Thank goodness, Thanksgiving week is here. For many of us that’s our green light to pig out; after all, this is the one week of the year when many of us expect to stuff ourselves (without recrimination or stern lectures) in much the same way that Mom and/or Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) stuff the turkey. So, you say you’re on a strict weight-loss diet? No excuses—all hands, and mouths, on deck.
What would Thanksgiving Day be without a wonderful family get-together around the dining table, followed by an hour or two of sitting in the den and watching football or a Hallmark movie, waiting for that swallowed mass in our stomach to break down enough to make room for dessert? A tradition unlike any other.
Sorry to break the holiday cheer here, but a word to the wise as well: This is National GERD Awareness Week, the 17th year that Thanksgiving week has been so designated. GERD is the acronym for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, more commonly known as acid reflux. As you might have guessed, it’s related to the consumption of food.
Persistent heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, a digestive disease in which swallowed food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus. Other GERD symptoms include belching, regurgitating stomach acid, coughing. and difficulty swallowing, says sahpendleton.org. Picking Thanksgiving week to shine the spotlight on GERD is no coincidence—it’s a week when GERD sufferers, according to morethanheartburn.com, are likely to experience an uptick in symptoms such as heartburn, coughing and nausea.
It is estimated that about 60 percent of adults will experience GERD sometime during the year, and 20 to 30 percent will experience weekly symptoms if left untreated. There is no known single cause of GERD, which can be diagnosed by your doctor or a gastroenterologist. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) lists the following as reasons to visit your doctor to see if you have GERD:
- Heartburn is experienced two or more times a week
- Heartburn worsens
- Your heartburn wakes you up at night
- Heartburn experienced off and on for several years
- Difficulty or pain when you swallow
- Discomfort from heartburn affects your daily activities
Going into further detail describing how GERD works inside our bodies—“As the Stomach Churns”?—really isn’t necessary for those of us preparing to enjoy our Thanksgiving feast. So let’s just skip ahead to the part listing possible GERD complications, among them esophageal ulcers and strictures, lung inflammation, cough and asthma, and what’s known as Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that needs to be checked periodically.
GERD is a chronic disease, but medical therapy over the long term is usually effective, says aboutgerd.org. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medicines (such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors [PPI]), or surgery, or a combination of strategies. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies can provide temporary relief, but if you are frequently using OTCs, it’s time to see your doctor.
OK, let’s get back to the dinner table. As for surviving that over-the-top Thanksgiving meal, here are a few suggestions courtesy of IFFGD via medicinenet.com to help make your après-dinner experience a bit more, shall we say, palatable:
1. No deep-fried turkey: Skip the fried foods, period.
2. Eat early in the day: Holiday feasts, or any meals for that matter, at night are not good.
3. Beware appetizers: Raw veggies with a Greek yogurt dip should be fine, but fatty ones such as chips and cheeses can trigger symptoms.
4. Scrimp on the seasonings: Spicy foods, and onions too, can make heartburn worse.
5. Drink water: That includes in place of alcoholic beverages, which can also aggravate GERD symptoms.
6. Watch it with the desserts: Skip anything chocolate as well as those after-dinner mints.
7. Downsize dishes: Literally—using a small plate will make you less likely to overeat.
8. Nix the nap: As tempting as it is after a big meal, lying down within three hours of eating can bring on symptoms.
9. Don’t light up: Nicotine prevents the esophagus from properly controlling stomach acid movement.
10. Keep on exercising: Managing your weight helps you manage your GERD symptoms.
Granted, this is a lot of information to digest, but if you exercise a reasonable amount of caution, this can be your most enjoyable Thanksgiving yet. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!