Headache is one of the most common health-related complaints in the world. Factors that contribute to headaches are numerous, but luckily this frustrating pain is preventable. Weight loss is often associated with headaches, and if you're dealing with them as well, this article is for you. Read on to learn how to prevent weight loss headaches easily.
Weight loss and headaches
Have you ever started losing weight on your diet only to experience frequent headaches? This is a common problem, but most people aren't sure what’s the connection between headache and weight loss. Even though headaches and migraines can occur due to some underlying health problems, in many cases, they are caused or triggered by hunger, exhaustion, caffeine withdrawal (1).
It’s not so unusual for people to experience a headache when they start eating healthy and lose their motivation to continue. That being said, it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific reason behind those headaches because, as seen above, multiple factors can serve as triggers. For instance, men and women who practice intermittent fasting may experience headaches due to spending a lot of time without eating. While some people can handle fasting perfectly, others can't, which is why it's crucial to listen to your body (2).
Diets that require excluding sugars and carbs promote weight loss but may induce headaches due to hypoglycemia, i.e., low blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia manifests itself through an array of symptoms, including shakiness, irritability, fatigue, and headache.
Yet another reason why weight loss causes headaches could be down to the fact that many people skip meals hoping they would slim down faster (3). This happens because skipping whole meals causes low blood sugar levels, thus triggering headaches or even migraines (4).
When discussing weight loss and headaches, it is also worth mentioning caffeine. As you already know, caffeine can trigger headaches and migraines, and energy drinks are laden with it. Many people buy energy drinks to feel “pumped” before a workout or to meet the deadline at work. In turn, headaches may occur. On the other hand, quitting drinking coffee can also cause a short-term headache.
Other factors associated with headaches in people who want to lose weight include the consumption of artificial sweeteners and adherence to fad diets and weight loss supplements. Fad diets are too restrictive, require low-calorie intake and elimination of various food groups. All of this can lead to irregular meals, low blood sugar, and nutritional deficiencies, which may cause headaches. Moreover, weight loss supplements are not strictly regulated and could contain various ingredients known to give headaches.
Overly vigorous exercise may also cause headaches due to changes in blood pressure (5). It's also worth mentioning that headaches can occur due to changes in hormone levels, and as you lose weight, your hormone levels start shifting and begin to normalize.
Preventing weight loss headache
Now that you know more about different mechanisms through which weight loss can cause headaches, it's time to learn how to prevent this common problem. Below, you can see different strategies that can help you avoid experiencing headaches while losing weight.
Avoid restrictive diets
New diet trends constantly emerge and take the world by storm, mostly due to social media. Even though fad diets can promote, weight loss results are only short-term. Most people gain even more weight once the diet is over. The reason behind the yo-yo effect is down to the restrictive nature of these diets. Most fad diets advocate for the complete elimination of certain food groups and promote extremely low-calorie intake. As a result, you are unable to supply the body with much-needed nutrients, and low-calorie intake could contribute to hypoglycemia, which, in turn, causes headaches. It's needless to mention restrictive fad diets are difficult to follow for long-term are not a good solution for significant weight loss results.
Fad diets can also cause dehydration. It’s useful to mention that headache is one of the first signs of dehydration, which could be yet another reason why people experience this problem once they start following some diet. These unhealthy diets can also cause weakness, dizziness, nausea, digestive problems, and nutritional deficiencies (6).
One of the most effective ways to lose weight, keep it off, and prevent headaches is to focus on the consumption of a well-balanced diet. Moderation is the key! The body needs a wide range of nutrients to remain healthy, support metabolism, and keep weight in a healthy range. By avoiding restrictive fad dieting, you can also prevent the yo-yo effect and avoid headaches.
Drink enough water
Drinking enough water throughout the day is crucial for our health and wellbeing, yet most people don’t do it. According to the CDC, 43% of adults in the United States drink less than four cups of water a day. This number also includes 36% of adults who drink three cups only and 7% of those who drink none. On the other hand, 35% of Americans drink four to seven cups of water a day, while 22% drink eight or more (7). In other words, most people do not drink enough water on a daily basis.
Failure to drink enough water throughout the day depletes energy levels, decreases our productivity, and also doesn't allow organs and tissues in our body to do their job properly. Studies show that water-deprivation headache is common, although it is not described extensively in medicine. Research from the journal Headache found that one in 10 interrogated people admitted experiencing water-deprivation headaches, especially when moving their head, bending down, or walking (8). Even though it is not quite clear why dehydration causes a headache, it could be down to the narrowing of blood vessels in the brain, which leads to a reduced supply of blood and oxygen.
As mentioned above, failing to stay hydrated is one of the most common causes of headache in people who want to lose weight. What's more, being hydrated can undermine weight loss efforts because we tend to confuse thirst for hunger and end up eating, although our body is not technically hungry.
