By Brittany –
For Christmas last year, I was gifted the book The Migraine Relief Diet by Tara Spencer. I had never heard of it before but I was instantly intrigued and excited to learn more about potential food triggers and a more holistic approach to treating my daily migraine.
It’s so much more than your average diet or cookbook.
The first 85 pages discuss and break down migraine disorder, the complexities of such, variations in triggers, symptoms and treatment methods, before going into a whole body approach and the meal plan for which the premise is based on.
I highlighted some of the key things I learned that had never been explained to me before. One of the first things that stood out to me is that people with intense nausea linked to migraine report having more severe pain and difficulty obtaining relief through medication. Hold the phone… what? That described me to a tee!!
I began to understand the four common stages of migraine better, as I’ve had a hard time pinpointing where my migraine begins and ends since I have symptoms in varying degrees basically 24/7. I have been asked before if I experience aura with migraine, as 1 in 3 people do. The way it had briefly been described to me, that would be visual disturbances such as flashing lights, loss of vision, squiggly lines, etc. My response to that was I had only experienced those on very few occasions.
However, this book described aura to also include tingling in the extremities and language or speech difficulties. Ding ding ding!!! Another thing clicks as I’ve had so many struggles with losing words and carrying on conversations lately, which is not only frustrating, but embarrassing when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know me or my migraine well.
About a year and a half ago, my dad hit his head and developed some pretty radical symptoms in the weeks and months to follow. He didn’t get diagnosed with a concussion, although I suspected he had one. (If you’ve ever had a concussion, or know someone who has, you tend to get hyperaware of how dramatically a bump on the head can affect your life). He had many symptoms of migraine, but the main thing he lacked was head pain. He went through multiple tests, MRI’s and specialists, and eventually all they could come up with was he had vertigo. As soon as I read this next part, I highlighted it and called my parents.
“The attack stage may also lack the presence of a headache itself but may instead involve nausea, vertigo, ear pain and pressure, sinus pressure and congestion, anxiety, seizures, irritable bowels, or bladder pain. These episodes are diagnosed as migraines, even without head pain.”
So many people associate migraine as a really bad headache, but it’s so much more than that and affects so many different areas of your body. If there’s one message I want to keep spreading, it’s that. Migraine is so much more than a “headache,” and even without the presence of head pain, migraine very well may be present.
So, now that I’ve picked my jaw back up off the floor…
I continue reading about how many people have food triggers. Some of the most common triggers are alcohol, artificial sweeteners, dairy, gluten, salty or processed foods, foods containing MSG, caffeine, and fruits and vegetables that contain tyramine or nitrates (plums, cranberries, banana, avocado, tangerine, pineapple, citrus, dried fruits, beets, eggplant, chili peppers, string beans, garlic and onion). Foods containing tyramine widen the blood vessels, which is why they can be a trigger for migraineurs.
Now, in going through that hefty, long list, one might think “well, what the hell can I eat?!”. This is one of the things I loved the most about this book – it provides you with meal plans, grocery lists and all the recipes! It starts off with a 3 day cleanse, followed by a 28-day meal plan broken down into 4 weeks.
It’s recommended to start the cleanse on a Friday so you have the weekend to allow your body to detox away from a regular routine, and then you can meal prep for the weeks to come, starting the 28 day meal plan on a Monday.
Why must I give up coffee???
Now, I’m going to be completely honest with you here. I was willing to give up everything but coffee. You see, coffee is a saving grace for me and provides an immense amount of comfort, as it does for a lot of people. I’ve gone without coffee for days at a time before, and I knew it was one of those things that helps me rather than triggers me. But my boyfriend and doctor suggested, why even bother doing the program if I’m not going to commit completely and follow as it is designed to follow? Dang it…why must they be so smart and so right?
The idea around giving up caffeine is primarily because of the addictive qualities and physical dependency that it has in our body. As the book says, “When you are used to regularly consuming caffeine and you suddenly do not, the blood vessels in your brain will dilate – often resulting in a migraine.” (To my surprise, I didn’t even miss coffee until about 10 days in, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute.)
When I started the 3 day cleanse, I was already in the throws of a deep, multi-day high pain migraine. It was hard to tell if my symptoms were intensified or affected in any way, but the one thing I did notice was how achy the rest of my body got, especially my lower back and legs. I think that was the detox from sugar more than anything, but by day 4 that all seemed to subside.
I’m not going to lie, I almost threw in the towel on day 3. I was so exhausted from basically living in the kitchen, preparing 3 different meals a day (half of which were so bland or called for food I didn’t even like to begin with – hence why it’s called a cleanse) and 2 snacks, on top of how mentally and physically exhausted I was from my pain.
I cried to Derek that night, “How the hell and I supposed to do this for another month when even on my best days I can only bring myself to prepare 2 or 3 normal meals? I just don’t have the energy for this!” Thank goodness for him, because that night he made me something that wasn’t in the book, but with ingredients I was allowed, and holy moly did it ever taste heavenly! It also changed my view on the rest of the program to follow.
