I’ve just been watching an episode of Celebrity Goggle Box. From Rylan and his mum munching on vegetable crisps, to the All Saints girls gorging on pizza, it seems that everyone was eating.
Before that, we had watched an episode of Mum. I don’t think there was one bit of this half hour where someone wasn’t snacking on something.
I’m now starving!
The problem is, I’m not snacking.
I’m sticking to my three meals a day, as per the Fast 800, which also includes eating within certain hours. I’ve been doing so well, I don’t want to give in to temptation just yet. But it’s so hard when everyone around you seems to be constantly eating.
I don’t know if it’s just me noticing this because I’ve changed the way I eat. It probably has a lot to do with it. I never really gave much thought to it before that either.
Now I’m calorie counting, I’ve begun to see how easy it is to over eat during the course of the day.
You might think it’s healthier to eat little and often, but I reckon that’s actually a dangerous way to overeat. When you think the recommended maximum calories a day for women is 2000 and for men, 2500, you don’t actually need to eat that much for it to add up.
Our takeaway dilemma really highlighted this for me.
I thought I’d treat myself, as I’ve been doing so well. And the kids fancied Wagamama food, which is healthy, right?
I love the duck donburi, but when I looked it up, found it was 1408kcal per serving. When you’re trying to stick to 800 per day, that completely blows it out of the water. It’s also more than half the recommended maximum in one meal. I kept looking, and in the end went for the mini chicken ramen (371kcal) but took out the noodles so it would have been less than this. That’s a children’s meal. Minus some.
It’s not that I’m trying to freak people out, but I noticed a particular cake in Costa today that was around 500 calories per slice. Combine this with a medium latte made with semi skimmed milk, at 103 calories, and you’re well on your way to reaching your total in just your morning coffee, or elevenses.
Once upon a time, it was frowned upon to eat between meals and considered crass to eat on the go. Mealtimes were a sit down occasion, savoured and shared.
The snacking industry changed all this, when it gave us products that told our parents it was a good idea to give us. Anyone remember the words to the Fudge Advert? “A finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat. A finger of Fudge is just enough until it’s time to eat. It’s full of Cadbury goodness…” and so it goes on. For me, this advert epitomises everything the snacking industry stands for. It gave us treats that would keep us going between meals, it gave us alternatives to breakfast, lunch and even dinner. It gave us the convenience to eat anywhere and everywhere, and as a result, we are now a nation that can not stop eating.
Have you tried not eating between meals? It’s hard.
I think that’s partly out of habit more than anything else. And also, like I said at the beginning, because you are surrounded, constantly, by other people eating.
When it comes down to it, you put food in your mouth, and you burn off that food to use energy. In most cases, the input does not equal the output, not even close and it’s no wonder we all struggle with our weight.
I am into my third week of the Fast 800 diet now and I can’t believe the difference.
If you read my previous post, you’ll know why I started this diet. Unable to shift the post 40 weight, I was determined to do something about it. What I’ve found, as the book says, is some rapid weight loss and at the time of writing this, have lost 7lbs. My goal was to lose eight, so for the time being, I’m sticking to the 800 calories a day.
I felt poorly the first week, unfortunately, and I wasn’t sure if it was due, in part, to the change of diet. However, it seems we’ve had a bit of a run of illness in the family, so I’m not sure it was. I’m over that now and I feel generally much brighter all round, less sluggish and not subject to the sugar highs and lows and the energy slumps that these bring.
As luck would have it, I’ve started this regime right at the time when the new cook book to accompany the diet has been launched.
There aren’t many recipes in the original book, as it’s more about the science behind it and the research. However, the few recipes that there are, are great. I haven’t come across one that I don’t like.
It’s great to have the variety though. In general, as the chief cook of the house, I find I get stuck with what to make for dinner. It’s always difficult to please everybody, and in addition to the moans I often get, I actually get bored of cooking sometimes.
At the moment, I’m really enjoying this newer way of eating and although there have been a couple of times when I’ve felt the need for something more – Friday night being one of them, as I would often sit with a glass of wine and a bowl of crisps – I’ve not been hungry between meals.
