February 9, 2017 – Forgive me, but I’m going to take a brief detour away from the fun stuff–like noveling and photography and fitness–and chat about something not so fun:
Those who know me, know migraines have ruled my life since I was thirteen.
Cue the drumroll! I never thought I’d be able to say this… but I’m thrilled to announce I’ve found the miracle I’ve been searching for.
A MIGRAINE MIRACLE!
“What?!?” you say, “There are no miracles.”
Okay, sure, you’re right.
Conquering migraines didn’t happen miraculously…
I WORKED FOR IT.
If you don’t suffer migraines, you’ll find nothing interesting here, so skip this post. If you do suffer, do yourself a favor and READ ON.
You are totally going to hate me for what I’m about to tell you. Sugar and wheat and a high carb diet are the source of your migraines.
I know, I know. I can see you sitting there shaking your head, saying:
“Nope. Not me. Sugar and wheat and carbs aren’t my triggers. My triggers are XY and Z. I can TOTALLY eat those homemade Oreos in your photo above.”
I know that’s what you’re saying, because that’s what I always said. But here’s the key point to take away from this article:
It’s not so much one food triggering your migraines, it’s about changing the way your body handles food. It’s about the systemic inflammation that pushes your migraine threshold up, and sugar and grains are the key drivers behind inflammation.
Get the inflammation down, get the migraine down.
Saying sugar and wheat aren’t a big part of the problem is called denial. Simple truth is:
Most migraine sufferers can’t handle glucose spikes.
My body kept telling me, but I ignored the signs. No way in hell would I admit sugar and wheat were the problem. I was a hobbyist baker! Every weekend I baked pies or cakes or muffins. My big joke was “my only vice is sugar!” I was fit, thin, didn’t smoke nor drink nor do drugs nor eat fast food, but I baked. I loved the art of combining ingredients into beautifully decadent treats.
So why did I let go of this thing I loved?
Take a look at my migraine history:
- Started when I was 13, usually lasting five-days
- By my 40s, increased to a monthly count of 15-25.
- Suffered daily morning headaches.
- Maxed out monthly meds in order to make it through each day
- During my worst month, November 2015, I had 28 migraine days.
As I said earlier, migraines ruled my life.
The moment of change.
In early August 2016, I had yet another two-week relentless migraine. To get through my very physical job, I popped Treximet like candy and ate only sugary/carby things because my body screamed for them… until one day I couldn’t ignore THE RED FLAG waving in my face.
I came home from work, exhausted from being in pain all day, and ate a half loaf of that super soft grocery store French bread. What the hell?? I didn’t eat crap like that! In order to curb migraine behavior, I’d cut out all processed foods about fifteen years ago. Rarely ate in restaurants. Made everything from scratch, down to tortillas and bread and pasta. We’d even just bought a grain mill so we could make our own flour using heritage organic wheat berries.
And here I was, standing at the counter stuffing the grocery store white bread down my throat like it was crack.
The connection slapped me in the face. I’d long suspected sugar might be a problem, as well as wheat–even tried going gluten free for a month, with no luck–but I never made a direct connection between my extreme carb cravings during a migraine, and the intensity of the attacks until that moment.
Right then and there, I flipped open my computer and googled something along the lines of “Why do I crave carbs during a migraine?” and found a book that seriously changed my life. Sheesh. I totally teared up writing that line.
I downloaded the book to my Kindle, 100% sure it would be like the gazillion other migraine “miracles” and diets I’d tried, and fail. I’d do everything by the book and still be suffering and I could go back to baking. The end.
But I was wrong. And for once I was glad for it.
Here’s my journal entry from the day I decided to give this a try:
DAY 0 – MONDAY
Here we go again with another attempt to fix my broken head. I finished reading a book called The Migraine Miracle: A Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free Ancestral Diet to Reduce Inflammation and Relieve Your Headaches for Good, by a neurologist, Josh Turknett, M.D.
