaviors that supported my long-term health improvements.

Behavior change sounds like a big undertaking. It is when you look at huge, lofty goals that impact your life. Starting with small habit changes can make a big impact over time. It took many years for your body to get to the stage of not feeling well. It will take time to adjust to new habits that will help you feel healthier.

Creating sustainable change is within reach. You can achieve it with the help of a Holistic Health and Wellness Coach, like me! Together, we can create a program and plan with small, attainable actions that could have a lasting impact on your overall health.

Acid Reflux Resources

You can find so many resources to help you navigate the acid reflux nutritional lifestyle. Below is a list of books that helped me get started. They’re great references I still use when meal planning.

These authors are pretty aligned with the information they share about the disease, lifestyle changes, and how to combat reflux with healing foods. Everyone has different food sensitivities and triggers. The important part is finding what works for you and your body.

It will really help to have support along the way. My hubs is very supportive and will try all of my new recipes. We both have completely different nutrition lifestyles from three years ago. Additionally, my kids are also eating better too. 

Also, Facebook groups offer great support with stories and recipes. It has been inspiring to find people with similar stories to mind that have found relief with food as medicine. Find your tribe! They will help keep you motivated.

Getting Healthy Again

It’s been about a few years since I shifted to my acid-friendly lifestyle. It’s a practice and I’m not perfect. Falling off the wagon has happened during high stress or the holidays time and I feel awful physically as a result every time. That’s when I give myself grace and allow time for me to get back on track.

Nobody is perfect and no eating plan is either. One of the best ways to give yourself grace is to adopt the “It’s a practice.” mindset. That will allow you to grow, embrace successes, accept challenges, and get back up to try again.

My recipe line up includes soups, crackers, desserts, main dishes, side dishes, and more. All of the recipes are created for the acid-friendly and holistic nutrition lifestyle. You can find my recipes on Instagram.

So I chose to cut many things at once and although it was hard in the beginning, the lifestyle changes made a positive impact on my overall health. I lost 25 pounds pretty quickly as a result and then spent time working to build the muscle back up. I love working out with jump rope, weights and walking. Yoga and meditation are also included in my mix of activities. Mindfulness plays a big role in your holistic wellbeing.

Cultivating Happiness in Your Life

Some people are just born happy it seems. Others have a hard time finding joy or happiness in anything they do. No matter where you fall, happiness is something that can be built upon each day.

A healthy and positive attitude helps you get there. Happiness and health go hand in hand. You really can’t enjoy one without the other. So how do you up your level of happiness? Below are a few things I do each day.

  • Practice mindfulness
  • Explore mindful eating
  • Acknowledge the good with daily gratitude
  • Exercise every day – a 5 minute walk will reset your mind and body
  • Laugh with your loved ones
  • Make time for others
  • Stop the blame game
  • Journal your thoughts, aspirations, and goals

LPR will always be with me and part of my holistic lifestyle. Disease, disability, or trauma shouldn’t be what defines us though. It can be the catalyst for change and new beginnings.

When my sister passed away from ovarian cancer, I remember the Ovarian Cancer Coalition had a campaign with a saying that resonated with me. “It whispers so listen.” Your body will give you signs of distress and signs of wellness. It’s up to you and me to listen, take action and be vigilant. Subtle signs can be a warning for you to make a change.

Food can be your enemy that will slowly destroy you from within or it can be the healing medicine your body uses to make you stronger. It’s up to you to decide which it will be. Pick one thing you can do today to make a difference in your health. Five minutes is all you need!

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