Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Jan

No Grains Equals No Migraines

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

The first time it happened I panicked. My vision was slowly filling up with shiny blobs of light. Instinctively I went to a dark room and, 15 minutes in, I couldn’t see. Eventually it ramped down just like it ramped up. And as soon as it cleared, the pain started. I was never one for much pain medication, so I just put a cold rag on my forehead and bore it. Then the nausea kicked in. The pain subsided after a few hours. But it happened again the next week. And the next.

The third time, I hyperventilated from the pain and my boyfriend drove me to the hospital at 2 a.m. A scan cleared me of any brain tumors and I was diagnosed with ocular migraines. The doctor gave me a prescription for a drug used to help cancer patients deal with nausea and told me to get a bottle of Excedrin.

People who have had ocular migraines know what I’m talking about. It fills your world with panic. What will trigger it next? Bright white snow? Car headlights? My mother tells me my aunt gets shots to stop them, so I figure it must run in the family. I became attached to my sunglasses. I’d wear them even at night sometimes to block building or street lights. I had to pull over in my car once because I couldn’t see through the “shinys,” as I called them. It’s not a good way to live. As a college sophomore, I was kept out of class and work with pain. I eventually learned to stop the pain by taking the Excedrin as soon as I saw the flashy lights. But that much medicine would leave me in a haze for the rest of the day.

Here’s what gets me. As a sophomore, I had put on the freshman 15 and wanted to start the year eating healthy. I cut out all white grain products and switched to whole-grain bread and pasta. I ate healthy lean meats but would binge on sugar on the weekends. Years passed and I accepted migraines as a part of my life. I carried a big bottle of meds everywhere. Here’s a look at my old diet:

Old Diet

I graduated college and married the boyfriend who drove me to the hospital. He was always overweight and I, being a journalist/graphic artist, was constantly bombarded with health information and the newest studies. So we tried a few of these popular trends to help him get his weight down (6-foot, 245). I wasn’t as worried about mine at the time (5′ 7″, 145), but I figured I could stand to lose a few. We did P90X, the Abs Diet, lots of whole grains and really boring food. I still had migraines. I still had IBS, acne – oh and regular headaches, too!

Here’s us:


In late 2011 my husband found your website on some message boards. He started Primal and two weeks later, he says he feels like Superman! Able to leap tall buildings! Inspired to run around and lift things! The weight came off fast with his fasting schedule. I looked at the catalog of research online and it just seemed right. I couldn’t be left out, and he needed my support like he always helped me through my migraines. I got the book and started in January 2012 with a meal plan that looked like this:

New Diet

And yes, I dropped down to 125 pounds (high school weight) and my husband lost 70. Yes, my IBS symptoms are gone. My skin is glowing and there are no more sugar crashes. But what makes me tear up in gratitude is that I haven’t had a single migraine since.

Looking back, I have to pinpoint those grains/gluten as the migraine trigger. I’ve had sugar since (I still love ice cream). I’ve had legumes a few times, but I’ve been gluten free. And I won’t go back. In July I stopped carrying around the industrial-sized bottle of pills. If Primal just cured the migraines alone, I’d still do it. It’d be worth it. The fear is finally gone.

Katie and Husband - After


You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Yep, add me to list of folks who ended the migraine curse (3 a week) by going PRIMAL!

    It was like being stuck inside a runaway hamster ball for 43 years and then I escaped!


    George wrote on January 27th, 2013
  2. Absolutely awesome – Great photos of you and your husband and I love the graphs showing your meals before and after Primal ! Congratulations !

    I started having migraines when I was around 12 and at the time I couldn’t swallow pills so I would eat handfuls of baby aspirin – which was pretty much useless. Later on I switched to BC Powder in orange juice of all things (which would occasionally help, but it was not good for my stomach !)Aspirin and acid, not a good idea.

    I used to have a migraine at least once a month, but since getting rid of the grains in 2010, no migraines.
    Very rarely even have a headache, and then it is related to my cervical vertebra and an adjustment does the trick.