I spent the beginning of the book rolling my eyes because I’ve heard all of the same things and nothing ever works. But then I got into the part about living on the edge of a migraine threshold, and how the slightest thing will throw me over–which results in constantly chasing triggers, something I totally do–but if you get a good gap between the threshold, you’re less likely to get thrown over so easily. Sugar and grains–the primary contributors to the Diseases of Civilization, according to Turknett–keep us high on the Migraine Threshold. Give them up, you’ll lose the migraines. Long shot, maybe, but what the hell? Why not try it for 21 Days and see what happens?”
BEST move I ever made (other than marrying my feller, of course).
(And in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not getting any payment for this article. I simply wanted to shout from the rooftops how great this is and to get other migraine sufferers on board.)
The day I finished the book was the last day I ate anything with sugar or wheat. August 8th, 2016. I’ve learned instead to make things like these turkey pot pies pictured below, using a mozzarella based crust instead of flour.
Remember, it’s not simply about sugar and wheat. It’s about reducing the overall inflammation in the body, about switching your body from being a glucose burner to a fat burner, about avoiding blood sugar spikes, about keeping that migraine threshold low (the book explains the threshold).
The diet breakdown is 10% Carbs, 20% Protein, and 70% (yes 70%) fat. FAT IS KEY. Good fats, like avocado and olives and grass-fed butter. Fresh mozzarella is great too, like in the decadent Fried Zucchini Lasagne (recipe from Jenny Turknett, Dr. Turknett’s wife) pictured below.
Five months after beginning–with a few tweaks to my carb intake–my migraines became pretty much non-existent. (BTW… my body seems happiest at 30-40 carbs per day, 15 was too low, 50 too high). Once everything kicked in, I dropped from 20-ish migraines a month, to maybe ONE. One!! And they are mild. Cured with salt water and a walk. How amazing is that???
The First Three Months
The first week transitioning off sugar, grains, and high carb foods did some freaky things physically, but mentally I did way better than expected. The second I made the decision to try this, I read everything I could on the evils of sugar and wheat, until sugar and any foods that spiked blood sugar became poison in my mind. Basically, I brainwashed myself. If you think you can’t get off sugar, do some googling. Scare yourself into going full bore.
Dedication is KEY
Here’s the deal with this diet. You can’t do it halfway. You can’t cheat, especially during the transition. A little glucose does a lot of reversing. For my first few months, I stripped my diet down to bare bones, even dropped dairy and nuts in addition to all grains, sugar, and starchy foods. Once I stabilized, I slowly added things back in. With your system purged, you immediately know if you have an issue with that food.
And by the way, with your palate changed, things like these sweet potato ricotta pancakes–made with no sweetener or flour at all–totally satisfy. Someone asked if I use alternate sweeteners like Stevia or Erythritol. Nope. I have no desire to poke the sweet-tooth bear, and I think substitute sweeteners might do that. Really, you don’t need them.
And guess what? The longer you’re on the diet, the less your body reacts to foods that used to send you to hell–those common triggers that plagued you in the past. It’s amazing. Oh, and I lost 17 pounds and hubby lost 30. BONUS! By the way, my hubby rocks. He didn’t need to do this diet, but did it to support me, and he too says he will NEVER go back to eating wheat and sugar.
Also, BE PATIENT. It’s not going to work overnight. Trust the process.
Speaking of the process…
Okay, so what did I mean by the freaky physical things during transition?
Here are my journal notes from first week:
- Days 1-3, easy-peasy, and LOTS of peeing. I know, TMI
- Day 4, feel very fatigued, ocular migraine with barcode, pinching headache.
- Day 5, Wicked low energy all day. Still had weird ocular barcode in the morning. Felt mentally cloudy. Peed A LOT. Tried to do my workout, but man! I just couldn’t keep up with the moves I can usually nail. And cardio? Forget about it.
- Day 6, Felt really great. Energy level came back up. Still a bit of muscle fatigue but overall, didn’t need much food. First time EVER I didn’t feel hungry all day. Woo hoo!!
