Migraine Diet: Five Months and Counting

Remember that extreme migraine diet I mentioned in January then never spoke of again? Normally, my silence would indicate that it was a passing fad that I gave up on quickly. This time it is because talking about the diet — really even thinking about it — makes me unhappy. The only way I’ve been able to stick to it was to put my head down and plow ahead as blindly as possible, eating because my body needs fuel, but not getting much pleasure from food.

You may have guessed that I haven’t noticed much of a difference in the frequency or severity of migraine attacks. If limiting my food choices had caused the migraine attacks to decrease in severity or frequency, I’d gladly eat sawdust for the rest of my life. Instead, the migraines are still so frequent that I’m afraid to add food back in because I won’t be able to tell if a food triggered the migraine or if it was bound to happen anyway.

The Diet
I don’t do much halfheartedly and this diet is no exception. I’ve cut out all food on the tannins and tyramine lists — both those that are high in the substances and those that are on the OK-in-moderation list. The older a food is, the higher the tyramine content, so I try to cook food the day I buy it, then freeze it. Grocery shopping takes a lot of energy, so this is more often the goal than the reality.

I’ve also cut out everything in Heal Your Headache, the unofficial migraine diet handbook, including monosodium glutamate, aspartame, caffeine, fresh yeast, beta-phenylethylamine (in chocolate), nitrates/nitrites and sulfites. Again, I’m avoiding anything that has been anecdotally implicated in migraine and anything the author says may be a problem for some people.

To make my diet even less interesting, I ditched dairy in April and gluten in early May.

The Results
I began the diet the second week of January, but it was a couple weeks before I eliminated all the potential triggers. Other than constant hunger and an increased vegetable intake, I didn’t notice any changes after starting the diet. However, I confounded variables — February 7 is the magic day I increased my magnesium dose to 700 mg, which kicked off the biggest decrease in frequency and severity of my migraines that I’ve ever had. I continued to increase the magnesium over the next few months and am now at 1,167 mg a day. I attributed all the improvement to magnesium, but food restrictions may have also played a role.

Reintroducing Foods
Here’s the hard part. Actually, the diet had been really hard — here’s the tricky part: The migraines are still so frequent that I’m afraid to add food back in because I won’t be able to tell if a food triggered the migraine or if it was bound to happen anyway. Sources vary on how long it can take for a food to trigger a migraine attack, but many say it can take up to three days. Three days? I usually have three migraine attacks in three days, how in the world can I connect an attack with a food?

So far I’ve tested peaches (tannins) and bread (yeast, gluten and (in the malted barley flour added to some wheat flour) tannins). Twice after eating peaches there’s been no discernible difference, once, six hours after eating the peach, I had my first level 9 migraine since December. Within two hours of eating bread last Sunday, I had my first level 8 migraine since late March and was out of whack the whole week, during which I had a migraine every day. However, I already had a migraine coming on when I ate the bread (yes, I know that was a mistake).

Ha! Like I’m anywhere close to a conclusion. I was much more cynical about the diet when I drafted this post, which was before I began reintroducing foods. After last week’s migraine attacks and with traveling to a wedding this weekend, I’m afraid to deviate from the diet at all. Then there’s a basket of triggers on the horizon as Phoenix is on the verge of the summer monsoon season, which means wind, clouds and thunderstorms. I’m having trouble imagining testing any more foods until September, but I can’t imagine I’ll wait that long.

In addition to the fear of food I’ve developed by being on this diet, I’m concerned that the diet is not nutritionally adequate, that worrying about the diet itself is increasing my overall stress, and that my reluctance to eat bland food is disrupting my eating schedule and increasing my vulnerability to migraine attacks. In other words, I wonder if the mere fact of being on the diet is causing more problems than it is solving. I’m stuck in fear, fear of migraine attacks and fear of food. This can’t be healthy.

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