Jolting awake, Andrea Tran clutched her chest. The pain was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Am I having a heart attack? she gasped. But as she became more awake, Wait. Don’t panic, the Broomfield, Colorado, RN told herself. Doing a mental checklist, Andrea realized she didn’t have any other heart attack symptoms. But she had been having heartburn and had woken up a day earlier with a sore throat, also common in heartburn sufferers. Still, she knew it was best to get checked out.
Her doctor confirmed Andrea had suffered a severe case of acid reflux, caused by a bacterial infection. She was put on prescription medications, including proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), medications that reduce the amount of acid made in the stomach. But after the infection cleared, the acid reflux continued and she’d have frequent flare-ups, causing pain and bloat that woke her at night. After several years of suffering, it was wearing her down.
At another nurse’s suggestion, Andrea tried acupuncture, which worked well enough that she was able to wean off the prescription PPIs. But the sessions were expensive, and eventually, she couldn’t afford to go any longer. Since she hadn’t gotten any great relief from prescription meds, Andrea self-treated with over-the-counter PPIs or H2 blockers, another kind of acid reducer. Both, though, only provided temporary relief.
I guess this is something I just have to live with, she thought, and stopped looking for an acid reflux cure. Instead, Andrea decided to focus on an aspect of her health that she could do something about: her weight.
A Simple Solution
Like many during the pandemic lockdowns, Andrea had gained about 15 “quarantine pounds.” So last May, the 60-year-old decided to start a weight-loss program. In looking for a plan, she stumbled upon online videos about meal timing, in which people eat their meals within a certain window of time and eat nothing in between. This sounds doable, she thought.
Andrea decided to do a 12-hour program. This way, she could pretty much follow her usual eating schedule, having breakfast at 6 am, lunch midday, and dinner by 6 pm. She just had to cut out after-dinner or midnight snacking.
But during her eating window, she could eat her regular diet —eggs, pizza, chicken, pasta, steak, all her favorites. She could even have a sweet treat on occasion. Not only did she drop a few pounds, but about a month in, she realized she hadn’t experienced any bloat or acid reflux!
Because she was just looking to lose a few pounds, Andrea hadn’t originally researched other benefits of meal timing. But she soon discovered that during periods of fasting, the stomach produces more of a hunger hormone called ghrelin. Studies show that when ghrelin levels increase, the stomach produces less of the acid that causes reflux and heartburn.
Today, Andrea has hit her goal weight and has stuck with the regimen — she’s even switched to a more robust 16-hour fast, eating between 1:30 pm and 9:30 pm. Her acid reflux? Gone! “My whole life has improved,” she beams. “I sleep better, so I’m less tired and more productive. I’m healthier and happier than ever!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.