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9 ways to minimize the impact of food, drink & stress on migraines during the holidays

The holidays are one of those times where it’s challenging to stick to your usual routine and eating habits. There’s constant temptation and sugar and alcohol overload in every corner…. Ok now with the pandemic, the effect might be lessened depending on where you live, but still the festivities are a real challenge not only for every migraineur.

So let's talk about what you can do to minimize the chances that the holiday period brings on a migraine or sugar hangover. With these strategies you can at least significantly reduce the chances of being struck with a migraine during the holidays.

Essentially, they will help you mitigate your blood sugar response, gut disruption, and the amount of migraine-inducing substances and stress that hit your brain.

Many different foods and drinks can trigger your migraines, and they are especially abundant in times of festivities:

  • High sugar or carbohydrate meals (cookies, baked goods, pastry, bread, pasta, desserts)

  • Alcohol (especially beer and red wine)

  • Caffeine (may also relieve migraines in some)

  • Aged cheeses

  • Chocolate

  • Food preservatives containing nitrates and nitrites such as luncheon meats, smoked meats and fish

  • Artificial sweeteners (common in soft drinks, candy, baked goods, and canned foods)

  • MSG (Monosodium glutamate (flavor enhancer commonly found in Asian food, canned vegetables, soups, stock cubes and processed meats)

The best is of course to avoid these food and drink triggers. It can be difficult to determine which of them triggered your migraine, that’s why keeping a food journal can be helpful to identify common foods and/or drinks before migraine attacks.

Here are a few strategies to help you:

  • Keep in mind your brain loves routine: try to stick to your regular eating and sleep schedule as much as you can. don’t apologize if you go to bed earlier than others - just do it!

“Anything that gets you out of your normal routine can cause a headache, because the migraine brain likes to be as steady and stable as possible,” Katherine Hamilton, MD.
  1. Make sure you stay hydrated and get enough minerals - especially if drinking alcohol, make sure you drink extra water. Water can mitigate the dehydration that comes with alcohol (which is a diuretic) and it dilutes the amount of alcohol, but also the amount of migraine-inducing substances in the blood, meaning the brain "sees" a lower concentration.The more water consumed along with it, the lower its concentration. So consume an extra glass or two.

  2. Eat whole and simple foods (avoid packaged and ready-made also for the sake of migraine-triggering preservatives)

  3. Don’t skip meals and stick to FAT FIBER PROTEIN with each meal this will help keep your blood sugar levels stable

  4. If eating foods or drinks from the avoid list - consume them early! Migraines are more likely to trigger while we're sleeping… and that’s much less likely to happen if you go to bed with nothing left in your stomach to digest (aim for 4 hours between your last meal and bedtime), and for the effects of your last meal to have fully passed.

  5. Get a fresh air break daily - You(r brain) need(s) oxygen and fresh air every day — even if the weather is shitty. This also allows you get a break from family and get some alone time (or time for 2) to reset. And if the weather is really that bad, that you can’t go outside, try a short indoor workout of yoga, dancing, thai chi or whatever you like instead.

  6. Get organized: make a list of things to pack and prepare so you don’t have to stress last-minute.

  7. Shop online to avoid the crowds, bright lights and scents

  8. Cut yourself some slack and make time for self care! Make sure you set yourself reminders in your phone to make time for self care (if you need to be reminded) and that can be as simple as sneaking away with a cup of ginger tea and enjoying 10 minutes of quiet. I also love making an Epsom salt foot bath which provides extra magnesium and warms you bottom up: just add 1 good handful of Epsom salt to a bucket with hot water and some bicarbonate powder (you can also add relaxing essential oils like lavender for instance). Get in a short meditation or Yoga nidra upon waking or before bed (I use Insight timer app or search on youtube). Don’t feel embarrassed to do this - probably your family won’t even notice and in return you will be able to be present and enjoy the holidays.You will be glad you did this for yourself and your body will thank you. Also, don’t underestimate the positive stress on your brain when looking forward to something: for me this has been a huge trigger in the past - daily meditation, walks in nature or other grounding practices can be helpful mitigating this.

It’s true that most people don’t understand how sensitive migraine sufferers can be to all these stressors and triggers - for them it’s not a big deal at all… And that makes it so much more difficult to stand in for yourself because others don’t understand and might mock or you disapprove - at least that’s how it is in my family, but I just ignore it now and go do what’s best for me -even if I have to hear them bickering about how strange or difficult I am and why I can’t just be NORMAL.

I hope that these strategies are helpful for you and that they inspire you to stand up for yourself!

Happy holidays!


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