After thousands of patients, experience with every headache remedy under the sun, and a lifetime battling the migraine beast myself, it’s become abundantly clear that adopting an evolutionarily appropriate diet and lifestyle is the best strategy for migraine prevention.
By leaps and bounds.
Living and eating as a human should are the keys to a migraine-free existence. Go figure!
What’s most remarkable is that, having seen what I’ve seen over the past several years, I’m now confident that migraine freedom is attainable for everyone – something I’d have never said, or believed, just a few years ago. A life with migraine is no longer something we must accept as our fate.
And that’s not something you’ll hear from many others in health care, who view chronic migraines as a problem that can only be “managed.”
For some who venture down these waters to the land of migraine freedom, it’s smooth sailing all the way.
For others, the ride is rocky at times. But this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. In life, seldom is progress a straight shot to the finish line.
Which is why resilience, or the ability to persevere through the rough patches, is the best predictor of success in all endeavors. This one is no exception.
And since persevering through the setbacks can mean the difference between a life of chronic headaches and one entirely without, I want those of you courageous enough to go down this road to have every resource at your disposal to help you stay the course.
Which is a big part of why we’re building a community of support and guidance to help you to get you through those tough times (and we’d love to have you! Click here to find out if Migrai-Neverland is right for you.)
All too often I hear of folks giving up after encountering a setback. “This isn’t/won’t work for me,” “It’s been two weeks and I’m not better,” and so on.
And the last thing I want is for you to give up, because I know what’s at stake. Because experience has taught me that giving up means throwing away your best —and likely only —chance of radically transforming your future for the better.
I know that the only way you will fail is if you give up.
Mistake #1: Hoping For A Quick Fix
Wanna make a million bucks? Here’s the formula:[lofty health goal] + [time frame no more than 8 weeks] = $$$$$
“Lose 50 pounds in 2 weeks!” Detoxes! Boot camps! Crash diets! And on and on….
The multi-gajillion dollar diet and fitness industry has conditioned us into believing the fantasy that health problems decades in the making can be undone in a matter of weeks.
And it has conditioned us into believing the fantasy that a short-term change in our behavior can produce a long-term improvement in our health.
The truth, though, is neither sexy nor profitable. So waistlines continue to expand, and health continues to plummet.
In my view, it’s a happy coincidence that the path to migraine freedom is also the path to optimum long-term health and well being. So, embarking down it shouldn’t be seen as a short-term endeavor, a temporary undertaking until things improve, but rather as a lifelong commitment to yourself.
Many with chronic headaches have been battling them for years, often decades. It would be unreasonable to think something that long in the making would reverse itself overnight, so set up expectations appropriately.
Commit from the very start to being in this for the long haul. Commit to the process, not an outcome. The longer it’s taken you to get to where you are, and the more medications you’ve consumed along the way, the more tenacious you must be while finding your way out of it.
So don’t expect overnight success. If that does come, let it be a pleasant surprise.
Progress is a huge motivator, no doubt. It’s easy to get discouraged when you perceive there to be none. But, for some, seeing that progress, especially in the beginning, may require taking a bird’s eye view your journey.
Mistake #2: Neglecting Lifestyle Factors
Yes, food is a huge part of giving your body and brain what it expects and needs.
But food is not the only thing.
Our brains expect us to be physically active. Our brains expect us to sleep 7-9 hours per night, and for our sleep and wake cycle to be regulated by the rise and fall of the sun. Our brains expect our stress hormones to course through our veins only once in a great while, when our life is in real truly in danger, not daily in response to imagined threats.
Are you incorporating regular physical activity? Time outside? Are you sleeping consistently and well or, if not, working towards that goal? Are you working towards severing the connection between thoughts, especially incessant worry and anxiety, over your physiology?
Mistake #3: Eating Gluten-Free Replacement Foods
The food industry is capitalizing on the gluten free trend, responding to the sharp rise in folks eating gluten free with an explosion of gluten free substitute foods. Stuff to replace the breads, cookies, crackers, and cakes that you’ve given up.
