Meal skipping: chicken or the egg?

Meal skipping is one of my sneakiest and most common migraine triggers.  I am a 34-year-old woman who can (usually) manage a successful business and family life (including regularly feeding my cat), but I cannot figure out a way to get myself to do what should be a basic human thing: eating regularly and staying healthily nourished throughout the day.

Skipping a meal is a foolish thing. I tell migraineur friends all the time to keep healthy snacks on them at all times so they’re not caught with a dangerous drop in blood sugar.  I am a health advocate who can’t seem to follow her own advice, even when I share my frustrations with this amazing community. As much as I’m told by wise friends that this is a basic flaw of humans (knowing what is best and not doing it), I’m still frustrated by my lack of follow-through every time I resolve to eat healthily and regularly.


This is not to say I don’t get hungry—in fact, I have a pretty high metabolism and am usually ready for second breakfast an hour or so after first breakfast (that is, if I’ve eaten breakfast at all).  Throughout my life, I have tried to stick to others’ eating schedules even though I tend to get hungrier more than three times a day.  Maybe that has contributed to my whacked-out way of handling my diet, who knows?

Sometimes, though, I skip meals because I am simply not hungry.  Invariably, I’ll get a migraine (even if it’s a mild one that is easily treatable).

At those times I wonder if the skipped meal triggered the migraine, or if the lack of appetite and vague nausea are side effects of a migraine already on its way.  

When a trigger can affect you more than an entire day after exposure, it sure is hard to figure out what the reasons for that particular migraine’s arrival.  Keeping a diary is helpful, of course, but it’s still hard to know if the triggering event was just that—a migraine trigger—or if it was a sign that the migraine was already on its way.

What do you think, especially as this relates to skipped meals? Do you notice a lack of appetite when a migraine is coming, or do you think you’ve just not paid enough attention to your body’s nourishment needs and ended up triggering a migraine?

Finally, I’ll ask something I’ve asked before, as I know there are many more readers of this website each and every day who might benefit from your wise words:  what are your best tips to make sure you eat regularly and healthily throughout the day?  Do you set alarms, carry snacks, or make smoothies? Do you count calories or carbs? For those of you who have really done a good job of making sure you don’t get migraines triggered by meal skipping, what is your secret?

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

Comments

View Comments (36)
  • Audrey
    4 years ago

    Ugh, this happens to me all the time. I get nauseous pretty easily, and of course it’s one of my biggest migraine triggers/symptoms. So sometimes I skip meals because of nausea or sometimes it’s depression making everything sound bland and just a huge effort to even think getting up. Whatever the reason, skipping meals usually results in a major migraine that ruins the day. I actually was planning on getting back to using Myfitnesspal.com to count calories and basically force/remind myself to eat. So far I haven’t identified any potential food triggers, but whenever I start to wonder I’m already in too much pain to do anything. I suggest a quick handful of some kind nut or yogurt with fruit, protein will hold off hunger for a little bit and pep you up!

  • Maleficent35
    4 years ago

    Eating and migraines is a slippery slope for me. I have low blood sugar to begin with, so when I get the first signs that I’m hungry (grumbling tummy) I have to jump on it. If I don’t for whatever reason, I become nauseous rather quickly. Nausea’s bff migraine is but a few steps behind. By this time, I have no interest in eating a meal of any sort. My go-to food is instant oatmeal. Maple and brown sugar, to be exact. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. I also have a chronic pain condition and when I’m in a lot of pain, I have no appetite. I know I have to eat (sometimes to take meds) so oatmeal it is! Throw some fresh fruit on there and I’m good to go!

  • RobertCan
    4 years ago

    Identifying food triggers is a challenging endeavor. I’m a strong believer that we all have a threshold for migraine activation and that it typically takes a combination of triggers to cross that threshold. That said, there are triggers, such as red wine, that can push us over the threshold all on their own. So it’s no wonder we have difficulty identifying individual triggers.

    Skipping meals, especially on days with bad weather, will almost certainly push me over the threshold. Reducing spikes in blood sugar has become one more tool in my “migraine suppression” toolbox. I only wish it were the only tool I need to manage my chronic migraines but sadly, its just one of many triggers I try to control on a daily basis. Every day is a balancing act.

  • Andrea
    4 years ago

    Food is medicine for me in a couple of ways. I also have to eat three meals and two snacks each day. Skipping one of these is one of my biggest migraine triggers. I am 54 and also have a 26 year history of severe anorexia. I am 2 months into the second year of my recovery. So skipping a meal or a snack would also be a trigger to slide back in that respect as well. Because of the history of the eating disorder, I tend to get dehydrated very quickly and easily – from both skipping meals and not drinking enough and I have ended up in the ER just for that with IVs for fluid. So I really have to be careful. If I’m not hungry or go too far past a meal or snack time, the first warning sign will be a headache and it’s then I know I must stop and eat something nourishing. One of my favorite sayings is “food is fuel.”

