A super common topic that comes up in my work with clients is heartburn. Many of my clients who struggle with binge eating or bulimia experience heartburn.
Heartburn covers a whole range of other names, like acid reflux, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and indigestion.
Most people have experienced heartburn- so you can probably imagine the feeling. If you haven’t felt heartburn (you lucky duck), it feels like a burning, fire, or acid feeling anywhere from your stomach up to your throat. Most people feel heartburn just above their stomach, close to the belly button. Or as a whole line from the stomach up the chest. Heartburn might also come up into the mouth, and leave an acid taste.
Symptoms of heartburn
- A burning feeling in the centre of the chest
- A burning pain, sometimes called indigestion like
- Bitter and / or sour taste in the back of the throat
- Pain in the chest when lying down or bending over
- Trouble swallowing
- Higher levels of anxiety and depression in those with GERD (especially with chest pain)
- May affect self esteem
- Decreased quality of life
Sometimes when it comes to psychological effects of heartburn it can be a chicken or the egg situation. Being overworked and overstressed can lead to heartburn, or heartburn can lead to you being overstressed.
Heartburn can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a few hours. For most people the occasional bout of heartburn from eating too fast or too close to sleeping is fine but if it majorly affects your quality of life then it may be worth getting seen to.
Heartburn in bulimia and binge eating
Why does heartburn happen?
Heartburn happens when your lower esophageal sphincter isn’t functioning properly. This sphincter is a ring of muscles between your throat and your stomach. Think of it as a gate or door stopping everything in your stomach moving back up into your throat, especially stomach acid.
When you eat a lot of food or foods that trigger heartburn, or vomit, the muscles of the sphincters get looser and stomach acid – and sometimes even your stomach contents – can move up the throat. Stomach acid moves up the throat causing a burning feeling which we feel as heartburn.
How does binge eating cause heartburn?
- Damage to the sphincters via overeating. The more full your stomach is from eating the more chance that your lower esophageal sphincter won’t completely close. This can then squeeze your stomach contents a little back up the throat.
Overeating may also mean the stomach produces more acid to break down the increased load. More acid means more chances it will move up the throat.
How does bulimia cause heartburn?
- Damage to the sphincters via purging (vomiting). Repeatedly vomiting means your stomach contents are pushing against your esophageal sphincter which can weaken it. Further to this, vomit contains your stomach acid. That’s why you might get a slightly acidic taste in your mouth after. Your throat can tear a little as well as the sphincter weakening due to this acid. So you’ll feel the acid reflux even more.
Restriction and heartburn
- Heartburn via undereating. When food mixes with the acid in our stomachs it makes the stomach less acidic. If you go through long periods of not eating, especially after binging or as part of a binge-restrict cycle then your stomach acid can start to aggravate you and cause heartburn. This is more common if you suffer with GERD.
Below we have some tips to stop heartburn. These are lifestyle related and for those who experience small bouts of heartburn. If you have repeated or long term heartburn / acid reflux please seek out a medical professional as it may be something more serious.
Our tips to stop heartburn
Heartburn is super uncomfortable and painful. So here are our 9 tips to help prevent or ease heartburn:
- Try and make an effort to eat more slowly
This will allow you to feel your fullness a little more and stop you filling the stomach to the point of being overfull. Some studies have shown that eating a little slower can reduce GERD episodes but more research is on the way.
- Avoid acidic foods
While suffering with severe heartburn avoid citrus foods as they may aggravate the condition. Some people also comment that spicy foods can also aggravate it. Find what foods may trigger it for you.
- Have smaller and more frequent meals
To reduce the load on your stomach, smaller meals will help you feel full and also not push the stomach walls. If this triggers your relationship to food, we advice you to leave this tip.
- Try not to lie down after a binge, for at least 2 hours
Sitting upright will help reduce the movement of stomach acid up the body as gravity helps move food down the body. A lot of people that experience acid reflux comment that it’s at night when they eat before sleeping.
- Sleep on your left side
Studies have found that laying on your left reduces reflux episodes, whereas laying on your back can increase the risk of experiencing acid reflux.
- Try not to go to sleep after eating
This gives your stomach time to empty before you lay down and sleep. When we sleep we also produce less saliva which acts to neutralise stomach acid and help with reflux meaning heartburn may be more likely. Sleep also means reduced swallowing which acts to help with digestion.
- Wear loose clothing
Clothes that are tight around the waist and stomach can make you feel more uncomfortable as well as putting pressure on the stomach that may push acid up the oesophagus.
- If you smoke, try and cut down
Nicotine can weaken the esophageal sphincter. Smoking tobacco also reduces the ability of saliva to neutralise stomach acid. Scientists are currently looking into vaping but smoking tobacco has been linked with GERD. One study of 141 smokers found that 43% reported less GERD after quitting for a year compared to a group still smoking.
- Raise the head of your bed with blocks / books under the bed posts
This means your head and chest are higher than your feet, but often it’s recommended not to use pillows as you don’t want just your head higher. Gravity is your friend when it comes to digestion, and this helps it on its way.
We hope these tips are helpful to ease your heartburn.
Team Ease Nutrition Therapy x