But consuming these is really just replacing one form of junk with another, perhaps slightly less harmful, form of junk. In the end, you’ll still be eating food engineered to maximize consumption, not nutrition.
For the migraineur, while a slice of gluten free bread may not expose you to gut-disrupting plant protein, you’ll still likely be ingesting a big glob of easily digestible carbohydrate, which will send your blood sugar soaring, and will put you back on the hormonal roller coaster you’re trying to get off of.
Eat real food. Real food – food that doesn’t require factory processing to be edible – food that is naturally gluten-free (and your options here are nearly endless). View gluten-free “substitute” foods as treats, an occasional indulgence (if you so desire) for when you’ve made it to Phase 4.
Mistake #4: Relying On Others for Answers
Part of being able to persevere through the rough waters is being able to figure things out when the going gets tough. To troubleshoot your way through to smoother waters, rather than turn back and head for shore.
Ultimately, only you can find your way to migraine freedom. My goal is to take what I’ve learned – hard won knowledge from a lifetime of personal and professional experience with migraine – and transfer it to you. So that you have what you need to figure it out.
But, as with virtually all matters of health, only you can find your unique solution. And I know that it’s the people who truly believe this, who ultimately hold themselves responsible for charting their course, that make it to the promised land.
Your doctor won’t fix this. No magic pill will, either. Only you can.
And chances are, if you’re reading this post, then you understand this!
Mistake #5: Relying on Willpower to Change Behavior
For many, a transition to an ancestral way of eating and living means undoing a lot of old habits.
If you try to accomplish that through sheer force of will, you will fail.
Rather, figure out the changes you wish to make, and create an environment for yourself that ensures success. If you want to stop drinking soda, don’t keep a 6 pack in the refrigerator. Design your world to make changing your behavior as easy as possible, and falling off the wagon really hard.
Mistake #6: Reaching for Convenience Foods
This past week, I was seeing a patient in follow up who was trying to break about a 30-year history of rebound headache.
As we were chatting back and forth, I spotted an energy bar on the table next to her. I almost fell out of my chair.
I get it, though. We’re a snacking society, fueled by our dependence on carbohydrates for energy, and accustomed to powering through between meal energy dips with a burst of more carbs.
But the 3-meals-a-day habit isn’t our natural pattern, and even more deviant when you throw snacks in between. For virtually all of human history, our ancestors ate one, maybe two, meals per day.
One of the great advantages of moving to the lower carbohydrate diet of our ancestors is the stabilization of energy levels that comes along with it. No more ravenous hunger if you go more than a few hours between meals, as you can now tap into your own fat stores to meet energy needs (most of us carry a month’s worth or more in there!).
But, as you may recall, the transition to the fat-adapted state, and off the blood sugar roller coaster, takes a few weeks to occur fully.
So if you find yourself getting hungry between meals during the transition phase, what should you do? Eat more, and add more FAT into your diet!
The more calories consumed at mealtime, the longer you’ll be able to go without hunger. Then, once fat adaptation kicks into full gear, you’ll find you don’t need as much.
I’ve yet to find any packaged convenience food that I would feel I could safely consume in isolation, even in Phase 4.
And if you’re in Phase 1 especially, nothing should ever make its way from a box, bag, or wrapper and into your mouth.
Remember, real food only.
Mistake #7: Short Term Sugar Spikes
As you know, reducing dietary carbohydrates is a powerful weapon against migraine. The blood sugar roller coaster that most modern westerners are riding, and the radical swings in hormones that accompany it, are a direct consequence of the typical high-carb western diet.
But it’s important to remember that dietary carbohydrates have both short and long term effects.
Reducing daily carb intake is critical to shifting the body into the energy-stabilizing, fat-adapted state. This is the long term effect we want.
However, it’s possible to achieve the above daily carb goal and still do things that cause short-term bursts in blood sugar that can provoke the beast. If you’re shooting for under 50 grams per day, for example, it’s technically possible to eat all of that in one sitting from a carb-heavy snack.
But you’re much better off spreading it out over the course of the day.
