Tyranny of the Headache

As long as I can remember I have suffered from Migraine Headaches, Sinus Headaches, and on occasion Cluster headaches. By suffer I mean, there were years where I would average 2-3 headaches a week, and 4 or 5 debilitating headaches a month. By debilitating, I mean I could not do anything. I couldn’t be in light, around loud noise, in warm places, walk, or read. I literally had to lay down in a dark room with an ice pack and pray that the cocktail of pills I took put a dent in the headache or that I would fall asleep. I would wake up with headaches. Want a wonderful day, try waking up with a throbbing pain behind your eye that, as the day wears on, turns into a full blown migraine. Not a wonderful situation.

I have been on a variety of different medications, from over the counter to prescription to holistic. Each seemed to work with various success. For my migraines, the quickest solution was often Imitrex, but the nausea that I would get would be just as bad as the migraine. I had my favorite pill cocktail which was 2 extra strength tylonol, 2 Excedrin migraine, 2 Excedrin Sinus, and while it was still available, 2 Dryxoral. I even would get cold stone massage treatments and acupuncture. Like I said all of these would work to some degree, but most of the time, I just had to suck it up and deal with them. My doctors often just wanted to prescribe more pills. After a while though, you just give up on pills. I mean, after a while the pills lose their effect and you start to worry about the way the pills hit your liver and kidneys.

Resigned to the fact that I would just have to deal with the headaches, I eventually just stopped with the pills altogether. If I got a headache, I’d muscle through it until I could go to bed. With being a stay at home dad or being part time employed and a part time at home dad, that wasn’t always the best situation for my sanity, but I stayed with it.

Well, 57 days ago I started P90X, partly on a whim, partly because I wanted to get into better shape for my wife and daughter. I was going to go all in. The week before I started I gave up soda. The week before on a family vacation I drank my way through 7 2 litres of coke in 7 days. When we got home, we didn’t have any pop in the house and I went through just horrible caffeine withdrawal. So I just quit. Back to P90X, I didn’t just get the DVD’s and start going through them one by one. I got their excel sheet that has the scheduled work outs, the charts, the measurement page, and the meal plan. Yes there is more to the work out then just working out. I got on the meal plan as well.

The meal plan is 3 parts. the first thirty days is geared at muscle-building, fat shredding, as quickly as possible. The next phase is about muscle-building, the third phase is about maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle.  At least that’s my take on it. The first phase though is tough. You start off by eating a lot. I had to up my calorie intake to 3200 calories a day, 1400 of which ended up being protein. I was allowed 100 calories of carbs, 100 calories of fruit, 100 calories of dairy, and the rest was primarily vegetables. I stuck with the meal plan.

26 days into P90X, I noticed something. I had only had 3 headaches. Less than one headache a week. This was a major drop off in headaches for me. I had gone several years of 2-3 a week. What had changed though? Well two things changed. First I was working out every day. In general I get stressed out, all of the time. Working out though eased that stress and I think that cut down on my headaches. Secondly, the meal plan. The meal plan had a large impact on my health and headaches. First off, I knew there were some foods that could cause headaches. I never paid much attention to it though. I started looking into foods though that could trigger headaches and found quite the list.

  • Peanuts, peanut butter, other nuts and seeds
  • Pizza
  • Potato chip products
  • Chicken livers and other organ meats
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Sourdough bread, fresh baked yeast goods (donuts, cakes, homemade breads, and rolls)
  • Bread, crackers, and desserts containing cheese
  • Certain fresh fruits including ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, pineapple
  • Dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates)
  • Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon (not homemade broth)
  • Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt
  • Caffeine found in chocolate and cocoa; beverages such as coffee, tea and colas; also found in certain medications
  • Aspartame and other artificial sweetener

The following types of cheeses have been reported to be high in tyramine:

  • Blue cheeses
  • Brie
  • Cheddar
  • Stilton
  • Feta
  • Gorgonzola
  • Mozzarella
  • Muenster
  • Parmesan
  • Swiss
  • Processed cheese

Other foods high in tyramine are: aged, canned, cured or processed meats, certain beans (fava, broad, garbanzo, lima, pinto), onions, olives, pickles, avocados, raisins, canned soups, and nuts.

What Food Products Contain Additives?

  • Hot dogs
  • Ham
  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Luncheon meats and deli-style meats
  • Pepperoni
  • Other cured or processed meats
  • Some heart medications
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG is a food additive/flavor enhancer found in soy sauce, meat tenderizer, Asian foods, and a variety of packaged foods.

I went through this list and noticed something. I wasn’t eating a majority of this food any more. I love cheese. I would sit and just eat a brick of Cheddar cheese. That would be a snack for me. Well Cheese was essentially cut out of my diet. With that went a huge migraine trigger. I cut out a large amount of processed foods, I was eating more vegetables, more eggs, less processed meat. With that though my headaches largely went away. The 3 headaches that I did get though were stress related. They all started or took place around some trying times in my life.

All in all though, if throughout the rest of P90X workout program I continue to not get headaches, it will be even more and more motivation to continue to stay working out as well as be healthy. As much as I love sugar, and sweets, and candy, oh god do I love candy, I love being free of the tyranny of headaches even more. To me it seems easier and healthier to live slightly healthier than to keep popping pills and hoping for the best.


Lazy Dad

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