- Day 7, Diarrhea like you wouldn’t believe. Googled “Keto and diarrhea” and figured out I desperately needed electrolytes. Got some coconut water, and bam! Fixed. Will now supplement with Sports Salts.
- Day 8, Energy and overall well-being STELLAR. Plus, no headache.
This is probably again, TMI, but the breast tenderness and swelling I’d had for years went away. I went down a full cup size after two weeks without sugar and wheat. Bizarre how many things are impacted.
I continued to feel AMAZING–insane energy, no more daily headaches, no hunger–for about twenty days, but then I had some weird issues, like bruising and lightheadedness, so I took the next step in fixing my health and had a full blood panel.
The Blood Work
Turns out, my blood showed “Significant Insulin Resistance,” proving my body can’t handle glucose, and giving me confidence in Dr. Turknett’s approach. Plus my hormones were a mess, likely due to the synthetic birth control I’d taken continuously for seven years, no placebo, in order to control migraines (I took a generic form of Yasmin). Doctor I went to see said I needed to get off of them, pronto, something that terrified me because if I missed even a day, I’d get the migraine from hell.
I ain’t gonna lie. The transition off BCP wasn’t fun. Three weeks worth of migraine pain. But I made it through and am SO happy to be free from the synthetic hormone.
This Doctor also felt the 15g of carbs I’d been doing was a bit too low, so I upped the carbs to around 40g. She was right. Bruising and lightheadedness went away.
I also added supplements, Fish Oil to help my high cholesterol, CoQ10, Calcium, Magnesium, Feverfew, probiotics, and B2.
And one other thing…
Drop the Drugs, Missy (or Mister)
One of the scariest parts of this program–even scarier than giving up baking–was giving up my rescue drug, Treximet and other triptans. Simple truth? Drugs make you worse not better. It’s called rebound. And they’ll keep making you worse and worse and worse, giving you more and more and more migraines. Drugs are the reason–I believe–so many of us went from five to twenty migraines a month.
So seriously. Got to give those up too. ALL OF THEM. Sorry. But hey! Dr. Turknett has several great ideas on how to stop a migraine without drugs. For me? It’s walking, deep breathing, and water. I will never take abortive medications again. Period.
Free at Last
I’m not exaggerating here. I truly am FREE. The last of my “marathon migraines” (and it was mild comparatively) was mid-October 2016. The longer I’m on the diet, the better I feel. I seriously pinch myself sometimes, still not quite believing I have at last, as Dr. Turknett loves to say…
SLAYED THE BEAST!!!
After more than a year on the diet, I’m now at a point where I can’t remember my last migraine! I can go months without even a headache. IT’S AMAZING! I have also been able to increase my carbs up to 100. SMART carbs, like veggies and sweet potatoes, and an occasional corn tortilla, using fasting to combat higher carb meals.
It was time to write a new post, about Life in Phase 4! Click the photo below to check it out.
- The Book – Definitely the place to start in order to truly understand the premise.
- In 2020, Dr. T released a new follow up book strictly about Keto and migraine.
- The Website – Great support, resources, recipes, and ongoing informative articles from Dr. Turknett and his wife Jenny. (Update: He now has a “Beastslayers Academy” which really breaks it down in a series of videos))
- Podcast I did with Dr T in 2019
- The Facebook Group – This group helps tremendously, not only with reinforcement from other people’s success, but to help in a crisis, like on a recent trip, when I got a beast of migraine in flight, just like the old days. Terrified of getting one on the flight home, I put out a plea, got some tips, and their advice totally worked.
- Primal Provisions – Baffled about what to eat? Jenny Turknett has put together a weekly dinner plan, complete with meal prep instructions to make the work week easier. Well worth the subscription.
- The Chatter – An interesting, subscription based Q&A with Doctor Turknett.
- Carb Manager App – If you’re like I was, you know nothing about carb counts. I’d never thought about it. This app really helps get a handle on the carb counts in food, plus, you can put in your macros (10%card/20%protein/70%fat) and it will give you a pie chart of where you are in your food intake.