Thursday, January 14, 2010

Common Diet Mistakes:

Not Avoiding Processed and Aged Foods:
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make on this diet is forgetting to avoid processed and aged foods. Remember, even though a food may only contain a few ingredients which seem harmless, if that food is highly processed, our body will not know what to do with it. Fast food burgers are a great example of this. In their ingredients, they may only contain salt, meat, and a preservative (within the burger itself). However, the burgers are highly processed which by nature means they contain MSG. Burgers and burger substitutes bought at the supermarket pose the same problem.

Fermenting fruits and vegetables, and even meats, starts a process which creates more tyramine within that food. On the other hand, canning (without fermenting), freezing, and drying these items slows the aging process down. So, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables (as long as they aren't on the avoid list) should be fine as long as they are not flavored or fermented.

Not Eating Meals Prepared at Home:

I see many people try this diet who continue to eat out all the time. You may continue to eat out if you wish, but you have to be particular in what foods you order and what restaurants you choose. This can make the diet quite limiting. You cannot continue to eat fast food for sure, and many restaurants are not much better. Sauces and gravies are not prepared from scratch, but rather from a base containing MSG, and forget about soups or casseroles. While eating out, you are limited to simply prepared meals with no sauces or gravies, and very limited seasonings if any at all. So, your mouth may get bored. Plus, it's not easy to tell what is in your food, so you may not always know what you are getting. It's better to make a lifestyle change and learn to cook at home. You can make your own gravies, sauces, seasonings and spices, casseroles, burgers, condiments, etcetera, and it is not as difficult or time consuming as you may think. Another plus to eating at home is that it is much less expensive.

Not Following Step 1 of the Program:

For this program to work, all steps must be followed. Step 1 of Dr. Buchholz's program involves eliminating rebound causing medication. Every diet and every preventive measure and medicine in the world won't help you if rebound is still getting in the way. It's only painful for a short while. Yes, I went through it too, so I do know the pain involved. It was well worth it, believe me. I'm much happier now than I was when I was dependent on caffeine and medication. I hear people say to me often "I get headaches every day, so it can't be rebound." If you are taking medication to abort your headache every time or nearly every time you get one, and they are happening often, you probably have rebound headaches.

Not Avoiding Caffeine:

Caffeine can help a headache in process, but it is a rebound causing medication. That's right, caffeine is a drug. That's why many headache medicines on the drug market (prescription and non-prescription) contain caffeine. Caffeine not only makes effective headache medications work faster, but it constricts dilated blood vessels, which is what is causing your painful headache in the first place (there are other factors involved as well). However, once the caffeine wears off, your blood vessels dilate back to a degree greater than they were previously. This is, essentially, rebound headache. You've heard people talk about caffeine headaches, or needing caffeine early in the morning in order to get rid of the stuffy, full, or groggy feeling in their head. It takes more and more caffeine to keep the blood vessels constricted to a comfortable degree. So, to assume that caffeine is not a trigger for you, may not be completely accurate.

Trying to Avoid Gluten:

While following a gluten-free diet can be helpful for many people, it is not the best diet for migraine sufferers. If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, then the gluten-free diet is the one you should be following. If not, then by following a gluten-free diet you are eliminating some unnecessary foods which can provide you needed nutrients, and you are not eliminating foods which should be eliminated. A great example of this is tyramine. Tyramine can be found in citrus fruits, nuts, onions, and other foods which are perfectly fine on a gluten-free diet. It also allows for chocolate, which is a well-known migraine trigger because it contains caffeine, theobromine, phenylethylamine, and possibly tyramine as well. You may find some relief by following a gluten-free diet, and some people will have full relief, because by following the diet you are essentially eliminating many sources of MSG. However, for those of you with more triggers, the migraine-free diet is the better one to follow. You'll be eliminating all possible headache triggers at once, then adding them back in later one by one to find your personal triggers, which I'll talk about more below.

Free glutamate (not the same as gluten from wheat protein), found in tomatoes, mushrooms and peas can be a trigger for some, but it is not high on the trigger list. Feel free to leave these in your diet unless you strongly suspect them. If so, eliminate them for two to four weeks. Then, if you see no improvement, add them back in. Remember, pre-made tomato sauces contain onion and/or onion powder and possibly other triggers which can start a headache. It is best to make these from scratch in your own kitchen.

