Low-Calorie Diet and Headaches

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Not eating enough calories can lead to headaches.
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Losing weight means eating fewer calories than your body burns. But if you're not getting enough or the right kind of calories, you may wind up with fatigue and a calorie deficit headache, which can be counter-productive. Here's how to avoid a diet headache when you're losing weight.


You’ll need to cut calories if you want to lose weight, but not eating enough can lead to migraines, fatigue and sleep problems, among other issues. To avoid headaches when you’re on a low-calorie diet, don’t skip meals, keep tabs on how your metabolism works and eat enough protein to fuel your body.

Don’t Skip Meals

While severe headaches or migraines may be due to something more serious, most headaches are caused by common things like hunger, hangovers, exhaustion or caffeine withdrawal, according to Harvard Health. Treatment for such headaches will often entail drinking plenty of water, eating something substantial, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pill like ibuprofen, and then resting in a dark room with a cool cloth on your head.

It's important to be aware of how hunger and fasting may trigger headaches if you're starting a low-calorie diet. Though you may want to skip breakfast or lunch when you start dieting, it's not a good idea to skip entire meals if you're prone to headaches. Instead, eat several small meals throughout the day, including breakfast.

Read more: 8 Possible Causes of Headaches Around the Left Eye

Check for Hypoglycemia

People who are on strict diets or who have high metabolisms may be more likely to experience hypoglycemia, which occurs when your blood sugar or glucose levels drop, according to the Mayo Clinic. Glucose is your body's main source of energy, so when it falls below a certain threshold (typically at 70 milligrams per deciliter or lower), you may experience fatigue, hunger, dizziness and shakiness.

That may get even worse if you're pairing your low-calorie diet with intense exercise. Exercise may actually trigger headaches, especially if you're dehydrated or not eating enough to sustain your energy levels.

If you're experiencing hypoglycemia and a headache when dieting, set up a daily meal plan to battle it. Instead of fasting for hours, eat small meals every couple hours, including in the morning for breakfast. Healthy snacks like bananas, nuts, apples or hummus can go a long way in staving off the hunger shakes.

Focus on Protein

Protein has been shown to aid in weight loss for a variety of reasons. First, it promotes satiety, or feeling full for a long period of time, according to a November 2014 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism. That same study noted that a long-term diet that was low in fat and high in protein also helped people maintain a healthier weight than a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates.

Because of its ability to act as long-lasting fuel for your body, protein may be a great way to stave off calorie deficit headaches. It helps you feel full and energized for longer, while still allowing you to lose weight and cut your total number of calories.

Read more: Heat and Headaches

Allow Your Body To Adjust

While intermittent fasting has become somewhat of a diet trend, it doesn't necessarily work better than normal dieting, where you eat less throughout the day, according to Harvard Health. If you tend to develop diet headaches, try to ease your way into the diet to allow your body to adjust rather than going cold turkey immediately.

Keep a food journal, and see what might trigger headaches — or what seems to help prevent them. Cutting out sugar and caffeine in a diet may also contribute to headaches, so be prepared to wean yourself off certain foods slowly to allow your body to adjust.

Also, be aware of some of the other factors that could be contributing to headaches on your low-calorie diet. Not drinking enough water and dehydration can cause headaches, as can stress, muscle tension, weather changes and sinus problems, according to Harvard Health.

In addition to eating several small meals throughout the day with snacks, consuming high levels of protein and keeping an eye on your hypoglycemia, you may also want to reduce stress and drink plenty of water, as well as try massages or acupuncture when you are experiencing headaches.

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