8 Tips to Tackle Stress, Hormone Imbalance & Migraines

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I’ve been sharing over the past few weeks how I suffered from a hormonal imbalance that restarted my migraine misery after my daughter was born. A number of factors contribute to hormone dysfunction and this week I’m going to talk about stress.

Blaming your symptoms on stress may seem like the most overused excuse in the medical community. But when left unchecked, stress can wreak havoc on the body. When I refer to stress, I am referring to psychological stress, i.e. the nagging worry and anxiety that plagues our everyday lives.

The stress response (also known as fight-or-flight mode) is useful from an evolutionary perspective so that we could be very effective at running away from imminent dangers, like a tiger that wanted to eat us. When this happens, your heart rate and breathing speed up and stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through your bloodstream, preparing your body to face the threat. Once you’re safe and sound again, it’s meant to get turned off.

However, these days more of us are spending in a never-ending cycle of stress, constantly concerned about money, job performance, health or relationships. It has no defined end, so the stress hormones that previously would have been occasionally released in short bursts are now floating around in our bloodstream constantly. And guess which part of the body coordinates the stress response? The hypothalamus!

If you’re chronically stressed, it means you’re chronically over-working your hypothalamus, which is why stress is a powerful trigger for migraines. You, therefore, have to find a reliable method to relieve stress and incorporate it into your daily routine.

 

So, what does stress have to do with hormones? To put it simply, if you’re constantly over-producing cortisol, you’re inhibiting the body’s resource to produce progesterone, a key sex hormone. Again, from an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense because if your body thinks you’re in imminent danger, it doesn’t make sense to produce sex hormones. But we get into trouble when we never shut off the stress and therefore never give our body the chance to catch up in making progesterone (this is what happened to me).

It would be great if somehow we could avoid all of life's stressors, but that’s just not realistic (or desirable). But what we can do is learn tools and techniques to handle our stress better. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.    Learn to say no

First, let’s take an audit of what you’ve got on your “plate.” Most of us are over-committed and we can’t seem to stop ourselves from saying yes to new things – whether it’s agreeing to help with your kid’s school trip or taking on a new project at work. But have you ever tried writing down all the things you’re responsible for? If the list is shocking to you, then maybe it’s time to cut back on your commitments. And maybe it’s time to start using a little word more frequently: no! But politely, of course…

2.    Meditation

Meditation or just simple deep breathing exercises might seem like an overly simplistic way to reduce stress. But even spending as little as 5 minutes per day has been proven to have a profound impact on your health.

The reason is simple: mindful breathing helps shut off our fight-or-flight response and activate the rest, relax and digest response. When the latter response is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers as the blood vessels relax and your body is put into a state of calm and healing.

So how do you get started? You can use an app like Headspace to help guide you through the short sessions. Or you could start off on your own by doing a simple breathing exercise where all you have to do it make your inhale shorter than your exhale. Try this:

·      Sit still and tall somewhere comfortable

·      Set the timer for five minutes

·      Inhale for a count of two

·      Hold breath for count of one

·      Exhale gently for count of four

Repeat until the timer goes off. Eventually, you can increase the counts from 2-4 to 4-6 or 6-8 and so on. Just remember the exhale has to be longer than the inhale!

3.  Get Moving

Exercise is incredibly beneficial for migraine sufferers. It is also one of the best ways to burn off stress hormones. Get exercise in any way that’s fun for you. Run, dance, ride, swim, stretch or skip. Yoga is particularly great because it combines movement with breathing and signals to the body that it’s time to slow down.

4.  Practice gratitude

The practice of being grateful not only makes you happier, it has been proven to develop a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure. That’s because no matter how hard life gets if we focus on the positive things you have in your life, you won’t stress as much. You can practice being grateful by simply writing one thing you’re grateful for on a piece of paper before you go to bed. Or at nightly dinners with family, you can go around the table and each say what you’re grateful for. Personally, I use “The Five-Minute Journal”, which is an incredibly helpful guide to start and end each day with gratitude.

5.  Take a bath

This one shouldn’t be hard to try! Add the following ingredients to a very hot bath: 2 cups of Epsom salt (which contains magnesium, the relaxation mineral), a half-cup of baking soda (which promotes an ideal pH for healing, detoxification, and optimal cellular function) and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol). Soak for 20 minutes.

Bonus: for double-relaxation, try meditating while taking a bath!

6.    Plan tomorrow

If you’re to-do list often haunts you as you go to bed, forcing you to anxiously stare blankly at the ceiling rather than falling asleep, you should consider planning as much for tomorrow. Try these two tactics:

·      Take five minutes each night to write down your to-dos for tomorrow. And by write down, I mean actually write it down on a piece of paper (not on your phone or computer).

·      Prep for your morning routine the night before. Pick out your outfit; make sure your clothes are ironed; have your breakfast ingredients chopped and ready to go; pack your lunch. This way when you get out of bed you can calmly get yourself ready to tackle the day.

7.  Support network

Surrounding yourself with people who genuinely support you is one of the most important determinants of psychological well-being. If you have good friends in your life, make sure to prioritize getting together with them. If you need more support in your life, think about your favorite hobbies and go find other people that love it too! Whether you love running, photography or knitting, it’s easier than ever to find others that share your passion and want to spend their time doing the things they love.

8.  Therapy

If you can’t seem to lower your stress on your own, it might take some outside help to get you there. In that case, I highly recommend talking to a therapist who can help pinpoint the source of your stress and recommend tips specific to you to reduce your stress levels. Ask around for referrals for a good therapist – it could be life changing!

Do you need help managing your stress and keep your migraines under control? If so, please reach out to me so we can talk about how to tackle that and get you migraine free!

I hope you have a migraine-free day!

Caroline

 

Four Ways To Fix Your Diet, Hormones & Migraines

food, migraines and hormones

As I shared last week, I hit a big wall about 5 months after my daughter was born, which caused a series of unexplained migraines that lasted until August. I finally figured out that I had a hormonal imbalance and have been actively working on correcting this ever since. Some of the things in my routine were already contributing to my hormone health, but clearly, I needed to step up my game. I want to break down my findings for you here. And we’ll start where so many of my migraine conversations begin: with food!

Before we dig into specific diet tips, let’s discuss the connection between hormone disruption and chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can be caused by a number of things – from stress to lack of sleep, and, of course, how we choose to feed ourselves. If we’re in the constantly stressed out state, we create the stress hormone cortisol. And once the body is over-producing cortisol, it can impact its production of key sex hormones, like progesterone. I had cleaned up my diet years ago, but I had to take an even closer look at my diet/eating habits to make sure I checked all the boxes.

Here are my top tips to reduce inflammation through your diet:

1.    Eat clean foods – Are you getting your food from the best possible sources? All fruits and veggies should be organic and local (if possible). But most importantly, please be careful of where your meat and fish is coming from. Try to buy on wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised poultry. Why? Because conventionally raised animals are fed an unnatural diet of corn and soy (not to mention they are raised in horrible conditions), thus producing poor quality meat. The poor quality meat has high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which causes – you guessed it – inflammation! So I can’t emphasize this point enough: eat meat grown in nature whenever possible!

