How Doing a Whole30 Cured My Migraines
**Disclosure: This is NOT a paid or endorsed post. No we do not have a formal working relationship with the great folks at Whole30. Yes there are Amazon affiliate links in this post.
So many people think that Whole30 is just another fad diet. A quick way to drop pounds in an endless effort to lose weight. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. One read of It Starts with Food and you begin to understand that Whole30 is about understanding, dissecting and altering your RELATIONSHIP with food and the effect food has on YOU.
When I began, I really thought I knew how food affected me and where it brought comfort to me. What I didn’t know was that there was much more to understand and that by controlling what I put in my body for a disciplined 30 days, I would unearth the secret to one of my life-long ailments: migraines!
I’m 37 as I write this, and I have suffered from headaches and frequent migraines (1-3 a month) my entire life. I have carried a bottle of ibuprofen with me since junior high. I have missed countless life events and celebrations to this illness. I have had seasons of my life where they were more debilitating than others. I have been hospitalized on many an occasion. I have researched and studied and tried to no avail to pinpoint a cause. I’ve given up caffeine, wine and certain cheeses and anything else known to trigger migraines. So you can imagine my surprise when 30 days of food discipline revealed the buried treasure I was looking for!
What do I mean? How did a whole30 reveal THAT of all things? And what was my underlying trigger?
I started the whole30 caffeine free first off. We were 2 weeks in and past most of the initial sugar detox headaches, etc. In hindsight, I was disappointed I wasn’t feeling more of the “tiger blood” everyone else spoke of as I was still experiencing dull headaches occasionally.
My husband was participating with me, and one of the things he really missed about life before Whole30 was going to lunch with coworkers. Chipotle was a frequent stop for them, and he could eat some things at Chipotle, but what he really wanted was the chicken which was a Whole30 no-no. So as any good wife would do, I roasted a chicken at home in a copycat Chipotle chicken recipe for dinner leaving the extras for him to take to work.
Just 2 hours after consuming that meal I was crippled in bed with a full on migraine. It was so bad I almost had them take me to the hospital (headache, digestive upset, vomiting, dehydration). This was NOT what I expected on the Whole30, so the first red flag went up.
I started thinking back to what I had eaten that day. Since I was on the Whole30 there wasn’t a vast amount of variety, so the Adobo peppers in the Chipotle chicken quickly emerged as a front runner. But I sort of dismissed that as a possibility, for after all, I’d had them many a time before.
Fast forward several days to when I cautiously put some of that left over chicken onto a salad as it was the only protein readily available. I say cautiously because even then I was suspicious. So I only ate a little. Sure enough, a couple hours later came the raging headache. Not nearly like the one before it but a headache none-the-less. That’s when I turned to Dr. Google.
A search of red pepper allergies revealed reactions that mirror migraines (as the histamine in your body fight against the imposter), diarrhea, vomiting, etc. This sounded exactly like me. So I decided no more chipotle peppers. It turns out it didn’t stop there though.
Over the course of the last two weeks of doing the Whole30, after I eliminated chipotle peppers, I was still getting periodic headaches and stomach upset. The week following Whole30 being one of the worst. But I understood at this point that my migraines WERE related to something. That when my body behaved like that it was trying to tell me to STOP, to listen to it, that there was something causing that pain, and it was my mission to find it and root it out. So I listened to my body for the first time and treated my headaches as a warning sign and began to study my food as it related to my headaches.
Through a series of events/foods it came to light that chipotle peppers are relatives of red peppers which are relatives to jalapeños which all contain capsaicinoids that gives them their hot properties. This includes: adobo peppers, jalapeños, cayenne pepper, crushed red peppers, paprika, and many more. And consuming any of those results in my body fighting against them.
Guess what? They ALL give me headaches, and the degree to which I consume them in a short period of time causes the accelerated action to a migraine headache.
Do you even realize how many products on your shelves right now or your recipes include one or more of these spices/peppers? Go ahead, and take a look! I’ll help you out with a few of the most notable and those I commonly ate in the last 30 years: chili powder, chili, tacos, marinade, French dressing, Italian dressing, BBQ sauce, ketchup, buffalo wing sauce, Franks Red Hot, salsa and the list goes on. People, I have a Pinterest board simply dedicated to my love of BUFFALO anything!
For 30 years I have literally been poisoning my body with food that doesn’t agree with me and medicines to try to heal me. This has been earth-shattering. Life changing. Freeing.
It is difficult – don’t get me wrong. In fact, I am laid up in bed writing this post as I recover from my recent accidental run in with jalapeños in a product where I wasn’t expecting them. My husband and I LOVE eating out at new restaurants and EVERYONE seasons with one of these spices. It isn’t a common allergy, so they look at me like I have three heads when I ask about these items. But it is all worth it to be holding the keys to lock away my physical misery. Totally worth it.
I am very aware that allergists have tests for these kind of things. I am also very aware that I go into anaphylactic shock when consuming strawberries but when tested at the allergist the tests all come up negative. Even the medical professionals understand that medicine is not always conclusive when they recommend that despite their tests I should listen to my bodies reaction and not eat them. So yes, I believe whole-heartedly in modern medicine, but not at the expense of ignoring the communication my God-given body is speaking to me.
It has been three months since I first made this discovery, and I didn’t write about it sooner because I wanted to be certain that my findings were the root cause. In the past, I’ve believed my headaches and digestive upset to be weather and hormone related. Would that still also be true? Turns out, it is not. I’ve gone through three cycles and a back and forth Ohio Spring, and every one of my headaches can be traced back to accidental consumption of one or more of those ingredients. Again, I am in awe.
I’m not saying that Whole30 will cure your migraines. I am saying that it will help you to dissect your eating habits and discover how those could be contributing to your migraines. I am saying that there IS a reason for your migraines. Your body is trying to speak to you. I am certain of that much. And I am saying it will take determination and discipline to endure the process.
Here are some of my best tips for approaching a Whole30 with migraines:
- Caffeine is legal on the Whole30 but very much a migraine rebound reaction, you may want to consider also giving up caffeine before or during your Whole30 to alleviate any “mixed signals”.
- Keep a food journal/diary while on the Whole30 that includes foods, spices, etc that you are consuming as well as how you are feeling and any headaches you experience.
- Choose your 30 day Whole30 strategically. Do you notice migraines in conjunction with your menstrual cycle, with a season, with life events? If so, consider scheduling your Whole30 for those things to fall during the last two weeks of your dietary challenge so that you are beyond the difficult first two weeks. (For example, I believed my menstrual cycle to be the cause of my headaches, therefore I did the Whole30 in a way that it would fall at the end so that my body had time to properly heal before I hit that time period).
So yes, I do tell people that Whole30 will change your life. I encourage it for everyone I know. Not because it is good business, but because it changed my life in unexpected ways. As a brand, we will continue to produce paleo and Whole30 compliant menus because we believe in helping you to have the resources you need to navigate some of these difficult dietary transitions. Doing something like this is most definitely a challenge, but as with all things in life, it is that which is most difficult that reaps the most rewards.