This is the first installment of our three-part interview with Robert Kassab. He is the author behind the upcoming book: The DATA Protocol: A proven method to reduce your migraines without medication and creator of the 8-week course with the same name, currently available at www.reimaginehealthy.com.
The DATA Protocol is about reducing our migraines without medication. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for migraine treatment that didn’t involve a particular drug? It doesn’t usually happen.
We’re excited to be speaking with someone who is offering a clear alternative in terms of dealing with your migraines. For those readers who might be unfamiliar with Robert’s story, we encourage you to check out his site and find out more about his book and the course he created.
Let’s start with the obvious question. What drove you to develop the DATA protocol?
Today, over 10% of the world’s population struggle with migraines. That’s nearly one billion people. The vast majority of us don’t believe that doctors have the ability to help. We downright despise taking medication. We’re disillusioned and feel that no one is listening. Sometimes, we feel that neither our families nor those closest to us seem to care. But we try our best to go about our lives even when the challenges seem insurmountable. After over thirty years of suffering, I was finally able to take control of my own migraines. It took a lot of work and patience but I did it. And now I want to make sure that everyone suffering has a chance to improve their lives in a similar way. By adopting a common sense approach, as opposed to what I would refer to as a “reach for whatever” mentality, we can succeed.
It is no secret that we turn to some rather strange alternatives because we’re so desperate. And like most of us, I tried everything under the sun to get help. I remember being out in the water with my kids one day, and my then four-year old asking if I’d been attacked by a giant octopus. A few days prior, I had undergone cupping therapy, a form of alternative medicine where cups are placed on your back to create this suction action. While funny at the time, this experience underscores a rather depressing reality in terms of the absolute lengths that we will go. Even when there’s limited evidence, we convince ourselves that a potential solution is right around the corner. At some point, however, I finally realized that what I had been doing was to simply put good money after bad. So, I stopped hunting for my silver bullet and instead shifted the focus on me. The DATA Protocol starts with this centering exercise.
Isn’t the focus always on us?
To some extent, I would agree. But the focus is superficial, mostly dealing with the pain once it occurs. Not only do we have to change the focus, but we also need to go much deeper than this. We have to become proactive and not reactive. The absolute reduction of our migraines is the main objective. The focus needs to be squarely on us, in order to reach the objective. However, it takes a team-based approach in order to execute the strategy. When everyone plays their part and the focus centers on us, everyone wins, as migraine frequency is reduced. One of the things that we do in the DATA Protocol course is to offer loved ones the opportunity to take part so that they understand the role that they play.
You mention suffering from migraines for over thirty years, essentially most of your life. What can you tell us about the challenges you faced?
For a long time, I experienced episodes in the high teens every month. This had a devastating effect on my outlook, family life, and career. And the worse I felt, the less I was able to function as a father, husband, and employee. At first, as it became more and more difficult to perform my job responsibilities, I tried to hide my symptoms as best I could. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hide them from my own family. With increased episodes, I invited more and more stress into my life, which then exacerbated my work and family situation. I wasn’t getting any sleep. I was eating poorly. I would find myself lying awake at night staring at the ceiling, and wondering whether or not I would be able to keep it together.
When I sought help from the medical community, I kept hearing: “We don’t quite know why some people experience migraines. It’s complicated. Rather than suffer, why not take something that at least makes the pain go away?” I tried taking the recommended medication but the side effects were awful. I was told to continue with the medication and eventually I would feel better. But that never happened. When traditional medication didn’t seem to work, I turned to supplements, acupuncture, and other less conventional methods. In short, I found myself in a very difficult place and I was desperate. Unfortunately, the results were always the same. I wasted so much time and money, trying to find that magic option.
My view is that people without migraines cannot appreciate what it’s like to suffer from them. Imagine rarely experiencing a migraine-free day, living in a constant daze, and never quite having the energy to function at a level that would be considered normal. When people think, “It’s just a headache, we all get them”, they trivialize the condition, making matters worse and not better. And some of those people are often very close to us. My wife is incredibly supportive, and I couldn’t have done this without her. But, as I write in the book, that wasn’t always the case.
The people around us have their own challenges, and it’s understandable that they might not always be sympathetic to our plight. However, we do have to realize that this is very much a team effort. I know that sounds strange, since we’re the ones with the migraines. But, in reality, our families get to experience the migraines with us, whether they want to or not. It’s in everyone’s interest to want to help us get better.
Eating poorly at the height of your episodes was clearly a problem. Doesn’t it make sense to eliminate certain foods and food groups entirely?
I would agree that it is incredibly important to consider dietary triggers, which is why the DATA Protocol centers on a fairly restrictive process in order to create a migraine-free diet specific to the individual. Where I would perhaps disagree is on the approach and the prerequisites in determining that diet. I think it’s problematic to consider migraine sufferers as one homogeneous group. Adhering to commonly advertised elimination diets will generally be quite counterproductive for most of us. It’s never that simple. As a matter of fact, relying on these broadly advertised diets may cause us to eventually ignore dietary triggers altogether, due to any lack of progress. Since we tend not to follow the right steps in properly isolating and experimenting with foods that are specific to us, we fail.
During the DATA Protocol course, we spend a lot of time learning how to isolate a basic diet, where restrictions are significant. However, this diet will likely be different for all of us.
A full chapter is devoted to the process of modifying our particular diet, and I also go through the heavily restricted diet that I started with, developing the protocol. But my diet, as one would expect, was quite unique to me. And I am fairly certain that few people would voluntarily choose that diet on their own. The word “bland” doesn’t even do it justice. The bottom line is this. If we don’t do the work on our own, I don’t believe it possible to find the proper diet. Sure, you might haphazardly move around, trying this or that. You might even think that you have found a trigger food, only to later end up with another migraine, because the proper tools had not been established ahead of time. The phrase “Reimagine Healthy” is, in its essence, about visualizing what the goal will look like and then executing the strategy to get there.