    Orannhawk wrote on January 27th, 2013
  3. I’m not the author, but we share a name- and the same story! People act like I’m overreacting when I explain my experience (I cut out gluten, and the migraines disappeared, as well as the IBS and the inability to change my body composition), but it worked for me too. I’m so glad for you, fellow-Katie!

    Katie wrote on January 27th, 2013
  4. All the bloody allergies,food intolerance and glucose resistance, migraine, itching body,sinusitis,headache,sleepiness,fatigue,anxiety,depression,water retention,puffiness on face has only one reason.That is these grains .which we eat.I am an Indian used to eat RICE as staple food since childhood.Once i left Rice forever I feel extremely good overall the body and I throw out all my medicine in thrash!!!!!!!!

    Jay wrote on January 28th, 2013
  5. This is amazing! My sister suffers from migraines and I shall forward her your story immediately.

    Nicola wrote on January 28th, 2013
  6. Congratulations, wonderful approach to the Primal lifestyle & equal satisfying results 😉
    Happy for both of you, you’ve found the way 😀

    Alexandru wrote on January 28th, 2013
  7. That’s great! I actually tell everyone that too, because last year I was having all kinds of stomach problems, and horrible migraines! I cut out all gluten, grease, sugar and milk for a few months, and my headaches stopped almost instantly. my stomach problems also went away after awhile. I did go back to eating some gluten, but trying to keep it mostly out of my diet, and that ended up not working. I had to go completely gluten free, and have decided that it is never worth it to go back!

    kendra wrote on January 29th, 2013
  8. I am glad to hear about your success, Katie.

    Husband looks really different in the second picture! Especially the face, much slimmer. Looks good on both of you.

    Matthias wrote on January 30th, 2013
  9. Way to go Katie! Nice graphics! and an amazing story!

    Monica wrote on January 30th, 2013
  10. First of all you look RADIANT in the pictures! I love your story. I go back and forth between this website and the Engine 2 Diet (complete opposites) and I started the low carb thing again this week. What I cut out right away was the daily Dr. Pepper I used to drink, but I started getting headaches. So I have been taking Excedrin. I think your story is inspiring to stay the course and get past the caffeine/sugar withdrawal and see if they subside.
    Thanks and keep it up!

    Molly wrote on February 1st, 2013
  11. Awesome job, you both look fantastic!

    Sarah wrote on February 5th, 2013
  12. I get the Exact same migraine symptoms!!! And no one could ever relate!!! Great to read that the elimination of gluten is the “key”!!
    Does anyone eat the gluten free waffles, English muffins, cookies, etc??? I seem to always feel less IBS symptoms when I grab a good ol piece if white bread! IBS and migraines have literally taken over my life resulting in wonderful anxiety symptoms! :(. Concentrating on doing a better job At being gluten free now…
    Congrats to you both on a job well done and taking your health in your hands!!

    Lynn wrote on February 7th, 2013
  13. I’m going to show my Mum this. She has been getting vicious headaches most days of the week, and if it’s not that, it’s IBS, and she’s been obese all her life. And, very attached to her bread……

    Kathleen wrote on March 19th, 2013
  14. My husband and I are just beginning this new lifestyle. My headaches are horrendous and frequent. I am a graphic designer and have shoulder issues so the combo is a wham baam ooh daa** my head hurts kinda thing. We have been wheat/grain free for over a week – but I can tell already that sugar/artificial sweeteners are contributing to the headaches. I love chocolate so I need to find something to fill that void..

    Heather G wrote on April 30th, 2013
  15. I have gotten migraines since I was about 7 years old and just learned about the paleo diet! Really hoping it can at least reduce my 5-6 a month migraines. They aren’t ocular but the ones with one sides pain/nausea ect. I have a question about some of the foods ESP bacon, onions, tomato, and some other fruits they say can trigger migraine…have any of you found that you can eat these no problem or do you still avoid certain ones? Im excited to start but stumped on this. Such encouraging experiences!!

