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Migraine Elimination Diet Relief

When I first started experiencing migraines at the age of 25, I thought I was suffering from a 24-hour stomache bug. My head hurt, but by far my worst symptoms were nausea and vomiting. I still remember it was the first Friday in September because I had just started my first full-time teaching job when I found myself spending the afternoon vomiting instead of teaching. I couldn’t keep anything down for an entire day. It never occurred to me that I was experiencing a migraine because I didn’t know migraines consisted of anything more than a bad headache. This same “stomache bug” afflicted me once a month during my period for the next year. Finally, a colleague mentioned that it sounded like I was suffering from migraines.

I did eventually see a doctor and was prescribed triptans: zomig and relpax. The doctor and I decided zomig worked better for me, and I continued on zomig for about 7 years. Insurance made me switch to Imitrex, which seemed to work most of the time. As time went by my migraines worsened. I went from only 1 migraine a month to as many as 8 (some lasting 4 days) with a constant headache in the interim. Besides headache, nausea, and vomiting, I also experienced sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, confusion, difficulty thinking, and listlessness. It began to feel like I was constantly taking a triptan. I never felt like I was getting sufficient help from the medical field. My doctors either didn’t know very much about migraines or were dismissive. I was told to keep taking my triptans and to stop stressing about it. I saw 2 neurologists, both of them totally unhelpful, one of them the worst experience with a doctor that I’ve ever had in my life. Not only did he lose all my paperwork, not return my phone calls, and forget I had an appointment, he also was rude and dismissive during the appointment.

I read as many books on migraine as I could find and realized that I still wasn’t what one would call a chronic migraineur, yet I felt that my quality of life was horrible. I was constantly in pain. I was constantly exhausted. I never wanted to do anything with my friends or family because I was either recovering from a migraine or worried about the next one. I was worried about keeping up with my job and having enough sick days to make it though the school year. My life was being run by migraines. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was ready to try anything rather than continue as I was. This was at the end of November 2012.

I’d had increasingly worsening migraines for 8 years. I was desperate. Right after Thanksgiving, I went on the Migraine Elimination Diet recommended by David Buchholz in “Heal Your Headache: the 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain”. Sometimes while reading the book, I was annoyed by the author’s attitude, but I still went on the diet. I immediately began to suspect that caffeine was my biggest trigger. Looking back, I started drinking coffee daily when I was 25. I started drinking at least 3 cups a day when I started teaching. It seems awfully coincidental since that’s exactly when I experienced my first migraine. 3 years ago my migraines jumped in number and intensity from around 4 a month to the 8 mentioned above. This coincided with moving in with my current boyfriend. We wondered if it was mold, wood smoke, my new teaching job. Now, I think it might have been the coffee. My boyfriend makes the strongest coffee I have ever had. Once I moved in with him, I started drinking this very strong coffee. I think this might be why my migraines became so unbearable. While I’m positive caffeine is a trigger, I’m not sure there aren’t others. I also started drinking red wine when I was 25.

So, I started Buchholz’s diet. It has changed my life. At first, I went through massive caffeine withdrawal, spiking a very bad migraine. I also had a constant headache for the first 2-3 weeks. I suspect, again, caffeine withdrawal. After about 3 weeks though, I began feeling much better. I had 1 migraine at the beginning of January during my period. I had a couple of headaches during January. Amazingly they started to respond to Ibuprofen like regular headaches. Before going on the diet, I gave up on using OTC medication because it didn’t even touch the headache. Now it stopped the pain! I rejoiced in these improvements. I began to feel like I had some control over my own body again. Now, it’s mid-February. I’m in my 3rd month of the diet, and I haven’t had a migraine since the one at the beginning of January. I haven’t even had any noteworthy headaches. I experienced my first period in 8 years without a migraine. I feel wonderful. I’m filled with hope. I’m so hopeful I could cry. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have found a cure? I try not to think about that too hard. I’m trying just to live each day that is pain-free pleased and hopeful. In 1 1/2 months I can start testing different foods to see what is a trigger and what is not, but I’m not sure I want to. I’m not sure I want to give up this pain-free existence even though eating out at restaurants is nearly impossible and grocery shopping consists of reading every single label carefully and putting most foods back on the shelf. I don’t really feel like messing with this new equilibrium I’ve found. I’m just hoping it keeps working!

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.


  • mosweeny
    5 years ago

    hi Margaret – thanks for posting!
    I’ve been doing the Bulccholz diet for about a year now. I still have my period and sometimes stress headaches.
    Just wondering how far you went with cutting out MSG. Did you cut out the soy lecithin and malted barley and all that?

  • Margaret Swanson author
    5 years ago

    I did eliminate all MSG that I could figure out, including soy lecithin and malted barley for over 4 months. It was pretty much impossible to eat anything I didn’t prepare myself at home. After 4 months, I started testing individual ingredients by adding one back into my diet for a week and eating it every day of that week. I’d take the next week off: not eating any new ingredients and cutting the new ingredient back to “normal” levels. If I continued to feel fine, I’d add the ingredient back to my diet permanently. If I got a migraine or even felt on the edge of a migraine, I eliminated it again. Both soy lecithin and malted barley are back in my diet now.

  • art lover
    5 years ago

    Margaret- Thanks for your story. I too have come to the conclusion caffeine, through OTC medication, is part of my migraine problem and want to “kick it”, if I can find the courage!! I will check out the book you read. My problem is I (probably) am a lot older than you, I’m fifty, and started on OTC drugs with caffeine way back when those types of drugs were the ONLY ones available to us migraine sufferers, so it will probably be a lot harder to get off of it. And I do have the genetic, hormone, and other components to my personal migraine issue. But your story has nudged me in the right direction!

  • janenez
    5 years ago

    Great job! I, too, got frustrated with doctors and read all I could. I went gluten-free about 4 years ago and it really made a difference for my pain. I understand not wanting to mess with it if it is helping – but I just wanted to give you a heads up that migraine can be sneaky. Triggers can change. Even though I’m gF now, they have stormed back into my life again. Now I’m back to square one. Stay alert to changes and keep on taking good care of yourself.

  • mosweeny
    5 years ago

    Barbara – I did gluten free for a year. I didn’t have any improvement in my migraines. Guess it works for some – but not for me.

  • Barbara
    5 years ago

    How long did it take for your gluten Free diet to show any effect?

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi Margaret.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What a great job you’ve done with the elimination diet – congratulations! It’s not easy, but necessary for some to go that route. Not everyone is triggered by food. And yes, caffeine is a strong trigger for a small subset of people with migraine, a group I’m included in. I can’t even have decaf – which contains tiny amounts of caffeine – without getting a migraine. I did want to let you know foods aren’t the only things that trigger migraines. Getting dehydrated, skipping meals, changes in the barometric pressure, certain smells, lights, hormones and changes in sleeping schedules can also be migraine triggers.
    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for continued good luck.

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