The Heal Your Headache diet by Dr. David Buchholz is meant to be a migraine elimination diet, which means you’re strict about it for a period of time with the intent to re-introduce foods when you feel better. The reason for this is not only to discover if you have any migraine food triggers, but also to lower your migraine threshold.
How to Increase Your Migraine Threshold
Increasing your migraine threshold can be done in a number of ways. Migraine Strong likes to call this the Treatment Pie, where you combine pieces of exercise, medication, supplements, hydration, sleep schedule, therapy, diet, and whatever seems to help you best into your treatment plan. These pieces stack on each other to increase your overall threshold for getting a migraine attack. For this particular pie, we want it to be a deep dish and not thin crust...luckily you’ve reached the point where you can start to think about eating lots of pizza, right?!
Another reason to increase your migraine threshold is to allow your brain some time to calm down. It’s been in hyperdrive with attacks and every little thing seems to set you off. Taking potential food triggers out of the mix can aide with this process over the course of a few months. So even if you don’t discover a bunch of massive food triggers, you can still be helping yourself improve by following the diet.
Why Be Strict on a Migraine Diet?
If you’re not strict and eliminating everything on the plan, you may be allowing that threshold to lower, even just a bit. This opens yourself up to being triggered more easily by bright lights, loud noises, movement, etc. Also if you’re eating something every so often that’s actually a trigger for you, it’s difficult to see if you’re also having symptoms daily. Some people have a spike in symptoms that are even worse than what they experience daily, others just can’t tell.
Being strict takes out any guesswork. You don’t have to wonder if it’s the chocolate you had last night or the wine you had this morning…what? Maybe I should flip that…
Having a set plan and testing foods in a controlled setting will make it obvious what your food triggers are.
When Do I Reintroduce Foods After an Elimination Diet?
Eileen from Migraine Strong wrote a great article about recognizing “baseline”, which means a reduction in severity and frequency of attacks. This can be different for everyone. For me, personally, I waited till I was having a good amount of totally dizzy free days to reintroduce foods.
When I began the Heal Your Headache diet, I was still having 24/7 dizziness, lightheaded symptoms. I had been on medication and supplements for about 4 months and was feeling a bit better without severe vertigo, intense disequilibrium, or dissociative vestibular migraine symptoms. Occasional I would have the walking on marshmallows feeling and pretty bad light and sound sensitivity. I literally did a migraine diet and cooked at home for months so I COULD actually go out and enjoy a restaurant without wearing sunglasses and wanting everyone in the room to shut up. A part of me figured, it has to get better than this.
Changes at 2 Months, 4 Months, and 8 Months
About 2 months in I wasn’t noticing a huge change in my symptoms. I still had daily dizziness and I was very frustrated I was putting in all this work for zero changes. That night I tried tzatziki with my lamb dish, which contains yogurt. Yogurt was an item I used to eat daily for breakfast and I never noticed that it spiked my symptoms at all. Within 30 minutes, the table felt like it was moving on me and I experienced a really severe attack, similar to what I used to go through before taking medication and supplements. I decided there must be something to this and I should stick with it a little bit longer.
About 4 months in I was feeling better and started having actual breaks in my dizziness, but was still experiencing symptoms daily. So I stayed the course.
Finally around 7-8 months I felt comfortable reintroducing foods. I was having actually dizzy free days, or the dizziness would be so light it really wouldn’t bother me. I could exercise, travel, and drive again without being nervous at all. This was my “baseline”.
How to Reintroduce Foods on a Migraine Elimination Diet
The best way to do this is to test them in a controlled setting. It shouldn’t be over your period, during final exams, when your in-laws are visiting (unless you love yours like I do), during crazy weather changes, etc.
Test one food for 3-5 days. They say food triggers can show up 2 days later, but I think that’s a little extreme. Most of mine were within 30 minutes to a day at the most. They were also pretty obvious. I’d have a noticeable spike in symptoms. And this is why it’s easier to wait till you’re having symptom free days.
If you start to get really bad symptoms and don’t think you can continue for the whole time, I like to write that food down and keep it in my memory. Continue to eliminate it and try to reintroduce later.
My 5 Tips for Reintroducing Foods on Heal Your Headache
- Start with the foods you miss the most. This could be foods just love or it could be the foods that cause a total pain for you to not eat – like onions or citrus. I started with onions, citrus, and avocado. I love avocado, but being able to eat citrus and onions really opened some doors for ordering out. Especially with salads.
- You don’t have to reintroduce everything. There are some foods I don’t love and never reintroduced. For instance, I never did an official re-introducing of peanuts because I found I loved sunflower seed butter so much more. I’ll eat it here and there at restaurants and it doesn’t seem to bother me, but I overall I just don't really care to bring them back in. And things like MSG and additives, my life is just better without. I personally love reading labels now and choosing the best options for my health.
- Food triggers aren’t necessarily triggers forever. Just because something triggers you now, doesn’t mean it will a year down the road. As you begin to feel better, it’s sometimes easier to tolerate more. This was definitely the case for me! Things like avocados and cashews used to bother me, but now I tolerate them fine.
- Be patient. This process does take time. I know when you’re feeling better all you want to do is eat all the foods, but going off the deep end may end up in a few unexpected attacks or decrease that threshold real fast.
- Don’t let others influence you. My big triggers are yogurt, most nuts, and caffeine. It doesn’t really make sense and I can’t draw a conclusion as to what I’m reacting to as far as tyramine or histamine, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Those just make me feel like garbage. I’m automatically dizzy and out for the rest of the day. I’ve had so many people try to tell me a migraine diet is BS and that nuts are good for me or I need the probiotics. You know your body best. Don’t let anyone else tell you what it needs.
The Willy Nilly Approach
I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t perfect on my reintroduction of every little thing. I was one of the impatient people I tell you not to be above. Now I didn’t go crazy for days, but I did go out to eat and enjoy myself a little bit more. I was feeling good! And reintroduction the "good old boy" way takes a really long time. I always tried to stay away from my big, known triggers, but I didn’t grill the servers about what is in everything I might be ordering. There were times it lashed back on me and I couldn’t pinpoint a source. It’s easy to blame food, but it could have been the candle flickering or the loud noises combined with potential food triggers.
Sometimes I could draw a connection. Like in Burgundy when we had a dish full of walnuts and I felt so dizzy the rest of the day. It really raised a red flag. I do believe you can kind of gauge triggers this way if you’re really in-tune with your body. It’s certainly not the recommended approach, but we’re all human.
This is actually how I discovered almonds were a trigger of mine. I didn’t officially test them, but my local grocery was out of Oatly oat milk and I thought I would give the Malk Almond Milk a try. Almost instant dizziness, just like caffeine. The same thing would happen if I went out and had a dish with a lot of almonds in it. I eventually pieced all of this together to decide it was a personal trigger.
So are you ready to re-introduce some foods?! If there’s anything you’d like to know more of, just ask below in the comments!