How to Start A Migraine Elimination Diet

How to get started on a migraine elimination diet

Getting started is the hardest part of an elimination diet and here’s some tips on how to start a migraine diet like Heal Your Headache. I’m pretty sure I cried the first week. But without changes, one cannot make progress! 

  • Get your family on board. This might require some extra cooking on your part and potentially having your spouse read the Heal Your Headache book as well (which I highly recommend in general). If you can stock up on some good HYH safe recipes, it will be much easier on you or whoever is doing the cooking.
  • Choose at least 3-4 recipes in advance that you will make that week. I make this really easy for you with the 5 Day FREE Meal Plan.
  • Plan out your grocery list and method of delivery. Once you have your recipes chosen, write out your grocery list. Because many can be triggered by grocery stores, I highly recommend grocery delivery services like Thrive MarketInstacart, or Amazon. Even if you have to go to the grocery store, being prepared in advance will save you extra trips. I also highly recommend going when the store isn’t as crowded, either earlier in the morning or later at night. FL-41 lenses and a hat can help with the florescent lights. All Dizzy Cook recipes are found here
  • Plan in snacks and quick meals. Sometimes you will feel downright crappy and this will be the easiest time to fall off the diet. Have staples near like sunbutter, crackers, fresh mozzarella cheese, pears or apples and safe berries, and gluten free or regular pasta. It may not be the most amazing meal, but it will get you through to the next day and one step closer to feeling better. Check out the Pantry Staples post for TONS of ideas.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel better right away. These things take time. In fact, they say to give the diet 3-4 months of strictly following before you start to reintroduce potential trigger foods. Should you not feel better by then, you can look at eliminating things like seeds, apples, seafood, eggs, etc. that can have higher histamine content, or potentially switching to a stricter diet like Charleston or Ketogenic. See this post on why your migraine diet isn’t working. 
  • Know that you’re doing this to help you and your family. If this can work for you and make you feel better, it will improve the quality of life for yourself and your family.
  • Eating out doesn’t have to be a distant memory. While it’s much easier to know what you’re getting at home, sometimes it’s just not an option. A good tip is to look at the menu before you go. Try to avoid sauces and items with hidden onions! I find calling ahead can be helpful. If you don’t have that kind of time, mention to the waiter the things you might be worried about in the meal you want. They will usually try to clarify if you have an allergy and be willing to work with you. If all else fails, order a burger or steak (and clarify to only season with salt & pepper) or an undressed salad with some olive oil on the side.
  • Mocktails are your friend. It’s not so bad giving up drinks when you have sparkling water and ways to spruce it up! Cucumber and mint, some rosemary with strawberries, muddled berries in general, a splash of pomegranate juice – all very refreshing! I find even at restaurants they can whip one of these up for you if you ask nicely. Once you get further along into the diet you could try vodka or organic white wines. Try this pear mojito!
  • If at first you don’t succeed…try again. I’m pretty sure I messed up about 20 times my first few weeks. Just stick with it and don’t be discouraged. Overall you’re working towards something much greater and will have reduced your triggers, even if one slips through. Try to be aware of where the mistakes are and carry lists of hidden msg names or “no” foods to help you when you’re shopping. Understand it gets much easier over time and pretty soon you’ll be a pro!

For more about the Heal Your Headache low tyramine diet, see this post.

Alicia was diagnosed with Chronic Vestibular Migraine in 2016 and has been able to successfully manage her symptoms through medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, and the Heal Your Headache Diet by Dr. David Buchholz from Johns Hopkins. She's the owner of The Dizzy Cook.

11 comments

  1. Selena

    Hi there. I really love that you have this site, it’s really helped me a lot in my recent start on the hyh diet. I’ve been on the diet a few weeks now & I feel it’s getting easier but I find myself looking at all your recipes for ideas! I came across this section this evening after having a horrible migraine & trying to figure out what I did wrong or what my factors where to avoid it like the plague, and your words really made me realize it is going to take some time and to not get discouraged. I just wanted you to know your site has helped me so much with this. Thank you! I also wanted to ask if you know anything about fresh cut deli meats at fast food places like Jimmy Johns, Jersey Mike’s, are they safe if on not on fresh baked bread?

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Hi Selena,
      Thank you for reaching out. I’m so happy this site is helping you. You are so right! You just cannot get too discouraged or be hard on yourself, overall you’re helping yourself in the long run. It just takes some time to get down. I had wonderful support groups, but I wish I could have had a site like this when I was first starting too. Sometimes trying to think of what to make is the hardest part!

      As far as deli meats, I would not trust them at restaurants. When you go on their site (https://www.jimmyjohns.com/about-us/our-food/) you’ll notice it says no msg added or no nitrates added…which is basically code for it’s already in there, we just didn’t personally add them! Those “natural ingredients” are typically code for msg or ingredients that can give you the same reaction. Even deli meats at the grocery store should really be avoided if you’re first starting. They’re usually not fresh and full of tyramine and histamine or preservatives. For lunches, I liked to get a “naked” (no spices) organic roasted chicken and use the meat for sandwiches.