This diet has definitely forced me to think about portion size, as to reduce from a recommended max of 2000 calories per day to just 800 has been an eye-opener in terms of how much food we generally put on our plate. Take this as an example. My kids requested a Wagamma takeaway at the weekend, and I looked at the website to find out what I could have. Most of the full size meals are around 2000 calories and you’d think they’d be healthy wouldn’t you? The portion sizes are enormous though and I ended up choosing a mini chicken Ramen and removing the noodles!
Whether you eat meat, are veggie or vegan, the Fast 800 Cookbook seems to cater for all. There are some delicious looking recipes in there and what I really like, is the fact that they don’t seem to involve lots of fancy ingredients and nothing takes too long to prepare.
The whole family are currently eating this way. I don’t prepare different dinners for different members. The only thing the rest of them get that I currently don’t are carbs such as rice, potatoes and pasta.
Having never had to worry about my weight, I’ve found, post 40, that it’s begun to creep up and I’m struggling to keep it off.
I had time off exercise before Christmas due to an injury, and the weight I put on during that time has stuck with me. Since then, I’ve tried Dry January, No Sugar February and a low carb approach to eating.
Since I don’t drink masses of alcohol and have very little sugar, not surprisingly, those approaches didn’t work. The low carb option wasn’t having much of an effect either.
It was when it came to picking out an outfit for a recent party that it really hit home that I needed to do something about my weight. I couldn’t fit into any of my dresses! Okay, so it was an excuse to buy a new one, but I wasn’t at all comfortable with that.
After speaking to a few people, I got myself a copy of the Fast 800 book by Dr Michael Moseley.
Immediately, this approach made sense to me. You drop your calorie intake down to 800 per day for at least the first two weeks. Also, during this time, you eat between a window of 10 or 12 hours and fast for the rest. This puts your body into ketosis, where you burn stored fat and it has dramatic results.
This is certainly true for me, as I only started it at the beginning of this week. Here we are, on Thursday, and I’ve already lost 2lbs.
The idea is, you move on to a 5:2 approach, which means eating normally for five days and doing the fasting (800 calories) on the other two. I think this is manageable and from what I’ve read, seems a sensible, healthy approach to eating, in general.
My time-restricted eating (TRE) at the moment is between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. but in reality, I finish eating at around 6, so the fasting period is actually longer than this.
I don’t feel hungry though. The meals are more than filling me up and I haven’t felt the need to snack in between. Part of this comes down to motivation, as I’m already seeing the results.
How do I feel? Well, on Tuesday night I started with a sore throat and yesterday felt rough. Last night, I woke up with stomach pains, similar to how I’ve felt with food poisoning. And today, I feel like I might actually be physically sick. I’m guessing this is kind of a detox feeling my body is going through and I’ll hopefully come out of the other side feeling much healthier.
When you’re a parent, you soon learn how stressful mealtimes can be.
Fussy eaters, kids refusing to sit at the table, it can be a stressful time of day and all you really want is to be able to feed your children a healthy meal.
What to do for the best – let them get on with it, only feed them what you know they will eat, force the issue, let them go hungry? It’s always a tough call and believe me I know. When my son was little, he was often sick at mealtimes and every time, it was after that ‘one more mouthful’ plea.
I don’t know why I didn’t learn, but I was concerned he wasn’t eating enough, so would encourage him to eat what I served. It was through a lot of trial and error and hair pulling that I eventually got to the bottom of what was really happening, but I remember the stress of mealtimes along the way.
Today, I have Alex Thurman from Feed the Brood, here to offer a few tried and tested tips for coping with mealtimes-stress.
Food Blogger, Alex, creates recipes and provides meal planning advice for parents to help them cope with fussy eaters. A parent herself, Alex is no stranger to mealtime struggles, but she’s very kindly provided me with some great tips to share with you that will help make mealtimes an enjoyable affair for all involved.
“I don’t like it!”
The predictable 5 p.m. chorus echoes around my dining table. My three young children usually rock up with the expectation that they’ll hate what’s on offer. It’s not surprising; I write my own family-friendly recipes and blog about fussy eating, so there’s rarely a day that they recognise what I’ve cooked. I try very hard not to let their cries of rejection dampen my own enthusiasm for my meal, take a deep breath and practise what I preach:
• STAY ZEN – I don’t want my children to remember me as a crotchety old lady, I want to have a happy relationship with them, so I stay ridiculously chilled. The more chilled I am, the quicker they chill.
