Jess’ Theory: Digestion is King

2 Sep
Digestion is King. Photo credit Morgue Filer User naama

Digestion is King. Photo credit Morgue Filer User naama

So I have a theory. A theory about the connection between the food I eat, my digestion and subsequent fatigue and migraine headaches.

It is only a theory, not backed up by any precise science or medical research.

It is a theory based on the solid evidence that my body has presented to me time and time again. My body the great scientific experiment 🙂

My theory goes something like this:

(I warn you it is not a particularly pretty theory..)

  1. I eat a food that is technically ‘Jess Friendly’ (a technical term meaning gluten and dairy free)
  2. Sometimes immediately, though often up to day or two later, I have a severely bloated and distended abdomen, I suffer with spasms of cramping pains and most significantly to this little theory of mine, my digestion grinds to a halt. No pooping. My body has firmly dropped anchor at constipation-city.
  3. I can’t stop yawning. I have a never ending need to rest and when I do I fall asleep. My energy is drained, reaching new lows.
  4. My head is filled with haziness for a day. And then a dull ache builds up on the left side of my forehead. It creeps up gradually, often so slowly I don’t always recognise what’s happening. But the pain always starts on the left side. It spreads down behind my left eye and inches across my face and down my nose. I feel nauseous, dizzy and generally spaced out. Bright lights and loud noises are horrible. On the worst occasions I end up in bed horizontal and not moving with a cold compress over my eyes.
  5. I take co-codomol, the pain reducing drug, which, if I’m lucky hits the spot and gives respite for a few hours. The side effect of this glorious drug…constipation. A classic catch-22. Either, a) I try and relieve the pain by taking the drug and thus exacerbate the constipation, which caused the headache in the first place or b) I just suffer in agony, waiting for the pain to pass.
  6. Once the acute pain is passed, usually after a long sleep, I’m left with a head that feels physically battered and bruised. I feel fragile and very sore, as if someone has been pummeling my head with their fists. This gradually subsides over a day or two.
  7. Slowly after 3-4 days the cogs of my digestive system slowly begin to grind into life once more and things begin to return to normal.
  8. Oh and to top it all off, around stage 2, a giant spot (or three) forms on my chin, huge, red and very painful. The toxins literally popping out to say hello any way they can.

This was the story of last week for me.

I ate a, supposedly, gluten free and dairy free pizza whilst at a friend’s house. I suspect the base was gluten free (it was too hard and tasteless to have been wheat filled) but the toppings (despite pertaining to be Jess friendly) most likely were not, or at least had been contaminated in some way. I reacted immediately with bloating and stomach pains and then as the week progressed, the full theory played out.

This is not the first time this pattern has happened for me. A few months ago, Mr B and I ate dinner at a (new to us) local pub. I was ecstatic that this place served gluten free dairy free fish and chips! And the main course was, and has been on numerous occasions since, fine. When I’ve only had the fish and chips I’ve been fine. No reaction. But that first time in my over eager state I ordered the gluten free crumble for dessert. So overjoyed that there was a gluten free dessert, that I forgot the key ingredient to a good crumble topping is of course butter. Dairy. It wasn’t until several spoonfuls down that I made the connection. Oops. And the next day I paid the price with the above theory cycling into action.

There was another time involving sausages at a friend’s BBQ. And another involving crème brûlée (yes I know it’s dairy laden, I was so brain fogged at the time I stupidly thought it was just made from eggs) and another after eating pâté. These are just the incidents that I have recognised and remembered as preceding a severe headache.

The fact it is not usually an immediate reaction is my excuse for why I have not joined the dots before. It was a real light bulb moment when the penny finally dropped last week. ‘I’m so tired, I have a huge spot, I haven’t been to the toilet properly all week, my head is so sore, yesterday I had a migraine’ I complained to my Mum and Sister over Skype. My Mum (always the wise one 🙂 ) asked, ‘what have you eaten?’ And then after a few moments of back peddling through my memory in search of a ‘bad’ meal, I realized. The pizza on Sunday. I bet that will have been it.

I’m not a doctor. And medically what I’m saying may make no sense. But I think from the research and reading I have done on the topic, our digestion is at the heart of our health and when it fails to function optimally, negative consequences show up across our bodies. It may not be headaches and migraines for everyone. But for me I clearly have a vulnerability in that area and too many times now my body has followed this pattern. So for me and my body my theory makes sense. Digestion is clearly the king for me and when he decides to have a day off, it has as huge knock on effect, with the rest of the kingdom going down with him.

Through having ME/CFS I have had it drummed into me to ‘listen to my body’. One of the causes of the severity of my illness was me ignoring all the warning signs that my body gave me. Now ‘listen to my body’ is my mantra. It helps keep ME/CFS at bay. It is not full-proof but it helps most of the time. And now it has helped me identify another symptom inducing pattern at work.

I’m not sure what the solution is to my theory, other than to be uber cautious (even more than I already am) of everything I put in my mouth and perhaps to never eat out again (which is just too restrictive and dull to be a viable option), but now I can clearly see the problem, I’ve got a better chance at finding a solution.

