How to Deal With Holiday Meals When You Have Acid Reflux

You don’t always have to feel the burn.

The holidays are all about indulgence, and why not? The festive drinks and rich foods, from pot roasts to pumpkin pie, are a worthy reward at the end of a long year.

But there’s a downside to hearty holiday meals, particularly if you suffer from acid reflux. Large meals can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms — and quickly put a damper on holiday celebrations.

Acid reflux usually is identified as a burning pain in the chest. Other symptoms include belching, hoarseness, a sore throat and difficulty swallowing —all of which typically worsen when you’re reclining or lying down.

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“Acid reflux occurs when acidic stomach juices back up from the stomach into the esophagus,” said Michael Johns, MD, professor of clinical otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Voice Center at the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery of Keck Medicine of USC. “This acid sometimes spills into the larynx.”

Not only does acid reflux cause immediate discomfort, but it also can have lasting consequences if it goes untreated.

“Long-term reflux can cause laryngeal ulcers or granulomas, vocal fold scarring, pneumonia, Barrett’s esophagus and, in some cases, esophageal or throat cancer,” Dr. Johns said. These tips ensure that your acid reflux won’t hurt your holiday spirit.

Pace your meals

Instead of eating two to three large meals, eat three to four smaller ones. Some big, family meals are unavoidable — especially around the holidays — so plan ahead so that you don’t arrive starving (and therefore eat less).

Lose weight

Being overweight can increase your risk of acid reflux, so dropping a few pounds (though it seems impossible around this time of year) may help.

Avoid smoking

Among its other many drawbacks, tobacco can cause acid reflux, so cut back on smoking or stop altogether.

Stay away from certain foods

Certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, citrus, alcohol, onions, chocolate and caffeine, can trigger acid reflux. But trigger foods vary among individuals, so keep track of your meals to learn which yours may be.

If you just can’t say no to a slice of chocolate cake even though you know it’s a trigger food, at least give your body time to digest it by eating less and not lying down for three hours after enjoying it.

Straighten up

Lying down, moving vigorously or even wearing tight clothing can send stomach acid into your esophagus. After a big dinner, avoid going straight to bed or exercising. Wait two to three hours before going to sleep.

Prep before bed

If you’re exhausted after a rich dinner, there’s a good chance you’ll call it a night soon afterwards. If so, set yourself up for comfort before you turn in.

“Elevate the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches by putting phone books under the legs of your bed or buying a wedge pillow,” Dr. Johns said. “Using two or more regular pillows can make reflux worse, as it causes the body to curl.”

By Deanna Pai

To schedule an appointment with the USC Voice Center at Keck Medicine of USC, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit