3 Things to STOP Doing if Your Teen Suffers from Chronic Headaches

Guest post by Erin Knight, creator of the Migraine Freedom™ plan

I’m not writing this as a parent, a doctor or even someone who specializes in working with kids. I am writing this as someone who went to high school with a headache nearly every single day. As someone who looks back and wonders how much easier engineering school would have been if I hadn’t been struggling with frequent migraines.

Knowing what I know now, after healing my body and living migraine free for years, after studying functional nutrition and starting to coach other women on how to apply diet and lifestyle changes to achieve Migraine Freedom™, after interviewing world renown clinicians and researchers for the Chronic Headache and Migraine Summit… what would I like to go back in time and tell my younger self and my mom?

#1: Controlling a teen’s diet doesn’t work.

You may know that a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet could help your child feel better, but you are already tired of the arguments or frustrated when your son comes home with a migraine after eating pizza at his friend’s house.

Most people prefer to be in control, but that seems to be especially true of people prone to migraines. So that is why I suggest that parents just give up the idea of controlling what their teens eat. Save yourself both the frustration.

Instead teach kids to have a healthy relationship with food and to see it as nourishment and to learn to observe the effects of food on their body. Even if that means going to a workshop together as a family or getting help from a holistic nutritionist.

As a teenager I simultaneously had this fascination with the nutrition theories popular at the time (low fat everything, calories in must = calories out, etc) and (probably because I wasn’t eating right for my body type and active lifestyle) would binge on Oreos and/or corn chips at night because I was ravenous. I would wash that down with a Diet Coke and then be up sleepless until 2 or 3am every night, waking up at 5:30am for school. For breakfast I ate cereal and milk and orange juice and for lunch maybe a hot pretzel, light yoghurt and more Diet Coke.

Headache mystery solved… but the thing is, my parents didn’t know about this routine. My doctors never talked to me about my sleep or eating habits, and I simply didn’t understand the connection. So looking back, the only thing that would have gotten me to stop doing this would have been to understand the cause and effect between eating junk and getting blood sugar crashes and headaches. Unfortunately it took more than a decade of suffering and things progressing from headaches to chronic fatigue syndrome, Hashimoto’s and severe gut damage for me to get the message.

It’s quite possible that your child’s headaches have a complex underlying issue behind them. But it is also possible that the answer lies in the basics – sleep and nourishment.

#2: Stop searching for a magic pill and start searching for underlying imbalances.

Even after you’ve ruled out serious medical conditions (and hopefully ruled out the basic lifestyle factors), you may find yourself on a seemingly endless carousel of visits with specialists – trying out different prescriptions or treatments as you try to find the one solution that will end your child’s suffering. As a pharmaceutical engineer, I studied drug development and drug design and can tell you there are no magic pills. Every medication – whether it is over-the-counter like ibuprofen, or a prescription, comes with risks along with the benefits, and nearly all are designed to treat the symptoms of a problem. Take something to dull the pain, but don’t let it dull the cry for help that the body is trying to send.

After finding a symptom-management tool that works well enough in the interim, I believe our time and energy is better spent looking at hormonal imbalances, nutritional gaps, chronic infections, genetics, gut health, toxic load and other sources of stress in our bodies. Unlike a pill that you take every time the headache comes on, investing in treating these root causes is an investment in a future without headaches and migraines. To learn more about the many root causes that can be lurking behind chronic headaches, be sure to listen to the Chronic Headache and Migraine Summit where we explore many of these in depth.

#3: Don’t pass off all moodiness as teenage angst.

Mental & emotional stress and trauma set off a hormonal cascade that turns an exam, a fight with our best friend, or being publicly humiliated into the biological equivalent of being chased by a lion. The psychological stress of growing up and making sense of the world seems to become more intense every year and despite all of our amazing technological advances, humans still don’t come with operating manuals.

Whether a kid is highly analytical and rational, like I was, or very sensitive and emotional, our high-speed lives don’t leave much time for processing and learning emotional IQ (unless we make a concerted effort).

Several of our speakers in the summit highlighted the importance of taking a look at our thought patterns and creating healthy relationships as a part of healing from chronic headaches (and really any chronic health concern).

Learning how to embrace my strengths and bridge my weaknesses, proactively manage stressful situations and let go of fears that didn’t serve me were pivotal in my healing journey, because all this “personal growth” was necessary to get me out of constant fight-or-flight mode. This is why I bring this up even if it sounds a little woo-woo at first. I wish I had started younger…

As a parent you can’t be expected to know how to help a teen who is growing into a completely different personality from yours navigate the world. But if you recognize that they seem depressed, anxious or troubled – you can find coaches who specialize in teaching things like meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique or the Enneagram and can start a personal development growth spurt that will serve your child for the rest of his or her life. Of course mood swings can be hormonal, too– but instead of turning immediately to birth control or antidepressants – why not look at the diet and lifestyle factors that influence hormone balance in the first place?

If you’d like to learn more about natural approaches to headache relief, save your seat today for the Chronic Headache and Migraine Summit featuring over 30 holistic and functional health experts sharing their clinical experience and the most effective strategies for getting to the root causes of headaches. The videos will be available to download starting July 10th, but the free viewing period is only from July 10-17, 2017 so sign up now to make sure you don’t miss out.


About Erin:

With her 4-step Migraine Freedom™ plan, Erin Knight helps women who desire natural solutions providing freedom from chronic migraines, so that they can experience a dramatic increase in productivity and thrive in the active life that they dream of.

Having suffered with migraines for over a decade, Erin is sympathetic to the impact that headaches have on our work and social life. After discovering functional medicine and realizing her migraines disappeared as she balanced her hormones and fixed her digestion, she started her company, Engineering Radiance, to help women who are frustrated with the conventional management of migraines and want to get to the root causes.

Erin has her Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan and is trained in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition™ and nutrigenomics. After a decade guiding Fortune 500 teams through root cause analysis, she now applies these problem-solving skills to our most complex system, the human body.

  1. Awesome post and great advice to the “rents”! So true, trying to control your teen can actually make things worse. Instead offering teens new ways of looking at their mind-body connection and seeing patterns themselves will lead to a mind ready to find solutions to headaches, migraines and stress.

    • Yup – so true, Juls! We lay the foundations for good decision-making for our kids, and at some point have to let go and trust that they’ll come back to those good decisions. Knowledge is power…
      xo Elisa

  2. Great article. My daughter suffers from debilitating migraines that are caused by her hormones. She figured it out – but now we have to sort out a good fix.

    • So glad you found the article useful!
      xo Elisa

  3. Erin, I can’t tell you home timely this post is. I have an 18-year-old who just completed her freshman year of college with frequent headaches, including migraines. I will be sharing this with her!

    • So glad this is helpful for you and your daughter, April! I’ll be sure to let Erin know!
      xo Elisa

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