Friday, January 7, 2011

Update On My Health Status: That Whole Headache Thing

Back in August, I wrote a post on chronic pain. I was suffering from daily headaches and fatigue, on top of all the usual IBS symptoms I'd been dealing with for years. I had done an elimination diet last January, hoping to deal with some of these issues. Unfortunately, my symptoms only seemed to worsen over time. By August, I was a pitiful mess. When I moved to Seattle and began school at Bastyr, I could not wait to make an appointment at their student clinic. Truthfully, at that point I did not think anyone could come up with an answer to my varied and sometimes odd complaints. But by my second visit, I was already feeling better. I now have a regimen that, if followed, keeps me feeling healthier and more energetic than I have in years, and I'd like to share it with you all.


I've put off writing this post because my route to health is somewhat confusing even to me, and I've had to severely restrict my diet to do it. I don't even like to tell people what I'm avoiding because the list is so long it's embarrassing. But it works. However, I've realized that food is not the only solution. As is often the case, I've had to attack the problem from a number of angles to get at the answer. I don't feel completely healed, as I still have to work hard to keep my symptoms at bay. But I thought since you've been here with me from the beginning of these challenges, it was only fair that I share what I've learned. Of course, I don't mean any of this to be prescriptive. What works for me will not necessarily work for you, and I would never have figured out most of this without my naturopathic doctors. So of course, I can only recommend that you read this all as a friend sharing her story, and take what you like from that.


An apple a day keeps the headaches away? Not necessarily, but I do eat a lot of them. Here's what I do to feel my best:

  • Eat a gluten, tree nut, peanut, and sugar-free diet. For me, sugar-free unfortunately includes options such as molasses, honey, dates and agave nectar. I've found that they all have the same effect. Stevia has been the only sweetener I've been using, and I haven't had any issues with it. However, if I cave at all - such as eating molasses spice cookies - I find myself a mood-swinging, crying mess within days. Sadly, this limits a lot of the baking I can do, but I'm working on learning the ins and outs of baking with stevia. 
  • Avoid foods that are high in amines. This is a complicated one, but seems to be directly related to my headaches. I don't have to be 100% compliant with this all the time, but I do have to be pretty careful. I avoid everything that is high on this list. Sadly, that includes a lot of my healthy favorites, such as spinach, avocados, bananas, and pineapple. This may explain why my headaches originally seemed to coincide with starting to drink a daily green smoothie, which I filled with spinach, bananas, and pineapple. Like my other restrictions, this also limits the recipes I can make or test here, which is part of the reason I've been so slow with posting recipes lately. 
  • I stopped eating eggs about a month ago on the recommendation of my ND. I'm in the process of adding them back in, and I'm not sure yet how my body will respond, so eggs are a maybe for now.
  • I take a tincture of Wood Betony, Jamaican Dogwood, and Willowbark after meals. If I've fallen off my eating plan at all, I need to take them after every meal, but otherwise I do fine with once or twice a day. These have been crucial in getting rid of my headaches.  
  • Sleep is key. My body needs a good 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, I often let other things (ahem...Facebook) get in the way of going to bed early. But as simple as this one sounds, it really makes a big difference. 
  • Kundalini yoga at least 3x/week. My housemate introduced me to kundalini yoga, and while I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, it has helped me tremendously. A 45 minute session in the morning leaves me feeling relaxed throughout the day, which has the added benefit of decreasing my food cravings. It also seems to help my digestion, which is always an issue for me. 
  • Finally, I use a netipot if I feel a headache coming on, and it seems to keep it from becoming stronger. I don't do this daily, but only if I feel like it's going to be a bad day.
Phew. Okay, there I did it. That didn't seem so bad. I mean, unless you look at the amine list and realize I can't eat chocolate. Oh, flourless chocolate cake, I've never even met you and I miss you already!