2.    Help heal and maintain a happy gut – Whether or not you’re eating a clean diet, your gut might need some help to heal from prior damage (like the kind that can come from taking antibiotics). Therefore, it’s always a good idea to give your gut extra support. An easy (and tasty) thing you can do every day is drink or cook with bone broth. Among its many health benefits, the broth is incredibly beneficial to our connective tissue and can help heal gut problems like leaky gut. You can make it on your own or buy it online (this one is my personal favorite).

Another great food you should sneak into your diet is fermented foods, like sauerkraut or kimchi. These support good gut flora a.k.a. they keep the good bugs in your gut very happy! Make sure you buy good brands (Bubbies is my go-to brand for sauerkraut). Just a small forkful a day keeps my gut bugs content!

Lastly, invest in a good daily probiotic/prebiotic (I highly recommend this brand). Again, this helps keep your good bugs happy and helps increase their population.

3.    Chew your food – This one might appear so basic, it might seem silly to mention here. But have you ever noticed how fast you eat? Most people (including myself here!) swallow their food after 3-4 bites. This means that we’re sending large food particles to our stomach, which makes it more difficult for the stomach to break down. This can cause an increase in bacteria in the intestines, which can lead to a whole host of problems like gas and bloating to nutritional deficiencies.

Chewing properly, which means chewing your food 20-30 times (!!!), leads to greater assimilation of nutrients by initiating the release of digestive enzymes that break down food. So I challenge you to take stock of how your chewing is going: are you a super-fast eater? Or do you take your time? The difference could mean everything to your gut!

4.    Balance your blood sugar – Our bodies were not meant to go through the blood roller coaster we might put it through every day. We function much better (and we don’t add fuel to the inflammation fire) when we keep things nice and steady in the blood sugar department. That means doing a few things consistently:

sugar, migraines and hormones

 

-       Start your day off with a balanced breakfast with protein & fat. Keep away from the cereals, pancakes, and bagels that we’re so accustomed to having. Most importantly, do not skip breakfast! It’s hard to catch up on the blood sugar roller coaster if you haven't started your day off on the right foot.

-       Don’t go too long in between meals. Once you’ve started out strong, keep up the good work by eating lunch and dinner before you are STARVING. Be sure to include healthy fats and proteins in these later meals as well.

-       In case of emergency, grab a snack. It’s a good idea to have access to a small, healthy snack that you can quickly eat if you don’t have time for a full meal. Think a clean snack full of great fats, like avocado and raw almonds.

-       When eating, just eat. Try to make your meals a calm, relaxing experience. That means when you eat, stay away from distractions like work or your phone. Try to unplug, go outside or catch up with a friend.

-       Stay away from sugar! This one is pretty obvious but stay away from any foods/drinks that are filled with sugar. Cookies and candy are obvious culprits but stay away from less obvious ones, like fruit juices.

There’s a lot of action items packed into this post. But if you think your migraines and hormones are working hand-in-hand (and not in a good way), then hopefully these tips can get you on the right track. If you’re interested in getting your hormones and your migraines under control, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!

 

Have a migraine-free day!

Caroline

 

 

When Migraine Misery & Hormone Imbalance Go Hand-In-Hand

hormones and migraines

I always tell clients that you can never really “cure” your migraines. They are your body’s alarm clock – your way to tell you in a loud and unpleasant way when something is “off”. That became very true for me this past year, starting when my daughter was about 5 months old. I’ve learned so much in the past year about my migraines and I really want to share my experience and break it down into easy action steps you can implement in your own life.

I had been feeling pretty good migraine-wise throughout my pregnancy. I was uncomfortable for other reasons (i.e. giant belly on my very small frame) but I was happy to escape my pregnancy relatively migraine free. Once I was cleared to exercise, I started running, doing yoga and working out with a personal trainer. I felt like I was well on my way to getting back into shape. Then I hit a wall: every workout started sending me into a migraine tailspin. I knew that it wasn’t my workouts that were toxic, but it was my body’s way of telling me that something was up. They got even worse when my period came back, not only was I getting migraines non-stop, but I was paralyzed with anxiety and fatigue. So that began the painful 9-month process of figuring out what it was.

The answer: A Hormone Imbalance!

Basically, I wasn’t making enough of a key sex hormone: Progesterone. I’ll get into what can cause this below, but before I do, I want to say one thing: if your doctor tells you that your migraines and other symptoms are just part of “being a woman” DON’T LISTEN TO THEM! My OBGYN literally told me that this was just going to be “my new normal” but thank god I didn’t listen to her and listened to my intuition instead. Just wanted to share that you always have to make sure that you are your #1 advocate!

So, if you have or suspect you have a hormone imbalance, it’s time to evaluate 3 areas in your life:

1.     Your Diet: What you choose to fuel you is key to the health of your hormones

2.     Psychological Stress: From trauma to the day-to-day grind, how do you keep stress and cortisol levels down?

3.     Environmental toxins: These can be pervasive in our homes, from our beauty products to the water we drink.

I’ll be sharing what I learned and share tips on how you can restore your hormones in the coming posts. But in the meantime, if you think hormones could be the source of your migraine misery, please get in touch!

 

I hope you have a migraine free day!

Caroline

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you have to Ruthlessly Prioritize

Hello Migraine Musings readers! I sincerely apologize for having neglected this blog & newsletter for so long. This summer and fall has been full of eventful happenings, both good—like moving into a new house!!—to not so good, like a return of my migraines in a new and unpleasant way. I know my migraines are my body’s alarm clock, so I had to really take some time and focus on getting healthy. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to cut out some things that I love, like writing these weekly letters and running (ugh!). I hope to bring both back into my life on a regular basis from here on out as I continue to work through these new findings. 

I plan on sharing what I’ve learned but for now, I’d love to look back and share a conversation I was honored to have The Migraine Guy, Kevin Patton, over on his podcast, The Headache Review. I love this format because he asked some great questions and we really got to dig deep on the importance of nutrition when really making a long term impact on your migraines.

Feel free to listen to the two-part interview linked below and let me know what you think. I hope you find some helpful wisdom that you can apply to your life today!

Image: The Headache Review

Image: The Headache Review

Image: The Headache Review

Image: The Headache Review

 

I hope this helps you find your ideal "you" diet!

Have a migraine free day!

 

Best,

Caroline

5 Cookbooks for a Migraine-Free Diet

When I share the diet changes I've made with others, the number question that follows is always:  “what do you eat??” For most people, gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs have become such an integral part of their diets that life without them seems unfathomable (and a lot less delicious).

That’s certainly what I thought when I started out on this journey. Plus, I am by no means a natural in the kitchen, so I thought I was doomed to eat the same horribly bland meals over and over again. But then I started looking for some outside help; I took to the Internet to search for recipes and I discovered an incredible amount of great resources in the form of food bloggers and chefs. I found resources that specialized in every type of dietary restriction. That initial research eventually led me to find my favorite bloggers, chefs and foodies and now I’m proud to say I’ve amassed a nice collection of cookbooks with incredibly yummy and nutritious recipes.

Here are my top five cookbooks at the moment and why I love them:

eat fat get thin migraines

Eat Fat, Get Thin by Dr. Mark Hyman – If you don’t know Dr. Hyman, you should. He’s a functional medicine doctor and passionate voice on the impact that clean eating can have on the body (and on chronic illnesses like migraine). In this book, he focuses on the importance of eating the often demonized but super important macronutrient: fat!