True, Not Every Trigger is a Problem for Everyone, But...

Did you start a food diary to keep track of everything you were eating, but nothing seemed to add up? Part of the reason for this may be due to rebound headache, as mentioned above. The more likely reason, though, is that triggers are extremely hard to pinpoint. Triggers do not have to cause a headache every time they are eaten. It's possible that you can eat chocolate one day and be just fine, but on another day there is a huge storm brewing overhead, you're stressed at school or work, and you have other dietary triggers stacked up in your system as well, causing the chocolate to be the last straw. It all depends on how many triggers and what amount of those triggers are causing you problems at once. Also, a trigger does not have to cause a headache the same day it is eaten. It can wait to strike for up to two days later. So, with the many unavoidable triggers constantly around you, including lack of sleep as well, dietary triggers are extremely hard to pinpoint. All triggers must be eliminated at once, then added back in one at a time for several days at full force to find out if the trigger is a culprit. Nothing can be added back in, though, until you feel fully healed. By eliminating dietary triggers, you are lowering the trigger level in your body which makes unavoidable triggers (even hormones) less likely to cause a headache for you.

Some of this information comes from information I have learned through the process of writing my cookbook entitled Migraine-Free Cooking!, and some of it comes from Heal Your Headache: The 1-2-3 Program for Taking Charge of Your Pain by David Buchholz, M.D.


  1. I wonder if it's a bad idea to use facial products containing caffeine?! I just noticed today that the facial cleanser and moisturizer I bought contain caffeine. Is this safe for use during these first four months of my strict migraine prevention diet?! Haven't seen or read anything on that topic.

  2. I would assume they are okay to use since you are not consuming them, but I am not a doctor. From the research I've done, that may be taking it a bit too far. I do understand your hesitation though. My thought is that the caffeine in facial products would have only a topical affect if any, but again, I am not a doctor. I hope that helps? Thank you for posting.

  3. Yeah, I have to agree with you. Especially since that was never mentioned in the book. I just thought you might have encountered this before - thanks for responding!

  4. I've become very careful in selecting items from the grocery store and have cut out a lot of triggers by either getting deli items or eating salads. I rarely eat out and prepare most of my foods at home. I've been trying to add a little meat to my diet and wasn't aware of everything to watch out for with hamburgers. Is there anyway to keep hamburgers in my diet and if so, what's the best way to pick out and prepare the meat?

  5. Hi Beth. Thank you for posting. Fresh hamburger meat is fine. What should be avoided is processed hamburger meat, or prepared hamburger patties, or anything like that. They are more likely to contain fillers, flavorings or preservatives that we can't have. What would be best of all is local, organic, grass-fed red meat, because it would provide better nutrients and the cows would not have been fed growth hormones, but it is not necessary to avoid triggers. Making your own hamburgers, chicken, or whichever meat you would like to try, from scratch will do just fine. Happy eating!

  6. Hi debbie here. Can you suggest a gravy or salad dressing I can have.


  7. Hi Debbie. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but any gravy you eat must be homemade from scratch, and can't come from a mix of any kind. I have a few gravy and sauce recipes in my cookbook, or you can find an old-fashioned style cookbook to make them from. Salad dressings may be used sparingly, or you can make your own from scratch using distilled white vinegar. Organic dressings may be better than others, and try to find some that use white vinegar instead of balsamic or apple cider. Hope that helps.

  8. I just purchased your book, and have really enjoyed most of the recipes I've tried so far. The only problem I'm having is with recipes that call for mayonnaise. I have searched the shelves at 4 supermarkets over the past month looking for mayo without triggers, but all have either lemon juice, onion, or both. What do you suggest using as mayo or in place of it?

    1. Kristen- Duke's Mayonnaise (Regular version, not 'Lite' version)does not have lemon juice or onion in it.

  9. Hi Kristen,

    When it comes to mayonnaise, just keep in mind that eating real mayonnaise (from the store) in homemade recipes is much better than the way you (we all) were probably eating before. So, since you are only eating a little bit, find brands that have either lemon or onion, not both. Mayonnaise is considered a salad dressing, a condiment, so the rule is to use it sparingly (and use the safest brand possible). If you're adventurous, you can make your own from an old-fashioned recipe. Either way, have fun cooking, and I hope things are going well for you.