• EAT TOGETHER – Studies show that children from families who eat together have greater emotional wellbeing. With this in mind, eating together is a top priority for us as a family, and we honestly do make our happiest memories at the table. We talk about our days and often have silly talk. Another bonus is that when my head is in my own food (because what I’ve cooked is so delicious…), I’m less focused on what or how much the kids are eating, so it’s less tempting to helicopter.
• ONE FAMILY MEAL – I meal plan one meal that will suit us all. Meals usually consist of multiple bowls and I serve before I combine. Each person gets to select what they want on their plate, which makes for a more conducive atmosphere at the table and allows each person to feel a sense of control. This approach also helps integrate allergies and intolerances into your family vernacular – which can only be a good thing when you’re dealing with allergies with little ones.
• BRING PLENTY OF ‘STUFF’ TO THE TABLE – I always bring condiments aplenty, I have all the options for everybody’s preferences or allergies. I pop them all on the table before the meal starts and we enjoy the ritual of spooning things out or squeezing farty bottles. And I allow everyone to try everything (allergies excluded). My middle son is dairy intolerant, so we bring dairy-free cheese and yoghurt to the table regularly, but most other offerings are dairy free versions for the whole family.
• BRING ALL THE FUN – I don’t want to be a bore, so I bring fun to the table. The kids will want to join me at the table if they associate having a good time whenever they’re there. Imagine how hard they’ll laugh if they see me accidentally snort milk out of my nose?! Being a grown up doesn’t mean I have to be stiff – that’s how I play it, anyway.
• PLAY THEIR FAVOURITE MUSIC – we’ve built a family playlist of our favourite songs – there’s Top Gun, Elton John and George Ezra on there – you know, all the kids’ usual faves 🙂 I allow them the choice of music, or we take it in turns choosing an album. This all adds to the ritual of fun and it feels like we’re building a bank of memories up associated with the songs, so we now have music that defines us as a family.
• RESPECT THEIR DECISIONS – from birth, humans can regulate their own appetite. My job is to provide the food and a suitable environment to eat it in, I have to relinquish control at that point and allow the kids to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues. If they don’t want to eat, fair enough.
• NO RESCUE MEALS – I don’t make alternatives. Cooking alternatives will never break the cycle of fussy eating, in fact, it will worsen it. Food is regularly rejected in our house, so I keep the rejected food in the fridge and offer it again later when hunger strikes before bed. I’m not mean about it, I gently explain how it’s going to work. To be honest, this has only happened a couple of times – I think the process of offering the food at bedtime is a good way of nipping hunger whingeing in the bud.
• FRUIT AND YOGHURT ARE ON OFFER – my kids have planned healthy snacks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon, so I know they’ll never starve. And there is always fruit and natural yoghurt available before or after the main meal if they want it.
So, when it all kicks off at your dining table, take a few deep breaths, think about how to make the whole experience more enjoyable and find a way to make your kids want to come back to the table time after time! You can do it!
Follow Alex on Instagram @feedthebrood, or join her Facebook Group for mealtime ideas and support from other parents.
The Pine Cliffs Resort, Albufeira, has been on our list of places we’d like to go for a long time now, and though we’re not huge fans of resort holidays, sometimes you just need a break where you know there will be minimum effort required, no planning, no itinerary, no need to think about where to go each evening. This year was one of those times.
Every year, finding accommodation for five people proves tricky. Most hotel rooms will only allow four as maximum occupancy, which means booking two rooms. Any that refuse to guarantee interconnecting rooms is a complete no-no for me, so generally, we end up with some kind of apartment.
Accommodation at Pine Cliffs
At the Pine Cliffs Resort, we stayed in one of the Residences, a two-bed apartment with sofa bed. We had a kitchen, dining area, two bathrooms and garden access, so we really couldn’t have asked for more in terms of space. The resort, on the whole, is clean and well maintained. The swimming pools are small, but there are plenty of them, spread around the enormous complex. We were positioned just across from our nearest pool and with easy access to a restaurant, shop, gym and a concierge. It was ideal.
Things to do
Pine Cliffs is such a big resort, you don’t need to set foot off the place. There are enough restaurants to enable you to vary your evenings and more activities than you can shake a stick at. My children aren’t big on kids clubs (and they’re a bit past all that anyway), but if you have little ones, you have the choice of the Pirate Club, which also has its own pool, play area and mini golf.
