When you learn to listen to your body, many things in life get better. I've gotten several benefits from recognizing when my stomach is about full. One of them is in rehearsing, recording and performing with my singing voice.
Chronic stomach acid issues had me frequently clearing my throat or singing through intermittent spikes of burning pain. My voice was hoarser with less range and endurance. Doing vocal exercises a few times a week helped, but did not prove sufficient. The acid was affecting me as it occurred during singing and it was having a cumulative effect by coming up for much of the day and night.
What really helped was cutting my meal portions in half and recognizing that 20 minutes later I wasn't actually hungry. When my stomach is less full, I'm less likely to have acid rush into my esophagus over the course of several hours a day.
It also helped to see John Taglieri, a singer with a voice strong and true, share stories of his own struggles with gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) and its effect on his vocal abilities. This keeps me more aware of the importance of managing my own case of GERD.
Mindfulness plays a role
I credit my meditation practice with the Ten Percent Happier app for a subtle improvement in my awareness of my bodily sensations. I believe this is how I'm better able to know when I'm full. I still want snacks between meals, but I'm better able to discern want from need. Also, by eating smaller meals, I know that a snack will not overfill a stomach already inundated with the most recent meal.
Benefits offstage too
I've experienced benefits besides the onstage ones. I've lost weight after I'd been gradually gaining. I sleep better and am now unlikely to wake up an hour into sleep with my throat on fire, which would happen after a late, rich, big dinner. I worry a little less about my heart (My ongoing issues with anxiety have sent me to the ER three times now). I've slowed my consumption of cough drops by a lot, because I'm not spending hours a day feeling the burning of acid in my throat.
Self-care, not deprivation
I view my new-found eating habit as a matter of self-care rather than deprivation. It's rooted in feeling better and safer, not in feeling badly about myself, my appearance, etc. It's reinforced by my having given the best vocal performance of my life when it mattered most. I was on top of my game in front of the Outpost in the Burbs audience in my hometown of Montclair last week.
I understand a little better what the inside of my body feels like from meditation practice. This way I know when I'm satisfied with what I ate. When I feel satisfied, I don't feel like leaving food for later is punishment or deprivation. Plus when I save the rest for the next day, I get to enjoy more of my favorite foods at a time when I will be actually hungry again.
Self-care also means checking in periodically with my gastrointestinal doctor, Mark Tanchel with Gastrointestinal Associates of New Jersey (GANJ). I take famotidine to limit the amount of stomach acid that comes up my esophagus at Dr. Tanchel's direction. I also get endoscopies when my symptoms are particularly troubling.
I'm not on a diet
I'm not on a diet program. I'm not accounting for point values of the foods I'm eating. I'm not “being good” or “being bad.” I'm not “sticking with a program” or “cheating.” I'm simply, for the first time in my life, at age 52, eating enough to feel satisfied, no more, no less.
Most of my life I've been a visual eater. You put a thick 6" sub and chips in front of me and I'll eat the whole thing – because that's what's there for me to eat. I remember hearing of a fascinating psychological experiment with bowls of soup that secretly refilled through a tube to the bottom if the bowl. As long as the subjects had a visual cue there was more soup still in the bowl, they continued to eat more than a bowl full.
I haven't stopped eating visually; I've just added the element of listening to my body. This has helped me change my visual references. At a restaurant, I'll typically plan on saving half of what's presented to me. I've tried that plan before, and then I'd eat right through it, to the point where there isn't quite enough left over to save for later, so I'd might as well eat that too. And I'd feel the pain in my throat later. These days, I seem to appreciate the many benefits of limiting my portions to what won't set off my acid.
If you like, use the comments section below to share your story of managing GERD and the difference that control is making in your music or your life in general.