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How Did I Learn to Eat a Migraine Friendly Diet?

To me, a Migraine Friendly Diet is eating *clean*. It’s healthier and makes my life sooooo much easier and pain free.

What is eating *clean*? This is a phrase I coined many years ago as a way to try to explain to friends and family how our diet had changed as a result of life-threatening health issues.

To me, eating clean means cooking and eating the way my grandma learned to cook and eat at the turn of the century — that’s 1900 by the way, not 2000. No boxes or pre-packaged or pre-cooked foods. Very few cans or pre-frozen items. Organic and free range when possible, whatever is in season. Always fresh “bare” ingredients seasoned with “bare” herbs and spices, fresh grown whenever I could. Little or no use of the microwave.

Our family began eating clean as a result of my baby boy’s severe allergies, as I was unaware at that time there was a way for food to trigger my Migraine attacks.

The first hint things were amiss was the doctor telling me we needed to change his formula to a prescription meat based product that was over $50 per can. Then later, after a long hospitalization during which my son nearly died, the doctors sat us down and told us “You are going to have to completely change how you eat if you want your son to stay alive.”

This is in the days before computers…

They armed us with little more than a handful of papers listing things and foods he could never come into contact with, and instructions that every tiny element of his diet needed to be perfectly measured and timed from that day forward. They handed us a prescription for an epi-pen in case an accident should happen and anaphylaxis result (and it did). They encouraged us with the parting words:

“I know it seems overwhelming right now, but you can do this. I promise you, you can. Just remember, if your grandma wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t even keep it in the house.

The doctors were nearly 8 hours from our home, so I had plenty of time to read those papers over and over again as we drove. The more I read them, the more overwhelmed I became. By the time we pulled into the driveway late at night, I literally felt sick to my stomach. Feeding is the most basic thing a mother can do for her child, and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to feed him breakfast the next morning.

I was, until that day, dubbed by family and friends as the “Box Queen” because I could make some very tasty and quite fancy dishes by combining boxed ingredients in creative, unexpected ways. We were even somewhat known for our elaborate formal dinner parties. The food was great, and everything we ate had some element that came from a box or can. It was a joke and the truth. I had even gotten engaged to my then husband, telling him the wedding could not take place until I owned a microwave. I loved my boxed foods — the easier and tastier (aka more MSG), the better.

I called my mom who had a degree in home economics and had cooked scratch meals for hundreds of people at a time, without so much as the benefit of electric appliances. I grew up watching and reluctantly participating in all sorts of cooking with her, remembering nothing. From the 6th grade I was making one full family meal each week by myself, but the ingredients always included cans and boxes – I hated cooking. She was the only one I knew to ask for help and I was desperate.

Mom made a special visit from Oregon to help me create recipes for my son that he could eat. We spent two solid weeks doing nothing but cooking, and reluctantly, I learned a lot.

The first thing I learned was how to make a giant hockey puck. It was supposed to be bread made from alternative grains, but it took weeks to get it right. The second thing I learned to make was gravy using alternative thickener. It was good tasting, but frankly looked just like… snot. Eventually I learned how to can and freeze, bake from scratch, and read labels. Oh, I got VERY good at reading labels. I even learned how to and did – – butcher our own deer.

My fried-chicken-and-mashed-potatoes-husband hated the non-box non-canned non-processed foods and rebelled. Each day I would cook for my son, daughter and me, then make a separate meal for him, which I always snitched parts of. I grew to hate cooking. It was the worst part of my day, and it often took up a huge portion of my day to make all those meals… doubled. I had to fix that, so I learned to pre-prepare many meals at a time, then freeze or refrigerate them and cook them when needed.

It was almost impossible to remember which foods my son could have which days, so my husband created a computer program to keep track of it all. Each weekend I would sit down with my little guy and plan the meals for the week, then prep them and store them. The list for the week was printed out and placed on the refrigerator and when he learned to read he could see what he was allowed to have and when without the need to ask.

It was years later before I learned that my Migraines were being triggered by some of the things I was eating… especially the boxed and canned stuff I loved so much. Fortunately, I had already gained the skills to work with my personal restrictions, and reluctantly changed my diet. We grew a huge garden, bought what we didn’t grow from local farmers or the local butcher instead of the store, and in the days before the internet and organic farming and health food stores, we ordered specialized grains and foods from far away. My mom got used to traveling to China Town to buy some of my supplies. It was a complete pain… but it worked.

