Migraine Control: Diet

These migraines that have plagued me for the last 15 years are finally coming under control.  For years, I sought a solution from a variety of medical professionals.  Nothing ever seemed to really resolve the pain.  Prescription medications either didn’t work or made me feel worse.  MRIs revealed nothing “remarkable.”  Each time that I was referred to physical therapy, I tried to convince myself I was getting better, but the benefits never lasted even though I continued the prescribed exercises.  Elimination of caffeine, wheat, and chocolate from my diet made a dent in the daily pain throughout my body including my head, but I still had migraines (just not every day).

Since no prescribed treatment helped, I decided that I would have to learn how to cope with the pain on my own.  Each time I had a migraine, I went through the tools that temporarily relieved pain or distracted me from it: heat or ice, sleep or rest with a cloth over my eyes to block out light,  a bland carbohydrate snack if I could keep it down, earplugs to block the daily noise that was too much during a migraine, and humble pleas to family members for hairbrushing (sometimes all out hair pulling helped more:)) or massage.

Last fall, the migraines progressed to daily occurrences once again even though I had not resumed eating wheat, chocolate, or caffeine.  Since I was also coping with other medical issues that impacted my sleep, I really wasn’t able to process what to do about the pain beyond my standard tools.  Finally, after almost 3 months, I recalled someone once telling me that she couldn’t eat tomatoes because they gave her headaches.  At the time, I thought this was really weird and not something that I wanted to consider would ever be an issue for me.  I think I really just didn’t want to think about a time that I couldn’t salsa:)  However, the daily pain last fall convinced me that I was ready to try something – anything – even getting rid of tomatoes.

Internet searches revealed that foods can definitely cause migraines for some people.  Banned food lists on different sites varied somewhat, but there were some foods that were on most of the lists: dairy, chocolate, eggs,  citrus, wheat, nuts, tomatoes, onions, apples, bananas, some beans, caffeine, alcohol, and food additives like MSG. I hadn’t had alcohol in a long time, and I had previously eliminated chocolate, wheat, and caffeine.  So, it was time to get rid of all the rest – except beans.

For years, I had worked hard to accommodate my child with food allergies.  Much of our diet was based around beans, and I figured the problem couldn’t be beans.  It just couldn’t be.  I eliminated all of the other foods on the banned lists and felt quite a bit better – most of the time.

Even though my migraine frequency had reduced, I started to notice that, strangely enough, every time we had a bean dish, I would get a migraine.  It must have been the weather, loud noises, fragrances in the air, or some other food that just hadn’t worked its way out of my body yet.  After all, these things do all contribute to my overall migraine trigger load, and it couldn’t be the beans.

Just before Christmas, I had the worst migraine I could remember.  It was an astonishing 9 days long.  In addition to the head pain, I had insomnia, night sweats, nausea, and pain in much of my upper body including my rib-to-sternum joints.  Once heart palpitations started, I wondered why I wasn’t going to the hospital.  But then I remembered, there hadn’t ever been any medical treatment that had made any difference.  Why would it now?  There had to be something else that I could do, but what was it?

I had to stop eating beans.

Since this elusive mystery was solved, and I stopped eating beans, I have only had a couple of migraines.  These were both attributable to tomatoes.  I had eliminated all of the other foods on the list, so it was easy for me to figure out what the problem was.  Shhh….I was still occasionally eating ketchup, but not anymore.  It’s just not worth it.

I guess sometimes we have to learn the hard way.  I’m glad God is patient.


Note:  The most helpful information I was able to find was in the book “Heal Your Headache” by Dr. David Buchholz.  The cover of the book could mislead a potential reader to think the book would be silly and unworthy of reading.  However, the book did explain what is going on in the body when a migraine occurs.  I found it helpful to understand that there can be a variety of triggers (food and other) that all add up.  Once a tolerance level is reached, the pain starts.   While many of the triggers are not controllable (weather, fragrances, etc), I can learn to control what I eat.