My younger two play golf and so most days, one of them at least, went off with my husband to the nine-hole course. It’s great that children are allowed to play and this really did mean the course had a family atmosphere. On other days, we tried tennis (though it was so hot, this made it difficult to play during the day). We did have a couple of evening sessions on the paddle tennis court though, which was great fun. This is a cross between tennis and squash and when the five of us took to the court, the only rule was that there were no rules!
Then there is, of course, the beach. As the name suggests, Pine Cliffs is situated on the cliff tops, so to access the beach, you need to take the lift down and then walk along the wooden gangway, itself not completely flat. Mobility wise, it’s not the easiest journey to get down there, but the beach is lovely and the sea reasonable warm and shallow.
Dining at Pine Cliffs
We chose ten days half board, which meant we could go to our nearest restaurant every morning for a buffet breakfast, but we had the choice of eating anywhere within the resort for our evening meal. As ever, when we go on holiday, it’s always a little worrying because we have special dietary needs and it usually takes a few days for the staff to get to know us and our requirements. This is fine when you only have one restaurant to choose from, but doesn’t work so well when you can eat at a number of locations.
Catering for special dietary needs
Pine Cliffs uses a system of labelling with codes, such as G for gluten and these labels are either in front of each dish at the buffet, or on the menus. At breakfast, there was a separate area with gluten free cereals and bread (but no separate toaster) and you could have fried or poached eggs, as well as bacon or beans.
At dinner, the majority of the buffet food contained gluten or dairy, according to the labels, but as the week went on, I started to question their accuracy. For example, one evening, there was a dessert that was apparently gluten and dairy free. However, the following night, at a different restaurant, a dessert identical looking had a label that said it did contain both of these things. I questioned it and found this to be true, so it began to ring a few alarm bells. I also found a dessert on another night that looked safe and asked the waiter. He told me it had the wrong label and wasn’t, in fact, suitable.
The staff weren’t educated about what was in the dishes and when I did ask for more information, someone would have to go and ask the chefs, and even some of these didn’t always know because the food was made centrally, at the main hotel.
If you are gluten free, you usually fair a bit better than if you need to avoid dairy or lactose. Practically nothing was suitable for a dairy intolerant person except fruit or jelly (for dessert) and main course-wise, we found it best to stick to the grill. Personally, I don’t really understand how a Bolognese can have both gluten and dairy in it, do you?
My advice would be to question everything and if you are coeliac, be extra careful. I saw someone use the cake slice from the gluten free dessert. I also saw the chef who manned the grill use the same utensil on the raw and cooked meat and also cross contaminate between the meat and fish. To say it put me off eating there is an understatement.
If you don’t want to eat in the restaurants, there is a supermarket just outside the resort. The small shop on site is hardly worth bothering with to be honest, plus it’s expensive.
Despite some problems with the food (something we’ve come to accept when we go away, sadly), the Pine Cliffs Resort really did tick all the boxes for the five of us. Husband was happy playing golf every day, the children had a mix of chill-out time and play and I managed to read a book and even get some writing done. We had one day of escape at the local shopping mall, when I really did feel as though I had cabin fever, but otherwise, I was quite happy to go with the flow. It truly was a much-needed relaxing break that we all benefited from after a very busy year.
Would we go back? Yes, quite possibly, though perhaps later in the year. We would also try just bed and breakfast and venture out to some local restaurants in the evenings. Perhaps next time, we might even go exploring a little more of the Algarve.
The Paleo diet takes its name from the term ‘Paleolithic’ and the principle of this diet, in its simplest of terms is ‘to eat like a caveman’.
The idea behind the diet is that our ancestors ate what they caught or foraged and our digestive systems developed to cope with this way of eating.
Since man began to farm and grow food, resulting in being able to process grains to make flour, turn milk into cheese, add sugar to products etc, our health has suffered because our digestive systems are not able to deal with it. That’s the theory anyway.
Many would argue we have evolved to deal with modern processed food, for example, our ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose found in dairy products. In fact, we are nothing like our Paleolithic ancestors.
There have also been findings of popcorn and other processed grains, dating back to these times, including a type of bread made without yeast. This suggests perhaps our cavemen did in fact eat some processed grains.
