How Gluten Free Eating Changed My Life and Banished My Migraines

food, food diagram

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to Thoughty Thursday! This is the day of the week that y’all get to be privy to whatever thoughts are kicking around in my brain.

This week, I’m thinking about food and how it affects us.

I know we hear our nutritionist pal, August McLaughlin, talk about the importance of a good diet but I’d never experienced any big red dietary flags of my own (that I was aware of) until this year.

I keep a garden and eat mostly organic. I limit my sugar…blah-blah-blah. I’ve had migraines my entire life so my head has mostly kept my diet in line.

Even when I was pregnant, I felt fantastic. I lost a bunch of body fat in the process – seriously, my hubby gained more weight than I did.

Then I had my daughter. And I started gaining weight.
And gaining…
Then gaining some more.

After almost 40 unstoppable pounds, I was starting to lose any confidence in turning this around. It just seemed that I’d completely lost control of my body.

After my baby was born:

  • The wicked anxiety came. Well beyond post-partum depression, though I had that too.
  • I started catching colds more easily, and they hung on for longer.
  • My left shoulder froze up – I simply could not  raise my arm
  • My thyroid functionality lowered.
  • My cholesterol climbed. Fast.

I woke up every day feeling poorly. And old. And creaky.

I thought, “this is what happens when you have a baby at 41 years-old.” I should just accept it.  Aren’t ALL new moms exhausted?

Frankly, I was too tired to delve into the issue.

Prescriptions started to creep into my life. And too much coffee, since I was freaking exhausted all the time. For the first time in my life, I started eating more sweets – what did it matter? I’d already thrown in the towel.

My big game-changing moment came last February during a phone conversation with Kristen Lamb. I was  crying on her shoulder about the scale jumping 5 pounds after a Sunday when I drank a beer. Not three…ONE.

Kristen was the one who asked me the question that turned out to be the missing puzzle piece to my health: Have you ever thought you might be gluten intolerant?

I’ve gotta confess, I didn’t even know what that meant. But after speaking with her that night, and reading the list of symptoms (I had 10 out of 15), I gave up gluten cold turkey for Lent. My withdrawals were wicked, and lasted for about 8 days.

Kristen, Kait Nolan and Jillian Dodd ~ all online pals of mine ~ answered my questions and directed me to cool resources to educate myself about gluten and how to avoid it.

Holy cowbell, that pesky gluten is in everything. 

Gluten makes you eat more, so I understand why the fast food industry mostly bathes in it. But the #2 ingredient in soy sauce??? Really, food people? Why the hell do you need to put a wheat protein in freaking soy sauce?

Note: Now I just take my own GF (tamarind) soy sauce to sushi restaurants. Easy peasy.

Fast forward to Easter…

I’d given up gluten and I wasn’t so puffy all of a sudden. I didn’t experience the massive weight-loss everyone talks about (dammit) but the number on the scale began going down. It fascinates me that the rate of loss has been about the same as the rate of gain – about half a pound to a pound a week.

Suddenly I had more energy, and I stopped getting heartburn all the time.
That crazy “Honey, are you having a gun fight in there?” gas after meals was GONE.
I stopped taking the half-dose of Prozac for the psychotic anxiety.

Fast forward to today…

Almost 6 months after cutting gluten out of my diet, I’m off all medication except vitamins.

All of them.

  • No Glucosamine and ibuprofen for arthritis-like aches and pains
  • NO thyroid medication
  • No daily Pepcid AC
  • No Beano with every meal (it has gluten in it by the way)
  • No Vitamin D supplements
  • No mid-month Prozac
  • My cholesterol has dropped 50 points

Plus, I have full range of motion in both my arms. I haven’t even started exercising yet! And I still eat pretty much the same – I just substituted the gluten items for non-gluten.

Apparently, now that my intestinal tract isn’t inflamed, I’m absorbing my food better and my hormones and metabolism are getting back to normal. (To be fair, I’ve done some accupuncture for all this too.)

And I still haven’t told you the best part! I know, I know. What could possibly be more amazing than all that?

You remember I told y’all I’ve gotten migraines since I was 5 years old? One guess as to what my biggest migraine trigger is…

Um, yeah. That would be GLUTEN.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when we realized it this last month. In fact, I pooh-poohed Hubby when he put forth the idea. (I believe my exact words were, “You’re on crack!”)

So we started experimenting and, son-of-a-blindfolded-crackerjack, Hubby was right!!