23 thoughts on “Migraine Control: Diet

  1. 9 days! You poor thing. I’m so pleased you’ve found a solution to improve your migraines significantly. I am trying the elimination diet too, focusing on cutting out Tyramine/MSG but I haven’t cut apples or dairy. It’s early days but I’ve lost weight if nothing else 🙂 ! #keepbalance #staypositive

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dairy seems to be at the top of the list in most of the references I have seen (here is an example: file:///C:/Headaches/Migraine%20diet.pdf). I don’t remember if Dr. Buchholz includes it or not. I have found the most benefit from eliminating all of the items I listed above. When I want to eat a small portion of 1 thing, I am able to as long as all of my other triggers are under control for the day. Regarding apples, I have read that yellow or green type apples are supposed to be ok. I seem to be ok eating a small portion of golden delicious, but my daughter can’t eat any type of apple for now.

      Cheese has been really hard to give up. I’m working on alternatives, and if I find any that really work, I will post them here. I will also be posting some things I am doing to increase my threshold (like supplements).

      I hope the diet works for you! I felt somewhat better initially, but feel significantly better after several months on the diet.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hmm, thank you for the reference. Like you I’ve resorted to using diet to try and help migraine relief. It took me a long while to commit to cutting out wheat, mostly due to denial and excuses but it has been so worth it. I wonder if other things on that list might also be causing problems, I definitely will check out the book!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Let me know how it goes. I hope it works for you! It can be hard, but it is helpful to have something that we can have some control over. I’ll keep posting recipes for what I am eating.

      Note that Dr. Buchholz doesn’t have exactly the same list as other references, but he does comment that the diet modifications that are necessary are individualized. The note above includes another reference that might lead you to other foods to watch.

      Liked by 3 people

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  5. I’ve been on the migraine diet for a couple of months now and have experienced significant reductions in my headache frequency and pain. It’s amazing what food can do to your body! Thanks so much for blogging – it’s inspiring to read about things I can eat (instead of all the things I can’t). Other people who have migraines should try this diet – it really works!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is so interesting! It’s crazy how much we can be affected – especially with your long list! I’m happy to have found someone else in the same boat, hopefully we can all help each other out. My main issues are with cow’s milk, gluten, yeast and coconut, which has been difficult to adapt to, but so so worth it! I look forward to reading more 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad that a diet change is working for you. My daughter and I have both had significant improvements, but it is a lot of work to re-work recipes and fix all of our food. We have both decided that it is worth it because of how much better we feel. I look forward to seeing what you have to post on your site:)

      Liked by 2 people

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  8. This did help thanks for referring me to this post. I can relate to it all. I too had discovered that my diet could be affecting me. I’ve only just started this idea that these foods are the main cause for the most part. That said I am definitely going to look into the book you recommended. I’ve also decided that I’m going to cancel my doctors appointment next week as I don’t want to get into all of the medical treatments agin because I know it will be a dead end like last time.

    Reading your post pointed out a few more foods that I wasn’t aware of. Ugh! We already suffer from this curse must we also be stripped of the joy of food?! Like you, I have just had one of the worst attacks yet and I know that I have to do something about it and stick to the diet this time.

    *Before discovering about all of these foods that are migraine triggers I have been working towards eating vegetarian. All of the main protein sources I used were beans, nuts, peanut butter, etc. now i can’t eat them. I feel discouraged as I’m afraid my new ‘migraine diet’ will prevent me from eating vegetarian.

    I’m glad I discovered your site and look forward to more of your posts.

    Liked by 4 people

    • The only complete proteins that I am able to eat right now are turkey, chicken, and quinoa. I could also eat beef, but I just don’t like it. I was a vegetarian at one time, but came to realize (about 10 years ago) that I just wasn’t healthy and started with chicken and turkey. For other nutrients, I’m getting many from all of the vegetables that I am able to eat. I also take supplements.

