I’m no stranger to headaches. I’ve been having massive, brain-crunching headaches since I was a teenager. I was diagnosed with TMJ (read: I clench my jaw as I sleep, creating tension headaches) and getting fitted for a custom mouthguard helped considerably. So did regular massage therapy. But my headaches just refuse to go away completely. Even muscle relaxers don’t take the edge off. I wake up some mornings and wish someone would put a shotgun to my head just to end them. They were particularly awful a few weeks ago, which led me to make a very tough decision.
It was time to change my diet.
Because I work a retail job with crazy hours, my diet wasn’t awesome. The siren call of mall food is sometimes impossible to resist. I was eating a lot of junk, from pizza to Dairy Queen to candy to Starbucks coffees loaded with sugar. It was bad. And did I mention the beer? A green smoothie once in awhile wasn’t going to drastically improve my daily food intake. I had cut all dairy besides a little cheese already, so I knew I could do it. I had to make some changes.
Because I’m not good at sticking to a plan unless it’s kind of drastic, I decided I would cut out the refined sugars and sticky glutens that I was consuming. I know going “gluten free” is trendy right now and it makes me roll my eyes too, but I felt shitty and didn’t care. I’d give it a chance. I would cut way down on caffeine too, which might alleviate some of the headaches and save me a little money during the week. No more two-a-day iced venti coffees. It was drastic and probably a little crazy, but I decided I would stick to it for two weeks and see if I saw any improvement.
Here’s what I learned:
1. You can’t get Starbucks when you don’t eat sugar. Really, you can’t. I don’t like black coffee; I need a little bit of sugar. I’m definitely not one of those girls who gets Frappucinos or sugary lattes, but for me to truly enjoy coffee it needs to be a little sweet. Raw sugar just doesn’t dissolve the same way. And you can’t eat ANYTHING at Starbucks when you’re sugar and gluten-free. Which sucks because it’s convenient, but in the long run it saved me a lot of calories and cash.
2. Say goodbye to cheap bread! A loaf of bread used to cost me $3 and last two weeks. I asked a friend who actually has celiac disease about any gluten-free bread options because I couldn’t just give up my favorite avocado toast, and she said Udi’s was good toasted and easily available. Of course, a loaf is $5. But it is pretty good!
3. Life is sad without pizza. My roommate ordered some one night and I scraped off the toppings and left the crust and dough. It was sad. I ordered a gluten-free pizza one night but probably won’t again; it was $20 for a tiny personal size.
4. You will cave. I caved to sugar three times: once for a bag of M&Ms I just HAD to have during a 12-hour shift, once to a small DQ blizzard and once to some cake at a party. I caved to gluten only once; I can’t resist a freshly-baked baguette!
5. Bring food to work! I brought salad supplies to my job and made a little salad every day on my break. It’s so easy, I don’t know why I wasn’t doing it before! Every morning, I would get up a little earlier to make a green smoothie to take along too.
Here’s my recipe:
2 large handfuls of greens (I use the prebagged “Juicing Greens” of spinach and kale from Target, but you can use whatever you prefer. Spinach blends the best and is my personal favorite.)
Splash almond milk
A little water
Every day, I blend this mix together and take it to work to drink in the afternoon. I’ve started to crave it instead of candy, and instead of getting fat grams from, say, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, I’m getting good fats from the avocado. My hair and skin LOVE avocado.
6. YOU WILL MISS BEER SO MUCH. I miss beer INSANELY. I haven’t tried a gluten-free beer option yet, but they exist. I drink ciders or vodka/sodas instead, but I’m still craving beer like nothing else. I was a “beer or two after work” kinda girl, so this is an adjustment for me.
7. It’s hard to get tired of veggies during grill-out season. I don’t love veggies at ALL. It took me 25 years to actually try and enjoy a salad. But I live for grilled Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower … even those cute baby lettuce heads, halved and drizzled with olive oil, are delicious when you grill them. Who knew that vegetables were delicious? (I still won’t eat raw celery or carrots, though. Gross.)
8. People will roll their eyes at you. Hey, I roll my eyes at me too. Going gluten-free could be hooey; I’m not saying it’s not! I think all trendy diets are kinda hooey. I’m only speaking from personal experience here.
9. It sucks for a week. But it gets better. I replaced my beloved coffee with black iced tea (no sweetener!). I upped my water intake, which was already pretty good. I had raspberries for a snack instead of candy. When I wanted sugar, I subbed in raw honey. I was having sugar and caffeine withdrawals that intensified my headaches, but I didn’t cave. I’d allow myself a cup of coffee or two on Sunday mornings with honey and almond milk, but that was it.
10. Week two was way better. Guess what? I FELT better. My skin got brighter. I woke up earlier and didn’t feel tired. I didn’t completely lose all energy by 4 PM. My stomach felt flatter and I lost a little bit of the bloat I was carrying around. And the best part? I didn’t have a headache for three mornings in a row. That’s a miracle for me.
It’s week three now and I don’t plan to stop. If you have nasty headaches like mine, try it out. Up your greens, cut your sugar and see if it works for you!