  • quilter laura
    4 years ago

    I skip breakfast a lot, or more accurately, postpone breakfast till between 10 AM to noon or even 1 PM. At first due to nausea and/or not feeling ready to eat early in the morning. Eventually it became a habit.

    Skipping breakfast doesn’t give me migraines, but I worry that I don’t get enough to eat on 2 meals a day. So since my nausea is less these days, I’m trying to eat something natural and nutritious by 9 AM most mornings.

    Interestingly, if I skip a meal later in the day I usually get a migraine.

  • Ang44
    4 years ago

    I was doing well with this. I ate three a day and never skipped breakfast but somewhere around Christmas I went into a manic phase and can’t seem to remember to eat at all.

  • Judy
    4 years ago

    I am so impressed by how many people have figured out their actual triggers and how to manage them. Having had migraines for over 40 years and many of those years in a chronic stage, I am still trying to figure it out! I am not good about eating regularly mostly due to a lack of appetite as to the Topamax and just a disinterest in breakfast in general. Often it is 11 or 12 in the morning and I still haven’t eaten anything due to a lack of appetite. I will then eat a small meal again around 3-4 and a regular dinner. My migraines almost invariably start around 3AM but I have never attributed them to my eating pattern. Perhaps I need to take a closer look at that? I drink as much water as possible but like the idea of the water app that one person mentioned. Still have yet to figure out a food trigger other than alcohol. Would love to know how others narrowed it down. Does some food set you off right away? I would do anything to see if it is possibly food, my neck, tension, pillow, whatever to help lessen these headaches! I keep searching for answers!!

  • Jacqui Gallo
    4 years ago

    Soy is also a trigger for me that i did not mention. Its basically eating estrogen. So my hormone balance says, STAY AWAY. And yes, very hard to do. It serms everything with added protein or extra protein is from soy. Gotta read labels. It gets tricky sometimes.

  • Joni
    4 years ago

    Want to hear something weird? I crave protein right before an attack. Depending on how my stomach feels, it’s straight to the scrambled eggs or burger for me. Have also just recently discovered soy is a strong trigger for me. It’s made finding things to eat a challenge, soy is in everything! Talk about irony. Soy = protein = trigger. Pre-migraine = crave protein? I repeat, I’m so weird.

  • Devi Bala
    4 years ago

    A great post indeed…As with everybody else here, skipping meals..even delayed meals are my major triggers..I used to skip my bfast often as after finishing up my routines every morning I will be in a hurry to reach office on time. I prefer the food that are non risky as per the list I made over a period of time and that serves as a reason for me to skip rather taking whatever is available..I made a resolution not to skip bfast and am following it meticulously..Also I found that I am not getting enough water for my system as I forget to take water inbetween work and when I calculated one day it was far little than the amount I had to take for normal functioning of system. I installed an app “Water your Body” which calculates the amount of water that needed to be taken based on ur body weight and reminds you in intervals to take water. I am unable to help myself on lunch timings as many of my meetings usually gets dragged which am trying to get a check on. Also am trying out Fresh Amla juice every morning in empty stomach and touchwood my frequency has reduced…I am yet to confirm the contribution of amla towards my infrequent attacks..Will post soon.Hope this helps u guys..

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the great feedback. Please do keep us posted, okay? Hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Jacqui Gallo
    4 years ago

    For me, i need to eat 3 meals and least 2 snacks every day. Somes I feel hungry & will grab a small snack before bed as well. If i dont grab that last snack before bed, when hungry, Il wake up with a migraine. Not the way to start your day. Also, I have to totally watch carb intake, so I eat alot of protein, nuts are a great take along snack. Cottage cheese & yogurt if refridgerator available. My food triggers are too many carbs or any fruit with exception of bananas. Took me years to figure that out btw. Also, i have to limit cinnamon. So my way around forgeting meals? Schedule, schedule, cell phone reminders & family and friends who care to ask. I never mind them asking; the pain saved is worth answering that question a milllion times.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for these great comments, Jacqui! I especially loved this: “I never mind them asking; the pain saved is worth answering that question a milllion times.”

    Excellent point. Let me know how you’re doing. What does the doctor recommend you do to make sure you get enough fruit servings per day?