21 day sugar detox

The 21 Day Sugar Detox by Diane Sanfilippo – For those with a strong sweet tooth, this is an incredible resource. Not only does she provide delicious recipes, she lays out meals plans for three different levels depending on where you are in your diet journey and your dependance on sugar.

clean eats junger

Clean Eats by Alejandro Junger – This was the first book I bought when I first started to understand how my food was impacting my migraines. Although you’ll need to read some of his other books to learn about his methodology, it’s a great resource for yummy recipes if you're new to clean eating.

the whole 30 migraine

The Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig – For those of you that feel like you need a diet reset in a relatively short period of time, this book is an incredible resource. Although I haven’t done the Whole 30 diet formally myself, I pretty much ate this way when I did my diet reset (but just hadn’t discovered this great resource yet!). What I love about it, is that it gives you a guide to cook really simple basic meals if you have limited time (or are a novice in the kitchen), as well as provides recipes that are more involved if you want to get fancy.

Yumuniverse migraine

YumUniverse by Heather Crosby – This one is a bit of an outlier given that the recipes are vegan and gluten-free. I discovered Heather when I was experimenting with veganism and I continue to love her dishes. The one issues I run into with this book is that a lot of the recipes rely heavily on grains, which I try to limit for the most part. However, as much as I love meat, I find that I need and want more plant-based meals (beyond the roasted veggies that are my go-to). This book introduces you to such creative and delicious meals that you won't believe are vegan!

No matter which blogger/chef/author you follow, the first step towards cleaning up your diet and reducing your migraines is simply spending more time in the kitchen. If we continuously outsource our cooking, we’re leaving our health in someone else’s hands. So do yourself a favor, crack open a cookbook and find your new favorite recipe!

Got any favorites recipes? I would love to hear about them – please send them over!

7 Tips to Reduce Stress and Prevent a Migraine

stop stress from triggering migraines

Stress is an inevitable part of life. That doesn’t mean we can’t take proactive steps to manage our stress, and most importantly, keep our migraines at bay.

I’m reminded by this because this past month has been hectic. We were fortunate enough to buy a house in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. But with this great life change, comes a lot of a new stresses – from managing a kitchen renovation to moving – all with a very active 1 year old ! I found myself constantly on the go andI paid for it in a big way when I was hit with a major migraine episode. I knew immediately what had caused the migraine : I hadn’t taken my own advice on how not to get too wound up. So I’m putting out my top tips in the hopes that it helps you and it sinks in for me as the next weeks will continue to be hectic.

7 Tips to Reduce Stress and Prevent a Migraine

1. Meditation

Meditation or just simple deep breathing exercises might seem like an overly simplistic way to reduce stress. But even spending as little as 5 minutes per day has been proven to have profound effects on your health. 

The reason is simple: mindful breathing helps shut off our fight-or-flight response and activate the rest, relax and digest response. When the latter response is dominant, your breathing slows, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers as the blood vessels relax and your body is put into a state of calm and healing.

So how do you get started? You can use an app like Headspace to help guide you through the short sessions. Or you could start off on your own by doing a simple breathing exercise where all you have to do it make your inhale shorter than your exhale. Try this:

  • Sit still and tall somewhere comfortable
  • Set the timer for five minutes
  • Inhale for a count of two
  • Hold breath for count of one
  • Exhale gently for count of four
  • Repeat until timer goes off

Eventually, you can increase the counts from 2-4 to 4-6 or 6-8 and so on. Just remember the exhale has to be longer than the inhale!

 

2. Move!

As we’ll discuss more in the next section, exercise is incredibly beneficial for migraine sufferers. It is also one of the best ways to burn off stress hormones.

Get exercise in any way that’s fun for you. Run, dance, ride, swim, stretch or skip. Yoga is particularly great because it combines movement with breathing and signals to the body that it’s time to slow down.

 

3. Practice gratitude

The practice of being grateful not only makes you happier, it has been proven to develop stronger immune system and lower blood pressure. That’s because no matter how hard life gets, if we focus on the positive things you have in your life, you won’t stress as much.

You can practice being grateful by simply writing one thing you’re grateful for on a piece of paper before you go to bed. Or at nightly dinners with family you can go around the table and each say what you’re grateful for.  Personally, I use “The Five-Minute Journal”, which is an incredibly helpful guide to start and end each day with gratitude.

 

4. Take a bath

This one shouldn’t be hard to try! Add the following ingredients to a very hot bath: 2 cups of Epsom salt (which contains magnesium, the relaxation mineral), a half-cup of baking soda (which promotes an ideal pH for healing, detoxification, and optimal cellular function) and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol). Soak for 20 minutes.

Bonus: for double-relaxation, try meditating while taking a bath!

 

5. Plan tomorrow

If you’re to-do list often haunts you as you go to bed, forcing you to anxiously stare blankly at the ceiling rather than falling asleep, you should consider planning as much for tomorrow. Try these two tactics:

  • Take five minutes each night to write down your to-dos for tomorrow. And by write down, I mean actually write it down on a piece of paper (not on your phone or computer).
  • Prep for your morning routine the night before. Pick out your outfit; make sure your clothes are ironed; have your breakfast ingredients chopped and ready to go; pack your lunch. This way when you get out of bed you can calmly get yourself ready to tackle the day.

 

6. Support network

Surrounding yourself with people who genuinely support you is one of the most important determinants of psychological well being. If you have good friends in your life, make sure to prioritize getting together with them.

If you need more support in your life, think about your favorite hobbies and go find other people that love it too! Whether you love running, photography or knitting, it’s easier than ever to find others that share your passion and want to spend their time doing the things they love.

 

7. Therapy

If you can’t seem to lower your stress on your own, it might take some outside help to get you there. In that case, I highly recommend talking to a therapist who can help pinpoint the source of your stress and recommend tips specific to you to reduce your stress levels. Ask around for referrals for a good therapist – it could be life changing!

 

What are your top tips to combatting stress? I’m going to need all the help I can get until we’re moved in and settled, so please send them over!

Find Your "You" Diet

find your you diet

There is so much confusion about which diet we should follow, especially of those of us who have a chronic illness like migraines. There are so many buzzwords in the health and wellness space -- from Paleo to Vegan to South Beach -- the list goes on and on. So which one should you follow to help tame your migraines?

This is one of the most frequent questions I hear from migraineurs, so I figured I would share how I typically answer this question: it's all about finding your "you" diet.

I don't believe in a one-size-fits all philosophy when it comes to diet: I believe you need to find what works for you. For example, for one person, eating meat may be crucial to keeping their energy levels up. But for someone else, it may mean stomach cramps. Instead, I typically tell people to start reshaping their diets with these three steps:

1. Eat real food. So much of what passes as food on our supermarket shelves is not really food when you think about it. Something that was made in a plant versus grown in nature is not food. Yet we continue to consume things with dozens of ingredients filled with super long words we can barely pronounce. If our great grandmothers wouldn't recognize these things as food, then we probably shouldn't eat them. 

2. Eliminate inflammatory foods. There are three major things I highly recommend all migraineurs avoid at all costs because they are extremely inflammatory and can contribute significantly to your migraine misery: gluten containing grains like wheat, barely and rye, sugar, and processed oils like canola and vegetable oil. Unfortunately these three categories are ubiquitous in our modern day diets, so you really have to be vigilant. Read your labels!

