Obesity: A Real Headache

Fat mature man measuring his belly with measurement tape, isolated on white background

Medically reviewed in March 2022

If you’ve ever experienced the pounding pain of a migraine, you probably want to do everything in your power to prevent the headaches. So here’s a new idea: Watch your weight.

According to a recent study of more than 3,800 adults, those who were obese were 81 percent more likely to have episodic migraines, the most common type, than those who were normal weight. Migraines are considered “episodic” if they happen on fewer than 15 days per month. (Is it a migraine or a bad headache? Here’s how you can tell.) The link between obesity and migraines was especially strong among women, Caucasians and people under 50.

What’s the link between weight and headaches?
One theory is that fat tissue may release inflammatory chemicals that trigger migraines. On the other hand, migraines could lead to obesity. Weight gain is a known side effect of migraine medications, and people who have migraines may be more inclined to behaviors associated with obesity, like being less active.

While the study doesn’t prove that obesity cause migraines, it does suggest that healthy lifestyle choices may be important for people who suffer occasional migraines. If you’re overweight, here’s what you can do to drop some extra pounds:

  • Stop stress. Stress releases cortisol, which increases appetite. To clear your head, walk for 10 minutes (and walk outside if you can), breathe deeply or find a place to meditate.
  • Don’t skimp on sleep. Lack of sleep throws appetite hormones off and stimulates eating.
  • Flip a switch. Cutting your TV time in half can help you drop an extra 100 calories a day without even trying.
  • Slow it down. Quickly plowing through your meals can easily lead to extra pounds. Get tricks to keep your meals in the moment.
  • Stay satisfied. Ward off hunger by eating five or six small meals throughout the day, and getting plenty of fiber and protein. Slipping into starvation mode makes your body store fat.
  • Hit the gym. Start a walking program or get personalized workouts and online expert support.
  • Buddy up.

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