If you've read through all this, thank you for listening, and I would love to hear what makes you feel your healthiest. If you didn't make it this far, then you won't see this anyway, but I hope to be back later this week with a fabulous gluten-free, sugar-free, peanut free, tree nut free, low-amine recipe. And if you just want something to do while you're supposed to be working, you can check out my new photo project on Flickr. My goal is to post a photo a day for the next year, so I'll be updating it regularly.

21 comments:

themommybowl.com said...

Wow that's a tough list. Good for you for recognizing what works for you and sticking with it, though.

Can you do concentrated fruit juices? There's a book out there, the name of which escapes me at the moment but I know it has "sweet" in the title, that is all recipes sweetened with concentrated fruit juices. They're not gluten-free, but you're already good at adapting there.

I would just miss baking so much!

Ricki said...

Iris, maybe it's a reflection of my own crazy restrictions, but your list didn't sound bad to me at all (well, except for the chocolate). ;) I am so glad to hear that you've found a way to keep healthy. Knowing what works and doesn't work is key for each of us, and you seem to have figured it out for now, and are still moving in a better direction. Yay! Those darned sweeteners can certainly be troublesome--have you tried yacon? It doesn't bother me at all (but it's also not very sweet). Thanks for sharing this. It's so great to read some good news about dealing with otherwise difficult health issues!

PS Love the photos--what a great idea. :)

Iris said...

@TheMommyBowl, Fruit juice is on another amine list that I'm not supposed to have. But it's just one of those things I'll have to test out to see. Using fruit as a sweetener is something I've definitely been thinking about.

@Ricki, I would much rather have my avoid list than yours! My list is long, but you have to be much stricter with yours, and I am always so impressed with you!

Valerie @ City|Life|Eats said...

Iris - I am so glad you are feeling better. I am definitely of the school of if you can feel better it's worth many restrictions. I am so impressed you have made so many changes during your first semester of grad school, which is already a stressful time. You know what is funny? After a while, certain restrictions become so ingrained they are second nature - that's where I am with gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and refined-sugar free and mostly sugar-free in general, and also processed-food-free. Like you I have a whole long list of things that help me that are more specific (ie certain vegetable I avoid, like cabbage, and then also exercise, specific supplements, sleep, meditation) but the above are the big food ones. I really think that once the food part of the equation was under control for me, I could focus on everything else, like sleep and yoga and supplements.

So so so glad you are feeling better my friend :)

Valerie @ City|Life|Eats said...

And ps - there is a stevia giveaway on my blog right now :)

Grace said...

It's so so great to see you happy! xoxox

Megan Hassen said...

Thanks for posting this info. I know it is sometimes hard to post such personal info, but it really is helpful to others. I'm suffering from headaches as well, and know it is related to certain foods, but had not heard the amine theory. What a coincidence that avocado and spinach are definitely out for me, and bananas and pineapple are iffy. I've known that sleep, cardio exercise and yoga are important for me to feel well. I'm so happy for you that you've found what works. Who cares about the baking - there's a whole other world of cooking available that many (including me) will enjoy!

Rachel said...

Thanks for your list.

My littlest son is in the midst of RAST testing and searching for causes for bowel issues. I am so grateful to have found your blog.

Rachel

Ellen said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal post. It is hugely helpful for me to read how others deal with their chronic issues. For so long, I dealt with symptoms caused by my yet to be diagnosed Celiac Disease - but I just dealt with them because they were my normal. Your post reminds me to pay more attention to how I'm feeling and not just accept feeling out of sorts. Thank you!

silvercannon said...

Thank you so much for posting this. It's a challenge to post personal, complicated information in a positive, informative way.
I had not heard of amines either, I'm learning about lectins, something I have trouble with. Still fine-tuning and adjusting my diet, I seem to do best with vegetables and some chicken, fish and turkey. My adrenals just crashed again so I'm focusing on that right now. It's a lot of work that I feel I can't brag about like if I'd just written a novel or something.
I just recently discovered your blog and love the way you present this material. Thanks!

Maggie said...

