And…Goodbye Sugar, too.
Migraines can make us feel out of control. We are in a constant state of flux: when will the attacks hit and how long will they last? We are often unable to make plans or keep a schedule. The world is teeming with triggers we cannot control: stress, hormones, barometric pressure, moon cycle, lights, sounds, smells, and more. Foods can often be a trigger and we have greater control over our diet. What we put in our mouths can directly impact whether or not we end up with an attack. As such, our diet is one way to assert some control over Migraine.
Although I’ve had Migraine most of my life, it wasn’t until the last decade that I educated myself about the many dietary triggers that can lead to an attack. I did an elimination cleanse to discover whether or not I had any underlying intolerances and dedicated myself to understanding the relationship between diet and Migraine attacks.
To my surprise, I had already been avoiding many triggers on my own due to a lifetime of experience with the call and response dynamic between ingesting certain foods or drinks which resulted in pain soon after. Therefore, it was easy to eliminate parts of my diet that caused a fairly immediate response (alcohol, nuts, dairy, gluten). It was much harder to say goodbye to those foods that brought me joy and comfort (sugar).
Food as comfort
I went through a phase in which I fully justified eating a slice of gluten-free, dairy-free dark chocolate cake every single day. I felt that if I was navigating severe pain, every day, I certainly deserved the pleasure of enjoying something sweet. Something just for me. That is the definition of comfort food.
Wine, aged cheese, chocolate- when we are in the midst of a Migraine attack, it is very hard not to turn to food as comfort to help maneuver through the pain. Unfortunately, those same foods are often the very ones that trigger pain. When everything else is out of control- feeling in control of what we put in our mouths is comforting. But if that food is a trigger, it can’t act as a comfort food. It’s an awful feeling.
For me, giving up the foods that were clear triggers was an easy exercise. It has been years since I had even a sip of alcohol, for example. But saying goodbye to sugar and chocolate was painful. I have a serious sugar tooth. These foods gave me comfort when I was hurting and caused me no immediate discomfort that I could discern. Letting go of something that gave me joy because it might prevent pain felt like a punishment in addition to the pain of migraine.
But in truth, the process of giving up chocolate and sugar has led to a reduction in my pain and a significant increase in my overall wellness. I stubbornly refused to take this step for YEARS. While alcohol led immediately to pain, there was no immediate cause and effect between chocolate and pain. It took some time for my pain pattern to improve after removing sugar from my system. Though a more gradual process, it was indeed noteworthy. Noticeable enough that I will stick to it.
Food as fuel
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, a time when views on nutrition were very different than they are now. I had to reeducate myself in recent years to embrace the idea of food as fuel to understand the reasoning behind eating clean. Doing so has helped make it easier to avoid the many trigger foods that can lead to Migraine attacks.
If you haven’t already, I heartily recommend migraineurs dig deep and educate themselves on nutrition in relation to Migraine.
If you are interested in an elimination diet, a quick Google search will show you there are hundreds. You should consult with your physician prior to any significant change in diet. The elimination diet I tried was CLEAN. Here are some basic books on the subject that I found useful: