FebFast: No junk food for a month

I’ve just enjoyed my last takeaway pizza for a month, including leftovers for lunch today:

Last takeaway pizza before FebFast

I’ve signed up for FebFast, where participants are encouraged to refrain from something for the month of February.

They’ve got a few variations on it:

FebFast Smoking — no point in this, as I don’t smoke.

FebFast Social Media — Noooooooooooo.

FebFast Alcohol — I barely drink, so there’d be no challenge here.

FebFast Sugar — not convinced sugar intake is a problem for me, but I think it’d be difficult to do properly.

FebFast Junk Food — that’s the one for me!

Here’s an info-graphic on the benefits of staying off junk food:

FebFast: Junk food infographic

They’re ultimately leaving it up to the individual to decide what’s in and what’s out, though they do have some guidelines.

For me, I’ll be aiming to avoid: chips (both hot and crisps), chocolates (apparently “raw dark chocolate” is okay?), biscuits (a difficult ask in the office), milk shakes. Cakes? I’ll decline anything except a small slice for any birthday celebrations.

I’ll lay off soft drinks, but reserve the right to glug down a Coke if I need to, as I use them to fight off headaches occasionally. But I’ll try and avoid it.

I’ll avoid ice cream, but with one exception: I’m hoping to have one last Dairy Bell cone before they close in late February. I have fond memories of them from when I was a kid living near their Elsternwick shop — it’s a shame they’re going.

Non home-made pizza, burgers, and most other packaged/processed foods are also on the No Go list. I suspect I should also avoid muesli bars… they’re really just a glorified biscuit, aren’t they?

What else should I avoid?

I love my snacks between meals, so I’ll stick to fruit and nuts and other fresh stuff. Maybe I should pack some carrot sticks for morning tea?

Daniel's FebFast banner

So, who wants to sponsor me? Donations are tax deductible for Australians, and go towards supporting youth drug and alcohol addiction services.

Update: I was asked a good question on Twitter: How much junk food to I normally eat? I don’t binge on it all the time, but I do sometimes fall into the trap of a takeaway burger and chips as a lazy lunch or dinner, and I do eat far too many snacks such as biscuits at work, where we have a plentifully supplied biscuit jar.

Update FebFast Day 2: You should have SEEN the number of chocolate biscuits in the office biscuit jar today. Somehow I managed to resist them all!

Update FebFast Day 7: It’s been surprisingly easy to avoid chomping on office snacks such as biscuits. I did eat one muesli bar which I had in a desk drawer, and found it unsatisfying, so I doubt I’ll be having any more in a hurry. I have succumbed to a couple of (small) bottles of Coke as a pick-me-up (one day as I’ve developed a cold which has left me feeling pretty flat). I have been snacking on fruit and nuts, though I wonder what the overall kilojoule count is like on those.

CHs: Here’s what I know

As time goes on, I learn more about the cluster headaches that hit me from time to time. They’re different for each person, obviously, but here’s what I know this time around, from my experiences and from my ongoing Googling research — and I must say, the online resources available have been steadily improving.

The word “headache” in the name is a misnomer. They’re not related to conventional headaches, which is why no conventional painkiller medicine works on them.

The UK National Health Service has a very informative page which I didn’t find the last time I went looking.

Cluster headaches … [are] much more painful than migraines or any other type of headache.

They’re called cluster headaches because sufferers usually get one to three of these attacks every day, for several weeks or months, before they subside. A pain-free period will follow, which sometimes lasts months or years, before the headache attacks start again.

Because of the intensity of the pain, some people will pace the room, rock, or bang their head against the wall out of frustration, restlessness and despair.

Bourke Street fog, looking east towards Parliament
Bourke Street in the fog, looking east towards Parliament

The pattern

I get them generally at the change of seasons. Mine started about 3 weeks ago, just as the coldest part of the winter seemed to pass and the days started getting longer.

From past experience, alcohol can help bring cluster headaches on, so I steer clear of booze when they’re around.

I get them mostly in the mornings, 2 or 3 per day. For me this time around it’s been mostly on Sunday and Monday mornings, which is a bit strange. Some of mine have been early in the morning, waking me up.

I can feel them coming about 5-10 minutes before it really hits. They’re at full strength generally for about 15 minutes.

My CHs are always on the left side of my head. Some, such as today (so far), are relatively mild. Some, such as over the weekend, are incredibly intense and painful (and yet perhaps only halfway up the scale compared to what some people suffer in length and intensity).

The intensity of the pain for the worst of the ones I get actually makes me wonder how I’ll handle it as I get older.

Abortive treatments

I used to think that applying pressure to my head helped, but I’m not so sure now.

Cold air does seem to help, perhaps reflecting that some people use oxygen treatment for them. On Sunday morning, possibly influenced by the description of pacing that some people do, I quickly got dressed and paced the back yard in the cold. It did help. Nothing makes the pain actually go away, but it does help reduce it.

Blowing my nose also helps. Some people get a runny nose when it happens — this includes me.

