Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hi-carb, Low-carb, Yes-carb, No-carb; It's Making my Head Hurt

*Warning, this post is one of two (or many) parts all about migraines—there’s too much to say it in one blog posting!*

"Shh, mommy has a headache".  I can still hear the slur in my daughter's voice as she spoke around the thumb she was sucking.  As a toddler, she would come over and gently pat my head, oh so softly, in a kind of commiseration and sympathy gesture as I lay in a heap in the darkened living room on the couch.  She’d go get her little wooden chair and she'd sit by my side and wait it out, for as many hours as it would take, heaving the occasional sigh and giving me another pat on my head.  She knew the look in my eyes.  She knew it because I rarely sat still and when a migraine came, my whole world would come screeching to a halt. 

I have had headaches my whole life.  Regular headaches, migraines, sinus headaches, barometer-induced headaches, cluster headaches—I’ve had them all.  Depending on the season, I can get 2-5/week that I MUST treat with OTC painkillers—typically Tylenol or Advil.  If I don’t treat them, they can and WILL turn into migraines where no drug can touch them for around 8 hours, where I can't stand light, I see stars, sometimes I see black clouds floating around, where I can't stand to hear the sound of my kids breathing.  I’ve seen every specialist.  I’ve been prescribed a whole pharmacy of drugs to try—ones you take just when the migraines start, ones you take every day.  Nothing made a difference, the headaches still came.  About once a year, I get a migraine so bad that after the vomiting starts, my vision reduces to a narrow tunnel and I end up going into convulsions, and have to take a trip to the hospital for a few injections to the hip to stop everything—it becomes a cycle that has no end.  I’ve tried to tough these ones out, but I have gone into shock several times trying to wait it out, so the hospital is the best way to go at that point.  It really sucks.  My husband laughs that he’s been holding my hair back since I was 16...
We went to high school together, my husband and I, he was my best friend.  We ended up taking an outdoor education class together, and went on a 3 day field trip, canoeing the Gibson river route.  Now, as a teen, I was a smoker (I eventually quit, and I haven’t smoked since I was 20 but that’s another story), and I was surly just like any other teenager.  So every time we’d come to a halt to look at the next stage of the river, or to make a quick camp to cook a meal, I’d step aside and light up a cigarette.  Right in front of the teachers, I didn’t care, and while everyone else was making a fire and setting up food, I’d be standing there hauling on that cigarette.  So it was that we came to some rapids, and the teacher and I (and our respective paddling partners) had pulled off to look at the river.  He’s trying to explain something to me, and I’m hauling on that cigarette, looking at him like I didn’t give a damn, and in frustration, he grabbed my packet of cigarettes and threw them down the river. 
Needless to say, within 24 hours, I had a nicotine-deprivation migraine.  (And began my first experience with codeine, which I now know I am allergic to).  By lunch the following day, I was throwing up profusely and I could not hold the paddle reliably.  And then the river opened up onto Georgian Bay.  It was grey and choppy on the Bay.  Georgian Bay is extremely deep and rocky and claims more ship wrecks each year than any of the Great Lakes and we had a solid 2 hours of hard paddling over 4-5 foot rolling waves to get to our next campsite on Beausoleil Island where I could rest for the night.  There was a long discussion about how they would make the crossing with me in my current state.  We were 2 people to each canoe, so if I couldn’t paddle, someone had to solo that crossing.  Everyone was rearranged so that the strongest adult had to do the solo, and I only recall the look of the cold grey water as I lay heaped over the front of the canoe, carefully balanced, so that I could throw up over the side without tipping the boat.  We survived the crossing, but once camp was set up, I retreated to my tent and refused dinner and spent the whole evening throwing up profusely.  My tent mates refused to come near our tent with me throwing up like that.  But Steve, he came into the tent, which had to have smelled something awful, and he stayed by my side late into the night, keeping my long hair out of the way for me.  They almost let him sleep there in the tent with me, but thought better of it, and ended up switching it so a teacher slept in my tent with me.  Apparently the weather was going to stay grey and the water would be even worse the next day. Late into that night, they discussed how we would make the next crossing or if they should call for help to get me lifted off the island.  They had never seen anyone in such a terrible state as I was in (I’m usually incoherent and unable to open or focus my eyes or string words together in this state, so they were witnessing something that may have looked like a stroke—but wasn’t). 
But morning eventually came, and with the sun was breaking through the clouds, and I sat up, slipped from the tent, and when they found me, I was brushing my teeth with some disgust, feeling perfectly fine like nothing had happened at all. 