I’ve even engaged in behavior that (in the past) would guarantee a wicked headache:

  • Drinking red wine without taking Claritin
  • Drinking alcohol of any type and eating chocolate.
  • Mixing types of alcohol (are you noticing a trend??)
  • Going a bit long without food
  • Eating sugar before a meal.
  • Not eating protein at lunch.
  • Eating aged cheese.
  • Having erratic sleep patterns.

It didn’t all make me feel fantastic, but none of it gave me the usual migraine. However, if I ingest even a smidge of gluten, the pain comes roaring in like a steel-toed step dancer on the back of my skull. (Apparently the occipital ridge is an “inflammation area” for the human body…who knew?) 

The simple answer is no gluten for me. Ever, ever again.

Note: If you plan to eat out, you need to be ready for the “secret gluten” people give you because they don’t know any better. I always know when they’ve done it because I get the migraine.

I cannot describe to you the shout-from-the-rooftops joy of discovering the secret to my migraines. It’s right up there with “we’re having a baby” or “I sold my book.” Truly.

To be at the mercy of migraines for 38 years and then get a reprieve? It’s incandescent.

Does this mean I think the world should go gluten free? Good God, no. Do you think I’d have given up restaurant bread if I didn’t have to? Please.

Do I recommend you run a test for food allergies if you suffer from vicious headaches or feel poorly over a long time period? Yes, yes, YES!!

August could probably tell you more about this, but here’s what worked for my pals (who have found they have intolerance to things like soy, dairy or chickpeas):

  • Scale down to a pure “cave man”/hunter-gatherer diet for a month.
  • Keep a food diary.
  • Introduce ONE new food at a time back into your diet.
  • Start with the big ones like dairy or soy.
  • If you react, take it back out and add it to the no-no list to re-test later.

This link is hugely helpful: http://www.drcranton.com/elimination_diet.htm

Most of all, I’m shaking my head that I accepted feeling poorly for more than a year  when there were steps I could have taken to feel better. I forgot that we’re each in charge of our own health. You can bet I won’t forget again.

The joy of my new able-to-control-headache existence is too amazing to give up.

What about you? Do you have any food issues or allergies? How have you treated them? Are there any links or resources you’d like to share? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!

Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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66 Responses to How Gluten Free Eating Changed My Life and Banished My Migraines

  1. rosie says:

    Good – delighted you have got rid of your migraines. My miracle cure is 1 dessertspoon full of fish oil every day. My life is transformed.

    Like

  2. Kait Nolan says:

    Oh I’m SO thrilled to hear how well this has turned out for you! That’s just marvelous!

    Like

  3. EllieAnn says:

    I could write a blog post on “How Gluten Free Changed My Life and Made My Stomach Troubles Go Away.”
    Going gluten free was such a game changer for me! It’s challenging, and sometimes I cheat (and regret it) but overall it makes me a happier person. =) Great post!

    Like

  4. I always feel like I’m going to sound silly when I share this, but I have to take a multi-vitamin. I figured out about a month ago that part of my problem was that I wasn’t taking one (before I started feeling so tried I’d taken one religiously), and that was significantly contributing to my ongoing exhaustion. I’m not sure what the deficiency is exactly that the multi-vitamin fixes (perhaps it’s more than one thing), but I couldn’t believe the difference once I started taking them again.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Because of this comment, I took my multi-vitamin today.🙂

      Seriously, now that I don’t have to take all the prescription drugs, I’ve noticed that I’m more iffy on my fish oil and vitamins. I’ve got to get back on that one and you gave me just the reminder I needed.

      Like

  5. Dawn says:

    How interesting. I also suffer from migraines and have wondered if gluten is the culprit (yours is not the first article I’ve read about this). I’m going to look into it for myself, but it is my daughter that I thought of today as I read this. She has many allergies and stomach issues. She tested negative for lactose intolerance, but I wonder if gluten is a bad idea for her. Ok, going to do some research now, thanks for the thought-provoking post, Jenny!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Dawn, something to keep in mind…I tested negative for a wheat allergy. There’s nothing on any of my bloodwork to indicate that this is a problem. I think sometimes you just have to change your diet and test these things yourself.

      Good luck to you and your daughter!!

      Like

    • Kait Nolan says:

      There’s an insanely high rate of false negatives on the blood tests. The only TRUE way (in terms of medical testing) to establish a gluten intolerance is to remove gluten from your diet, have a colonoscopy, add it back, have another. As nobody REALLY wants to do that, ye classic ABA experimental design, wherein you remove gluten, try it again, and determine whether you feel better without it was good enough for us.

