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  3. Migraine and Weight Gain: Are They Linked?

Migraine and Weight Gain: Are They Linked?

Getty Images/ Dougal Waters

Chronic migraine may be linked to weight gain, even when the condition doesn’t directly cause the latter. For example, hunger and fatigue after migraine attacks may lead to consuming more junk food and exercising less.

In this article, migraine patient Ciara O’Rourke explores the possible connection between the two. She highlights several contributing factors, including a hectic lifestyle that leaves little time for exercise and reaching for comfort foods after an attack.

Ciara also provides three top tips for keeping weight gain to a minimum despite any obstacles chronic migraine puts in the way: 1. Try the "100 Days of Walking" challenge, 2. Sample a variety of fresh, healthy snacks, 3. Batch-cook tasty, nutritious meals for the week.

This is a difficult article for me to write. Because I find it hard to admit the problem to myself, it’s even more challenging to share it here, publically. But this is a space for sharing and learning, and I want to be open.

Today, I’m going to talk about weight gain and migraine. If I’m being honest, my weight has always been a concern for me. From a young age, I have had to watch what I eat and get regular exercise. And, as the years have gone by and my migraines have worsened, these daily habits haven’t been easy to maintain.

How migraine symptoms make weight gain worse

When I get a migraine attack, my symptoms include a pounding headache, sensitivity to light, fatigue, and vomiting. The vomiting can be severe to the point where I can’t keep anything down, and it can last for the whole day. As you can imagine, this is very uncomfortable. After an attack, I'm ravenous.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to reach for the wrong foods. There is a simple reason behind this: a migraine attack can leave you feeling very low, and food is the most straightforward source of comfort. I've definitely used it as such.

Exercise is difficult with migraine and a busy schedule

I’ve also neglected my exercise routine. I used to love walking, swimming, and going to the gym. As the years have gone by and I’ve become busier with work and the children, I’ve let my exercising regime slip. The added pressure of chronic migraine hasn't helped! Add lengthy hospital shifts to all that, and you can see why I’m exhausted. I’m more likely to be found in bed at 9pm than out enjoying a walk.

This is a shame, as exercise would benefit my weight, mental health, and migraine symptoms. When I was on maternity leave, I found it so much easier to get exercise as I could pop the kids into the buggy and take off. Nowadays, I find it hard with work and older children to carve out any time for me and my health.

Migraine and weight gain can feel like a vicious circle

Sometimes, I feel like it’s all a vicious circle. When I exercise and eat well, it helps to manage my migraine attacks. But migraine doesn’t give you much energy to exercise and focus on healthy eating! I have let my weight creep up over the years, which has affected my self-confidence and body image. I avoid the camera like the plague and any social circumstances where my weight may make me self-conscious.

So I am left with two options:

1) Continue as I’ve been doing for the last few years


2) Try and make small changes in my lifestyle to affect change.

These changes aren’t only for weight control; they’ll help my overall health and well-being. I think the latter two make better reasons, anyway!

3 steps towards a healthier, migraine-friendly lifestyle

I decided to go with option two. Here are my three steps to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier me.

Step 1: Try the “100 Days of Walking” challenge

My friend told me about this, and it’s a great idea. You plan and organize to take 100 walks over 100 days (she started a few months ago, so I have a way to catch up!). It doesn’t have to be the longest walk; moving little and often in the fresh air is better than nothing at all.

After 100 days of walking, you should be firmly in the habit and will continue to exercise for longer.

Step 2: Sample a variety of fresh, healthy snacks

Step Two is trying out new and healthy snacks. Skipping meals is a migraine trigger for me, so I always try to have snacks on hand if I don’t have time for a full lunch or dinner. These snacks can be unhealthy sometimes, so preparation is a must.

I’ve made a list of healthy snacks I can carry around – preferably with a long shelf life. Things like fruit and crackers are helpful, but a bit of variety will stop me from getting bored.

Step 3: Batch-cook tasty, nutritious meals for the week

Step Three is preparing meals ahead when I can. Having home-cooked food on hand will help me avoid the temptation to make poor food choices. I used to be great at making a weekly food schedule, shopping for the ingredients, and sticking to my chosen recipes.

Nowadays, I try to stick to a plan for family lunches and dinners, but I have days where I’m underprepared. This can especially happen when I am exhausted or have a migraine, so I need to think more about easy yet healthy alternatives.

One idea I have is batch cooking. This is when you cook meals in larger quantities, e.g., curry, stew, or chili, and then freeze portions to heat up when you want them later.

Again, I used to be great on a Sunday afternoon, preparing for the week ahead and portioning out all my lunches and dinners. Batch cooking is a relatively easy change that takes a load off my busy weekly schedule. Plus, it will be great to have healthy, nutritious meals prepared on migraine days (when I need them the most).

The takeaway

I know things won't change overnight, and sometimes, things are easier said than done. Still, these changes will positively affect all aspects of my life.

I have been self-conscious for such a long time and have placed a lot of blame on living with migraine. However, now I realize that, yes, having a chronic condition makes things more of a struggle… but it doesn’t make them impossible.

When making changes, it's tempting to wait for a "convenient time" as we're always so busy. But, trust me, there will never be a "convenient time." Thoughts like that are excuses to stop you from improving.

I start by changing one aspect of my life, then gradually increase the adaptions as the weeks go on. I’m also grateful to have places like this platform to share how I feel. Chronic migraine affects so much of my life, but I hope to change that.

I can’t wait to update you on my progress!

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-00934 JUNE 2023

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