Then there is the question of what you can and can’t eat if you follow the Paleo lifestyle. Without a definitive list, it can be confusing. I’ve heard people say they eat Paleo when they actually include rice in their diet. Surely that’s a processed grain?
Another thing that makes the term ‘Paleo’ feel wrong as a way to describe a lifestyle, is the amount of exotic produce we have access to nowadays that simply wouldn’t have existed back then. Most of these have been cultivated by man.
Aside from the tenuous link to our ancestors, what the Paleo diet does have in its favour is its natural, unprocessed approach to eating.
Processed grains, such as bread, rice or pasta, especially if eaten in their ‘white’ form, are quickly broken down by the digestive system and turned into glucose, which raises blood sugar levels and causes the body to release insulin. This brings the blood sugar levels back down again, but it is this constant yo-yoing of blood sugar that puts unnecessary stress on the body and leads to ill health. In addition, any unused glucose ends up stored as fat. In this sedentary lifestyle that many people lead, we simply don’t need that amount of energy.
This makes the Paleo principle similar to that of a low GI diet, or one followed by a diabetic. It’s a common sense approach to eating that cuts down on carbs and sugar and considers food that is more natural or in its ‘whole’ form.
For our family, Paleo has its place because we have a gluten and dairy intolerant member of our tribe. This can make providing suitable food difficult, as gluten free diets don’t always accommodate dairy intolerance and vegan diets don’t consider issues with gluten. The fact we eat meat too means Paleo ticks all the boxes. The only thing I personally draw the line at is cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles. They leave me cold just thinking about them!
Our approach is one of common sense. I get what I need from a Paleo cookbook whilst adapting the recipes to suit our needs.
For example, I discovered a lovely ‘cream’ sauce substitute made from cashews and I’ve also experimented with grain free cookies and treats.
I may not wholly sign up to the Paleo approach, but I do feel it has its place in the arena of healthy eating, particularly given how ‘addicted’ we seem to be to a high carb, high sugar lifestyle.
If you want value for money, the Legoland hotel is NOT the place to stay
This week, I took my son to Legoland, as it’s his favourite place in the world. His school go back a week later than most, so we thought we’d take advantage of that, hoping it would be quieter.
He’s stayed in the park hotel before when he’s been with my husband, but this was my first time there and I was really excited about our little trip away together. It’s important for me, to have one-on-one time with my children if we can manage it.
We booked an adventure room at a bed and breakfast rate, with two days in the park and believe me, it was not cheap, even though it was out of the school holidays.
The room was a great size, with a separate bunk area for the children, including their own television. As fancy as a room may look though, a decent bed and mattress is what makes a hotel room for me. I don’t care if it’s adorned with Lego ornaments if the bed is rock hard and the pillows disappear to nothing when you lay on them.
I may be fussier than most when it comes to beds because of my back problems, but when you are paying through the nose for a room, I think it’s the least you can expect.
At the Legoland hotel, even my son, a skinny little nine-year-old, complained his bed was uncomfortable. I tested it out and it was like sleeping on concrete. Neither of us slept well.
My son had fun working out the code for the treasure chest in our room, in which was a prize of a small Lego pack. It’s a nice gesture for the kids, though personally, I think you should get more than that. We’ve been to themed hotels before where the kids have received their own welcome packs and loans of DVD’s. Again, it comes back to value for money.
There is a Legoland Channel on the room TV which my son watched when we returned to our room on the first afternoon. He was disappointed there were only a handful of shows playing on repeat and once he was through them (which didn’t take long), there wasn’t much else to watch.
I looked up the entertainment and movie selections on the menu, but you had to ask for those separately. I didn’t, as I presumed that meant they would incur an extra charge.
On arrival, I asked which restaurant it would be best for us to eat in, as both my son and I are dairy and gluten intolerant. He recommended the Bricks Restaurant, as it is buffet style, therefore more choice. He assured the staff would be able to help us and even make something specific, for example he mentioned they could do a gluten free pizza.
The reality was, they don’t do gluten free pizza, but they did offer gluten free pasta. I asked one of the catering staff what we could have and he simply handed me the allergy folder. This told me there wasn’t a great deal on offer for us, so I opted for the carvery and my son had pasta with chilli.
It cost me over £30 for both of us to eat and it was the worst carvery I’ve ever had.