  10. Hello Heidi,

    Thank you so much for posting this site, Im suffering from MAV migraine associated with Vertigo, I dont have any head aches but have the aura of the migraine. The dizziness is hell and Im willing to do anything to get better.
    Onions is a HUGE thing in my diet, we are vegetarians and is getting very hard to cook without onions, or I feel that all I know is with onions, I read the green onions can be substitute BUT my biggest question is : ARE COOKED ONIONS allowed ?? I read they are !!!!! but I would like to hear your opinion.
    Thank you and God Bless YOU.


  11. Hi Teresa, Sorry to hear about your dizziness. That can be frustrating. Some people find that cooked onions are less of a trigger than raw ones, but in the beginning you may want to substitute with shallots or leeks. Then, when your vertigo is more under control, add in cooked onions. You may find that they aren't much of a trigger for you at all, and you may find that they are. I'm sorry I don't have a more definite answer than that, but at least you have other substitutions to use. Feel free to use shallots, leeks, green onion varieties. Thanks for posting, and I wish you the best!

  12. Teresa, I've replaced them with shallots and they are AMAZING! they cook just like onions, and have and even stronger flavor WITHOUT leaving you with onion breath... I just added onions back in and decided that even if they aren't a trigger for me I'm still sticking with shallots!

  13. Heidi, I purchased your book about two weeks ago and I have to say I absolutely love it. This diet is restricting, but your book is so HELPFUL and after a month I just feel healthier when it comes to most things. I haven't eliminated my quick fix (bayer migraine) yet which I take everyday now, but thats my next step. I'm going to take a few days off work and get ready for the migrain...but I know it will be worth it in the end. Any advice on that? Oh and one other question: Is the (instant) plain cream of wheat safe?

  14. To add to my previous comment, my name is Shae Spitzer. I didn't know if I had to set up an accout to post comments on here. I am reading "Heal Your Headaches 1,2,3 Program" by Dr. Buchholz and I agree with everything that he has to say. Like you said, I know that I have to follow step 1 before anything else can be effective, but I went ahead and started the diet on December 26th and have followed it to a T since that day so that I would be accustomed to it. My fiance is very supportive, so he hasn't minded me transforming our kitchen to a migraine friendly one and we haven't eaten out since before Christmas...because frankly I'm not sure how to do that safely. I plan on finding a time in the next few weeks to stop the bayer (the withdrawl period) but I need some advice on that. From there I plan on continuing the full diet for about 3-4 months before I try to introduce anything back in. Although MSG, Caffiene, Chocolate, and anything with Tyramine, Nitrates, Sulfites, or Nitrites will continue to be OUT. I know that I can't tell on my headaches yet because I'm relying on my quick fix, but I've already lost weight, my acid relux is ALOT better, and I feel better about what I'm putting in my body. Thankyou for your cookbook!

  15. Hi Heidi, So I have been following the 123 program for awhile and am feeling much better. I later on found out that I have a gluten sensitivity, so I had to cut out gluten in addition to the 123 program. I recently met with a nutritionist (trying to make sure I am getting all the vitamins,etc. that I need..I a always sick) and I am about to begin on program she has prepared for me that involves supplements,etc. I am supposed to take either a whey protein powder or vegan protein powder. I know I cannot do whey powders with my migraines, but I am hesitant on the vegan powders too. Does anyone have any vegan protein powders that are migraine friendly. I am sensitive to soy so it cannot contain soy either. A lot of the vegan powders are made with peas?? I was not sure about how that would affect my headaches. Is the shear process of making these powders an irritant to migraine sufferers? I just tried one that was made with brown rice and started having some migraine issues..Thanks.

  16. Hi Heidi,

    I have the same question that Holly has re: protein powders. I was getting ready to buy one made from brown rice but just saw Holly's reaction to it. Would like a way to add protein to some foods that are not meats, if that is possible on the tyramine-free diet. Difficult to find information re: tyramine and protein powders. Would appreciate any insight you might have. Thank you!

  17. Hi Heidi,

    I hope this is not off topic, but I am sensitive to basically the very same foods that you cite as migraine-causing -- and I do get frequent, even perpetual, headaches -- but my primary symptoms tend to be fatigue and brain fog. Is this connected with migraines, or not? I have been attributing my sensitivities to a mold/yeast allergy, because many of the same foods are listed. Thank you!

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