    Andrea wrote on June 20th, 2013
  16. Interesting article….Although not as much help to me. I have been on the primal diet for three months now and started getting ocular migraines the last month and a half. Very frustrating!! I have chronic bladder infections too. Have had four since January. So I am thinking it is more hormonal….

    Beth wrote on June 25th, 2013
  17. Thank you so much for this. I’m a blogger from Centerville, United
    States and what you’ve said here on couldn’t be written much better.
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roomie, Meri.
    He persistently kept preaching about this. I will definitely send these ideas to him.

    Pretty sure he will have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing

    58227 wrote on October 11th, 2013
  18. While I’ve never had a migraine I once had a roommate who suffered greatly from them on a regular basis. During that time she would just go into her room and stay there until it passed. Her kids and I would just let her be when she was in that condition. Don’t know if she ever connected her diet to those or not. All she took for them was Tylenol which didn’t seem to help much.

    I really appreciate your pie-chart visual aids to show the difference in the before & after of your eating pattern. Thank you.

    Congratulations to both you and your husband. Good job! :)

    Darlene, San Francisco, CA wrote on December 6th, 2013
  19. I have suffered from menstrual migraines since the age of 16 (now 33). Can anyone weigh in on success in changing diet and migraines specifically related to hormones? In other words– thoughts on seeing improvement since I don’t have Celiacs or other food allergies. Thanks in advance!

    Laura wrote on February 18th, 2014
  20. Twenty five years ago I started getting headaches on a semi-regular basis, and over the years the headaches became progressively worse to the place where the were migraine headaches. About 12 years ago I started talking to a couple of friends who had Celiac Issues, thinking there might be a link. I eliminated wheat from my diet. I found a doctor who was on the side of natural medicine. I told her what I was thinking. She sent me to have a blood test which came back very positive to wheat and only slightly to gluten. About 6 months later after having no wheat, at a relatives place for a meal, every course had wheat within it. The only way to avoid it was not to ear anything. 2am the next morning I awoke with the worst migraine I had ever had. The pain was excruciating, along with wanting to vomit and having to sit on the toilet, all at the same time. I was in tears with the pain. My husband fell hopeless as he couldn’t help me. I eventually cried myself back to sleep. That incident confirmed my wheat/migraine connection.

    No in my handbag I carry 2 things with me: Mersyndol and Tylenol, a anti-histamine. Although I’m careful when eating out, sometime wheat does accidentally slip through. If I feel head pain coming on, even the slightest, I take one of each. It isn’t ideal, but prevents the migraine from developing.

    Lindsay, the above might be useful for your husband when eating those family dinners with dim sims etc.

    Over the years my hubby and I have tried to eat reasonably healthy, due to so much about the connection between cancers and our unhealthy western diet. We ate by the ‘Fit for Life’ protocol for a while, backed off the carbs etc. Neither of us were terribly overweight, he at 5’7″ reached about 191 pounds and me 5’3″ reached 152 pounds, which was 11 pounds heavier than my full term pregnancy weight. My wonderful chiropractor always was saying to me that with my back issues, I do not need to be carrying excess weight.

    About 2.5 years ago, I heard about the Paleo lifestyle way of eating, so decided to implement that with our family as simply a healthier way of eating. The transition to it was easy since we had already cut out dairy and most sugars, again hearing the connection to cancer. For me there was just a little tweaking to be done. A bit harder for my hubby, as he still was enjoying his grains, though he was admitting that he would always feel a little uncomfortable in the belly after consuming them.

    Two weeks ago I decided for myself that I wanted to tweak my eating a little more and am currently doing the Whole30 for 30 days. All I had to really do was eliminate the little bit of honey and the odd Chai Latte that I was having, as a treat, which was really easy to do. I have also eliminated eating nuts, as I have learned that I just have to look at them and weight goes back on. I have stopped cooking ‘Paleo Treats’ also which usually contain lots of nuts, which is really exchanging eating one form of junk food, for another. In the last 2.5 years since the introduction of Paleo, I have lost 35 pounds. Now I’m just working on stabilizing my weight, which I think I’ve managed to do simply by eating one piece of fruit a day.

