I was too. But over the last three years I have learned how much lifestyle factors, like those in The Daniel Plan, can help reduce the severity and frequency of my headaches and migraine attacks. I didn’t even know I was having migraine attacks, since mine were atypical. I didn’t get aura—the flashing lights and visual disturbances. I wasn’t laid out in a dark room for three days. I just got really bad headaches when the weather changed. The sun hurt my eyes. I started having vertigo episodes, and that’s when I finally got a diagnosis.
It turns out I was having migraine attacks. If you get chronic headaches (more than a few days a week for more than three months), sinus headaches, weather headaches, or even vertigo attacks, you might have migraine. Please get checked out by a headache specialist or neurologist to be certain. I’ve included descriptions to the most common headaches to help you figure out what type of headache you’re suffering from.
What I want people to know is that there is a lot you can do with lifestyle changes to reduce how often you get headaches and how severe they are. I’ll share five factors from The Migraine Relief Plan that really help:
Eat whole foods and tons of veggies: A typical plate on The Migraine Relief Plan looks like a Daniel Plan plate. About ¾ of the plate is vegetables, either raw or cooked. Add a 3-4 ounce serving of healthy protein and possibly some whole, gluten-free grains. My Plan guides you through a structured process to learn if you do have food triggers, so there is a stricter period where you avoid some foods. Some common Daniel Plan foods that are super healthy but might be migraine triggers are onions, citrus, avocados, nuts, and lentils. The goal is to learn which of those foods, if any, actually bother you and then add as many back in as possible. My book provides a gentle 8-week transition onto this stricter eating phase, then after a few months teaches you how to test for food triggers.
Regular exercise: In one study, exercise was found to be just as effective as the best preventive migraine drug, with no negative side effects and plenty of positive ones. If you’re currently not very active because of your headaches, you can do what I did. Walk. In the morning, a few days a week, then up to six days a week. Start easy and build gently over time. Listen to your body. Add in some gentle yoga and devotional time. Make it a routine. Note that some people are triggered by intense exercise (or by exercising while being dehydrated), so pay attention to how you are feeling.
Meditation: Utilizing deep breathing may be helpful for people who get migraines or experience chronic pain. This can be combined with your personal devotional time. I encourage people to add in a gratitude practice, as focusing on the goodness in our lives also eases pain by changing our focus.
Following a schedule: Similar to how The Daniel Plan encourages you to develop discipline in your self-care habits, I recommend creating regularity in your life. Migraine brains seem to hate change, so I go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning. Eat regularly throughout the day, so you don’t have peaks and valleys of blood sugar levels. Drink water throughout the day.
What Kind of Headache Do You Have?
There are many types of headaches and sometimes it’s tricky to identify why type of headache you’re experiencing. Below are some of the most common headaches that people experience:
- – Cluster headaches: Considered the most painful headache, also called suicide headaches. Attacks of severe pain on one side of the head (often described as a hot poker through the eye or temple). Each headache can last 15 to 180 minutes, with attacks ranging from once every other day to eight or more times a day. Clusters can be seasonal. Nearly three-quarters of cluster headache sufferers are men.
- – Headache: Pain in the head, usually caused by muscle tension or stress. Pain is mild to moderate, usually on both sides of the head, may feel like a band tightening, is not worsened by physical exertion, and does not have a pulsating quality. Can include either light or noise sensitivity, but not both. Over the counter medications work well.
- – Migraine: A complex neurobiological disorder with genetic, vascular, and biochemical components. Some doctors believe that migraine has an autoimmune component, indicating the body’s natural immune response may be working incorrectly. Less common types include abdominal in children, hemiplegic (stroke-like symptoms), and headache with aura. Colic in babies may be the first sign of migraine. Not all migraine attacks include head pain, but if they do, pain is usually on one side of the head and is moderate to severe. Migraine attacks are worsened by physical exertion and have a pulsating quality. Attacks can include nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivities to light, sound, and/or touch. Nearly three-quarters of migraine attack sufferers are women. Over the counter medications usually don’t help.
- – Medication overuse headaches (MOH, formerly rebound headaches): Headaches and migraine attacks caused by medication overuse, either with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications. Doctors’ opinions vary about how much medication is “too often”. Doctors agree that the following can all cause MOH: antihistamines, decongestants, caffeine-containing medications (especially those with more than one painkiller), ergotamines, triptans, and codeine-, barbiturate-, or narcotic-containing prescriptions. Note that self-medicating by using caffeine-containing beverages plus OTC painkillers can also cause MOH.
- – Sinus headache: Now considered an incorrect diagnosis, as 90 percent of sinus headaches are undiagnosed migraine attacks. True sinus headaches are from a serious sinus infection and include infected nasal discharge, fever, chills, and other symptoms of infection. See a headache specialist or neurologist to learn more.
- – Weather headache: Headaches that regularly accompany specific changes in weather (such as thunderstorms or hot, dry winds) are likely undiagnosed migraine attacks. See a headache specialist or neurologist to learn more
If you or a loved one is dealing with regular headaches or has migraine attacks, I hope you’ll check out my book The Migraine Relief Plan: An 8-Week Transition to Better Eating, Fewer Headaches, and Optimal Health for a more in-depth look at how lifestyle can help you.
About the Author: Stephanie Weaver, MPH, CWHC is an author, certified wellness and health coach, and recipe developer. You’ll find plenty of whole foods recipes suitable for Daniel Plan meals on her website Recipe Renovator.
(Excerpted from The Migraine Relief Plan: An 8-Week Transition to Better Eating, Fewer Headaches, and Optimal Health by Stephanie Weaver, MPH, CWHC (Surrey Books 2017). Copyrighted material; used with permission.)