Maintaining healthy habits isn't easy with a busy life and chronic migraine. Here are Ciara O'Rourke's three top tips.
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 both 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.
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 simplest source of comfort. I've definitely used it as such.
I suppose 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. Honestly, I’m more likely to be found in bed at 9 pm than out enjoying a walk.
This is such 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 really hard with work and older children to carve out any time for me and my health.
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, and it’s definitely 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!
I decided to go with option two, of course. Here are my three steps to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier me.
My friend told me about this, and I think that it’s a great idea. Basically, you plan and organize to take 100 walks over 100 days (she started on January 1st, so I have a way to catch up!). It doesn’t have to be the longest walk; it’s just important to get out in the fresh air to move. After 100 days of walking, you’ll be firmly in the habit and will continue to exercise for longer.
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 that I can carry around with me – 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 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 food schedule for the week, 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 on days that I am very tired or on migraine days, 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 it later on.
Again, I used to be great on a Sunday afternoon, preparing for the week ahead and portioning out all my lunches and dinners. I think batch cooking is a relatively easy change that’ll hopefully have a good effect. Plus, it will be great to have healthy, nutritious meals prepared on migraine days when I need them most.
I know that things won’t change overnight, and sometimes, things are easier said than done. Still, I honestly believe these changes will really have a positive outcome on 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.
It hardly ever feels like there’s a proper “time” to change or that you can schedule your life that is already so busy. But thoughts like that are just excuses to stop you from improving.
So, I have to start at the beginning and change one aspect of my life, then gradually increase the adaptions as the weeks go on. I’m also grateful that I have places like this platform to share how I feel and be honest about my concerns. Chronic migraine affects so much of your life, but I’m hoping to change that.
I can’t wait to update you on my progress!
NPS-ALL-NP-00359 July 2021
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