When it comes to vegetables, there’s ‘al dente’ and there’s raw. The broccoli, carrots and cauliflower had barely seen a bit of hot water between them and whilst I wouldn’t mind a bit of raw veg in a salad, in a roast dinner – no thanks.
The breakfast was a little better. There was soya milk on offer and the cooked breakfast choice allowed us to have a decent plate full to set us up for the day. The only gripe I had about breakfast, was being told they were unable to toast some gluten free bread separately. Be warned if you are coeliac, as you cannot possibly use those toasters – they are the ones where you feed your bread in and it comes out of the bottom (usually barely toasted). The trays are full of crumbs and there is no way you could toast some gluten free bread without contamination. It’s hard to believe they don’t have a grill in the kitchen or even a toaster. They’re not expensive.
In the Legoland resort itself, it is difficult to find anything to eat if you have an allergy or intolerance. If we hadn’t been staying at the hotel, we would have needed to take our own food. For our lunch, we opted for the Sky Bar, as it was the only one open anyway. The menu there is small and mostly consisting of breaded things. I queried the menu, as it offered wraps with various fillings and had a symbol on there that said it was gluten free.
As it turned out, according to the allergy folder, the wraps aren’t gluten free, so I hope they amend this menu so as not to confuse anyone.
On the first afternoon, a lovely lady in the Sky Bar restaurant sorted us out some grilled chicken with chips and salad. She was very helpful and understanding and for someone with specific dietary needs, you can imagine how grateful you are when you receive service like that.
Unfortunately, when we ate at this restaurant the following lunchtime, it was a disaster.
We had a big plate of chips brought out to us but no grilled meat or salad. By the time we were three quarters through the chips, a waitress came over and said they were sorry they hadn’t cooked the meat yet and it was going to take another fifteen minutes as it needed to be cooked separately.
Whilst I am extremely understanding about the need to cook food separately in order to cater for allergies, and I’m more than happy to wait longer for my meal, I don’t expect to get my meal in stages. Would you expect that from a restaurant?
‘Here you go, Madam, here’s half of your meal, I’ll bring the rest out later.’
It wouldn’t go down well would it?
I said not to worry, we would just have the chips and leave it at that. Can you guess what happened next? We’d just finished eating the chips and out comes the meat and salad.
By that point I just wanted to leave!
You know why the Legoland Hotel is so popular don’t you? It’s obvious. For the kids, it’s amazing, for park access, it’s so convenient. It’s no wonder people are prepared to pay through the nose to stay there. You want to give your kids great memories to treasure, but it’s wrong, in my opinion, to take advantage of that by charging people lots of money and not giving them value for it.
If you stay at the hotel, you can get into the park at 9.30am ahead of the queues. That sounds like a great advantage doesn’t it? Except that hardly anything is actually open until 10am and half the park didn’t open until 11. In the end, we didn’t gain much at all for getting up and into the park so early.
Did you know Legoland have just recently opened another hotel right next door? It’s called the Castle Hotel and it is EVEN MORE expensive. I can only hope it’s better, considering the amount people are expected to pay in order to stay there.
For what it cost us, we could have gone to a luxury five-star hotel, where the focus is on quality and service. But, hey, that’s not the point is it?
I’ve been suffering from headaches for a while now and it’s reached the point where I need to find out what’s causing them, rather than just trying to ignore the issue and hope it goes away.
I’ve had my eyes checked already. This was my first thought actually, as I’m in my forties and as much as I don’t like to admit it, things don’t work like they used to. Luckily, my eyes were fine, more than fine for my age, so I was told. I won’t go into how smug that made me, but let’s just say, I was happy to cross that one off the list.
A number of different things working together can cause headaches. This can make the root cause difficult to diagnose.
An obvious thought was could it be migraines? I’ve never suffered from them, so I can’t imagine just how debilitating migraines can be when they come on. My headaches can feel severe at times and the pain presses down on my forehead like a vice. Sometimes, it can make focusing difficult, but I wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was akin to a migraine. I suspected not because I was still able to function, I didn’t shy away from bright light or feel nauseous. There had to be another reason.
I get a lot of pain in the back of my neck and in my shoulders. Whatever I do, I can’t seem to stop this area of my body from tightening. It stems from an injury, 14 years ago, that was enough to damage my shoulder ligaments and put my left side at a disadvantage to my right even to this day.