    Take care,
    Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • bonniec
    4 years ago

    I started having migraines at 6 or 7 yo. At first they were only coming 3 or 4 a week accompanied by nausea and vomitting but in my mid twenties they changed more into the chronic type. I would get one and it would last for 3 to 6 months with severe flares off and on during that time. I have always found that sugar will make my headaches worse but as I got into my mid 40s I found that I would crave chocolate before and during a migraine. I rarely take narcotics – as I come from a family that has had several addicted individuals – I just refuse to take a chance on addiction. I have had other health crises recently including back surgery and my migraines are really getting out of hand again. I moved just after the back surgery and my current GP says I don’t need a specialist or the ‘specialized’ meds for the migraines (topamax, oral and injectible triptans). Obviously I am looking for a new GP but I have the added joy and complication of having an autistic son (youngest of two). Both of my boys have migraines! The eldest has taken a page from my book and use OTC pain meds when it is bad and meditation when they first start. I have found that fresh fruit and vegetables can prevent a migraine if I catch it early enough.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Bonnie. I know how a health setback other than migraine can impact migraine patterns–when my arthritis flares up or when my endometriosis pain is really bad, my migraines tend to get worse, too.

    I find it fascinating that eating fruits and/or vegetables to ward off an attack is helpful for you–I should try that next time!

    My fingers are crossed that you’re feeling good and that the more hectic parts of your life calm down soon so you can get back into a routine that will allow you to feel as healthy as possible.

    Take care,
    Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Andrew Mestern
    4 years ago

    I know lack of food is a huge trigger, I have to be very careful especially when it comes to supper. And I find the best meal is a straight up meat and potato kinda meal, which really sucks because I am trying to cut out carbs and be more vegetarian.
    When a migraine comes on I go on a feeding frenzy, I crave caffeine, I crave food like mad, Once the craving starts I know its too late and I am about to get a migraine.

  • Paulaff
    4 years ago

    I’m one of the weird ones; I actually do much better NOT eating when I feel a migraine coming on. If I eat, the pain increases, & the nausea may trip into something worse. After many years of migraine, I’ve found that there is no food that triggers my migraines; I just need to stay away from most food until the pain subsides.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the comment, Paulaff. This illness is fascinating–what works for some people would be terrible for others, and vice-versa. I’m so thankful you figured out your patterns so you can take good care of yourself.

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling good today. 🙂

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Trudy Silverman
    4 years ago

    I also get migraines when I skip or skimp on a meal. Here’s my question — I need to have a colonoscopy- way overdue- I have spoken with three GI doctors explaining if I don’t eat I will get a migraine and then start with nausea and eventually vomiting and never make it through the prep or to the procedure. Does anyone have a solution to the broth or jello diet which does not stave off a migraine . My doctors have told me “to butch up “- guess they are not migraine sufferers! Would love to hear what other people have done! Thanks

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Do you have a migraine or headache specialist who can write a letter for you to share with your GI doctor?

    I had surgery recently and wasn’t allowed to eat or drink before the operation. I let my healthcare team know that my surgery should be first thing in the morning so that I didn’t get a hunger-induced migraine. It ended up working out well for me.

    I applaud you for speaking up for what you need. Keep your voice strong and do what you need to do to make sure migraine AND your GI issues are taken care of ASAP.

    Let us know how it goes, and if Susan L’s tips work for you!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Susan L
    4 years ago

    Hi! I don’t know if this would be OK but Twin Labs makes a syrupy liquid protein that I take to boost my protein intake. I’m hypoglycemic, although not officially diagnosed. I’m going to ask my GI about it next time I have my endoscopy or colonoscopy. It’s very helpful for me with migraines, too, because of this issue, and I’ll be mentioning it in my response to this article. However, considering the amount of fluid you have to drink for a colonoscopy, I hope a straight liquid protein without ANY additives like this one will work for you! Susan

  • Marjieoc
    4 years ago

    I’ve often wondered about the chicken-vs-egg problem myself. I go through cycles of having little appetite, just as I go through cycles of migraines. I’m not sure I can call them cycles, though, since there is not much of a break between them.

    I’m very lucky. I don’t get nausea with migraines and I have never vomited with one. I do get some sharp stomach pain sometimes and/or general abdominal discomfort.

    As far as skipping meals goes, I sometimes simply forget to eat. I’ll get all the way to dinner time before I realize I haven’t eaten anything all dayHowever, my migraines were just as frequent and more painful when I was raising my kids and ate with them three times a day. That was before my diagnosis and any preventive meds.

    Anyway, I now keep bottled meal-replacement smoothies in the fridge. They’re an easy, quick way to get some nutrition when I’m on the run or just simply not hungry. They seem to help.