Most documentation says caffeine doesn’t help (nor hinder) fighting CHs. Perhaps the use of an ice cold Coke helping (my so-called medicinal Coke) is my imagination. Or maybe it’s really the cold in the drink plus the sugar? That said, a cup of tea helps a bit too, so perhaps caffeine is making a difference. Given the CH will generally start to fade within about 15 minutes anyway, it’s really hard to tell.

Apparently sumatriptan/Imigran can be injected or applied via a nasal spray, and can help stop an attack, but takes about 10 minutes to work — mine are usually gone within 15 anyway, but given I often have 5-10 minutes warning that one is coming, that may be worth discussing next time I see my GP.

Preventative medication and research

Verapamil is a common treatment to try and prevent them. That’s what my GP put me on. It’s a little hard to know if it really works. It must be powerful stuff — sometimes my head feels really funny after taking one. It also affects the heart, and unfortunately the higher doses needed to really influence cluster headaches are likely to be dangerous without careful supervision.

They still don’t seem to know what causes cluster headaches. Hmm: this claim is interesting:

“Cluster headache is widely regarded as the most severe pain a human can experience ? that’s not hyperbole. It has a population prevalence that’s approximately the same as multiple sclerosis.”

Over the past decade, [Professor Robert] Shapiro said, NIH [US National Institutes of Health] has directed $1.872 billion to multiple sclerosis research, which he said is warranted. By contrast, less than $2 million has gone to cluster headaches over the last 25 years. “It’s completely invisible,” he said.

Anybody care to start up a Cluster Headache Readathon?

To close, here’s a silver lining amongst the cloud of this medical doom and gloom:

The pain during a bad cluster headache is so intense that it’s a relief — almost a natural high, a feeling of elation — when it stops.

Physical wreck: There will be snot

I’m a physical wreck this weekend, from head to foot.

Some new shoes are fine for me, but the ones I wore on Thursday resulted in three blisters: one on each heel, and another on one of my toes. I’m sure the shoes will settle down after a couple of wears, but in the mean time, I’ve got bandaids on every time I leave the house.

And I’ve got a head cold. It’s not at the top of the scale when it comes to colds and flu, but it’s not very pleasant either.

The movie In The Loop (which is a spin-off from the TV series The Thick Of It) has some very funny deleted scenes on the Blu-Ray disc. In one, Jamie (aka The Crossest Man In Scotland) rants to Malcolm about going to see the movie There Will Be Blood… he complains that there’s hardly any blood in it.

My weekend so far could be called There Will Be Snot. On Saturday I went through an unbelievable number of tissues, thanks to an alternating blocked/sneezy/runny nose. The house sounded a little as if someone was doing a day-long really really bad trumpet rehearsal.

So far Sunday is looking like it might be a day for a sore throat rather than lots of nose action, but we’ll see.

Hopefully this cold will be on the retreat by tomorrow. I’ve got important things to do during the week.

Here for your enjoyment is Jamie McDonald, the Crossest Man In Scotland. (Coarse language)

Finally, what is amazing about In The Loop is that they managed to construct a trailer with no swearing (apart from one bleep):

Cluster headaches are back

The term blog is a shortening of web log… well, this blog post is a log for primarily my own purposes, though it may be of interest to others.

Seems the cluster headaches are back this morning.

They often return at the change of season, but I haven’t had them since about two years ago.

(That blog post went into some detail about them — and this point is particularly worth noting: no conventional painkillers are effective against them. Not paracetomol, not aspirin, not Nurofen. Nothing works. It is not the same as migraine.)

So, this time around, so far:

5:40am, for about fifteen minutes. Started to fade when I went outside for some fresh air. Thankfully at this time of year it’s light, not too cold outside.

7:30am, about the same length of time. Again went outside, which seemed to help.

9:10am, I thought another was coming on, but it only gave the warning signs (pain in starting in the nose and moving to the left hand side of my forehead), without the main event, the searing pain through the left side of my head, of the earlier ones.

This time around they seem to go for about 10-15 minutes — in the past it appears mine have gone for longer. It’s always a little hard to tell what is helping, or if it’s simply disappearing by itself. That said, oxygen is recognised by many as providing relief.

I’ve found in the past that consumption of caffeine and sugar (that is, a Coke) can also help. My GP long-ago prescribed medicine, and I’ve never really determined if it helps or not, but on the off-chance it does, I’ll be getting some more.

While I’m not afflicted by them as badly as other sufferers, the pain is intense, and When it fades, there’s a feeling of immense relief.

I’m hoping they don’t hang around for long.

(Past posts)

Update Sunday 1/12/2013 — Thankfully, no further recurrences… quite unlike previous episodes, but hopefully it was just the two yesterday and that’ll be it for now.

Update Tuesday 3/12/2013 — …however, I have had another, more conventional headache, since Sunday night. Not clear if it’s related. It’s not as strong, but it’s almost constant.

Update Saturday 7/12/2013 — One again this morning, 7:15-7:30. Helped by fresh air outside. Could it be that after a few days of winter-like weather, the turning back to spring/summer today helped spark this one?