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Drastic Elimination Diet for Migraine Triggers: What Was I Thinking?

File my plan for a drastic migraine and headache elimination diet under “What was I thinking?” In the innumerable elimination diets I’ve tried — whether based on eliminating common headache triggers or foods I tested intolerant to — I have never found a food trigger. Never. Even when I stuck to the diet for three or four months.

I discovered that peanut butter, beans and legumes, nuts, and now berries are triggers for me by noticing how I felt after eating them. Keeping my diet to “real” foods without additives makes this easier. Having already identified and eliminated some triggers that were prominent in my diet probably helps too. Eating foods in their regular role in your diet is much more accurate than trying to isolate variables that are impossible to separate.

Another reason I’ve decided against the diet is that inadequate nutrition for even a short time can contribute mightily to headaches and migraine attacks. The link is unmistakable for me.

Eating is a fundamental part of life. Something you do so often shouldn’t become a just-because-I-have-to experience. Food is inherently enjoyable and brings people together. Nourishing yourself with food is part of taking care of yourself in general. I can’t overlook the immense importance of that, particularly because I’m not so good at self-care.

My friend with celiac disease mistrusted food so much that she didn’t want to eat. She became so obsessed with ingredients that her behavior was the same as if she had an eating disorder. I can see how easy it would be for me to follow the same path. Now that she’s eased up, she feels pretty much the same and is a voracious eater for whom eating is a pleasure.

Not only is it physically and emotionally unhealthy to deprive yourself of the vast majority of foods just because they might be a problem, the diet’s efficacy is suspect. I may be fed up (ha, ha) with migraine, but moderation is laudable. And probably more useful.

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Aw, Nuts! Another Migraine Trigger?

Post-peanut butter, nuts have become a go-to food for me. When I’m hungry and can’t think about food, I put almond butter on a bagel. If I’m going to be away from home for awhile, I bring a bag of trail mix along. Turns out these good-for-you snacks aren’t so smart for me.

Last Tuesday I noticed that I had a migraine about 30 minutes after lunch, which I was able to abort. Then I had another one come on within an hour after dinner. The similarity between these two meals? Almond butter. Hmm, could this spell migraine food trigger?

Finally heeding the signals, I stopped eating nuts. Here’s the rundown since then:

  • All my symptoms were present Wednesday at a moderate level, but there was no spike in pain or exhaustion.
  • Thursday I had little pain and spaciness until evening. It was a long, intense, busy day. I was worn out, a little “off” and slightly headachy when I got home around 4:30. The migraine that followed lasted through Friday night.
  • Saturday I woke up with lots of energy. After three hours at full speed, I felt spacey and tired. The pain came on in the late afternoon, but I was able to abort all the severe symptoms with a caffeine.
  • Sunday started with an energy surplus that lasted a couple hours. Then I was tired off and on, but other symptoms never popped up and my headache pain was low all day.
  • Monday, I went to a coffeehouse to work — and wound up writing for four hours! By 3 p.m. I was tired and my headache was moderate, so I rested between 3 and 6. After that, I was good to go until bedtime.

These are the highlights of course. I’ve still had moderate to severe head pain most nights, get spacey, feel tired, and need to rest every day. The nuts can’t hold all the blame, so I’m also being hypervigilant to not wear myself out. This morning started out slow, but I still went to yoga and the grocery store. I’m beginning to droop again, but I enjoyed my class and have gotten to enjoy some of this glorious Seattle day.

As wonderful as they are, nut can’t provide the same joy as not being chained to the couch nearly all day every day.