      You may not have problems with all of the foods that I have had to eliminate. My daughter is able to eat sunflower seeds and sunflower butter 2 to 3 times per week, but I just can’t. I am able to occasionally eat a small portion of almonds, which is now a big treat for me! Some people are able to eat some types of beans, but they all give me my worst migraines, so I avoid them all. Buchholz may comment regarding the types. Hopefully, it will be helpful to at least know which foods to watch out for. I am more careful when other triggers (weather, fragrances) are present.

      At first, this diet was difficult because so many foods that I enjoy had been eliminated. However, I have found other foods that are really good too. In fact, I am eating more variety now than I did before. It has just taken a lot of work to get to this point. Hence, this blog. I hope that some of the recipes are helpful to others making it easier to make the transition.

      The thing that makes it all worth it is the drastic reduction in pain! I also remind myself that my life is not food (eat to live, not live to eat) and focus on other enjoyable parts of my life.

      Liked by 2 people

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  10. I was helpful to me to read that you also had heart palpitations. There doesn’t seem to be much info out there about the connection between the two. I look forward to seeing more on your site, but I have to make dinner—bean free…

    Liked by 2 people

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  12. Oh my gosh! It would be extremely difficult for me to cut out a few of these foods, since I stick to a mostly vegetarian diet. (not vegan though). Eliminating beans, nuts and eggs would probably make me starve! I don’t do dairy (except a little ice cream once in a while), and eggs are supposed to support the thyroid, which I also struggle with. (btw…heart palpitations can also be caused by low thyroid, but never even considered that they might be headache related!) (time to start that investigation!!) I have eliminated tomatoes, ( which my hubby grows.and they’re beautiful) He looks at me like I’m crazy! I suffer from a few different types of migraines, and I have had a daily headache since I was a teenager. Sometimes diet can affect me, and sometimes not. I have been very careful over the years to be aware of triggers, be aware of my neck and back positions in bed, etc, etc. I do essential oils, turmeric supplements, boswellia, ginger, warm epsom salts/essential oil baths, magnesium, calcium…on and on. My body products are always organic (since I was a teenager..and I’m 54 now!) Nothing helps, except blogs and forums like this to rally around each other! Thank you for that! I will try to gradually weed out the nuts and beans, and see how I feel. ( I am so tired of drugs. esp because they don’t work. Gotta love my neurologist though…he works with me, listens to me, is patient, kind, empathetic and trusts me to know my own body and habits. Keep up the good work people! and….This the one HUGE benefit to the internet!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have also found that connecting with other people with the same problem has been so helpful. Thanks for your comments!

      Regarding the eggs – The other migraineur in our family has been able to reintroduce eggs without return of pain. She can also now eat apples and bananas.

      Regarding the beans and nuts – Beans cause me SO much pain, that it is worth it to me to give them up. I don’t even miss them anymore (and I used to LOVE them). I am actually reintroducing almonds to my diet gradually without a problem. So, being able to have some almond butter and raw almonds has been helpful on the protein issue. I had to initially get rid of everything that could be a problem though, to sort out foods that aren’t problems by reintroducing them one at a time.

      Quinoa and hemp hearts have been successful protein sources for me. I also prefer vegetarian foods, but I have relied on chicken and turkey as I have figured out what else to eat. It has been so worth it to make the diet changes, but I have found that this isn’t enough on its own. I’m currently finding that hormones are huge for both migraineurs in our family. I’m 49, have been on estrogen for 15 years, and am getting off of it to see if it helps with my migraines. As I’ve gone down in dose, my pain has actually lessened. It takes a while to get off of it, so I won’t know how this helps long term. If this is something you are also dealing with, it is worth considering.

      Hopefully, there are some recipes here that will help if you need to figure out what else to eat. I haven’t posted anything with hemp hearts yet, but I’m working on in:)


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