Avoiding convenience foods, as discussed above, is one way to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Another is to avoid eating sweet fruits (apples, bananas, pineapple, etc.), especially by themselves.
Mistake #8: “Cheat Creep”
Here’s a really common story:
You commit to the migraine miracle plan.
You feel better than you’ve felt in decades.
Your chronic headaches go away. Miraculously, you hit Phase 4 of the Migraine Freedom Timeline. Horns blow, confetti falls.
Maybe my headaches are gone for good, you think.
So you try the occasional cheat to test the waters. A slice of bread here, a bag of pretzels there, etc. Slowly you drift further away from your freedom path until.….BAM! The beast is back. With a vengeance!
And you forgot just how ferocious he could be.
You take your preferred migraine abortive drug and send him away. Mercifully, the beast goes, but your lapse leaves you vulnerable to another attack for days, weeks, or maybe even longer.
While these falls from the wagon do serve as a powerful reminder of why you boarded the wagon to begin with, falling off can potentially lead to a substantial setback.
Once you’re doing well, it’s all too easy for the cheats to add up. You may even lose sight of what your freedom path looked like.
So be sure to check back in from time to time with the guidelines to make sure you haven’t strayed too far, and make sure your “cheats” are not only intentional, but few and far between.
Mistake #9: Underestimating the Impact of Medications
This is the granddaddy of them all. It’s the one that leads more people to throw in the towel than any other.
I’ve personally underestimated the negative impact of migraine relief medications for most of my life.
One of the inconvenient truths about migraine is that the drugs that are best at relieving an attack are also the best at ensuring that more attacks will come in the future.
I’ll be writing more about this topic soon (including ways to relieve an attack without meds), because it’s such an enormous and overlooked problem. Over the past several decades, the conventional approach to headache management, despite the best of intentions, has been unwittingly fueling an epidemic of chronic headache. Our advice to always keep medications on hand, and to take something “at the first sign of headache,” has traded a short term gain for long term misery.
Fortunately, there’s also a BIG silver lining.
Which is that weaning off migraine relief medications is the most powerful thing you can do to keep the beast away.
My personal goal is to never take another triptan, or any other medication for migraine relief, for that matter. Not because doing so will have meant I had a migraine, but because I now fully appreciate its consequences. That it may transform would’ve been a one-time headache into weeks, months, or even years of recurring ones.
I’ve noticed that the folks in our Migrai-Neverland community who improve the fastest are also those who are the most medication averse, who want desperately to get off drugs altogether. This is no coincidence.
I can’t emphasize this point strongly enough.
(RELATED: Would you like to join them in Migrai-Neverland? Click here to take this short quiz to find out if it’s right for you.)
Mistake #10: Not Getting Enough Water AND Salt
Nowadays, I can easily spot when someone has begun eating low-carb. Gone is the puffiness in the face, replaced by the lovely lines of the facial bones long hidden by water retention. It’s the ultimate tell.
Carbohydrates promote retention of water in the kidneys, and that excess water tends to accumulate in the tissues. Likewise, reducing dietary carbohydrates reverses those effects.
As a result, you will pee more during the transition to lower carbohydrate eating as the body rids itself of this excess water, along with the minerals within it (true any time the body loses water, which is why sports drinks were first invented).
During this transitional period, as the body is trying to return to the state mother nature intended, it’s important to stay well hydrated. And doing so means replacing both the water AND the minerals (i.e. salts).
So make sure you’re drinking plenty of water when you’re starting out, and that you’re getting enough salt. There are various strategies for accomplishing the latter – drinking a cup of salty bouillon or chicken stock (preferably one you’ve made), taking a sip or two of pickle juice, or simply stirring a pinch or two of salt into your glass of water. Adding a Magnesium supplement, typically 400mg daily, can also help.
And there you have it! We’ve covered a lot of ground here, including some very important topics, some of which I’ll be writing a good bit more about in the coming months.
Did you spot any potential mistakes you may be making? Was there a mistake you were making at one point that’s not on this list? If so, share it in the comments section here or in the Migraine Miracle Facebook group. We’re all in this together!