What about you? Do you suffer from headaches and migraines when you eat something wrong?

Do you listen to your body? What does it tell you?


12 Responses to “Jess’ Theory: Digestion is King”

  1. Dead Men Don't Snore September 2, 2015 at 10:44 am #

    I tried a whole bunch of drugs for migraines over the years that never worked and came with horrible side effects. I eventually learned that food was one of my biggest triggers for headaches. I had never thought it was because I was only looking at what I’d eaten in the last twenty four hours not three or four days back. Since making the connection I only have a fraction of the migraines despite coming off every one of the meds.

    • myjourneythrume September 2, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      That’s exactly the same as me. I had never realized the reaction could be so delayed from food. V glad to hear your migraines have improved, not least cos it supports my theory! I think the answer for me is to be ultra careful when eating out, I will be the annoying customer asking a million questions before I order! Restrictive and annoying but necessary to avoid the debilitating migraines.

  2. Claire September 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    I have similar issues – although I’ve been thinking that maybe my intestines are grinding to a halt because of the fatigue. I overdo it, and then the fatigue doubles and the pooping stops. It’s such a chronic ongoing situation that I take a half teaspoon of slippery elm bark every morning.

    • myjourneythrume September 2, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

      I’ve wondered the same – if my body just doesn’t have the energy to digest smoothly and efficiently but I also wonder if it is poor digestion leading to too many toxins in your body that contributes to the fatigue. Chicken or the egg first?! Not tried slippery elm but I take a soluble fibre (acacia fibre) supplement twice a day to keep things moving, without which everything stops!

  3. thehomeschoolingdoctor September 3, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    I am medically trained, and it still makes no sense! 🙂 But as a fellow food sufferer, I am bound and determined to broaden my diet. I keep ticking through things to try to fix this leaky gut. I’m currently on the acupuncture, yoga, meditation route. One small improvement at a time…

    • myjourneythrume September 4, 2015 at 9:48 am #

      Do you think food/digestion can cause headaches or am I barking up the wrong tree?! How’s the alternative approach going for you? I definitely think lower stress levels leads to better digestion so anything that helps lower stress is good, yoga and meditation do that for me. Yoga With Adrienne on You Tube has a v good digestion sequence, about 20 mins long, with lots of twist poses that I return to time and time again when my digestion gets stuck. I used to have acupuncture too which helped for a while I think.

      • thehomeschoolingdoctor September 4, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

        I think something is helping me here, although I’ve done a few things. But, absolutely, food can cause headaches. And it is related to malfunction in the digestive lining/digestive process. You are not barking up the wrong tree! No way! Thanks so much for the Yoga with Adrienne recommendation. I hope to try it out. Acupuncture and the yoga/mediation seem to be helping with my food intolerances (I think. Knock on wood. And I’m also trying adding in some unique “fibers” which will feed the gut and help make short chain fatty acids to help protect the lining of the gut to make it “stronger.”) but nothing helps my gut move except massive, inappropriate loads of magnesium lately. But everything else is great and peachy! 🙂

  4. spaghettiheadmaster September 4, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    The title of this post totally resonates with my experience. I had bad brain fog almost continuously for three years and it was only when I was diagnosed with terrible digestion that I found the path to recovery. For me it was dairy and meat. I have been vegan now for two years and feel great. Check out my blog if you’re interested. Keen to spread the word about the power of diet and food digestion. Thanks for the post. Paul

    • myjourneythrume September 4, 2015 at 9:36 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting Paul. Interesting what you say about meat. I’ve thought the same for myself. I didn’t eat meat for most of last year and slowly it’s crept back into my diet and I wonder if it is part of the problem. Have actually been planning a post about it so I’ll definitely check out your blog. Definitely need to spread the word about the power of diet and digestion, I think it’s definitely at the heart of health.

      • spaghettiheadmaster September 5, 2015 at 4:12 am #

        When I eat meat, if I listen closely to my stomach, I can hear it churning and just generally getting a bit upset. Flatulence always follows. It’s so obvious for me now that I just don’t bother with meat and dairy any more (as hard as that was to accept). Do you notice any of these digestion related symptoms after eating meat or anything else for that matter? Keeping a food/stress/sleep/exercise diary was a really important part of my recovery. It helped with identifying what I needed to eliminate from my diet. Cheers, Paul


  1. Honouring the Egg: A Summer Quiche | my journey thru M.E. - September 9, 2015

    […] After seeing my digestion and overall ME/CFS symptoms improve over the year or so following my restricted diet, it was time to try re-introducing the banned foodstuffs. The theory goes that a 12 month absence from eating a food to which you were intolerant, will, in most cases, heal your gut to the point where you can reintroduce the food without reaction. It doesn’t work in all cases, it depends how severe your intolerance was to start with – I haven’t been able to successfully reintroduce gluten and dairy for example, as my last post shows. […]

  2. A Meaty Treat: Sausage Jambalaya | my journey thru M.E. - September 16, 2015

    […] bit of a control freak when it comes to what I eat (with good reason, read about my migraine theory here) and if I could, I’d make everything from scratch. But sausage making is a little beyond my […]

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