3. Cozy up to your kitchen. There's no way around it, you're going to have to get cooking (if you're not doing so already). Outsourcing your meals by ordering takeout or eating out means you're leaving your health in someone else's hands, who likely wants to maximize for taste, not for nutrition. I realize it might be hard to fit cooking into an already busy schedule, but I encourage clients to make slow changes like picking one meal a day to cook at home and slowly increase home-cooking over time.  That way, you'll start to develop your own time-saving tips as you cook more and more meals.

If you follow these three basic ideas, you'll have a great foundation for finding out what diet works for you. You'll likely start noticing which foods give you a lot of energy and make you feel great and which foods weigh you down. Slowly, over time, as you clean up your diet I'm confident you can find the diet that works specifically for you!

I would love to hear from you -- what foods allow you to thrive? And which ones have you eliminated?

Migraine in the News

One of the hardest things about migraines, besides the debilitating pain, is the isolation that comes from feeling like no one understands what you're going through. That was certainly my experience, especially when I was in high school and college. When you have to tell people over and over again that you can't go to school or hang out or function, you inevitably feel judged by those who think you're exaggerating or, worse, making it up.

That's why I'm thankful that the WebMD series, In Their Own Words, hosted by Robin Roberts is focusing on telling the story of migraines from it's chronic, debilitating effects, to how it can impact relationships.

Do yourself a favor and take some time out of your day to watch the segments. It won't necessarily teach you anything new, but it's great to hear other people's stories. It's also a great piece to share with those around you in an effort to educate them on what you're going through.

WebMD: In their own words Moving Beyond Migraine

Check out the multi segment series on WebMD here.

Moving beyond migraine

And don't miss great introduction to the WebMD piece on Good Morning America.  I'm particularly excited about this piece because GMA has such an incredible reach, which is instrumental in getting more and more people to understand the incredibly debilitating nature of migraines.

Let me know what you think of the pieces!

 

Sleep Like a Baby: 9 Tips for Better Sleep

Image credit: Wellness & Weightloss

Image credit: Wellness & Weightloss

Sleep plays such a vital role in our every waking moment and in every aspect of our health. Without enough of it, you become more at risk for a suppressed immune system, hypertension, and obesity.

It is especially important for migraine sufferers to practice good sleep hygiene (or good sleep habits) given that the part of the brain where migraines originate (the hypothalamus) is also in charge of regulating sleep. Any disruption of your normal sleep, such as staying up too late, getting up earlier than normal, jet lag from crossing many time zones, frequent interruptions throughout the night, or oversleeping can be a major migraine trigger. Poor sleep also lowers the pain threshold and increases the physical and emotional experience of pain. It will, therefore, be key for you to get your sleep pattern in order if you want to maximize your chances of living migraine free.

 

9 Steps to Sleeping like a Baby

The sun once regulated sleep cycles; people would go to sleep at sunset and woke up at sunrise. Thanks to electricity, we can go to bed whenever we want. However nowadays, between hectic work schedules, constant connectivity, and endless distractions, it seems like sleep is our last priority.

In order to achieve sleep success, you have to look at it like a baby’s sleep routine: set a strict bedtime, get the right amount of sleep and develop a bedtime ritual.

1.   Declare your Bedtime

Adults need approximately 8 hours of sleep per night. Most people adhere to their wake-up time strictly. But what would happen if you were just as strict about your bedtime? I challenge you to count back 8 hours from when you need to wake up, set this time in stone, and make everything in your day work around it.

2.   Establish consistent bed and wake times

Migraines don’t like consistency so going to bed and waking up at the same time every day is key. I realize on the weekends it might be tempting to sleep in, but oversleeping can also be a major migraine trigger, so stick to your wake-up time even when you don’t have to get up for work or school.

3.   Create a dark, quiet optimal sleep space

Make your sleeping environment as restful as possible. Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool (between 62 – 67 degrees). Make sure your bed is serving you well by investing in the right mattress, pillows, and sheets for your specific needs and taste. Also, a comfy pair of pajamas will make going to bed cozier and send sleep-friendly messages to your body!

4.   Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can be big migraine triggers. But given the fact that they disrupt sleep, they should particularly be avoided in the late afternoons/evenings. If you are extra sensitive to caffeine, you should stop drinking caffeine by 2pm. Alcohol reduces the overall quality of your sleep, rather than improving your sleep as is commonly assumed.

Instead opt for a caffeine-free, relaxing drink like chamomile or lavender tea to help ease you to sleep.

5.   Eat and drink earlier

You want to avoid drinking too much fluid before bedtime so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Try to eat your meal 3-4 hours before bed to avoid feeling full when it’s time to go to bed. If you feel hungry before bed, try snacking on a handful of walnuts, which is a natural source of melatonin.

6.   Just Say No to Screens

This might be one of the hardest to adjust given the ubiquitous nature of distractions in the form of screens: television, smartphones, tablets, etc. But it is possible! Your goal should be to shut down all electronic devices 30-60 minutes before bed so you’re not over-stimulated. And if you’re using your phone as your alarm clock, stop! Buy yourself a simple, old-fashioned clock and keep your phone charging elsewhere.

Instead, try reading (from a real book) about a subject that interests you but is not work related. Have fun exploring other interests away from all electronics!

7.   Calm your Mind

It is important to clear your mind in order to get a restful night sleep. There are several ways of doing this, so the key is finding the routine that works for you. Here are some ideas:

  • If your mind is racing when you get into bed, take a pen and paper and write it all down!
  • If you like the idea of writing things down, keeping a gratitude journal like the “Five Minute Journal” makes sure you focus on the positive as you close each day.
  • Practice meditation – just 10 minutes alone can relax the mind, turn on the “rest and digest” nervous system and help you sleep
  • Take a hot bath with Epson salt and lavender oil. It can help wash away the day and relax the body.
  • Do some light stretching or yoga to help further relax the muscles and body.

8.   Review your Medications

If you’re taking any medications, include migraine-related drugs, ask your doctor if any of them could be sleep disruptors. If so, see if it’s possible to take them in the morning to minimize their impact.

9.   Learn to say “NO”

Most importantly, you might have to start saying “yes” a lot less and get more comfortable saying “no”. Going to bed at the time you need to might mean cutting out late nights at bars with friends, changing flight plans or missing your favorite late-night shows. It’s not as bad as it sounds: once you have established boundaries, people will respect them and you tremendously. You might have to get more creative at seeing your friends, like going to a yoga class in the morning on the weekends versus a late night dinner. Trust yourself that you’ll figure it out!

Got any other sleep tips? I would love to hear them!

Five Reasons Migraineurs Should Practice Gratitude

Image credit: The Hustle

Image credit: The Hustle

I was scrolling through some posts on a migraine support group on Facebook that I am a part of and one member’s post caught my eye. She was talking about how she woke up with such a horrible migraine that she had to call in sick to work. Feeling frustrated and upset, she then called her fiancé crying and lamented how horrible her life is. As migraineurs, we’ve all been there and I felt her pain in that moment.

But then she went on to say that her fiancé told her to think about the good in her life, like the fact that they were going to get married next year. It was such a simple statement but it made me think about how, even on our worst migraine days, we should all take the time to think about what we’re grateful for.

Last year I started to use the Five Minute Journal, which provides a great format for practicing gratitude on a daily basis. Admittedly, I haven’t been great about consistently writing in it (a baby will really wreak havoc on your morning rituals), but I’m determined to get it back into my routine even if I have to sneak it in in between my daughter’s naps. I think it’s a particularly powerful tool for those with migraines.