    I haven’t yet resorted to setting reminders to eat on my cell phone. I guess that will be my next step!

  • barb
    4 years ago

    I have trouble getting up, due to meds that help me sleep well, so I’ve gotten into the really bad habit of eating fast food and pop in the mornings.

    I’ve also been noticing lately I’ve been losing my appetite which isn’t good. I won’t be hungry at all until all of a sunned I’m starving, and I know better. Carrying around crackers or Ensure, or something, seems like a good idea. I also need to stop drinking pop which will help with the weight loss goals too.

    Good articles lately everyone I’m enjoying them.

  • Michelle Rudder
    4 years ago

    Being in a managerial job, I often find myself in meetings scheduled into the lunch hour by person (including bosses) who, no matter how much I say that I must eat before 12, don’t understand or don’t care (or both). After having literally had a migraine blow up on me in the middle of the meeting because of low blood sugar on several occasions, a couple of the managers would remind the boss that “Michelle has to eat now” and IO get excused. I have also taken to carrying Ensure Complete with me at all times, so that as soon as I feel twinges of hunger and I cant take a full break, I drink my Ensure.

  • mgh4348
    4 years ago

    I always have an Atkins shake and/or roasted almonds with me. Ensure is full of sugar and chemicals so I would not recommend it.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Michelle,

    Great tip re. the Ensure–I swear that stuff sustained me for a couple of years when my appetite was out of control and I couldn’t take time to break for snacks multiple times a day. I should get some more of that!

    I hate that your boss didn’t respect your health needs but think it’s pretty rad that your coworkers spoke up for you. Here’s hoping your boss will respect your health needs from here on out. Would having a doctor’s note help, you think?

    Thanks for the feedback on this article.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Michelle Rudder
    4 years ago

    …forgive the typos. I actually have a migraine right now, so my typing is a bit off.

  • Beth
    4 years ago

    I’m totally at a loss about breakfast. If I eat something, I feel nauseous and might get a migraine, but if I don’t, about 60-75% of the time, I’ll end up with a migraine. Today…no breakfast and slight headache…big lunch and light dinner. Now I’m dealing with auras and nauseated.

  • Michelle Rudder
    4 years ago

    Ii am not breakfast person either, but that can be risky migraine wise, so I do it ‘European style’ … a cup of tea and some dry crackers.

  • Becca
    4 years ago

    Our New Years resolution this year was to eat only healthy meals or snacks made by our own hands. This was mainly to help lose weight but I found that as I was having to eat several small snacks during the day, that I did not get my usual 11/12 pm migraine/headache and that also meant I did not crave chocolate or caffeine with my meds.
    The problem I had was I am not hungry. I would only eat when my stomach tells me too, but now I have to eat something the second I start getting symptoms. This is problematic as I too would eat when others did, specifically my husband, and eat what was available.
    Now I carry a snack and fruit bar in my purse along with a bottle water, as that’s another trigger, just in case.
    I see my GP next month to see how this can be managed better.
    I hope you too can find a solution.

  • Natalie D
    4 years ago

    This makes me feel so much better! I thought it was just me (and that I was weird) to crave chocolate or caffeine a) when having a headache and b) when taking my meds. Especially when they say that chocolate is a trigger. I love reading these comments because there are other people out there just like me! 🙂

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Becca,

    I really admire you for making some healthy changes. I want to be able to make that same resolution for my household at some point. Please let us know how the visit with GP goes and continue to update us about how the resolution is working out. Until then, a big pat on the back to you–this change is huge and inspiring!

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    that is some of my problem too. I am not hungry, but I know if I don’t eat something, I will get a migraine. Sometimes, when I was working, I wast too busy to notice I was hungry. And then sometimes, I am hungry a couple hrs after I eat. this, coupled with meds, and migraines after exercise has made me overweight. Maybe someone has the answer.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    I repeatedly hear that frequent, healthy snacking throughout the day (every 2-3 hours) is the healthiest thing to do for your body, regardless of a migraine diagnosis. But I have such a hard time sticking to that!

    I hope you are feeling good today.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Ruth
    4 years ago

    I told my boyfriend to keep on me about that – he’s worse than a dog on a bone, so it’s effective. He’s always asking: “Have you eaten anything lately? What did you have? Do I need to go get you anything?”

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    My fiancé also has the capacity to be “worse than a dog on a bone.” (That’s awesome phrasing, by the way.) I should harness his powers for my own good! (Though I know I am likely to remain stubborn and not listen to him, which could be totally frustrating for us both!)

    Take care; I hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

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