Devouring a plate of fried chicken and curling up on the couch with a pint of ice cream can be enjoyable endeavors—that is, until the cruel after-effects kick in. These two foods are guilty pleasures, meaning we eat them for taste, fully aware they’re not healthy. Anything that is cooked in oils or goes heavy on the cream is going to have a high fat content. And anything high in fat will, when consumed in excess, do two things: make you gain weight and give you heartburn.

Consider the Nurses’ Health Study. It began in 1976 by enrolling over 20,000 nurses to learn about the link between subtle weight fluctuations and heartburn. There were two important findings:

  • The higher a woman’s Body Mass Index (BMI), the more likely she was to have GERD symptoms. (For obese women, the chances were 3 times as high.)
  • The study also showed that a slight increase in BMI led to a greater chance of frequent symptoms, while a slight decrease lessened the likelihood of symptoms.1

Similarly, a recent article by doctors at Temple University provided an overview of the relationship between BMI and GERD, citing one particular study that found that an accumulation of abdominal fat might be the most important risk factor for the development of acid reflux.2

In a country where over 66 percent of American adults are overweight3 and over 40 percent experience heartburn at least once per month4, the statistical odds of a person fitting into both categories are high. Oftentimes, people get into trouble with heartburn because they take an over-the-counter medicine, assuming this will stop the pain. However, there are certain lifestyle changes should be enacted before turning to medication.

The professionals at the National Heartburn Alliance suggest heartburn sufferers find ways to reduce stress, do low-impact exercises, and eat low-acid, low-fat foods. This means staying away from sauces, desserts, meat skins, and heavy tomato-based meals, like chicken parmigiana.

But the real key, most professionals agree, is to demonstrate portion control. Having an extra piece of chocolate or a greasy slice of pizza once per week will not necessarily contribute to your heartburn, just as it will not necessarily make you heavier. Eating these foods on an everyday basis—and stuffing yourself at each meal—will, in fact, increase your weight and worsen your heartburn symptoms. Therefore, be mindful of your eating habits, and remember: moderation is key.


1. BC. Jacobson , SC. Somers, CS. Fuchs, et al., New England Journal of Medicine, 2006, vol. 354,
pp.2340-2348; summarized at

2. American College of Gastroenterology, press release, August 19, 2008,