Why “Heal Your Headache” by David Buchholz Infuriates Me

I remember just how angry Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Approach for Taking Charge of Your Pain makes me by the impassioned responses I get whenever I mention the book. I know David Buchholz’s treatment approach is effective for a lot of people. I am truly happy for them. Buchholz’s snarky attitude and shaky underlying evidence is the problem.

His conviction that that people who “fail” with his approach likely don’t follow it to the letter or are attention-seekers is offensive. And, oh yeah, he dismisses scientific research that he doesn’t agree with and blames other doctors for making themselves not believe in food triggers.

Perhaps Buchholz would label me as someone whose migraine and chronic daily headache result from a “hidden agenda.” Having a blog about it probably makes it look like my identity is so tied to migraine that I can’t possibly be “healed.” Sorry, folks, but I’d be thrilled to stop blogging because my migraines stopped sucking the life out of me.

Ignorance is his explanation for why most doctors don’t believe in a headache trigger diet:

The impression of most doctors that dietary modification doesn’t work to control headaches is based in part on misunderstanding and in part on misuse of the dietary approach. Doctors generally share their patients’ failure to recognize the important role of dietary triggers and are therefore unequipped to educate their patients appropriately.

Guess what happens? It’s yet another example of how low expectations preordain headache treatment failure (p. 72, non-contiguous paragraphs)

A few pages later, he explains why the scientific studies of food triggers aren’t true:

The failure of most of the few scientific studies that have looked at migraine dietary triggers to demonstrate a clear effect is a good example of the limitations on science in identifying truth that is otherwise obvious. Try telling a headache suffer who has had killer headaches after eating chocolate or drinking red wine that it’s all in his or her imagination. (p 77)

Can you say “false attribution”? How many people swear off a certain kind of alcohol after one horrendous night? Tequila itself isn’t the cause, but the person’s association of tequila with alcohol poisoning! The consistent lack of a clear effect in studies could be that there’s no effect. High school biology provides that lesson.

I even have food triggers, albeit none have been identified through an elimination diet, so I don’t disagree with him entirely. His poorly argued claims are unprofessional and condescending. Too bad many people overlook this because he is affiliated with a famous hospital. I know how desperation for relief drives can drive you to put faith in any treatment. While this one isn’t physically harmful, internalizing such criticism can be even more damaging.

See The Migraine Diet: Judith Warner & “Heal Your Headache” for context.