Migraines, Caffeine and the Low Carb Dream

This morning, I rolled out of bed, had my shower, got dressed and made myself the customary green tea – the only caffeine I allow myself now barring the occasional dark chocolate. I get one cup a day. That’s it. And today I really want more – I want to be on a caffeine high! Forget the fact that the crash at the end is worse than a hangover, I miss my university days where night and day blurred together without margins. It was a poetic time that; I remember watching the dawn on several occasions, struggling to finish the essay due at 9am that day.

“I can only abide mornings from the right way in,” I used to say.

Ah, good times. Then of course came the migraines. Inevitably after a couple of days stoked up on caffeinated beverages – not just coffee, I was a bad, bad girl and mainlined Red Bull, Rockstars, Mothers, and V –  my brain would decide to set itself on fire, release a herd of around a 10,000 mustangs, and rev up the migraine engine. The result was that I’d be forced to spend three days in a dark room, sick to my stomach, doped up on over-the-counter painkillers that made me feel only half connected to the world. When  I first moved in with my then-just-friends-later-husband the first thing he did was put all the coffee out of reach – not hard since I’m literally 5 foot nothing. I remember the first week without coffee being agony, I had shakes, headaches, bouts of anger and depression. It really was kind of pathetic to tell the truth, I mean, it’s not like I’d been on heroin or cocaine…seriously.

After the week of hell and a gentle reintroduction to caffeine through black tea – consumed in moderation! – my migraines became less frequent. Where before I’d have been having them at least twice a month, I was now down to once every two or three months with a few random flair ups in between, but those were minor and manageable. I don’t know how many of you suffer through migraines, but for those of you who don’t, I would like to elaborate a little bit on what it’s like to have them:

Think about an anvil. You know, like in a blacksmith shop. It gets worked over as the blacksmith goes about his business, bending metals to his will. The pressures an anvil faces – not just heat, but physical pressure – is the only thing I can compare having a migraine too. It’s like someone’s taken the inside of your head, compressed it in some sort of vicious vice, and then started hammering down on it over and over and over again with no relief. I used to describe the pain to my brother as a white hot knot of the worse pain you could experience sealed in a pressure cooker that just happens to be your skull. Sometimes I’d experience auras with my migraines: bright lights, spots of colour. Think eyestrain only with shards of broken glass being driven into your eye sockets. Sounds like fun right? And mine aren’t even the worse ones. A friend of mine was telling me that her cousin is literally crippled by migraines – she does not function as a human being because of the pain. I’d always considered myself lucky because I’d only ever experience mine a couple of times a month at most – I’d lose a week, maybe, out of every month – but other people lose entire months, completely unable to do anything.

“Isn’t there any medication out there for this stuff?” you ask, worried.

Of course there is, the trouble is the diagnosis: migraines are not chronic headaches; they have different triggers and medical science hasn’t quite been able to work out just what exactly sets them off. So while for some people a prescription of beta-blockers or blood thinners help combat the symptoms and the triggers, for others it makes absolutely no difference. My only recourse, for example, was the cut out things in my diet that I believed to be the triggers, and number one on that list was caffeine.

Caffeine does funny things to our bodies. It ups our energy levels in one quick burst, almost mimicking a sugar rush. After having cut it out, I now get a racing heart and feel anxious when I have a cup of full strength coffee. That’s because caffeine speeds up our metabolism – albeit temporarily – by causing a release of adrenalin. This makes the liver burn up any and all glycogen (sugar) it’s got in one burst, causing a spike in blood sugar, causing a rise in insulin levels aaaand basically messing with the LC balance you’ve been working on. That said, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone – people who are prone to unstable blood sugar or insulin levels should be wary of their caffeine consumption while on an LC diet, but others seem to be able to drink as normal.  It’s a funny old world, this.

After I started my LC diet I realised that my migraines became a thing of the past and it wasn’t just the lack of caffeine – like I said, only having one cup of green tea, I rarely drink decaf coffee now and hardly ever have black tea of any kind – but also the processed sugars I’d obviously been consuming. The beauty of an LC lifestyle is that you don’t realise how much crap you’re cutting out of your diet until you notice that you’re feeling so much better, your skin’s looking great, and not only are you losing weight but you’re getting some serious muscle definition. The best part, I find, is that people notice and compliment you! Now for me, hopelessly introverted when it comes to face to face meetings – yes, I know…I work in hospitality, don’t ask – the fact that people tell me I look ‘great’ or ‘wow, have you lost weight?’ makes a big difference and gives my self esteem a well deserved boost. It’s important to take those compliments on board: you’re doing this for yourself, but it never hurts to get a little help along the way!

Clear Skies,



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