Image Credit: The Hustle

Image Credit: The Hustle

Here are five reasons all migraine sufferers should practice gratitude by using the Five Minute Journal:

1.    It gives you something positive to think about

In the throws of the most horrible episodes that could last for days (or weeks or years), it can certainly be hard to think about anything remotely positive. But the truth is, we all have something to be thankful for. I’m not suggesting you minimize your pain and hardship during a migraine. But focusing on the good things in your life, even if it’s as simple as the comfy pillow you’re lying on or the dark curtains blocking out light might help ease the pain.

2.  It forces you to focus on the most important to do’s

Everyday the journal prompts the question: “What would make today great?” and then asks you to list three things. It forces you to put a mini plan of action together at the start of your day, which inspires you to go after them. Since you take each page in the journal day by day, you might fill out something like “I will cook myself a healthy meal” on a really bad (migraine) day, while you declare something like “I will talk to my boss about my promotion” on a day when you’re feeling your best.

3.  It forces you to reflect on the day

At the end of the day the journal asks you to list three amazing things that happened that day. Sometimes they will be a reflection of the three most important things, and sometimes they won’t. All that’s important is that you reflect on three great things that happened (even if overall it was a crappy day). After a while, you’ll start to notice that you get into a habit of appreciating the smallest wins (i.e. “I got a seat in the subway on the way home from work” or “I read 15 pages of a great book in bed).

4.  It’s one small thing completely in your control

If you have chronic migraines, you may not feel like you have control over your days. Pain can force you to call in sick to work, cancel plans with friends, and miss your kid’s soccer games. But taking time to write a few thoughts is one thing that, even on the worst days, that most can manage to do.

5.  It literally takes five minutes

That’s it. Five minutes per day. To make you happier and reflect on what you’re grateful for. Sounds like a worthwhile exercise to me!

 

Got any more tips on how you keep track of what you’re grateful for? I would love to hear it!

 

 

 

It's June: Let’s Spread Some Migraine Awareness

migraine awareness month

It seems that every day I hear about a new cause or thing we’re honoring nationwide by assigning it a day or, in rare cases, a whole month. For example, did you know that June 2nd is “National Donut Day”?? Sounds like an opportunistic marketing campaign thought up by Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme.

But I discovered that June is also migraine awareness month, so, for once, I’ll bite. Migraines are so misunderstood, or worse, ignored, that we do need a whole month dedicated to getting more people educated about the misconceptions of this illness.

So I’ll start off the month by expressing some of the top things I wish people understood about my migraines. Maybe you’ll be able to relate:

1.  No, it’s not “just a headache”

I have a distinct memory of a previous boss telling me that he gets headaches and that he just takes two Tylenol and gets to work. Wow, that’s really a lovely story that has absolutely no relevance to the neurological event that a migraineur goes through. My migraine pain is an all-encompassing monster that feels like a small army is trying to break out of my skull. At the same time, I have horrible nausea and the light makes me want to rip out my eyes. Please understand that your Tylenol-cured headache is not ANYTHING like my migraines.

2.  Please, no unsolicited advice

I bump into well-intention people all the time who, after listening to my story, would genuinely want to help. At some point in our conversation, I will hear: “Have you tried [acupuncture, Botox, XYZ medication, etc.]? I don’t mean to sound unappreciative, but when my migraines were at their worst, most of the time I wasn’t receptive to hearing random advice. When someone is sick all the time, their illness can be all-consuming, so these suggestions can feel like it’s coming from a place of judgment even if you’re just trying to help. I would just ask that you take an extra minute to think through if the migraineur is open and ready to receive that advice or whether you should leave your wisdom for another time.

3.  No, I will never be “cured” of my migraines

Since I’ve been feeling so much better lately, friends and family seem shocked when I have an episode. I usually hear something like “Oh, but I thought you cured your migraines!” You would never say to a cancer patient whose cancer came back “Oh but I thought you cured your cancer!” Same goes for those with a chronic illness like migraines. The most we can hope for is that we get them under control and can keep chronic episodes to a minimum when they flare up.

4.  Yes, you can help!

Migraines can be very isolating because we often don't feel understood by those close to us and they don't know how to help. People often assume they can't help because they don't understand the illness, but the truth is, there is plenty you can do! I elaborate more in a previous post, “How to help someone when they have a Migraine” but there are many ways friends and family can help someone suffering from migraines from ensuring our basic needs are taken care of to making sure we have access to our migraine relief. It might not take the pain away, but if I had a healthy meal waiting for me in the fridge and my daughter and dog were taken care of, it would relieve enormous stress and I would feel something very important: I would feel loved. And that's worth more than any migraine medication!

What do you wish those closest to you understood about your migraines? Let’s use this month to make them aware!

 

5 Lessons I've Learned About Meditation (As someone who still sucks at Meditating)

Migraines and meditation

I know meditation needs to be a part of my everyday routine but I’ve failed dozens of times to make it a habit. Can I find 10 minutes out of my day to make it happen? Sure! I even made meditation one of my twelve goals for the year, but I still haven’t made it a priority and find myself starting and stopping the practice so many times.

Why is important for migraine sufferers to meditate? To over-simplify, it’s because so much of our lives are spent in a state of constant stress (known as fight-or-flight mode). Back in our hunter-gatherer days, we would turn on this mode to run away from a predator, and then turn it off when we would go back to our daily activities. Nowadays, we’re constantly firing on all cylinders and never give our bodies a break. This causes chronic, widespread inflammation that, over time, wreaks havoc on the body and can easily contribute to your migraine trigger load.

In order to decrease your migraine frequency, you have to get your body out of its stressed-out state and meditation is an effective, proven way to help make that happen. But if you've started and stopped like me (or haven’t even started), I hope you’ll learn from my experience:

1.  Don’t get fancy

You don’t have to go to a meditation center, sit on a plush pillow or hum. You just have to block off some time where all you do is focus on this one thing for a very limited amount of time. Just find a quiet place where you can focus on your breath for a few minutes. You can just sit by yourself, use an app, or lie down and do a breathing exercise, like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 exercise.

2.  Find a time of day that works for you every day.

I used to think that first thing in the morning would be the best time to meditate. But now I have a baby that wakes up and demands attention at 5am, so first thing in the morning is out of the question for me. So I figured right before bed was the next best thing. But I quickly learned that I'm so brain-dead at night that I wouldn't be able to benefit from the exercise. I'm now trying to find a consistent routine in between, and for me, it's after I put my daughter down for her first nap around 8am.

3.  You’ll think about a million things and that’s OK

When I sit down to meditate, I inevitably think about a laundry list of things I have to do, or something that is bothering me, etcetera, etcetera. Then I would stress out that I was distracted from my meditation and I wasn’t fully absorbing the benefits, which is obviously a vicious cycle that didn't get me anywhere. Now, whenever this happens I acknowledge whatever it is I'm thinking about, tell myself that I will get to it later and re-focus on my breathing. I’m hoping over time I will have to do this exercise less and less, but for now, this is the best I can do, and that’s OK!

4.  Electronics can be a blessing and a curse

Using apps has facilitated most of my meditation practice. I liked having someone “talk” me through the exercise. Most recently I used Headspace and really liked it because they also give you mini-lessons as you make progress. But the act of being tied to my phone while trying to re-center myself seemed counter-intuitive. So now I am working on ways to guide myself that's completely independent of the convenience of using my phone.

