The Weight of Migraine
Migraine wreaks havoc on so many aspects of our lives. Whether it is our social calendar, our professional career, or time with family, migraine often calls the shots and impacts how we move through the world. A major and common way that migraine creates chaos is on the bathroom scale. There are many reasons that this is the case.
Countless medications that are prescribed as migraine preventatives have weight gain as a side effect. Many of us are prescribed an antidepressant, including the popular SSRI drugs, in an effort to ward off migraines or for depression, a common comorbid condition to migraine. Experts say that for up to 25% of people, these drugs cause a weight gain of 10 pounds or more. I was prescribed one of these medications, which had no impact on my pain, yet led to a gain of more than 30 pounds in two months. Even for those who have a positive response on the migraine front, a significant weight gain can be hard to accept. No one wants to choose between obesity and being migraine free. On the other hand, other medications can cause weight loss. A well-known migraine preventative, Topamax, has weight loss as a primary side effect. For those who are thin to begin with, significant weight loss may be dangerous.
Nausea and vomiting
Many migraineurs struggle with severe and/or frequent nausea and vomiting. This can cause people who are thin to struggle to stay nourished and healthy.
Often, migraineurs eliminate foods and drinks from their diet that are migraine triggers. These can include dairy, caffeine, red meat, alcohol, gluten, sugar, and more. Sometimes we limit our intake of potential triggers to the point where it can be difficult to find foods that don’t trigger an attack. It takes major time and effort to fully educate oneself about nutrition in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Food as comfort
Migraine causes incredible pain. It is easy to turn to food as comfort to get us through a particularly hard attack. When we feel out of control of the pain, we might justify that we deserve something that tastes good, or sweet, or otherwise helps satiate us. It feels good to be in control of what we put in our mouths. I went for an entire year having a piece of chocolate pie every day in the middle of the day as a way to give myself a break and indulge in something pleasant for 5 minutes. I believed I was taking care of myself. In a way, I was. But I was also doing a job on my waistline.
For many of us, exercise, especially high-impact aerobic exercise that increases our heart rate, can trigger an attack. For others, even a low impact walk around the block can exacerbate pain. These limitations can make it very difficult to find or maintain a healthy balance between caloric intake and calories burned. It can be emotionally frustrating to be sidelined from physical exertion, especially when the desire to be active is there.
Finding balance and accepting our limitations
There are clearly many issues that lead to migraines tipping the scale one way or another. Given that reality, the key might be to strive for a balance between accepting where we are and striving for health as much as possible.
In the end, perhaps the best we can do is to gently accept that migraine is a part of our life, even with the attendant limitations and pain. This acceptance might serve to let us off the hook so that we don’t feel as bad when we can’t regularly exercise or eat a balanced diet. Feeling bad about feeling bad gets us nowhere.
Striving for healthy goals, even with the tough reality of migraine, is a worthy endeavor. We can push ourselves to be conscious of what we eat. We can put forth effort with our migraine specialists to keep trying new medications that have the least troublesome side effects. We can seek ways to take care of ourselves outside of unhealthy comfort food. We can find gentle ways to exercise or even just get our bodies moving.
Look around you: many people are struggling with weight issues. Weight loss remains one of the top New Year’s resolutions every year. We may be unique in having migraine as the source of difficulties related to weight, but we certainly are not alone in dealing with weight issues or in striving to be healthier.
Has migraine tipped your scales? If so, how have you handled the challenges? Please share your insights below so we can learn from one another.
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