      Like

      • Dawn says:

        So interesting. Years ago, when we first went through all her allergy testing, she tested positive for all nuts (which we already knew, unfortunately) as well as wheat. Since she did not have any anaphylactic symptoms from wheat or egg products at the time, the doctor told us not to be overly concerned. Her senior year of high school we had a GI test her for IBS symptoms (there is a family history of chrones so we needed to rule that out). I was more familiar withblactose intolerance so focused on this (she tested negative) but NEVER thought of gluten. I wonder why the doc never mentioned it as a possibility? No kidding, Jenny, after I read this I told my husband and he agrees – we need to tell her to try and go gluten-free and see if that changes things. Seriously, I’m so glad I popped over here and read this piece today!

        Like

        • Jenny Hansen says:

          I didn’t do the colonoscopy quick enough so it wasn’t something I could compare but I did ask my doc to give me a referral for one so hubby and I are going to take turns this year getting that done.

          Like

  6. K.B. Owen says:

    What fab news, Jenny! So happy you finally found out the culprit, and that it’s a relatively easy fix! So are you thinking that your pregnancy changed some aspects of your allergy/metabolism, and kicked the intolerance into high gear? I know you said you’ve had migraines all your life, but obviously the other severe symptoms got going after your pregnancy.

    Isn’t it great that there is so much more awareness of GF and good alternatives nowadays?🙂

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I think my pregnancy might have kicked it up a notch but the real culprit is likely age. A lot of people I know started being more susceptible to the weaknesses in their bodies as they rounded the mid-thrities mark.

      I believe that this train started to derail for me when I got blood clots at 37 years old. That’s when my weight issues started and my waist and mid body started to change. Since I was pumping myself full of anti-coagulants and just trying to stay alive, I didn’t put it together.

      It’s interesting that my migraines were worse during that period than they have been at any other time in my life besides college, although it could have been the stress.

      Like

  7. I’ve had migraines my entire life, and recently switched to a predominately Paleo diet. Definitely see an improvement. Yay! : )

    Like

  8. Marie Trout says:

    YAY! So happy for you Jenny! WooHooo!

    Like

  9. Dahnya Och says:

    Hah! This was like reading a page from my life, minus the kidlet part. I switched to Paleo about six months ago (huh) and haven’t looked back. I’ve yet to go to the doctor to clarify if I have gluten intolerance yet, but the lack of migraines and steady weight loss have been a big enough clue for me.

    I’m so glad Gluten Free worked for you. Congrats on taking control of your life and banishing that pesky gluten! (Also: seriously, gluten is in EVERYTHING. It’s not even a little bit fair.)

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Paleo might be next on my list…I haven’t decided yet. I’m trying to get my gardening staggered out so we ALWAYS have fresh food. Living in California, we can actually do that.

      Like

  10. I’m so glad you recognized your intolerance to gluten, Jenny, and even more that you’re reaping so many benefits. AWESOME! If you don’t mind my adding my two cents, I’d like to point out that gluten does not make, or even encourage, people to eat more. It is found in many heavily processed foods which contain other ingredients, like added sugars and refined grains, which do interfere with blood sugar control and appetite. Okay, back to your wellness.😉 So stoked for you!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love your $0.02, August! And I’ll share it with Kristen Lamb since she passed that on to me. And back to wellness I go….

      p.s. Can you message me your phone number – I want to talk WANAParty with you.🙂

      Like

  11. tomwisk says:

    We can keep our selves healthy by listening to our bodies. You’ve shown that by taking the time and effort to analyze your lifestyle that problems can be solved. That and a brain flash from a friend.

    Like

  12. Amber West says:

    I am SO glad you figured this out! As a migraine sufferer (not so often anymore) of the past, I know how truly debilitating they can be, and how frustrating it is trying to stop them.

    It amazes me how many issues can be lessened with simple changes to our diet. On a sidenote, I have friends/family that thought they had certain food sensitivities/allergies only to find that when they ate the organic or raw equivalent, their issues went away. It’s insane what the various chemicals in our food do to our entire system.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Absolutely, Amber. There is a ton of crap being pumped into our food. If I didn’t have a toddler here, I’d totally keep a chicken or two as well. Fresh eggs and guaranteed no chemical chicken. But I don’t know that I’d be able to kill my chicken and my kid would hate me…so I pretty much scrapped the idea before it took root.🙂

      Like

  13. Rocket says:

    I swear I’m going to love Piper Bayard for linking this. If you could actually send me some information or good links to look at because I’ve decided to make the transition if I can (on disability because of my migraines and my amount of money left over to spend is very little – hence living with my parents at 27).

    I had a GF pizza from dominos last night and it tasted better than their normal stuff. I do understand how huge this is, hence the asking for links/guidance.