I am an artist by profession, and I knew my attitude about food and cooking was very bad, so I tried to think of it as art — something I loved. I began using the word Beautiful when I talked about grocery shopping, and eventually began to see colorful healthy food as just that – beautiful. I bought pretty dishes and glasses to make the task of eating and cooking more enjoyable. Many years later I even replaced my entire kitchen with a custom gourmet setup to make cooking easier and more of a happy experience for me — even a source of pride. I tried to embrace being different, and learned to enjoy introducing new and different foods to friends and family.

Now I’m going to take it one step further and begin to introduce the readers here at to cooking and eating in a Migraine friendly way. I hope you’ll follow me as I share some tips, tricks and favorite recipes with you here!

Migraine Friendly Recipes:
Making Your Own Stock

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • caryd26
    7 years ago

    I’ll be watching!

  • body
    7 years ago

    “Snot gravy”! Ellen, you make me laugh. I think I’ve made some of that myself! I gave up on the boxed and packaged after my first visit with Dr. Mao. After that, it was pretty much as you describe. Organic but if cannot find, natural is best. Lot of time shopping and a lot of time cooking but way better than a migraine attack. I have to tell you, going lean on dairy was tough. Love the ice cream and cheese. Thing is, if you see a Tradional Chinese Medicine Doc, they can tell if you cheat. The evidence is on your tongue. Literally, dairy makes mucous. I used to scrape my tongue before my visit. Dr. Mao would just shake his head and say “Sharron, Sharron” . My Western medicine doc likes it because my cholesterol has gone down 🙂

  • sanitz
    7 years ago

    I have tried to follow a “clean diet” (love the term) for years. Every time I hear a food could be a trigger I would eliminate it…pretty soon it seemed like I couldn’t eat much of anything. I have always wanted to do an elimination diet, but they are pretty harsh, then I stumbled upon “The Plan” which is an elimination diet but not as harsh as others, you eat 3 full meals during the “cleanse” days. I have been on it for 4 weeks now and have identified a few things that I definitely don’t tolerate. It will take a long time to test all the foods I desire, but I have the time. I’m learning a lot about foods, eating very healthy, have NO cravings and slowly am beginning to feel better. I have a very long road to go and this is the hardest thing I have ever done, but I’m very hopeful. As a side benefit I’m loosing weight regularly, which can only help with the medications I take work better in my body. I would love to have more tips and ideas for “clean” eating!

    Great article and how inspiring to hear of how you ultimately embraced the changes in your life. Blessing to you and your family.

  • Camper Jen -
    7 years ago

    From Boxed Queen to Clean Food Queen! I love it! I have had a very challenging time switching my diet over the past year. I’ve gone gluten free, dairy free and soy and nut free (sensitivities and allergies) which have helped decrease the severity and frequency of my tension headaches and migraines. However, I have yet to add enough veggies into the mix that my palate can tolerate. One recipe at a time! Thanks for sharing your experience, strength and hope and recipes! I look forward to more migraine friendly recipes here.


  • M@Tthisicaneat
    7 years ago

    So exciting, Ellen! Let me know if I can help you with anything over on 🙂

  • Donna Hoover Olsen
    8 years ago

    Good info about a migraine-friendly diet. It’s called Eating Clean — a very energizing concept.

  • Bill Grabbe
    8 years ago

    I have some good stuff on my blog for beginning cooks:

  • beachbum44
    8 years ago

    I am just starting a migraine friendly diet and am finding it difficult and restricting. I already don’t eat meat and cutting out many foods I ate regularly is difficult. I’m eager to hear any tips/advice you have for this process!!!

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    It’s amazing that even though you pretty much HAD to change your diet for your son’s sake, you turned the drudgery of cooking into something that you eventually found pleasurable and beautiful. Good for you! It feels so good to put yummy, healthy food into my body – and to enjoy the tastes, take in the colours, aromas (when I’m not having a migraine)…. Hoping I’ll be able to figure out if any foods I’m eating are contributing to my migraines. In time…

  • Phillip Nutter
    8 years ago

    I can relate to food allergies triggering migraines! When I changed my diet, I went from 15 migraines per month to 2-3 per month. It works!

  • Alison Riith
    8 years ago

    Looking forward to some of your tips & recipes!

  • Maureen Baxter Douglas
    8 years ago

    I sit here waiting. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  • Barbara Richards
    8 years ago

    will be following!

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