As I looked ahead at the recipes for the weeks to come, I decided I would make modifications as suited me. I realized that as long as I was eating within the parameters of the weekly grocery list, I didn’t have to follow the meal plans to a tee. And then I was able to use my creativity in the kitchen, which has always been a therapeutic outlet for me.
28-Day Meal Plan
Certain fruits were allowed in once the 28 day meal plan began. Green grapes were on the snack list for that first week, and let me tell you, that first green grape was the sweetest thing I felt like I had ever tasted, and I cherished it oh so much!
I tracked my meals in the symptom tracker provided in the book to see if anything I ate made me feel better or worse throughout the program. It made it easier to reflect on which things I enjoyed more than others as well. Once I felt more in control with modifying as suited my needs and desires, it felt like smooth sailing from there.
Most recipes made 4 servings, but since it was just me eating it all, I cut the recipes in half or less. I’m not a fan of leftovers, so although I was able to do quite a bit of food prep for meals to come on days when energy allowed, I also didn’t waste as much as I would have if I didn’t do my own modifications.
Some of my favorite recipes included:
Breakfast – Watermelon Basil Smoothie, Green Pear Smoothie, Blueberry Green Smoothie, Buckwheat Pancakes and Rice Pudding with Berries.
Lunch – Cheesy Kale Macaroni (although the cream cheese didn’t boast well with my digestive system), Waldorf Salad, Ginger Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Salad Rolls with Mango-Ginger Sauce
Dinner – Juicy Meatloaf (made with grated green apple and horseradish – soooo good!), Beef Fajitas, Jambalaya, Beef Vegetable Stew and Roast Chicken that my mom made when she came to come visit with coconut oil and fresh herbs
Snacks – Hummus and GF crackers, GF bun toasted with cucumber, watermelon, nectarines, green grapes, rice pudding, and steaming mugs of comforting herbal tea
What really contributed to my overall success was using the prescribed grocery lists and eliminating all foods from my house that I wasn’t allowed to eat. Luckily, I was home alone for most of the time so I wasn’t tempted by junk food hanging around (not that I really even wanted it anymore) and I didn’t have to worry about sharing or cleaning up after anyone else. When my mom was here, she ate what I ate, and we only went out for lunch once. It’s difficult to stick to a restricted meal plan when you’re anywhere but at home, so taking snacks or meals with me if I was going to be out of the house was also very important.
Like I said, coffee was really the only thing I missed…
And I almost caved a few times on some really high pain and foggy days, but I stayed strong! A couple experiences helped get me through. One night, my roommate made herself some French press organic coffee with cinnamon. I asked her if I could just hold it and smell it for a few minutes, and it made me so happy!
Derek and I love an Americano Blanco with peppermint from Starbucks, and when he was home he got himself one and a peach tea for me (hmmmppphhh… lol, but really it’s my new favorite tea), and after he took a sip he gave me a quick kiss, which I begged him for more of because he tasted so good!!!
I followed the diet for 33 days, but I allowed myself coffee on day 31. I was a week into another really high pain and symptom spell, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if coffee actually did anything for me. So I went to Starbucks, got a tall Americano (no Blanco or peppermint) and put half the sugar I would have prior to the diet, (which to my amazement was now too sweet) and I let the deliciousness and comfort of that delightful beverage soothe all parts of me. In 15 minutes, the fog, symptoms and pain began to diminish. For 4 glorious hours, my migraine finally broke! So, the moral of that story is coffee actually helps me!!
Now, in terms of how successful was the overall diet in the reduction and relief of my daily migraine?
Not very successful for me, but in all honesty I didn’t have high hopes that it would be, simply because my migraine comes as a direct result of a concussion 3 years ago, and don’t stem from genetic or hormonal challenges many of my fellow migraineurs deal with. I decided to give this process my all in the chance I would find some potential other triggers that may help me in navigating daily migraine, but primarily because I knew my body need a clean reset overall.
Half way through I had people telling me I looked like I was glowing, that I had lost weight and I overall was brighter. I felt clean, healthy and content. I didn’t feel deprived (minus lack of my beloved coffee), but more importantly I felt overwhelmingly proud of myself. I almost gave up early on when it was tough, but I persevered and I succeeded!
Reintroducing food has been a cool observation. Thankfully, I haven’t craved much of what I couldn’t have while on the diet, but I’ve been able to observe how sluggish things like gluten makes me feel and how sweet things now taste to me. I love that I crave healthy, clean foods. I love that I enjoy recreating certain dishes and how satisfying it is to enjoy my meals without feeling gross after.
Whether or not you have any known food triggers, I would recommend this book to many people. Giving your body a clean, fresh reset is a form of self care. Although it is a lot of work, how good I feel inside my body now, along with the sense of accomplishment I’ve been boasting about, makes the whole process worth it!