Headache and Weight Loss: What Your Body Is Telling You

What you're eating (or not eating) might be causing migraine pain, but these common cues and their headache remedies should offer instant relief.

By Adrienne Farr and Perri O. Blumberg
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    What's causing your headaches?

    Losing weight can be such a pain in the...head. According to a National Headache Foundation study, diet-related issues play a role in a whopping 30 percent of all migraines (and can affect less severe types of headaches too). From bouts of low blood sugar to caffeine withdrawal, the many subtle diet tweaks we make while trying to slim down can bring on a throbbin' noggin. Here's why dieting makes your head ache, and how to ease the pain.

    You're hungry.

    Caloric restriction can cause hunger headaches.

    Tip: Don't let yourself go too long without eating or let yourself feel too hungry. It's a good idea to eat at least every four hours. Try light snacks between meals, such as PB and crackers or a handful of carrots and some almonds. Or try one of these favorites—they're each under 150 calories and contain filling protein and fiber to stave off hunger pangs.

    You're thirsty.

    Dehydration is a common headache trigger. Experts don't know exactly why, but suspect it may have to do with narrowing of blood vessels in the brain, which also reduces the brain's supply of blood and oxygen. Not getting enough electrolytes may also contribute to dehydration headaches.

    Besides causing headaches, being dehydrated can actually undermine your weight-loss efforts. Research shows it's easy to confuse hunger for thirst, which can lead to overeating.

    Tip: By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already a little dehydrated. Guzzle water or tea often. Have a glass of water with every meal and between meals.


    You switched to artificial sweeteners.

    According to a study at the University of Washington, Seattle, some people may be particularly sensitive to aspartame, which can lead to headaches. Aspartame might be in diet drinks as well as foods.

    Tip: If you suspect artificial sweeteners may be triggering your headaches, keep a food journal to watch for patterns. Consider using honey in your tea or coffee; as a bonus, research shows it has fat releasing properties and is healthier than sugar.

    You've cut back on caffeine, like in coffee and soda.

    If you've ditched the soda or coffee as part of your slim-down plan, you may be going through caffeine withdrawal.  According to CNN Health, experts estimate that about half of people who cut back on caffeine experience headaches and other unpleasant symptoms.

    Tip: Don't cut caffeine cold turkey. Instead, try gradually decreasing your caffeine intake. Remember, caffeine isn't a diet devil, but it's often consumed as part of sugary sodas or coffee drinks loaded with extra calories from sugar and milk. For most, it's fine to consume one cup of a caffeine drink daily while you're dieting, but use skim milk and avoid calorie bombs like flavored syrups and whipped cream.


    You're stressed.

    Not only can stress trigger eating binges or make it hard to stick to a diet, but it can also bring on headaches. When you're under the gun, your body releases a flurry of chemicals like adrenalin or cortisol in response to the stress. In addition to giving you the instant energy you need to fight stress, these chemicals also make the blood vessels in your brain contract, which can result in headaches.

    Tip: Nip a stress attack with a mind-clearing stroll around the block; step away from the situation to take a few cleansing breaths; or do something relaxing for yourself (take a nap, get a manicure, call your best friend to vent). And try not to let weight loss be a source of your stress: Some dieters get so anxious about every single ounce instead of patting themselves on the back for small accomplishments. Over the long haul, the scale will dip in the right direction... down!


    You waited too long to eat.

    Spacing your meals too far apart or eating at irregular intervals causes a dip in blood sugar levels, which essentially drives your body into "starvation mode." This triggers a cascade of hormones and brain chemicals similar to your body's response to stress (not getting food on time is very stressful for your body!), which can bring on headaches. Once you fuel up, the headache—along with other symptoms like weakness, shakiness, and low energy—should go away.



    Tip: Remember, you should wait no more than four hours between meals.

    You pushed yourself while working out.

    If you're new to working out or pushed yourself harder than usual, you may be experiencing an exercise headache. They can occur before or after working out. Although the exact cause is unknown, these headaches may occur because of blood vessel changes in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Tip
    : Always warm up before a work out to ease your body into movement, and don't overexert yourself.
     
    Sources: Livestrong.com, ehow.com, National Institute of Health, Better Health Channel, MayoClinic.com, National Headache Foundation, WebMD, CNN Health, National Library of Medicine.
     

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    Your Comments

    • Sam Orlando

      I started watching my Calories about 5 weeks ago, basically by cutting out sweets and junk food. I have dropped 15 pounds but in the last 2 weeks I have developed headaches. Any suggestions?

    • Syaraf

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    • Akbrink

      Nuts can be a major trigger for many migraine sufferers.  It would have been nice if you would have chosen something other than nuts for snacks.

    • Akbrink

      Nuts can be a major trigger for many migraine sufferers.  It would have been nice if you would have chosen something other than nuts for snacks.

    • Akbrink

      Nuts can be a major trigger for many migraine sufferers.  It would have been nice if you would have chosen something other than nuts for snacks.

    • Akbrink

      Nuts can be a major trigger for many migraine sufferers.  It would have been nice if you would have chosen something other than nuts for snacks.

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