A common mistake that people make is waiting to feel thirsty in order to drink water. By then, the body has already started experiencing some signs of dehydration, including headaches. The answer to this problem and prevent headaches is to strive to drink at least eight cups of water throughout the day, even if you do not feel thirsty. If you tend to forget to drink water, you can write a reminder or download an app that will remind you as well.
It’s worth mentioning that drinking water is better and more effective than drinking store-bought sugar-laden fruit juices, diet sodas, and other beverages.
Be cautious with weight loss supplements
The National Institutes of Health reports that about 15% of American adults have used some weight loss supplement at some point in their lives. Women are more likely than men to use dietary supplements for weight loss. In fact, adults in the US spend at least $2.1 billion a year on weight-loss products in pill form (9).
Weight loss supplements contain natural ingredients and promise to deliver amazing results. Bold and outrageous claims often provide a false sense of security, which makes people rely solely on these products to achieve significant weight loss. Bearing in mind dietary supplements are not as strictly regulated medicines and prescription drugs, brands often use that fact to deliver questionable products. In many cases, the active constituents in weight loss supplements are unknown or uncharacterized. Moreover, many products contain multiple ingredients that haven’t been tested in combination with one another. Side effects of weight loss supplements are numerous, depending on the active ingredient. The most common adverse reactions include headache, constipation, flatulence, hypertension, anxiety, agitation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, among others.
The solution to prevent weight loss-related headaches caused by dietary supplements is simple – avoid these products entirely or be careful when purchasing them. These supplements don’t work on their own. They won’t be able to help you slim down unless you adjust diet and exercise regularly. So it’s safer and more effective to focus on adopting healthier lifestyle habits than to rely on supplements. However, if you simply feel the need to try weight loss supplements, take some time to research and go for the product made by a reliable brand. That way, you will end up with a safer product and have a higher likelihood of preventing headaches.
Keep a food journal
Changes in diet can cause headaches, and many people feel discouraged to keep going, as mentioned above. In some cases, it can be difficult to pinpoint the main culprit that gives you pain, and keeping a food journal can help. Evidence confirms that tracking food intake, i.e., keeping a food journal is important for a consistent and successful weight loss (10), but benefits of this practice also extend to the prevention of uncomfortable side effects.
Write down everything you eat and drink during the day. When headaches occur, write down when they started. Give yourself a few days or a week then read the food journal.
Do headaches occur after you’ve eaten some specific food? For instance, artificial sweeteners are known for their ability to trigger headaches (11).
Do headaches occur because you don’t eat regularly?
Do headaches occur because your calorie intake during the day is very low?
Answering the above-mentioned questions could help you identify the trigger of the headache. That way, you would be able to modify your diet and prevent pain. In other words, a food journal could promote your weight loss and prevent headaches at the same time.
Don’t quit caffeine cold turkey
In order to lose weight, you may decide to avoid coffee and products containing caffeine. Doing so cold turkey can induce a wide range of symptoms, and headache is the most common (12). Why would quitting caffeine cause headaches in the first place? Well, caffeine constricts blood vessels, thus slowing down blood flow. Reducing or stopping caffeine intake out of blue signals blood vessels to open up and increase blood flow to the brain. The sudden change in blood flow causes headaches that vary in severity and length from one person to another. Therefore, if your weight-loss strategy involves ditching caffeine and products that contain it, you may want to do it gradually rather than cold turkey. That way, there won't be a sudden change in blood flow to the brain, and the risk of headaches will be lower.
Regular exercise is important for a healthy and effective weight loss. In order to reach their target body weight faster, many people exercise too much. However, overtraining is a common problem and is indicated by various symptoms, including headaches (13). Training too much could disrupt neurotransmitter levels, boost levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and promote headaches, which can be severe. After all, stress can also lead to headaches (14). The body needs exercise but also needs adequate rest. In other words, doing more in the gym is not necessarily going to create better results. Make sure to exercise 30 to 45 minutes and avoid overtraining in order to prevent headaches.
You’ll achieve the best results when listening to your body. Exercise at a reasonable pace (15). While it’s important to challenge the body in order to activate different muscle groups, you should still do it in moderation and avoid going over the limits the body can’t handle. Additionally, striving to manage stress and do something relaxing. In other words, the healthier your weight loss journey, the lower the risk of a headache.
Weight loss is associated with headaches due to multiple reasons such as overtraining, restrictive dieting, dehydration, weight loss supplements, among others. The key to the prevention of headaches is to identify the trigger and work to modify your lifestyle. Instead of fad diets, you may want to opt for a nutritious and well-balanced diet, work out in moderation, and be careful about supplements you use. Of course, the importance of drinking enough water is undeniable. Follow our tips and recommendations for a healthier weight loss journey.