"How Do I Lose Weight to Help My Migraines?"

What Should I Eat to Lose Weight to Help Prevent My Migraines?. Jana Leon/Stone/Getty Images

Is there a link between migraines and obesity? Yes. Obesity may exacerbate the frequency and severity of your migraines, and trigger the transformation from episodic to chronic migraine.

So, if obesity and migraines are associated, then controlling your weight or losing weight could be beneficial.

How can you lose weight or maintain a normal body mass index or BMI? Here are some dietary and nutritional suggestions, inspired largely by the American Heart Association (AHA).


The key to losing weight is actually quite a simple algorithm. Your calories in must not exceed those going out. If your calorie intake is consistently greater than your calorie expenditure, you will gain weight. On the contrary, if your calorie intake is consistently less than your calorie expenditure, you will lose weight.

One more critical point is that YOU can decide how you want to control your calorie intake. That being said, it needs to be sustainable. So, you need to engage in healthy habits that are not too extreme. It’s like treating your headaches. You have to find what works for you, which can be very different from what works for your colleague or friend.

The American Heart Association (AHA) provides excellent tips on what we should and should not eat to maintain a normal weight.

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

According to the American Heart Association, you should consume 8 or more fruit and vegetable servings a day (on a 2,000 calorie-a-day-diet), which is 4.5 cups daily.

Eating a variety or "rainbow" of colors is important. Be creative to maximize your intake. Add veggies to pasta sauce or your child's mac and cheese. Put berries on your cereal or incorporate into your pancake mix. Freeze seedless grapes overnight or dip carrots, celery sticks, cucumber, and cauliflower in low-fat salad dressing or hummus.

Eat Whole Grains and Fiber

There are two types of grain products: whole grains and refined grains. Examples of whole grains include oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat flour. Refined grains have been milled or ground into flour. This removes much of the nutritional value of the whole grain product. Examples of refined grain include white rice or wheat flour. Most refined grain products are enriched, which means that B vitamins and iron are added back to the product. But, the downside is that fiber cannot be added back, and it's the fiber in whole grains that makes us full.

When going to the grocery store, choose foods that state "whole" or "whole-grain" before the grain's name in the ingredient list. You can also look for the American Heart Association Whole Grain heart-check mark if you are not sure.

Eat Fish

Fish is an excellent source of protein. Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, albacore tuna) are also a great source of omega-3-fatty acids, which keep your heart healthy.

Please note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that children and pregnant women avoid consuming fish high in mercury like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.

When cooking fish, bake or grill it and cook in lemon juice or a low-salt, low-fat seasoning.

Curb the Salt

Salt overload is a huge health concern in the United States. The average salt intake is 3,400 milligrams daily, which is more than twice the recommended amount by the AHA (1,500 milligrams). This is mostly due to the ample amounts of processed foods we eat, and our guilty indulgent in restaurant foods. In general, many salty foods are also high in calories, so naturally cutting back on salt will help you cut back on empty calories.

Did you know that these five foods are particularly high in salt content?:

  • chicken
  • pizza
  • bread
  • soup
  • lunch meat

Choose the Right Fats

There are four type of fat in our diet. The "bad" fats are saturated and trans fats. These fats are solid at room temperature (i.e. a stick of butter). Classic examples of foods that are high in saturated and/or trans fats are chips, baked good, and fried foods. These fats contribute to obesity and raise your cholesterol.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthier fats when consumed in moderation, and are liquid at room temperature (i.e. liquid vegetable oil). Other examples include nuts, avocado, and fatty fish. When consuming your fat intake, you should opt for foods that have unsaturated fat. Remember too, nuts can aggravate or precipitate migraines, so be aware of your personal food triggers.

Cut the Sugar

Sugar can be naturally occurring, as in fruit (fructose) or milk (lactose). Or, sugar can be added, as in soda, candy, baked goods, certain cereals, and ice cream. Sugar has zero nutritional value but is found in high-calorie foods, which contributes to obesity.

Often times, it can be quite tricky to determine whether foods contain these "hiding" added sugars. Sugar has many names like high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, honey or fruit juice concentrate.

How can you cut back on sugar?

  • Cut back on the sugar you add to your cereal or coffee every morning by first one half and then completely. Add fresh berries or dried fruit to your cereal instead.

  • Stop drinking those sugar-rich sodas. Opt for water with a lemon or lime slice or a cup of tea.

  • When you are craving a sugary treat, eat a piece of fruit. Make sure to avoid canned fruit in syrup.
  • When baking, substitute sugar with applesauce or use extracts like vanilla. Instead of adding more sugar, try adding spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.

Take Home Message

Eating a nutritious diet and ensuring that your caloric intake is controlled is key to maintaining a healthy weight, and may even be helpful in mitigating your migraine attacks.


Bigal ME, Liberman JN, Lipton RB. Obesity and migraine: a population study. Neurology. 2006 Feb 28;66(4):545-50.

Bigal ME, Lipton RB. Obesity is a risk factor for transformed migraine but not chronic tension-type headache. Neurology. 2006;67(2):252-257.

American Heart Association Nutrition Center: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Nutrition-Center_UCM_001188_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed August 2014.

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/downloads/pdf/handbook-for-women.pdf. Accessed August 2014.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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