    Thank you. And I’m very glad for you!!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Hey, Rocket!! I’ve seen you around and it’s lovely to meet you over here at More Cowbell. I love Piper every day for lots of reasons.🙂

      On the dietary front, I hadn’t tried Domino’s GF crust yet…I’m happy to know it rocked. zPizza’s GF crust is really good. Once you figure out the GF thing, it costs about the same to eat as it did before, mostly because natural food is cheaper than processed food if you cook. If you DON’T cook, going gluten free would be extraordinarily challenging. Do a Paleo diet would be nearly impossible for me if I didn’t cook.

      You’ll want to check ALL the allergies before you assume gluten. I know someone who can’t break down starch in her body. My sister has wicked health issues with soy. If you click on the link toward the end of the post and talk your parents into doing it as a family, it will be much easier for you.

      Thanks for stopping by. I wish you good luck with those migraines. There’s just nothing worse than feeling like you have someone beating you about the head, neck and eyes with an icepick.😦

      Like

  14. prudencemacleod says:

    I am so glad this has worked out for you. I went off gluten and dairy several months ago. I can’t even begin to tell you how much better I feel. Rock on, sister!

    Like

  15. I’m thrilled for you. I’ve had a wicked migraine for two days. You can bet I’m going to give this a try. It never even occurred to me. Thank you!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh, Rhonda, I’m so sorry to hear that. One thing – you might want to get rid of your current headache first and go read the post about my withdrawals. The only that helped me through those first few days were ProMax protein bars, ice packs and coffee.

      Everyone doesn’t have the withdrawals but if you do, they’re gonna suck.

      Like

  16. bronjonesnz says:

    Jenny, once again you have contributed an idea-inspiring blog. I’m going to find out more out this!

    Like

  17. Kathleen says:

    I’m so happy for you! I went gluten free several years ago and it was an incredibly wonderful change in my life! Haven’t eliminated sugar and caffeine yet, but I’m eating less of it. My doctor was not supportive when I brought up the question of being gluten intolerant, but I did it anyway and noticed positive changes within 5-6 days. I can now tell if there is gluten hidden in restaurant food because I get a rash within 20 minutes of eating it.

    Like

  18. mliddle says:

    Hello Jenny!
    This is a great post, Jenny. All my health problems (MS, diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, food allergies, allergies) are inflammation related, like gluten. I didn’t realize that arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease also are inflammation related – which are health problems of my parents. I wonder if some of my fatigue is also from potential gluten problems – as fatigue also comes from MS & diabetes. It’s amazing what we have done to our food & what we eat to wreak havoc on our beautiful bodies. Thanks also for the link. I definitely will explore more the gluten relationship.

    I hope you continue to feel better.
    Monique

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Monique, what have you found works best for you, diet wise? I have two friends with MS and the paleo diet has been the best thing they’ve ever done for themselves.

      Like

  19. Coleen Patrick says:

    So glad you figured it out Jenny! I am also gluten intolerant–found out while trying to figure out other medical abnormalities. A bonus diagnosis! LOL Just last week though I also found out I have small fiber neuropathy and one of the causes can be celiac, so now I might need to get that intestinal biopsy thing done. Did you have that?

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I did not have the intestinal thing done but talk to Jillian Dodd. She really, really went through the wringer to find out she was celiac. Of all the people we know, she’s the one I think would have an answer to your question.

      Like

  20. Wow, Jenny, this is FRIGGING AMAZING! I’m so, so happy for you. My sister has been chronically ill since childhood, and not feeling well has just become a part of life for her. It’s heartbreaking. I’m so glad that you’ve figured out what was causing it and kicked that bad-boy to the curb!

    Now you can REALLY enjoy that bouncy-house post RWA! Jump a little higher for me!

    *hugs*

    Myn

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Kristen Lamb had that experience and being gluten free and dairy free changed her life. I’d talk with her about your sister.

      And you’re right. Before all the new flexibility and joint-ease I got from gluten, I’d have stayed out of the bounce house. But now? I’m in and I’ll be trying to touch the ceiling.🙂

      Like

  21. How brilliant that the migraines went away when you switched to gluten free food. Thank you for sharing your story and the Diet Elimination link. I think that I’ll need it since my husband has had stomach issues for a long time now and he’s tooting from the behind all the time.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      “Tooting from the behind all the time???” You’re so dainty about this, Reetta! It’s hilarious to read. Yes, your honey is in need of eliminating something. Some gas is normal but ALL THE TIME is not. (Let me know how it goes…)

      Like

  22. Fascinating post! I suffered from migraines 4 times a month until I became pregnant. After that the migraines became a DAILY occurrence beginning around 4pm EVERY afternoon. I tried diet, getting more rest (I hear about being a mom, there is no rest) and so many medications! Three months ago I began Botox injections and they have changed my life. I’m me again. Maybe I should have thought about this diet….

