Coping, Diet, Treatment, Triggers

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.

10 thoughts on “Drastic Elimination Diet for Migraine Triggers: What Was I Thinking?”

  1. I am, also, figuring out that lettuce is a big migraine trigger for me. Romaine or iceberg or whichever. Bummer because I love salads and putting lettuce on sandwiches. I don’t think it’s the nitrates, though. I believe it’s the oxalates. Or could be something else. I used to think it was the dressing on the salad or the condiments on the sandwich that gave me the migraines. Now I think it is just the lettuce. Figured it out by eating plain lettuce and plain sandwiches with no dressing or condiments. Still get the migraine. The more lettuce I eat, the worse the migraine. I guess it could also be from detoxing but who knows.

  2. I tried to get enough protein every day. Once I had two small vending machine packs of almonds, and I had a migraine. I thought I was doing my best to load myself with protein on a tight schedule at work. Then I went to the web. And a lot of people had said that migraines are influenced by almonds.

  3. Everyone has different triggers. Several of the foods listed above are no problem for me. I had botox injections about a month ago to help with the migraines and they have been cut in 1/2, but some foods still trigger them. I hadn’t had a migraine in 7 days (a long time for me) and I woke up with an 8 out 10 with nausea and visual distrubances. The only thing different I ate yesterday was a Lean Cuisine for lunch. MSG is not listed on the ingredients, but there are many other preservatives… I must be intolerant to something else in it. I am 47,have had migraines since childhood and am still learning what foods to avoid.

  4. It’s interesting that you mentioned particular foods, for I have both migraines and food allergies.
    You’re also the 2nd site I’ve seen that said beans. Maybe my allergies can help you sort out other foods: all types of beans, berries (strawberries especially), (sometimes) melons, spinach, macadamia nuts, almonds, and pistachios, corn, beef, salmon, peas, coconuts, crab, alcohol, MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). Peanuts used to be on the list, as well as white rice, but not anymore.

    Throughout the years, I’ve learned that if I avoid these foods, I have less frequent migraines.
    Also, back in the late 80s, I remember watching a medical documentary about migraines, and they said that lettuce is a trigger. Since then, I’d stopped eating lettuce (though sprouts seem to be alright).

  5. what is wrong with lean cuisines? i love the spa selection group – they have lots of vegetables and say no preservative. what don’t i know….
    thanks so much. my mother has horrible migraines and she also eats them.

  6. I’ve often wondered how scientific those supposed lists of “food triggers” are for migraine sufferers (I also have Chiari).

    I have noticed over the past decade or so, that LETTUCE is a huge trigger for me. I usually get a migraine pretty much immediately after eating iceburg lettuce and cabbage. If I indulge in darker leaf lettuces, such as arugula or spinach… I don’t seem to have a problem.

    Also, Nitrates are a trigger for me. Cherries, Hot Dogs, Bologna, Red Wine. I know these are on the list of triggers.

    Also, MSG can cause a reaction, but it amazes me how the food community praises the benefits of Soy… when MSG is a direct derivative of Soy. Soy milk, Soy Sauce, Soy beans… all end up with a reaction.

    I found your blog after someone posted a link on the WACMA online group. I am looking forward to going back and reading more of your posts. I also forwarded the link to another friend of mine who is also a daily sufferer.

    Thank you for your contribution to the web. Hope you have a pain free day.

      1. Elle, it is for me, too. Triggers turn out to be very individual. Some can be eliminated by food chemicals, but often it’s a matter of trial and error.

        Take care,

  7. There is an eating disorder called orthorexia in which the subject becomes pathologically concerned with eating the right foods.

    I’ve always wondered where you draw the line between pathology and legitimate concern with health, though. I used to admire people who would eat anything, because that speaks of a kind of flexibility and social adaptability. Over the years I’ve come to believe that virtually all manufactured food products are garbage, and I think that people who are relentlessly picky about the quality of their food are more admirable. I observe the processed junk that most people in my office eat for lunch, and I can’t imagine what would prompt me to eat most of it – it’s loaded with chemicals, devoid of nutrients, and unappetizing to boot.

    I guess pathology, especially psychopathology, is socially constructed like so many other things. I’m sure the average American, seeing my insistence on eating whole natural foods, and viewing the whole categories – grains, starchy vegetables, and caloric sweeteners – of foods that I leave out of my diet, must think I’m nuts. But hunter-gatherers would probably be bewildered by 90% or more of the products in the average American grocery store, and would wonder why on earth anyone would eat Lean Cuisine!

    So who’s nuts here? (Sorry if nuts give you migraines!)

    Yeek, I think I’m in danger of hijacking your thread. But I suppose this is more proof of what I think are your main points – that food is about more than just food – that eating occurs in a context – and that it’s difficult to strike a balance between individual needs and the social context of eating. I have been on low-carb diets off and on since 2002, and I can tell you that it’s an unqualified delight on the rare occasions that I get to dine with another low-carber. I have always been the weirdo (not just in my way of eating, either), and I’m used to being the strange person who can pass up the bread in a restaurant and doesn’t order dessert. However, it’s nice not to be the odd one out, too.

    OK, now I’ll really shut up. Eat well, Kerrie, whatever that means to YOU.

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