From the age of I-don’t-remember-life-before-then-anyway until 5 weeks ago, I was a coffee addict. Then I quit. It was crazy. Many of you are already a fan of coffee’s bittersweet early morning embrace, whispering, “You can do it. I’ll help you. I’m here. I’m coffee, and I love you.” If you have heard these sweet words leaving coffee’s sultry, seductive lips, read on.
As time marches forward, Americans consistently achieve less quality sleep. As our rest has decreased, our coffee consumption has risen steadily; in 2011, Americans consumed over 1.31 million metric tons of coffee. Aside from getting you to work, coffee has many health benefits: it is used as medical nutrition therapy for gout, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease when consumed moderately, is packed with detoxifying antioxidants, pushes the liver to begin to process harmful substances, and boosts athletic performance.
But there is a darker side to coffee consumption.
- Coffee can increase acid production leading to heartburn as well as make the lower bowel very crampy, gassy, and frequently elimination of poorly formed stools. I’ve seen irritable bowels solved overnight when coffee is removed from the diet.
- Caffeine intake may reduce the quality of the sleep you do get, especially when consumed later in the day. This causes a cycle of dependence.
- Coffee raises blood pressure, more in some than in others, independently of the antioxidant load that is heralded as a boon for those with cardiovascular disease.
- Coffee reduces the perceived negative effects of alcohol, encouraging mindless or excessive consumption.
- Caffeine tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol– our number one stress hormone– which gets us ready to run from a hypothetical tiger, raising blood pressure, raising blood sugar– a short term metabolism booster but a long-term weight-gainer, especially around the waist.
- Attention allergy sufferers– coffee is a big source of histamine, exacerbating seasonal allergies and potentially causing heartburn.
And for those of you trying to lose weight, coffee may be your greatest saboteur:
- … suppressing appetite in the morning (when you need quality energy and protein)
- … while increasing blood sugar and cortisol (a stress hormone that increases the likelihood of gaining belly fat)
- … later on, when you crash, leaving you tired and craving either sugar, starch, or more coffee, creating cravings for carbohydrate-heavy weight-gain-friendly food choices in the afternoon and evening.
But what motivated me to cut back is that coffee consumption can worsen anxiety. Because the immediate effects are uplifting, many are less likely to associate anxiety with caffeine use. But caffeine reduction may be part of a multi-faceted approach to reducing anxiety. What I often see in patients is more insidious– low protein intake from more carb-snacking and less protein-eating during the daytime compromises mental health and physical energy. The effects are minimized, or hidden, until they aren’t. Anxiety is at the core of weight management challenges, chronic disease, and why-being-human-is-so-hard-sometimes. And as a woman, yoga teacher, meditation instructor, healer, and lifelong student, maintaining a lid on anxiety requires vigilance.
So is coffee worth it? I’m not so sure. Evaluate the caffeine content of your favorite beverages here; in general, caffeine levels are highest in energy drinks and other artificially caffeinated products, then coffee, black tea, green tea, soda, chocolate, and white tea. The longer grounds are brewed or tea is steeped, the higher possible caffeine content. How much caffeine do you consume in an average day?
So, with my annual spring cleaning, all coffee had to go. Spring and early summer are fantastic times to detoxify and try a low or no-caffeine lifestyle– plenty of sun to keep energy levels high, appetites are relatively low so overeating is easier to curb, and the warmth makes it easier to encourage great hydration from non-caffeinated beverages. It’s a great time to let go of habits we don’t need.
Well, I’ve done detoxification diets before– I am, after all, a dietitian. We manipulate our diets for fun. But out of sheer terror at the idea of failing to get out of bed ever again– or having caffeine-withdrawal-migraines end my life as I knew it, I had not dared to go zero tolerance. I did my best to prepare, because I used to wake up with a splitting headache without coffee. Let me rephrase– without coffee immediately– which really made my morning meditation practice tricky to manage some days. So, I stocked up on seaweed snacks for electrolytes, organic lemons and cayenne powder, chicory root powder as a coffee substitute, and Tulsi (holy basil) tea (especially my all-time favorite relaxing rose tea) and slowly started reducing my coffee intake. 2 days before going caffeine free, I stuck to organic decaf (from a local cafe) in the morning with black and green tea for support. I was a little tired but generally okay. Then, I took the plunge.