Man oh man, this takes willpower! Good for you Iris. I'm so glad that you're finding some health on this journey - and a way to manage the headaches. It always amazes me that food plays such a HUGE role in our bodies, and you don't realize it until you stop to do something about it. Think of all the people out there who are living with symptoms that could be avoided. Incredible, isn't it? Wish you loads of healthy days in 2011.

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Iris, I'm proud that you've done so much to uncover what works for your body, no matter how difficult it may seem. I'm still working on my issues - and who knows, maybe a naturopath is the answer. We'll see. But I do think I'd be sad about the chocolate thing! Maybe some good carob recipes?

Amy said...

Some day I am going to figure out what foods truly should be eliminated from my diet (I realize that I am the reason I can't figure it out) I love stevia. right now we use it to sweeten our tea, but would love to use it more often. I hope you post more about what you learn about using stevia in recipes!

Just Call Me Zippy said...

My body hates gluten, but I don't have Celiac's. My abdomen feels like a balloon when I eat dairy, but I am not lactose intolerant. I feel icky when I eat gluten free bread, bagels, muffins, etc., and I don't know why. I envy those who can say, "I have _______." For me there has been no diagnosis.

I'm so glad that you are narrowing down what you can and cannot eat. Let me know how the Stevia baking goes. I use it each morning in my coffee, but have never cooked with it.

Farty Girl said...

Wow! Thank you for this amazing insightful and smart post! This has me thinking about food in a whole new way. Amines? Gotta read up on that! I also forgot how gluten can affect one's emotional status... ironically, I've been eating gluten sporadically over the past two months, and my moods have been redonkulous. Thanks so much for the reminders!!!

I am so glad to hear you are feeling better. Being your friend on FB, I can attest - It definitely shows! You look so happy and healthy. I hope you continue to be!

Simply...Gluten-free said...

Yes that's quite a list! Oy. I suffered for years with very severe migraines, as many as 2 a week that would last 2 days each. I also had to find what worked for me. It was tough but I would just keep telling myself that nothing tastes as good as not having a headache feels.

Just a thought - have you had your hormone levels checked? I know you are young but what finally handled my headaches was a combination of a gluten-free diet and getting my hormones balanced. I was in my 20s and yet my hormone levels were off. After I got them balanced (which is an on-going thing) I did not have to jump through as many hoops to keep from getting headaches. Still must be gluten free but was able to add back in a lot of other foods I had to elliminate. Email me if you want more info.

Glad you are feeling better!

xo, c

Stephanie said...

Iris- Thanks so much for sharing your journey. It seems healing is just that, a journey. I appreciate your insight, wisdom and the willingness to share. The low-amine diet is so interesting to me for some reason. Mainly because it focuses on not necessarily the traditional idea of how food effects your body like fiber, calories, antioxidants, ect, but rather the "chemical makeup part" So, someone like you could eat a ton of healthy spinach, avocado salads and it would still cause you issues, which I think is confusing for a lot of people, even myself at times. Your hard work will pay off my dear, and I hope and pray that you will reap all the benefits in the world. Much love, Stephanie

hunterslyonesse said...

I'm trying to catch up on my blog reading this morning while cleaning out my email inbox. I saw the title for this post and I realized, how could I have missed an update on Iris' health? Oh right, crazy work schedule.

I'm so glad you're feeling better! I know how bad that chronic pain is and I'm happy that it's abating for you despite all those restrictions you have. At least you get to add yoga to your routine. :D

Rachel said...

White Flower Oil (embrocation.50webs.com) was introduced to me by my mother. During one of my headaches, she gave me this tiny bottle of oil and told me to massage it on my temples and forehead. Amazingly, it worked! Somehow the oil penetrates into the affected area and relieves the pain.

Iris said...

Thanks for the info, Rachel! I'm going to look that oil up...

flu remedies said...

That is true. There is no such thing as a headache prevention. Mine strikes when the weather is hot and I am stressed.

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