5.  Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Don’t worry if you miss a day or you don’t have time to sit through a whole 10 minutes. Just aim to do it every day and if life gets in the way every once in a while, it's not the end of the world. If you can, aim to meditate for 30 days straight so you maximize your chances of it becoming a habit. As with anything lifestyle related: to reap the benefits you must do it consistently over a long period of time.

 

This is all still a work-in-progress for me. But I really hope to make meditation stick for me this year! Got any tips that have worked for you? I would love to hear them!

 

How To Get Help From Your Partner When You Have A Migraine

migraines and relationships

There are so many dimensions to a migraine episode. There is the physical pain itself, of course. But there are other factors, like the feeling of isolation and misunderstanding, which can greatly contribute to our misery. That misery is only compounded if you feel like those closest to you, like your partner, doesn’t understand how to help you. This can build up a lot of unnecessary resentment, so let’s try to cover some ways you can best communicate what you need with your partner.

1.    Timing is everything. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of an episode to ask for help. If you’re in agony, there is no way you’re going to be the best communicator you can be. Instead, on a good day, sit your partner down and discuss with him or her what kind of support you need on your toughest days.

2.    Actually, tell them what you need. This might be overly obvious, but as pain warriors, we might tend to keep things to ourselves and suffer in isolation. Yet simultaneously, we wonder why our partner isn’t capable of helping us. The reason is: they’re not mind readers! We have to tell them exactly what we need with SPECIFICS. For example, “I need Imitrex, which I keep in the bottom drawer of the bathroom,” or “I need to wrap an ice pack around my head filled with crushed ice.” Or sometimes the best thing they can do is just lying next to you so you’re not alone. Whatever it is that you need, tell your partner so they can proactively help and not pester you with questions when you start going down the migraine rabbit hole.

3.    Delegate your obligations. One of the most stressful things about migraines is not being able to do our everyday obligations, from our job and schoolwork to our everyday chores like cooking and taking care of the kids. Have a system in place with your partner to have him/her take over any obligation that can be easily delegated. For example, if you normally shop for your family, ask if your partner can do his for you instead. Or have a list of go-to takeout places so you know the family won’t go hungry.

4.    When better, show gratitude. Once the episode has passed, it’s important to take some time to show your appreciation for your partner’s support. Of course, part of being in a relationship is that we take care of one another when we’re not feeling well. But a show of appreciation really goes a long way. Remember, in addition to taking care of you while you were sick, they likely did more around the house, which likely made their lives more stressful. Once you’re up for it, do something nice for your partner like doing a chore of theirs, cooking their favorite treat or giving them a spontaneous hug. Taking time and effort to show how much you appreciate their support will really help internalize how much it means to you.

What are the nicest things your partner has done for you in the middle of a migraine episode? And what tips do you have for effectively communicating with your partner? I’d love to hear your advice!

Treat Your Migraine Doctor Like Your Boyfriend (Or Girlfriend)

doctormigraineally

The other day I was catching up on some lectures from the 2017 Migraine World Summit, which is an incredibly resource for all migraine sufferers. I highly recommend you invest the time and money to watch as many lectures as possible to see what’s going on in the field. I’ve only just scratched the surface, but one moment caught my attention…

During a lecture by Dr. Peter Goadsby where he discussed the top migraine myths, he touched on the fact that you don’t necessarily need to see a headache specialist, but just a doctor who is truly going to be an ally and be genuinely passionate about learning about your specific symptoms and making you feel better.

This might seem like an overly obvious statement but I can't tell you how many migraine sufferers I talk to or read about that say they are frustrated with their doctor. I hear "my doctor barely spends time with me," "he/she makes me feel it’s all in my head," "he/she tells me there is nothing else we can do."

Well, I'm here to tell you to treat your doctor relationship like a romantic relationship: if it's not working, it's time to break up.

In the healthiest romantic relationships, ideally, you're with someone who shares the same values. You sometimes disagree and that's OK, because when you do you have a healthy back and forth until you find common ground. If two people just don't click, the other person doesn't give you the time of day, or they don’t want to work through the hard times, then why would you want to be with that person?

I'm not sure how so many of us got in the bad habit of being so deferential to doctors. I know I've been there...I have seen my fair share of doctors for my migraines and even though I didn't agree with what they were saying or their advice didn't align with my personal philosophy, I felt compelled to listen to them because they were the "expert" and I was the patient. Yes, doctors know much more about medicine than I ever will. But you know who's an expert in my health? Me! Just like you’re an expert in your own health!

Instead of taking in everything that a doctor says as the gold standard, you should view every conversation with your doctor as a dialogue -- a back and forth dialogue. Here are a few tips to help you make the best of your next visit and avoid feeling helpless:

  1. Do your homework. Read up on different medications and treatment options so you have some context of the potential plans that will come up.
  2. Don't hesitate to ask questions. Show up to your visit with a list of questions or bring them up during your visit. Your doctor is an incredible source of knowledge – you shouldn’t feel like you’re inconveniencing him or her if you need time to clarify.
  3. Ask for more time if you need it. I know doctors are incredibly busy and usually have packed schedules. But if you need more time and you get the sense they are ready to run to their next patient, just ask if you can have a little more time with them.
  4. Be prepared to walk away.  Most doctors try their best every day to help their patients. But sometimes it just isn’t working out for various reasons. Sometimes you just need a fresh perspective, or you just need a doctor that you feel more connected to. Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to follow your gut and find someone else if you feel it’s necessary.

Remember, a great doctor that you connect with can be your greatest migraine resource. But you have to always be your #1 health advocate, which means you’re in charge of making sure the relationship is always working out for the best. If not, it’s time to move on and find your ally.

 

Sometimes It’s Healthier to Eat the Gelato

Sometimes it's healthier to eat the gelato

By normal standards, I eat a pretty “strict” diet. However, I don’t see it that way – I just eat the what's best for my body and my migraines, which means I avoid gluten, grains, dairy, soy and of course, anything processed. When I’m home and mostly eating home-cooked meals where I have control over all the ingredients, I find it’s easy to come up with healthy and yummy meals. But when traveling or eating out, the loss of control over all my meals make things more complicated.

Last week I got back from a one-week trip to Portugal. It was the first time we took the little one (now 10 months!) on an international trip and I’m happy to report, it was a success. We absolutely fell in love with Lisbon as well as the beaches in the south.

But I’ll admit I was anxious about one thing: what was I going to eat??

Part of the joy of traveling is discovering a new culture through their food. What was I going to do if I couldn’t walk into a coffee shop and taste a local pastry? Or indulge in a glass of wine with some cheese? In the days leading up to the trip, I thought about this a lot and it was starting to cause me a lot of stress because I was feeling deprived.

Finally, after weeks of unnecessarily stressing in anticipation of all that I wasn’t going to be able to eat, I decided I needed to look at this situation through a different lens. This trip is a treat, an opportunity to explore a new country, and, most importantly, to relax. If I was going to be stressed that I would be “tempted” to eat a food on my normal “forbidden” list, it would defeat the purpose of the trip, and not to mention expose me to a potent migraine trigger: stress!

So I gave myself a new rule: if I really wanted to experience a food I normally don’t get to eat, I would do it. And I would enjoy it – no guilt allowed! This meant I got to taste all kinds of cheeses, yogurt, wine, and yes, gelato. My indulgences didn’t induce any migraines or digestive distress. Instead, they are an important part of my memories of my great trip to Portugal.

