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Fighting Food-Related Headaches

Are your favorite snacks to blame for migraine headaches?

Beware of "Brain Freeze"

Most of us have experienced that brief stab of severe pain that comes with eating or drinking something too cold. Previously called ice cream headaches or "brain freeze," this sensation usually lasts less than five minutes. This type of headache is usually felt in the middle of the forehead, but for migraine sufferers this pain can be felt in areas that are affected during a migraine. For people prone to migraines, it can be the beginning of a full-fledged attack.

"You eat ice cream or another cold food and the next thing you know, boom, a migraine starts," Galvez-Jimenez says. According to The Cleveland Clinic, more than 90% of migraine sufferers say they have to be cautious with cold foods and drinks.

Don't Skip Meals

While many people have sensitivities to particular foods, others develop headaches when they don't eat.

"Anything that disrupts your body's normal stability can cause a headache," Diamond tells WebMD. That includes oversleeping and skipping meals.

"It's always important for me to eat the right foods at the right times," says marketing manager Jeff Patton. "That means eating lots of protein in the morning and having lunch on time. If I skip either meal, I get a headache. Then I get crabby and I can't focus, so it affects my work. It's extremely annoying."

But recognizing the link between headaches and skipped meals doesn't make it any easier for Patton to eat according to a regular schedule. "I still get headaches every day," he says, "because I get distracted at work and I don't eat right."

Patton's headaches usually disappear soon after he eats, so he rarely turns to aspirin or other medication. "By eating, I treat the cause rather than the symptom," he says.

Identify Your Triggers

If you get headaches when you skip meals, the connection may be obvious. But if your headaches start after meals, it can be difficult to determine exactly which foods are to blame.

Diamond suggests setting aside some time for an experiment. "Isolate a time, eat the food in question, wait for a reaction, repeat and see if it happens on more than one occasion."

That's how beauty consultant Nicole Ehrhart pinpointed her triggers, including cheese and chocolate. "I've been a headache sufferer my whole life," she tells WebMD. "Through trial and error, I figured out which foods to stay away from."

Keeping a headache diary is another way to spot connections between your headaches and your diet. "One of the first things I tell my patients is to do a food diary," Galvez-Jimenez says. "Map out when your headaches start and what you have eaten that day and the day before."

This more structured approach helped Gerhardt zero-in on processed meats and cheese. "For six months, I made notes about what I ate at every meal, particularly on days when I got a headache. It's not an exact science, but I started to see some patterns. Now that I know which foods to avoid, I get fewer migraines."

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