    I do not regret the change. Other small positive changes has been the elimination of indigestion, 3 weeks after switching to Paleo, flaky skin on my feet is improving, no more acne, which is really annoying when you still get it when your are 49. My eyes are brighter.

    I recommend it to everyone I can. I have recently heard of Sarah Ballantyne, and purchased her book, ‘The Paleo Approach’ which I highly recommend to everyone who really wants to know the science (communicated in an easily understood way) behind our food and the connection between
    sickness and our food. It provides a way to help heal yourself of many ailments and autoimmune related health issues. She also has a website and Facebook page under the name of ‘thepaleomom’.

    For those starting the journey, it can look overwhelming, but there are many benefits. Just take one step at a time :-). For those already on this journey, keep going and never give up, the positives far outweigh the negatives :-).

    Deena wrote on April 4th, 2014
  21. I’m happy for the person writing the article. I found this article trying to look for some solutions as I had a migraine with flashers (my name for the vision) today. I get them about twice a year. I haven’t had grains in months so that’s not a trigger for me evidently.

    Ann D. wrote on May 18th, 2014
  22. For all those people who are still having migraines, yet have eliminated wheat and are eating very healthily, try looking into salicylates, amines, and glutamates. All my headaches and migraines and feeling like I have hangovers most days of the week have now gone. I had the healthiest, organic, strict diet in the world, yet was constantly still sick and unable to function well at all until I discovered just what the saliciyates and amines were doing to me. I now eat a very low amine diet, still organic, low salicylate as well, and can not believe the difference. I can think clearly, I can get up feeling well and strong. And no more headaches, with me driving my kids to school with a towel on my lap in case I threw up on the way. But I have to watch how they can build up. I had three bananas (which have Amines in them) in one day recently, and back the nausea came, and depression, and having to sit in one spot until it passed nearly 24 hours later. At least I now know when I do it to myself. And how to get back to great health easily. Restricting my food choices is nothing compared to how I feel day to day these days. There is an Australian book put out by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit called ‘Friendly Food”, which explains it all. I use this for the basics. Some of the recipes are just sugar filled and too awful for words.

    Sally D wrote on February 14th, 2015
  23. Yep me too. I used to be the headache queen even back in high school. And by my 30s I developed migraines so violent that my doctors tested me for stomach cancer and multicellular intestinal parasites.

    After years of losing my life to the migraines I finally realized that skipping lunch was a major migraine trigger. And then I realized that I also got fewer migraines when I cut down on carbs and ate a high fat and high protein diet. Coffee and a croissant for breakfast plus no lunch = migraine by dinnertime. Eggs and bacon for breakfast plus chicken for lunch = no headache and no sugar crash. Go figure!

    Now that I’ve experienced life without ANY refined grains and added sugar I am starting to suspect that I felt better when I was loading up on protein partly because it was replacing grain and sugar. I still eat grains and sugar sometimes but only as occasional treats. And I always make sure I eat them with LOTS of healthy fats.

    It’s crazy that reducing grains and sugar isn’t the first thing that doctors suggest for people who suffer from migraines. Why put them on medicine with serious side effects when there’s so much evidence that simple dietary changes can cure the problem?

    JW wrote on August 24th, 2015
  24. I am curious – I get migraines and whenever I diet, and especially if I go low-carb, this is a trigger. Typically, I eat sugar/ carbs to help the headache go away (oddly, this always FEELS like it will help, but it rarely if every actually does).

    Am I understanding correctly that this is normal as my body shifts from “sugar-burning” to “fat-adaptive”, and the expectation would be that after I make that shift, I’d experience fewer headaches? And, if so, how long does that shift take?

    Many thanks in advance!

    AJ wrote on November 30th, 2015
  25. I’m amazed my husband said give it a shot I thought that I was allergic at one time to milk milk but that was for two years. I was able to incorporate it back into my diet. I don’t get migraines but now it’s more hormonal base (the onset of the last 8 menstrual cycles) so I wondering if I cut all the grains and legumes out will they go away altogether and I’m going to give it a shot

    Lynette wrote on December 9th, 2015

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