The big takeaway for me is this: I could only do this because I have mastered my migraines. In the past, when my migraines were chronic and out of my control, a simple glass of wine could send me into a 3-day episode. But now, I know what factors can send me over the edge and I’m conscious of how to keep them at bay. Yes, I did eat a lot of things I try to keep out of my day-to-day. But I also slept 8 hours a night, took long walks, and was super relaxed, so I could afford the flexibility. 

This is the kind of freedom mastering your migraines affords you. And why I’m so passionate about what I do.

5 Tips to Avoiding a Migraine on Vacation

annie-spratt-217517.jpg

Today our family is embarking on our first international trip since our baby girl was born last year. My husband and I have never been to Portugal and we both have been dying to go, so I’m super psyched that it’s finally happening!

Prepping for travel (especially with a baby!) comes with some stress. You have to make sure you bring everything you need, get through TSA and customs and then pray there aren’t any delays. But these days, I find the thing I worry most about is how travel will impact my migraines. The key, as with most things in life is to come prepared, so I’d like to share some of my best travel tips:

1.    Snacks, snacks, snacks

This is listed first because it’s probably the most important. Airports are desert wastelands for healthy (and edible) foods, so I make sure to bring my own. Plus, because I have a number of dietary restrictions I know I may not have access to good food options until I find a grocery store at my destination. I, therefore, make sure to pack a number of portable foods that will tie me over in the airport, plane and until I get my bearings wherever we end up. Here are some of my favorites:

2.    H2O

Flying dehydrates the body, so make sure you don’t accidentally become susceptible to this potent migraine trigger. It’s rare that I’ll leave the house without my beloved water bottle, but when I travel I’m even more glued to it. I recently bought a S’well water bottle and I love it because it keeps the water nice and cool. Find a bottle you love and don’t let it leave your side!

3.    Stay on your time zone

This probably on works for a short trip, but since we’re only going to Portugal for a week, we’re going to do our best to stay on New York City time. Sleep disruption is a major trigger for me and there is nothing that will mess me up more than jetlag. Since Portugal is only 5 hours ahead of New York, we plan on eating late dinners (that’s what the do in Europe, right?) and waking up later than normal. I realize this might not be feasible if the time difference is more significant, but do what you can to minimize jetlag, both when you arrive at your destination and when you return home.   

4.    Don’t do anything exotic that will send your body into shock

A few years ago when I wasn’t in particularly good shape and I wasn’t in a good place with my migraines, I decided to go on a solo trip to Nicaragua to learn how to surf. It had been a lifelong dream and I had just accomplished a major professional milestone, so it seemed like a good reward to myself. This ended up being a HORRIBLE idea. After one (rather successful) surf lesson I was sent into a full-blown 4-day migraine.

Moral of the story? Just because you’re in a new location doesn’t mean you should forget your triggers. Exercise, especially a new type of exercise, has been a potent trigger for me in the past, so I should have known that that wasn’t the right time in my life to go surfing. If I were to do it all over again, I would have made sure I did certain exercises that mimicked surfing so my body was used to it by the time I got to Nicaragua. So, don’t make the same mistake I did – don’t do something for the first time while on vacation that you know is potentially a major migraine trigger.

5.    Remove unnecessary stress

A lot of unpredictable things can happen when you travel (anyone ever lost their bags?? That's the worst!). But there are certain things you can control, like getting to the airport several hours ahead of your flight so you’re not running to catch your plane or creating a packing list so you don’t worry that you forgot something. Stress is a very potent migraine trigger, so think about when you tend to get stressed and do what you can to avoid those stressors.

 

Are you guys going anywhere fun this spring? I would love to hear about how you avoid migraine chaos while traveling! Please reach out with my tips!

 

Live Migraine Free: My Mission to Run the NYC Marathon

At the 2015 NYC Marathon pre-race convention

At the 2015 NYC Marathon pre-race convention

One of the things I ask clients to think about is what they want to do once they have reclaimed their health.  Or said another way, what is the number one thing that your poor health is keeping you from? So many of us are severely limited when we're sick so I frame this conversation around a declaration that you have to fill in: "When I'm living my life to my peak potential, free from chronic migraines, I will ______." 

When my migraines were at their worst they limited every area of my life. My work slowed down tremendously, my personal life was completely neglected -- I was basically a miserable lump on the couch. But the one thing I craved most on those long miserable days was to exercise, or more specifically, to run. I live right near a big park in Brooklyn, NY and there is a beautiful track that goes through the whole park. Every day there are thousands of runners, walkers, and bikers that circle the park to get in their daily exercise, relieve stress or simply to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life. Running had become all of these things for me and so much more. On the rare occasion I would make it to the park I would envy the runners as they passed me by. They looked so free and I realized I desperately craved that freedom too: freedom to do whatever I wanted to do - not whatever I could find the strength to do in my migraine filled day.

The goal of being able to run again was a very tangible thing to go after and really became the driving force to do whatever I needed to do to get healthy. I took it a step further and declared that as soon as I was free from the migraine prison I was in, I would sign up to run the New York City marathon.

Picking up my race bib!

Picking up my race bib!

This experience taught me a few things that I try to pass onto others:

1. When faced with a major challenge, be very specific about something you want to accomplish when you get out of your rut. When you're as sick as I was for as long as I was, it's tempting to just try to get through that day (and indeed, some days that's all you can do). But having something bigger to strive for keeps you focused on the future and not on the current state of your misery.

2. Once you're out of your rut, hold yourself accountable and find your tribe that will help you reach your goal. I knew that going out and running which at the time seemed like an impossible 26.2 miles was going to take some help. Luckily, I hooked up with a local running group, which was composed of the sweetest bunch of super athletes I could have ever asked to train with. They were a constant source of inspiration and almost quite literally pushed me over the finish line.

3. Never take your health for granted. This one is so hard because we often don't appreciate something until it's gone. But once I had my health back I made it a point to really appreciate the good days. If I get up one morning and don't feel like running, I try to remember back to the days when I physically couldn't run and then push myself to get my ass up and lace my sneakers. I know all too well that the freedom to do so is precious and I can't take one minute for granted.

Steps from the finish line of the 2015 NYC Marathon

Steps from the finish line of the 2015 NYC Marathon

On November 1st, 2015 I am proud to say I ran the New York City marathon. It was a beautiful fall day and the experience is something I will never forget as I ran through the city streets past thousands of spectators. Besides the accomplishment of running all those miles, I will remember it as a symbol of my newfound freedom from chronic migraine hell. It will forever serve as a symbol for what I can accomplish when I have the ability to strive for my peak potential.

So, now I'll turn it around to you...what do you want to accomplish when you're free from migraine pain and striving for your peak potential?

What is a Health Coach? (And Why You Should Work with One to Treat Your Migraines)

Image: Cherie Holsapple

Image: Cherie Holsapple

If you suffer from chronic migraines, chances are you’re currently seeing a doctor or you’ve seen a doctor regularly in the past. This is what a doctor-patient relationship usually looks like in my experience: you see the doctor for a short visit (maybe 15-20 minutes); you’ll receive a prescription, and then go home and try the new medication. After a few months of trying the medication, you’ll see the doctor again for a follow-up visit and report on your symptoms. If you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you were responsive to the medication and you’ve found something to help treat your migraines. But if your luck is anything like mine, medication alone doesn’t move the needle, so you’re back at square one. When you see the doctor again (for another quick 15-20min visit) he or she prescribes a new medication and the cycle starts all over again.