      Reply

  2. KAREN E OHRN

    My 16 year old daughter has chronic headaches and has been on medication for a year. they don’t really help and now we are trying the heal your headache diet. She is on a gluten free diet. Most gluten free recipes include xanthan gum including bisquick pancake mix. Do you recommend not using that and staying off xanthan gum?

    thanks for your info.
    Karen

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Hi Karen – I recommend avoiding xanthan gum as much as you can within the first few months. I realize that’s probably really hard with a teenager! It takes a little extra effort, but there are a lot of GF options out there without it.

      Here’s a recipe for pancakes that I love – https://thedizzycook.com/2019/03/05/vegan-buckwheat-pancakes-gluten-nut-and-egg-free/
      Jenn also has a lot of great baking recipes that don’t include it – https://thedizzycook.com/category/recipes/glutenfree/

      If you make flour without it, sometimes arrowroot starch or psyllium husk powder can be good binding substitutes. It may end up that it doesn’t bother her and she can just add it back in.

      Reply

  3. Shari N Marion

    HI.
    I ‘ve suffering since 8/2018 with this. Would you mind telling what meds you take? I don’t like to take meds but it’s to the point that its too much anymore. I can’t travel so days i can’t get out of bed. If I go to the market forget it I’m done for 2 days. I got the ear pluges and wrist bands it work going to my vacation but coming home it hit me even when using them. any advise would help. Thank you.

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Hey Shari, Sorry to hear this. Have you seen this post? It talks more about the meds I take. My neurologist recommends for me to keep a low dose of valium or ativan on hand for any bad attacks that pop up, or before airplane travel which tends to trigger me as well.

      Reply

  4. Alisha

    Hi Alicia,

    My name is also Alisha. My 19 year old son was recently diagnosed with vestibular migraines. We are working with an ENT who specializes in dizziness and seems to be quite knowledgeable about VM. My son has been dizzy, off balance and feeling “far away” for the last ten weeks. It’s getting really difficult for him to deal with a chronic illness at this age. He is on his third medication with no real progress. I have just recently introduced the idea of the heal your headache diet to him. This is extremely overwhelming for both of us. He is a very picky eater and like the typical teen he loves burgers, pizza, and junk food. I was so happy when I found your site. It’s such a great place to read and learn more information about this debilitating condition, and it makes us both feel like we aren’t alone. Any tips you have would be so appreciated. My concern is that he only receives minor relief after a good nights rest. Have you heard of this lasting consistently for this long ?? Thank you again for making this site ! I have your book on order from Amazon. Sincerely grateful, Alisha

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Hey fellow Alisha! I’m so sorry to hear he’s been struggling. There’s so much trial and error when it comes to this.
      He can still eat a lot of the burgers and pizza, unfortunately it just means you have to make more at home (although surprisingly McDonalds hamburgers are ok if you leave off all the sauce, Chipotle has some good options too). With pizza, I use an onion free sauce recommended from the Pantry Staples page and a compliant pita or naan bread for the base. There’s also yeast free doughs you can make or you can use a cauliflower crust (not sure how thrilled he will be about that). Top with fresh mozzarella and basil. Goat cheese and veggies. Seasoned ground beef! There’s a few options there.

      Unfortunately I’ve heard of people having this for over 20 years. Thankfully we know more about it now (it’s only been recognized as a diagnosis in the last 10). Most of those people never got the proper treatment or help. With most of my friends who really tried everything, they’re at some point in their recovery. Migraine can also go into remission, so it’s not always a forever thing. Often we just have to manage it, which really becomes second nature. Actually Carl Cincinnato (https://migrainepal.com/about/) who also does the Migraine World Summit used to be chronic and went into remission so you may have to check out his story from a male’s point of view. 🙂

      I also recommend checking out the magnesium article and looking into that for him. It could be helpful. And if you’re looking for more support, the migraine strong facebook page and The Dizzy Cook Recipe Chat are a good place to ask questions about meds or recipes. I hope that helps!

      Reply

      1. Anonymous

        Alicia,
        Thank you for the quick response and the suggestions. I started the HYH book today and I’ve almost finished it. I can’t begin to tell you what hope this book and all of the information on your site gives me and my son. I gained so much understanding by reading the book, and without the suggestion from your site I may not have found it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart !
        Alisha

        Reply

  5. Lindsay

    Hi, Alicia. I started following your website a few months ago when I decided to try the HYH diet, and I so appreciate your recipes. I’ve been using so many and look forward to your cookbook coming out next year! One question I have is about sparkling water. Since giving up Diet Coke, I’ve been drinking La Croix and Bubly, both which have natural flavors. When I drink it, I stick to fruit flavors that don’t trigger migraines, like strawberry and cherry. I tried to do some research on these brands of sparkling water but didn’t find relevant information on them containing MSG. Curious what your thoughts are!

    Reply

    1. Alicia

      Oh thanks, Lindsay! 🙂 I think they’re fine if you’re doing ok with it. They’re certainly safe on HYH the way you’re doing it. I will say I have some friends who are triggered by these drinks for reasons I have yet to figure out. But half of discovering migraine triggers is just being aware of what bothers you personally! When natural flavors typically refer to MSG it’s in savory foods…or like you’ll see on a butter package sometimes.

      Reply

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