Nonfiction (Misc)

Healing my Headaches: Following a No-Migraine Diet

headacheTwo weeks ago I decided I’d had enough of my life being controlled by migraines. I’d reached a point where I was spending most weekends either dopey from drugs or in pain. I’ve tried keeping a food diary, vitamins and natural remedies like chewing raw ginger (not recommended but it will distract you from the pain), and even acupuncture. But the migraines keep getting more frequent.

I’ve had David Buchholz’ book on my shelf for years, Heal Your Headache. I’ve taken some of his advice, avoiding nuts and cheese and processed meats. But I’ve never had the nerve to follow his plan completely, because it involves giving up most of the foods I love, plus wine. The idea is you have to give up all possible triggers to see if your migraines go away. If they do, you know that some kind of food is a trigger, and you can start re-introducing things slowly to see how they affect you.

In addition to giving up nuts, chocolate, avocado, balsamic vinegar, dried fruits, fresh bread, cheese, alcohol, yogurt, sour cream, processed meats, aspartame, and caffeine, you also have to avoid MSG. I had no idea how hard it would be to avoid MSG, but I’m learning. Basically anything with added flavor has MSG. If it has an ingredient list, it probably has MSG.

It turns out I have to give up nearly all the products I use to help me keep my weight down – if it’s lowfat or high-fiber, even if it’s “natural”, it’s got MSG. Giving up my oatmeal squares, my Popcorners, and my protein bars has not been easy. It turns out plain chips, popcorn and pretzels are okay, but they aren’t what I would choose. And for dessert the only thing I’ve found I can eat are ginger snaps.

But two weeks in, I feel like it’s helping. At least, I feel like I’m taking some control back. It’s hard, and I’ve stumbled quite a bit. I was traveling in Phoenix for four days, and that was really hard because restaurant menus were impossible. At least at home I can cook for myself and I know what’s in my food. Fortunately, this isn’t an all or nothing approach – Dr. Buchholz says do what you can.

In two weeks I’ve had one migraine and a lot of smaller headaches. Buchholz says to expect the smaller headaches – giving up caffeine does that – but the good thing is they haven’t turned into migraines.

Here’s the really scary part of this plan though. You have to kick the drugs, which cause rebound headaches and lose their effectiveness over time. I’ve experienced that firsthand, as I’ve cycled through three different prescriptions which gradually stop working. But giving up the pain meds altogether? I’ve tried toughing out a migraine without drugs, and I’m basically a junkie. The thing about a migraine is when it’s really bad, you can’t think about anything else.

Buchholz says tough it out. I couldn’t do it in Phoenix but I can do it from home. It means I won’t be able to function for a while, but in the long run it feels like the right thing to do. My last migraine pill was taken a week ago (November 9). Can I get through a month without a migraine pill? I hope so but I’m not looking forward to it.

Maybe this is a lot to share, but like diets and fitness plans, I feel like I’ll stick to it better if I talk about it.  Do you get migraines, and if so, what works for you?

5 thoughts on “Healing my Headaches: Following a No-Migraine Diet

  1. I wish you all the best with this and hope that you are able to get off the drugs. I didn’t know MSG was so all-pervasive; scary. My headaches are semi-manageable and it would be hard for me to eliminate ALL of those things. But I should bite the bullet and try it some time.

    • Lory, I’m glad your headaches are manageable! It took me a while to get to the point of trying this. That’s kind of why I’m writing about it — I figure it might be interesting for others to know how it goes. I don’t know if MSG is a bad thing for everyone, but as a migraine trigger it is very hard to avoid.

  2. I don’t get migraines but I admire you for doing what you can to get some control over yours. I know this sounds corny but have you tried meditation, yoga, or anything physical? Feverfew teams nasty but it helps with regular headaches—I don’t know about migraines. Anyway, wish you the best!

    • That’s a really good question, not corny at all! I love yoga, but I’m not sure I’ve done it consistently enough to see whether it has an impact. I do know that a lot of times the migraines keep me from feeling up to doing yoga, which doesn’t help at all. I definitely need to go back to doing yoga regularly.

  3. Oh jeez, migraines suck and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with them so frequently. I only get a few a year so am not on any meds. The worst part (besides the pain) is that premonition you get before they start, that point where it’s like, “Well, guess I’m cancelling my plans for the weekend while I’m still functional enough to use a phone…” I hope this food elimination thing helps you figure out whether something you eat has been triggering your migraines.

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