Does this sound familiar? I personally went through this cycle for years, and it can be maddening to feel like you’re not making any progress, especially since there is such a big gap between doctor’s visits and you've spent many of those days curled up on the couch paralyzed from pain. But that’s where a health coach can come in handy! Ideally, a health coach will work in partnership with your doctor to focus on other areas in your life that are contributing to your migraine misery.

To be clear, a health coach is not a doctor or nutritionist and cannot replace the role of either of these in your life. But let’s clarify what a health coach does and how they can help get you out of your migraine misery. A health coach:

  • Empowers you to take control of your personal health and well-being in areas such as food and non-food forms of nourishment like sleep, exercise and stress management.
  • Spends more time one-on-one with clients and sees them more regularly, so you have constant access to someone for support and accountability as you work through big shifts in your life.
  • Focuses on changing behavior so these new lifestyle habits really stick versus prescribing and diagnosing your condition.
  • Picks up where the physician left off, helping you implement strategies suggested after check-up or diagnosis.
  • Does not come in with an agenda. It is the client that drives the conversation based on their individual goals.

If you can relate to the feeling of helplessness in between doctor’s appointments, a health coach may be a life-changing option to help guide you out of your migraine misery. Do you have any questions about how a health coach can help you develop a program to tackle your migraines? Please reach out to me here!

Beware of Sugar in these 6 Unexpected Foods

Image credit: Panera Bread

Image credit: Panera Bread

I always get excited when some good news comes out in the food industry and today was one of those days. The national restaurant chain, Panera Bread, has decided to display the sugar and calorie count of every beverage they serve. Since the average American consumes approximately 150 pounds of sugar per year, a lot of which is in the form of sugary drinks, hopefully, this will help educate consumers and make them think twice when deciding between soda versus a healthier option, like good ole' water.

A lot of my work with my clients is focused on cleaning up their diets, including minimizing their sugar intake. And most people know the obvious things to cut out, like sweetener in their coffee or cookies. But once you start looking, you’ll find sugar in the most unexpected places. Here are the top 6 foods I recommend clients stay away from when lowering their sugar intake:

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

1. Fruit Juice

It has fruit in it, so it must be healthy, right? Not exactly. Fruit has natural sugar in it, but when you eat a whole fruit you’re also eating the fiber, which means the sugar will be absorbed slower into the body. But if you remove the fiber, it’s like drinking a giant shot glass of sugar.

Instead: For liquid intake, water is always the best choice. If that sound painfully boring, try seltzer or add a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice for some flavor

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

2. Pasta sauce

But pasta sauce is savory – not sweet! I know, it’s crazy, but a lot of mainstream pasta sauce jars have as much sugar per serving as soda. Yikes!

Instead: Make your own tomato sauce! It might take a bit more time, but it will be worth the health benefits. Play around with different recipes in your cookbooks or from a favorite food blogger.

Image: Today.com

Image: Today.com

3. Yogurt

Yogurt has naturally occurring sugar, which comes in lactose. But the problems arise in these two big sugar traps: when they have added fruit flavor (most likely courtesy of high-fructose corn syrup) or when they are reduced fat.

Instead: Stick to full-fat Greek yogurt like the Fage brand. If you want to add a little flavor, try a handful of organic berries.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

4. Salad dressing & condiments

Ketchup, barbecue sauce, and bottled salad dressings taste delicious when added to our food. Unfortunately, it could be partly because of the added sugar, probably in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.[G1] [G2] [G3]

Instead: Make your own dressing! Freshly squeezed lemon, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar are a great combo and taste amazing on most salads. For a go-to condiment, substitute the ketchup for plain mustard.

Image: Good Housekeeping

Image: Good Housekeeping

5. Granola Bars

I used to be a sucker for granola bars. I felt like they were a great "healthy" snack to eat when I was in a rush or after a workout. Boy, was I wrong. Corn syrup, brown rice syrup, dextrose, and fructose are just some of the common ingredients you'll find on granola bar labels.

Instead: Make your own snacks as a substitute for this convenient sugary temptation. Try this yummy coconut curry cashew recipe to get you started.

Image: Oh Nuts

Image: Oh Nuts

6. Dried fruit

Again, with the fruit! When you suck out all the water, you’re left with a super concentrated form of the original fruit. Plus, you’ll often find added sugars and preservatives.

Instead: If you want some fruit, just eat the whole fruit. When possible, stick to fruit that is naturally lower in sugar like blueberries or raspberries.

 

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list. Sugar is in lots more unexpected places. Where have you been the most surprised to find loads of sugar??

 

Short on time to grocery shop? Download this app now!

Instacart will make your life easier

One of the keys to transforming your health and living migraine free is to clean up your diet and spend lots more time in the kitchen. But for too many of us, we come home from a long day to an empty fridge and no willpower to make it to the grocery store. This was certainly one of the main hurdles in my path to getting healthier. On top of that, I also absolutely HATE going to the grocery store – they are always crowded at the times I can go, I am overwhelmed with options, and it is a hassle to schlep the groceries back to my apartment (oh, the struggles of living in a city!).

Enter Instacart: an app that literally changed my life. It’s removed some major roadblocks to cooking consistent, healthy meals. Here are the top reasons you should download this app now!

1. Makes meal planning easier

If I don’t have a fridge full of groceries, I was will almost certainly cave and order takeout or go out to eat instead of cooking a healthy meal. So the key to success has always been to plan out my meals for the week. But it takes a lot of motivation to sit down on a Sunday, write out a weekly menu, list out the ingredients and then go to the store. Now Instacart has eliminated this last, most dreaded step! You can shop through their app directly from stores near you, have an Instacart shopper shop for you and communicate order changes in real time, and then get them delivered to your home within the one-hour window.

2. Avoid unhealthy temptations

Another major pitfall of going to the grocery store was that unhealthy food would inevitably tempt me. Everyone has a weakness (or several) and I had a hard time not coming back with something I shouldn’t have. Since using Instacart, I’ve discovered that if I don’t see the tempting groceries, I don’t crave them and therefore they don’t end up in my kitchen. And if it’s not in my kitchen, I won’t end a long day sneaking in a few handfuls of kettle corn.

3. Free shipping if you pay for membership

Similar to Amazon Prime, Instacart has a $99 membership fee that entitles you to unlimited free shipping as long as you meet their $35 order minimum. As long as you make a couple dozen orders in a given year, it pays for itself (and trust me you'll be making much more than that once you start using this thing!).

4. One hour delivery window

No, you don’t have to re-arrange your whole day to wait for your groceries. You simply select the one-hour window that’s convenient for you. In my experience, they are on time almost 100% of the time, and if they are late for any reason, they let you know and go out of their way to accommodate you.

5. Prices are the same as in store!

This is my favorite part: most of the grocery stores that Instacart partners with offer the same prices on the app as they do in the store. You read that right! You get access to this amazing convenience all for the same price as shopping in person.

Now there are no excuses for not having a fully stocked fridge! Have you found an amazing app or tool that’s saved you a lot of time in the kitchen? Please reach out and share your time-saving tips so together we can help more people live migraine free.