Now, Paleo cures everything, right?  Colitis, diabetes, eczema, GERD?  Right?  Well, not so much my headaches.  Sure, it reduced their frequency and strength, most of the time.  But not all of the time.  I didn't even notice at first how much less pain I was in until one recent weekend came and went, and Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday--I was pain-free.  It would have gone unnoticed then, too, but Steve, who never gets headaches, got a headache every one of those days.  And me, with my barometer-reading headaches, looked out the window at the grey, oppressive day, and thought, huh, why don't I?  What, exactly, did I do that was right this time?

So Tuesday was my weekly work luncheon where we go for Hakka--absolutely delicious but total crap food full of deep-fried floured meats coated in sugar-added sauces, flour-containing noodles, MGS (no doubt), enough salt to stop a horse's heart, and a few little fortune cookies at the end...  Nothing redeeming at all about that meal.  And there’s the spices.  Holy crap is this stuff spicy.  I love spicy.  Doesn't always love me, though, but that's another post.  So I ate the stuff, really pigged out, and low-and-behold--headache within an hour of eating.  Bloating, lethargy, heartburn, and a dull low-to-mid-grade headache.  So what exactly was causing it?  I think I broke every rule of Paleo in one meal, so it's hard to say what caused it, exactly—the sugars, the grains, the MSG, the salt...

But it got me thinking (and I swear I’m getting to the point)...

That same Tuesday afternoon, high on my sugar and carb rollercoaster, I minced words with Robb Wolf. 
Sorry, Robb, I didn't mean to come off as a Paleo Nazi, because I'm not one.  But he caught me off-guard.  I've been extolling the virtues of fat for months now, eating everything coated in butter, chicken fat and bacon grease.  And then he went and suggested that consuming too much fat can stall weight loss?  It wasn't possible!  I just got my head around the "fat doesn't make you fat" logic--and then he said otherwise.  I wanted to argue that fat=satiety, because that's what I've been telling myself for some time now as I feed the low, gnawing hunger I seem to have going on most of the time with fat, fat, and more fat.  But then Robb said something different--a ketogenic diet has more credence for appetite suppression than fat consumption does.  Huh?  I could go ketogenic and NOT BE HUNGRY?  This was worth investigating further.  So I started searching ketosis--on Robb Wolf's site, on Mark's Daily Apple, on  But what did I find?  A lot of research, and a lot of reader commentary on ketosis-not for hunger-but for controlling migraines.  Woa, back that horse up!!  Spur-of-the-moment, I set up a free Fit-Day account to track my carb intake. 
True ketosis happens sometime under 50g carbs/day.  It takes time for your liver to burn off residual fat stores and drop into ketosis.  It doesn’t happen instantly.  But Mark Sisson was suggesting that true ketosis wasn’t necessary—just keep it low-carb at 50-80g carbs and that was the ideal place for anyone to be when trying to reap the benefits of this primal diet.  
To read Mark's article on the ratio of carbs (there are many on his site) go to 

Now, I'm alittle naive at times--it's easy enough to convince me of the logic of something.  But to
keep me convinced is something else.  I have to test theories.  All theories.  My body is one big science experiment.  Really.  You gotta feel some sympathy for Steve, all the stuff he gets to put up with.  (Give up mint toothpaste, you say--make your own--with soap?)  He's a pretty patient, tolerant man.....

So I decided to give this low-carb thing a try.  Sorry, fruit, we will not see much of each other for the next little while....  Goodbye sweet potatoes, I hardly knew ya. 
That was back in the beginning of February.  How did it turn out?  You’re going to have to read the next blog(s) to find out.

1 comment:

  1. So glad I came upon your blog!!! Your story sounds like mine! In college they also thought I’d had a stroke. I’ve had headaches (all kinds) pretty much my whole life and my full blown migraines result in temporary paralysis of my arm, slurred or no speech, vomiting, etc. I’ve just recently started looking at the primal lifestyle. Have been following a WAPF diet for about a year. Did a W30 last month and felt awesome with less headaches but like you, still not gone. Have 3 young kids so your other post about stressing about food costs rings true here too! Anyways, just wanted to say your recipes look awesome, can’t wait to try them out and am glad to have found a great Canadian primal foodie!!! Your humour is great and love the fact that you are open about your love of all great things (wine & chocolate)! Looking forward to following your posts and learning from you! Thanks!