There are many obvious advantages to maintaining healthy body weight, but did you know that some of your weight loss efforts can have an adverse effect on your migraine attacks?
If you have migraine and are overweight, committing to weight loss can help you manage your migraine and prevent them from getting worse.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is not easy, especially when dealing with a disease that robs us of time and energy. However, it is especially important for those with episodic migraine to keep their BMI in the healthy range, because obesity is one of the risk factors for chronic migraine.
Losing weight can be even more difficult for people who get migraines, because certain weight loss efforts, like some diets, supplements, and exercises, can actually trigger migraine attacks, compelling us to toss our efforts out of the window.
Luckily, there are many healthy weight loss methods available that will produce results and health without triggering migraines.
When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady is best. A focus on whole foods instead of fad diets will keep your head happy.
Migraine triggers are internal and external stimuli that can cause a migraine attack or a severe headache. Common migraine triggers include:
- strenuous exercise
Just as each person experiences migraine differently, different people respond to different triggers.
Let’s take a look at some of the common triggers that can prevent your migraine relief and ruin weight loss plans. Learning about triggers is the first step to identifying your own. Avoiding your migraine triggers and maintaining a healthy body weight will help keep the pain at bay.
1. Diet sodas and artificial sweeteners
If you have experienced migraine pains after consuming foods and drinks that are artificially sweetened with Aspartame, you are not alone. While it might seem like a good idea to replace natural sugar in your diet with Aspartame-containing sweeteners to cut your calorie intake, they can potentially induce migraine.
More and more foods today contain these artificial sweeteners, like sodas, chewing gums, sugar-free cookies, and iced teas. Reading food labels carefully and avoiding food triggers can help you understand and manage your migraines.
Try instead: Look for other natural, Aspartame-free options like stevia for better overall health and fewer migraines. Natural sugars like honey and maple syrup are also good choices, but should only be consumed in small quantities.
2. Irregular meals
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a common migraine trigger. Skipping meals to lose weight is not a healthy or migraine-friendly tactic. The brain reacts to rapid changes in blood sugar or to blood sugar that is too low with a migraine or headache.
Avoid restricting your calories by too much too soon. If you are restricting carbohydrates, do so slowly or replace simple carbohydrates with whole-grain options.
Try instead: Eating several small, protein-rich meals a day will keep your blood sugar steady. Steady blood sugar means fewer migraine attacks and less temptation to overindulge. Try to avoid eating large amounts of carbohydrates and sugars, as they can cause your blood sugar to rapidly spike and then decline.
Carrying healthy snacks like almonds or hummus is a good way to prevent your blood sugar from getting too low and potentially triggering an attack.
Try to eat whole foods prepared at home. Avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket where the processed food is found for maximum relief and results.
Occasional caffeine can improve migraine attacks, as it works as a pain reliever and aids in better absorption of painkillers. However, different people react differently to caffeine.
Too much caffeine can cause addiction, and sudden unavailability causes a “withdrawal headache” in some people. Some people are sensitive to it and can suffer from caffeine-induced migraine, and yet there are others who use caffeine to halt a migraine when it is beginning.
Try instead: Take note of your response to caffeine, and avoid it if it gives you a migraine. If you do drink caffeine, try to drink the same amount each day to avoid a rebound headache. Herbal teas, home-made soda, and flavored water are excellent, caffeine-free beverage choices for weight loss and trigger avoidance.
4. Fad diets and weight loss supplements
From the cabbage soup diet to intermittent fasting, most fad diets involve cutting calories by A LOT. This rapid reduction often triggers migraine attacks.
Some fad diets eliminate whole groups of foods that provide essential nutrients, and low carbohydrate diets can cause headaches and constipation. Some weight loss supplements like forskolin and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) have also been known to cause headaches.
Try instead: Eat a well-rounded diet. Exercise regularly if you can, but begin slowly. Weight loss will happen when you take in less calories than your body burns.
If you are restricting calories, do so slowly and try to make smart substitutions rather than cutting foods or meals completely.
5. Overly vigorous exercise
If you notice that your migraine attacks increase after you start a new exercise program, chances are that you are experiencing exercise-induced migraine. According to a study, a whopping 38 percent of people have experienced migraine after exercise.
While it is difficult to point out a single reason for these pains, it could be caused by changes in blood pressure during exercise. Certain vigorous sports like weightlifting, rowing, running, and football are the common triggers.
Try instead: Talk to a doctor before beginning a new exercise program, and start slowly. Low-intensity exercises like yoga, walking, tai chi, swimming, and biking can help you move your body and lose weight without triggering a migraine.
Prevention is the best treatment, and maintaining a healthy BMI will set you on the track to fewer migraine attacks. Fewer migraine attacks means more motivation to achieve your weight loss goals and stay well.
This post, which was originally published by Migraine Again copyright 2017-19, is used with permission.
Namrata Kothari is a blogger and researcher who writes for MigraineAgain.com, the leading independent website by patients for patients. We empower people with migraine to suffer less and live more, until there’s a cure. Founder and Managing Editor Paula K. Dumas is a former chronic migraine warrior, author, researcher, advocate, and host of the Migraine World Summit. Join the conversation on social media @MigraineAgain.
Updated January 1, 2019