1. Avoid foods that trigger heartburn.
Lots of foods can trigger heartburn (the spilling of stomach contents into the lower esophagus) because they’re either too acidic, sweet, spicy or gassy. Everyone’s tolerances and sensitivities are different, but if you have a hiatal hernia, you should avoid peppery foods, tomato-based foods, onions, citrus fruits and chocolate products.
- Fried and fatty foods can also trigger heartburn and irritate the esophagus and weaken the valve (esophageal sphincter) between the esophagus and stomach.
- In addition to heartburn, common symptoms of a hiatal hernia include: abdominal pain, bloating, frequent burping, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, feeling too full, fatigue and sometimes vomiting.
- Chronic heartburn can also lead to bad breath, but avoid sucking on mints or candy (especially peppermints) because that can make the heartburn worse.
- Foods less likely to cause heartburn symptoms include the following: bananas, apples, green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, grains, cereals, cheeses, milk, and yogurt.
2. Don’t eat large meals.
- Instead of three large meals per day, eat five smaller (and blander) meals spaced out by about two-and-a-half hours.
- Don’t let others dish up your plate when at home. Help yourself and don’t feel the need to fill up your entire plate to the edges.
- If you’re very hungry, force yourself to take a small serving initially. Eat slowly and only take a second small serving if you’re still hungry.
3. Spend more time chewing.
- Take smaller bites and spend at least 20 – 30 seconds chewing your food before you swallow it.
- Cut up your food into smaller portions to encourage taking smaller bites. Cutting food up will also allow it to cool down faster.
- If your mouth feels dry before a meal, suck on a piece of lemon (limes and grapefruits work well also) in order to stimulate the release of saliva from your saliva glands.
4. Avoid eating just prior to bedtime.
In addition to the type and portions of food, the timing of your meals is also very important for controlling the symptoms of a hiatal hernia. More specifically, you should eat dinner (or your final meal of the day) at least two to three hours before bedtime in order to give your stomach enough time to digest the food and then release its contents into the small intestine.
- Going to bed full and laying horizontal makes it easier for the acidic contents of the stomach to spill out through the esophageal sphincter and into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
- It takes longer for dense meals to digest (such as steak) compared to breads, pastas, salads and cooked veggies.
- Always sit up while eating and avoid lying down or bending over immediately after any meal. Go for a light walk if a meal makes you feel very sleepy instead of napping.
- Wear pants that are loose around your stomach when eating to reduce pressure you might feel from restrictive clothing.
Changing Your Drinking Habits
1. Cut back on alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages can irritate a hiatal hernia in a few different ways. Alcoholic drinks, especially red wine and beer, are very acidic, so they should be avoided in general (particularly in the evenings) if you have a history of heartburn. Secondly, the alcohol (ethanol) is damaging to the tissues of your esophagus, esophageal sphincter and stomach, which can trigger acid reflux and other symptoms.
- All alcoholic beverages can potentially irritate a hiatal hernia, although the least acid types tend to contain the least amount of sugar, such as a vodka and soda, or a white wine spritzer.
- Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which allows contents to reflux into the esophagus.
- Excessive drinking also increases the risk of forceful vomiting, which can make a hiatal hernia worse.