Migraines Almost Killed My Business; Adopting a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet Dramatically Improved Them Both

Cristen Iris

In June of 2016, my business was profitable enough to have allowed me to quit my day job and be 100% self-employed, but financial health alone cannot sustain a business. Being physically healthy enough to predictably deliver high-quality work is required. And that summer I was in big trouble.

Chronic Migraines

A chronic migraine sufferer for years, my migraines situation had become untenable.

Out of 62 days, 31 were migraine days.

Not headaches, migraines. The debilitating, in bed, no lights, no sounds, no movement, head in a vice, wanna puke kind of migraines.

My high-powered prescription meds were no longer able to knock them down, and I had work to do. Writing work. Editing work. Talk to people work. The kind of work that requires intense focus and emotional engagement.

Daily Injections

I was blowing through pills so quickly that my insurance company wouldn’t cover the cost anymore. My pharmacist told me I could buy them outright at $33.00 a pop. I was making money, but sure as hell didn’t want to swallow it. I wanted to invest in things that would improve my clients’ experience and help me expand my platform and get in front of the types of clients I wanted to work with. Plus the pills weren’t doing what I needed them to do.

So, to get me through the projects I was working on, my doctor prescribed daily injections of Toradol (the deductible of which my insurance would cover) and a cocktail of over the counter meds.

While awful and a disruption of my business in a different way, they helped. But when I pressed “send” on the last June deliverable, my body was done.

New Plan: Major Lifestyle Changes

Thankfully, I’d already planned to take July off from client work. I had a project of my own that I wanted to focus on, but my business and body were at war, and the business lost.

I did almost nothing for a month. I slept. I ate better. From the big green chair in my living room I watched squirrels play in the massive silver maple in my backyard and my chickens do their thing. And I walked when I could muster the strength.

By September, I had far more energy and fewer migraines.

I stopped working 70-hour weeks by stepping down from several leadership roles, letting high-maintenance clients go, and all but leaving social media.

I started saying no.

But I also started saying yes. Yes to the other things that make me happy. Yes to hiking, mountain bike riding, camping, and time with my husband.

The lifestyle changes I made and my willingness to “miss out” on what others called opportunities reduced my migraines, but they weren’t gone. They still had power over my body and, therefore, my business.

Better Plan: A Whole-Food, Plant-Based (Vegan) Diet

Although I’m a proponent of veganism for environmental and animal compassion reasons and had been a vegan/vegetarian for four years before, I have to admit that my primary motivation for going vegan again was less my love of animals and nature and more my love of what I do and my unwillingness to watch what I’d built come crashing down around me when the power to make it thrive was under my control.

In January of 2018, I took control. I committed to lifelong pure vegetarianism.

In 2016, I had close to 60 migraines.

In 2017, I had somewhere close to 25.

After adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet in 2018, I had 11 migraines.

In 2019, I had 4.


That’s easy math. The solution to the problem is clear.

The Power of Yes! and the Power of No

Often when I tell people I’m a vegan, they see lack. They highlight all the things I say no to, all the things I “can’t” eat.

When I think about my diet, I think about all the things being vegan allows me to say yes to every day:

  • Yes! to feeling amazing.
  • Yes! to confidence that my body and mind will be there when I put fingers to keyboard every morning.
  • Yes! to a long life and extra money in my accounts.
  • Yes! to a sustainable business.
  • Yes! to new adventures and big challenges, to more travel and higher stakes.
  • And, of course, Yes! to the environment and creatures that outside of my belly feed my soul.

I say Yes!

So, when people say, “Oh, sorry. You can’t eat that,” I correct them by saying, “I can eat that. I choose not to.”

It’s the same for my business. I can but choose not to take in certain projects, clients, and activities. They don’t feed me in any sustainable, life-affirming way. Now, I say no to headaches and Yes! to what I want.

In whatever way you do it, I encourage you to do the same.

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

–attributed to many, including Abraham Lincoln

2021 Update

In the past 14 full months, I've had 4 headaches. Two of them qualified as crossing the headache-migraine line, but both migraines responded quickly to over-the-counter migraine meds combined with a few shots of espresso (a caffeine booster).

The relief I've experienced thanks to my plant-based diet has allowed me to think beyond the benefits of my diet on my own health and focus on how it benefits animals and the environment in which we all live.

I am a vegan. For my health. For the animals. For the planet. All in equal measure.


Note: The causes of migraines are not well understood. And as with any medical condition, you should work with your primary care physician or specialist. If you're interested in evidence-based lifestyle medicine, I recommend the following resources:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

CHIP Lifestyle Medicine Institute

St. Luke's Complete Health Improvement Program (Idaho CHIP program)


National Vegetarian Week

Migraine Awareness Month


CI Communication Strategies