Day 1: Monday. Woke up and brewed some chicory root tea, took some magnesium and a B-complex vitamin, and drank 16 oz of lemon water. I got up earlier than usual, went to my meditation mat, and gave myself almost 45 minutes of uninterrupted brain-soothing-time. I was exhausted all day, drinking rose tea, but did not have a headache, which felt triumphant. No bowel movement until nighttime despite eating 2 salads and a smoothie the day before, as expected. Pleasant day.
Day 2: Woke up somewhat less tired than yesterday, but in full-body-pain, and wondered if I had caught a flu that had no other symptoms. I drank a lot of lemon water with my B-vitamin and Magnesium– still no headache!– and made it through the day, though doing my morning yoga routine was very difficult and riding my bike to work was almost impossible as my legs were fully inflamed. Drank flax seed tea all day to alleviate constipation. Difficult day but handled well.
Day 3: Woke up with less pain and in a really good mood as I felt shockingly refreshed from only 6.5 hours of sleep and woke up earlier than my alarm after having some very vivid dreams– more vivid than normal. Really pleasant day, and after the pain the day before, I was grateful. Bowel habits have returned to normal and actually improved in consistency. Wanted to go running but I could not motivate my body for cardio beyond biking to and from work. Taught an evening meditation class and noted that I was the most clear-minded I have been teaching that class in that space in almost 2.5 years.
Day 4: PMS started rearing its ugly head and the tiredness returned, though with herbal teas, easiest time I’ve done in a while. Barely any cramping and I was far less anxious, but I finally got the headache I had been wary of. Massive migraine headache took me out of commission for most of the day, but resolved by evening– weather definitely contributed.
Day 5: I’m usually heat intolerant and have to struggle to stay level-headed when it is very hot outside, but woke in 90+degree heat, covered in sweat, with no feeling of aggression or anxiety. Yoga and meditation were just bonus; I woke up pretty balanced.
Day 6: Had the luxury of sleeping in and woke up after exactly 8 hours, no alarm, no tiredness, energy perfect. Finally went for the run I wasn’t able to go on Wednesday and promised myself I would do my best to get back on track next week (and did).
Day 7: Taught yoga and meditation in the morning. My energy felt more stable than usual and my regulars said the class seemed more pleasantly relaxed than normal. Went for a run before teaching the class without incident and with plenty of energy.
Day 8 …. The following week I was very productive at work, woke up ahead of my alarm on all but one day (Friday, of course), and felt much more emotionally stable. I’m having some green and white tea during the day as a pick-me up. No headaches, no energy swings. Magical.
It is now over a month later and I am using green tea and white tea occasionally. Things are going very well and I don’t miss coffee much. I’m as shocked as anyone.
I learned so much from this humbling experience:
- I never fully realized the effect caffeine had on my emotional state. I have worked hard for many years to practice yoga and meditation and eat right and exercise and sleep well and be a good person and despite all that I have always felt a little bit angry– and caffeine was definitely responsible for a chunk of that. I like me better this way.
- My sleep schedule righted itself almost perfectly within a mere 72 hours.
- Constipation came and was able to be alleviated within, again, a mere 72 hours.
- Much of my seasonal stuffiness went away without a daily histamine dose. I expected this to happen but many may not realize that histamine affects them at all. Take note!
- I am less anxious, in general, all the time.
- I am far less tired, in general, all the time. Far less.
- My skin improved dramatically.
- All the infused waters and herbal teas have been far more detoxifying to my body than coffee, and I don’t have to pee every hour of the day. Win-win.
So what have I been drinking and enjoying for a pick-me-up?
- Chicory Root Tea (see image), some days brewed with Dandelion Root Powder (I take 10 oz with 1 tsp organic coconut milk and ½ tsp of organic clarified butter with a dash of cinnamon. Yummy!)
- Corn Silk and Roasted Brown Rice Teas (organic to reduce pesticide load)
- Warm Water with Organic Lemon Wedges and Cayenne
- Sparkling Water with lemon essential oil or mint essential oil
- Rooibos mixed with other herbal teas
- For motivating the bowels – Flax Seed Tea, Various Fruit and Veggie Smoothies with a pinch of senna leaves blended into it
- Green or White Tea (for caffeine)
Have you tried to give up or cut back on caffeine before?
What have your experiences been? Feel invited to comment!
~~ We are here to serve your needs. ~~
~~ For more FREE HEALTH AND WELLNESS UPDATES, as well as updates on our free yoga and meditation classes, like and connect with us. ~~