    Looking forward to seeing you in Anaheim!

    Natalie

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      OK, if you look really surprised when I’m talking to you, I’ll know why. LOL. I’ve thought about Botox. If they started in the front of my head, I’d have gone for them. But mine have started in the back for quite some time. It’s kind of been the heads up that these headaches are from inflammation.

      I can’t wait to see you too!!! Thanks for making time to comment.🙂

      Like

  23. Piper Bayard says:

    I’ll second this. Going gluten free has had a huge difference in my range of motion in my arthritic hip, and my innards are actually at peace more often than not. And here’s an oddness for you. Now that I’m not eating gluten, I can actually eat a little salt again without puffing up like a blowfish. In fact, I feel better when I do have a touch of salt. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you continue to feel great.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. andrewmocete says:

    That great, Jenny. It’s the worst to feel awful for so long and not know why.

    I have a slight intolerance for dairy. Too much feels like lead in my stomach.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yep, I’m hoping to be able to just stick to one big no-no food group. I think the angst comes when there’s multiple things to watch out for. Sooo glad you discovered your dairy intolerance!

      Like

  25. Cory Imhof says:

    Sis,
    I love this post. If you just substituted soy for every sentence you mention gluten you would have my story. The doctors thought I had fibromyalgia, juvenile arthritis, chronic kidney disease, asthma, IBS you name it and I was FREAKING 19! WTF! I was on a tin of meds with no hope for a future. Thank the lord a chiropractor tested me for food allergies. Once I cut soy out I was 100% symptom free in 9 months. Then we had my hubby tested… no red meat or dairy for him and all his migraines and joint pain cleared up, oh and he lost 60 pounds!! Yes shopping and cooking can be tricky but we found substitutes and are so much happier. We have control of our lives and our health and that is soooo worth shopping inconveniences.
    I’m so happy for you. You get a whole new take on life now.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yes, I’m hoping the weight continues to come off me. I’m starting a new exercise regimen now that i can move my freaking arms. LOL. How fascinating that you both suffered from food allergies…cooking in your house must be a challenge.

      Like

  26. Jenny, I hope you, Kristen, and August realize how many people you are helping with all of the information and first-hand experience you are sharing. I think Dr. Oz needs to have the three of you on his show! Kudos to the three of you!

    Like

  27. Author Kristen Lamb says:

    Having undiagnosed food allergies wrecked my life. In and out of doctors for years taking all kinds of medicines and being treated like I was a hypochondriac. I am so happy my suggestion has helped you so much. It really is liberating.

    Like

  28. Karen McFarland says:

    Son-of-a-blindfolded-crackerjack, this is great news Jenny! Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. That phrase cracked me up! So glad you and others figured it out. Our government and chemical companies are trying to kill us. It’s a slow, torturous death. As a child, I always had stomach problems. I also had the arm thing years ago. At the time several people had it over in Phoenix and we attributed it to the pesticide spraying over there for West Nile virus. Yes, they drive through the neighborhoods fogging this crap in the air. We had to get out of there. Anyway, please let me know what kind of gluten free beer you’ve found.🙂

    Like

  29. I’m thrilled for your discovery, Jenny. It’s wonderful to feel like you have a new lease on life, isn’t it.🙂 I won’t go into the details of my medical issues, but I’ve been gluten-free, dairy-free, chocolate-, tomato-, and orange-free since February of this year. It’s not easy at times, but it’s never worth it to “cheat.” The good news for me is that I’ve lost the tummy fat that plagued me since turning 40 in addition to lowering my cholesterol and ridding of most of my arthritis pains,

    I’m constantly on the lookout for great gluten and dairy-free recipes. I’ll be certain to share.🙂

    Like

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  31. Nell Radke says:

    Muscle tension can cause headaches and by relaxing muscles, especially in the neck, it is possible to relieve migraine headaches. Once the technique is learned there is no longer any need for the biofeedback equipment. The patient with migraine headaches can now produce the desired effect any time they wish. Sometimes too much salt can cause headaches. And by simply lessening the salt intake headaches can sometimes be prevented. Some migraine headaches are caused by food sensitivities. Certain foods can cause migraines and eliminating these foods can prevent migraine pain. Some common foods that can trigger migraine headaches are cheese, alcohol, monosodium glutamate (a food additive), nuts, beans, caffeine, chocolate, onions and others.

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