It made sense to me that this old injury could the source of all my aches and pains, going one way, up into my neck and the other way, down into my middle back. I exercise with specialists who know about this injury and my limitations because of it and as much as this helps keep my body from seizing up completely, it doesn’t stop my headaches. In fact, sometimes, it can make them worse.
The type of headaches I suffer from are known as cervicogenic headaches, the source of which is a combination of the neck and shoulder blades becoming knotted or in spasm.
The upper three joints of the neck, C1, C2 and C3 share a pain nucleus with the trigeminal nerve. This trigeminal nerve is the main sensory nerve that carries messages from your face to your brain. When the neck and scalp muscles become tense, or equally, if they move around too much (hypermobile), pain radiates from the back of the head to the front causing a dull, vice-like pain. This can sometimes feel like pressure on the head. The top of the neck and base of the skull can feel tender and it can be painful around the temples, side of the face, or behind the eyes.
Many people suffer from tension headaches caused by physical or emotional stress, excess alcohol or caffeine, eyestrain or fatigue. Cervicogenic headaches, however, are much less common, with an estimated 0.4-2.5% of the population suffering from them. According to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, the mean age of patients presenting with cervicogenic headaches is 42.9 years and they are four times more prevalent in women. Studies show cervicogenic headaches affect physical functioning of patients to a greater extent than other headache disorders.
I can certainly identify with this and when my headaches began to affect my everyday life, I knew it was time to do something about the problem.
I’m not the sort of person to rely on medication, BUT I will reach for the paracetamol if it gets bad enough. This only treats the symptoms though and I wanted to get to the root of my pain and sort out my headaches once and for all.
Massage can help, particularly when you massage the base of the scalp, but although this does alleviate the pain to an extent, I felt I needed more intervention. Time to call in the professionals!
Osteopathic treatment, combined with an exercise programme can be an effective treatment for headaches caused by neck pain. Studies also show the effectiveness of spinal manipulation and/or mobilisation to help.
Osteopath, Vladimir Levachyov has been interested in treating headaches ever since he saw his first headache patient in student clinic. When treating a patient, his first task (primarily based on the case history) is to ascertain whether the headache is primary or secondary, followed by diagnosing (or at least classifying) the headache type. To help with this, Vladimir regularly makes use of the ICHD-3 (The International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition).
“There are various factors that affect headaches, especially cervicogenic headaches. The common/close neurological link is one contributing mechanism, another is when the range of motion in the upper thoracic spine (the top of the ribcage) is decreased. The neck compensates by developing increased range of motion and when this happens, the ligaments around the joints can become slightly strained.
As a result, the muscles around the joints tighten up to protect the neck from further (perceived or otherwise) damage. The suboccipitals muscles (where the neck meets the skull), when overly tight, will press on whole nerves or branches of nerves that travel underneath these muscles; such as the greater auricular nerve (innervating the skin above the ear and the forehead) and the greater occipital nerve (innervating the skin at the back of the skull).”
The rationale for osteopathic treatment in the case of cervicogenic headaches is:
• To decrease the muscle tone (tightness) in the suboccipital and other neck muscles and hence relieve pressure on the nerves. This can be done in a number of ways, from soft tissue massage techniques, to using dry needling techniques with acupuncture needles, and of course home advice to stretch the suboccipital (and other appropriately chosen) muscles.
• To increase the range of motion of the thoracic spine; as this is increased the range of motion of the neck will normalise, meaning that the muscle tone should normalise, too.
Once you’ve embarked on an initial course of treatment for your cervicogenic headaches, there are a number of things you can do to help prevent them from re-occurring.
Your osteopath will give you lifestyle advice to help avoid the muscles getting tight.
• Check your everyday posture – excessive forward neck motion (such as bringing your head close to your phone or other screen) for extended periods will undoubtedly contribute to hypertonicity (tightness) of the suboccipital muscles.
• Invest in a good pillow and mattress.
• Invest time in daily neck and shoulder stretches
• Don’t sleep on your front
Treating and managing cervicogenic headaches is an on-going process and one I will have to pay close attention to in order to make sure I’m consistent with my exercises and that I re-visit an osteopath for regular check-ups. It’s not something I expect to cure overnight, but I’m relieved to have a professional diagnosis and a plan of action for tackling them.