Missy Gillenwater has always struggled with maintaining a healthy weight. The 50-year-old stay-at-home wife faced the same issue many people face when exercising and eating healthily: motivation. As a result, her weight fluctuated over the years, and she could not stay healthy for an extended period. But as her acid reflux symptoms got worse, she decided to commit to a healthy lifestyle and has been feeling better ever since.
The Beginning of Missy Gillenwater’s Health Journey
“Pain started overtaking my life in the second half of 2021,” she said in an interview with the TODAY show. “My mouth, head and throat hurt so much, and I was exhausted all the time. Finally, I was diagnosed with acid reflux and that’s when my transformation began.” 
When the pain became too much, she visited an ear, mouth, and nose specialist (ENT) who diagnosed her with acid reflux. He advised her to change her diet and avoid fatty and fried foods. She decided to go further and avoid soda and tomato-based foods. Then, she tried to center her diet around lighter meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. After some time, plus plenty of trial and error, she found a list of foods that didn’t give her acid reflux, which became her new diet plan.
Currently, she eats lots of fresh produce, chicken, salmon, and turkey, and avoids red meat, pasta, and bread. For breakfast, she eats oatmeal and a protein shake every day. Then she shifted her focus to exercise. “I figured it was the perfect time to really focus on my health. I had walked before but knew I could really make a change if I kept moving while also focusing on my diet,” Gillenwater said.
When she began walking every day, she weighed 277 pounds and struggled to log just one mile. But then she could walk 2 to 3 miles a day, about 25 minutes a mile. “Motivation through the hard times continued to be a struggle,” Gillenwater said. “It can be hard to get started and then continue going. At first, I could hardly walk a mile!”
From Barely a Mile to a 5K
As Gillenwater persisted in her walking routine, she started to lose weight. Today, she walks 10 to 13 miles daily, about 14–16 minutes a mile. “I haven’t missed one day of walking over the past 13 months,” she said.
When Gillenwater posted about her fitness on Facebook, her friend recommended the Start TODAY Facebook group. After Gillenwater joined, she appreciated how much the other members motivated and encouraged each other. “If you’re having a bad day and you get on there and you look at that, it just lifts you up, because there’s days when you struggle, you don’t want to walk or you don’t want to do anything and you get on there and that just sets the mood to ‘hey, get up and do something,’” she said.
The group encouraged Gillenwater to undertake her first 5k. “I wasn’t sure what my time would be, and that day was my fastest time — I had several times of 55 minutes when I practiced, and I finished that day in 52 minutes. I was so excited!” She added, “I worked up to that from the people in the program motivating me!”
And the group cheered for her when she announced that a year after her acid flux diagnosis, she was officially off of her blood pressure and acid reflux medication. She also lost 114 pounds, going from shirt size 4X to size L. “I feel more confident and happy than ever. … I love taking selfies of myself and trying on new clothing now!” she said.
Healing Acid Reflux Through Lifestyle Changes
For others hoping to embark on their own health journey, Gillenwater recommends finding a diet that works best for you. “I followed doctor’s orders and did research to find out specific foods that would make me feel good and also were good for me too, and from there I built my plan.” One could also work with a dietician to guide them and keep track of their progress.
She knows as well as anyone the difficulty of staying motivated. So she recommends taking photos throughout the journey to keep track of your progress. Seeing tangible proof of her progress so far helped her stay on track, and she enjoys looking back on how far she’s come.
There are multiple lifestyle changes that could help acid reflux, and diet and exercise are high on the list for several reasons. Acid reflux’s symptoms commonly include heartburn and regurgitation, which causes an acidic taste in the throat or mouth.  Risk factors for this condition include obesity, low levels of physical exercise, pregnancy, and certain medications. But some risk factors are linked directly to foods and eating habits.
For instance, consuming onion, garlic, tomato and tomato sauces, spicy food, fatty food, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, carbonated drinks, and acidic juices could lead to acid reflux. As does eating large meals and lying down within two to three hours after eating. Other helpful lifestyle changes include improving posture, not eating late at night, stopping smoking, and elevating the head while sleeping. 
Keep Reading: Meet Sarah Nicole Landry, a Mom of 4 Who’s on a Mission to Make All Women Feel Good in Their Own Skin
- “Walking and diet changes helped her lose 114 pounds, cure acid reflux.” Today. Brianna Steinhilber. April 17, 2023.
- “What Is Acid Reflux Disease?” WebMD. Annie Stuart. April 8, 2022
- “What is acid reflux?” Medical News Today. Markus MacGill. January 4, 2023