Do you know those scenes from a movie, in which a person who has only recently given up cigarettes asks a smoker to blow smoke in her face? That’s the way that I felt today going to a coffee shop with my husband. He was getting an afternoon jolt, and I was trying to get a contact high, breathing in the smells of brewing coffee in the air – the deep roasted aroma, the rich and satisfying smells… After a month without coffee, I needed a secondhand sniff.
Giving up coffee was something I never thought I’d do. I loved everything about it – the sound of the beans grinding, the smells emanating from the kitchen while it brewed, the warm feeling of the mug in my hands, and the taste of those first heavenly sips. Better than all of that was the feeling that it gave me – as if I were being catapulted into the day. I went from groggy and heavy to levitating off the kitchen floor, dancing and singing in a matter of 20 minutes. (I’m glad that coffee drinking Cadry wasn’t with me on those first few days without caffeine, I don’t think I could have tolerated her enthusiasm. Of course, if I’ve learned anything from Dr. Who, I know that having both of us there would have caused some kind of time rift in the continuum, but that’s neither here nor there.)
With a lift from coffee in the morning, I was a professional skier sliding up and over a ramp – nothing but wind in my face and a feeling I could get it all done in no time at all. Despite this devotion, I’d kept my intake on the lower end. I’d have a mug and a half in the morning. In the afternoons, I’d often have a cup of caffeinated tea. Maybe once a week I’d pick up coffee at a coffee shop. I stopped drinking caffeine by three or four. I never drank soda.
It wasn’t always that way. In my life I hardly remember a time when I wasn’t taking in caffeine. As a kid I was a fan of bubbly cola. As a teenager I drank 5 or 6 cans a day. By the time I got to college, I’d wake up with soda and fall asleep with soda. Once I was out in the working world, I’d noticed a creep in my pant size and moved to diet soda instead. I drank that for a year or so, and then decided to drop it because of the aspartame. At that point, I said goodbye to soda and hello to coffee. So why give it up now?
For me, there were a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t sleeping as restfully as I’d like. I’d fall asleep okay, but then around 3 or 4 a.m. I’d wake up feeling stressed with an active mind. I wanted to sleep more deeply and peacefully. Second, I wondered what an uncaffeinated life would be like. (One caveat: the occasional square of dark chocolate that I enjoy got the okay to stay. The amount of caffeine is relatively small by comparison.) Would I feel different? The same? More clear? It was worth finding out. Plus, I could always go back to drinking coffee, either in the amounts I’d grown accustomed or as an occasional treat. There was no harm in doing a little experiment to find out what a life without caffeine would be like.
My last hurrah was on December 26th when I shared a soy misto with my husband as we drove back from holiday festivities. On December 27th, I began the weaning process. That day I filled my coffee mug halfway. The next day, a little less. I drank it in dwindling amounts until I swapped out coffee for caffeinated tea and did the same with that for a couple of days. I hoped that by gradually decreasing the amount of caffeine I was drinking, I would tamper caffeine withdrawal headaches down the line. During the period that I was weaning myself from caffeine, I simultaneously started the new habits that I wanted to replace my old behavior. With those half cups of tea, I’d bring in a tall glass of cucumber and lemon water, or I’d make fresh juice of celery, cucumber, carrot, and apple.
After a week of weaning myself from caffeine, I started my morning with just a freshly made juice. Instead of the noise of a coffee grinder breaking the morning silence, it was the sounds of fruits and vegetables being crushed into liquid. On cold mornings, I reached for Rooibos tea (actually tisane), which is naturally free of caffeine and has a sweet, full flavor without sugar. Unlike coffee, Rooibos is low in tannins, which can inhibit iron absorption. Another plus for caffeine-free Rooibos is that it contains calcium, whereas caffeine leaches calcium from the bones.
To keep my dedication up, I sought out websites and books about giving up caffeine, like Kris Carr’s Crazy, Sexy Diet, which I read last year. I haven’t done her cleanse, but I like some of the ideas she has for incorporating juices and smoothies into one’s diet. She’s a big proponent of green juices, which I love too. But if a person is having troubles getting over the caffeine hump, she suggests orange juice for its natural sugar boost. Another idea was to start the morning with water with lemon and a dash of cayenne. My husband tried a sip and seemed less than enthused about the taste some might describe as dirty water that burns the throat on the way down, but I actually felt like it helped.
As for withdrawal symptoms, during the days that I was weaning myself from coffee, I didn’t get a headache until the evenings. Once I quit altogether, I had them pretty much all day. That lasted for a few days.
After that, there were some mornings when I woke up and thought, “Man, I’d like a cup of coffee.” On those days, I’d tell myself that first I had to get up and make tea, juice, or have a smoothie. If, after that, I still wanted coffee, I could have it. Wouldn’t you know, I never needed it. My biggest surprise has been how easy it was to give it up. Since I had so many attachments to it, I thought the process of not continuing to drink it would be impossible. After being free of caffeine for a month, here are the benefits I’ve noticed:
1. I wake up hungry. I’ve always been a person who doesn’t want to have breakfast first thing in the morning. I needed to wait until about 10 am to actually feel like eating. Now I wake up ready to eat something substantial. Caffeine is an appetite suppressant, but I hadn’t realized the effect it was having on my desire for a morning meal.
2. I’ll be brief here, but let’s just say that my stomach is happier. It didn’t like having an acidic beverage dropped on it first thing in the morning.
3. I’m sleeping deeper, and most nights I sleep all through the night.
4. Outside of rare baking and sweets-making, the only time I was using agave syrup was in coffee. Now that I’m not drinking it, that’s less money and empty calories on agave syrup.
5. My energy is more even. I’m not doing cartwheels on the rooftop in the morning, but I am working out at 9 pm. I don’t spend all of my energy as soon as I wake up. Plus, I feel like my mind is calmer.
6. When I travel, I won’t have to worry about when/where I’m going to get coffee. If I’m at a hotel and the coffee is less than spectacular (which it generally is) or in a country where tea is the drink de rigueur, I don’t have to start the day with a search for a coffee shop. A couple of years ago I was going on a weekend trip to see my friend, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, in the Bay area. If you follow her podcast, you know that she’s a major tea drinker, and in fact, she doesn’t even own a coffee pot. That is to say, she didn’t used to own a coffee pot… We were going to be working on a project at her home, and I knew there wouldn’t be time to go out and pick up coffee while I was there. I didn’t want to have a fuzzy mind and headache, and so before the trip I purchased a small coffee pot, filters, and ground coffee. Packing my little carry-on with a variety of coffee accoutrement felt silly but imperative. I knew I’d have a much happier trip. Anyway, I left the coffee pot with Colleen, and she still has it for her coffee-loving guests. A nice perk of not depending on coffee to start the day is that it frees my time for more sightseeing and more space in my suitcase for important things like boots.
1. Wean yourself. It probably didn’t cut back on the amount of headaches that I had, but it gave me time to get used to the idea. Getting by on a half a cup of coffee bolstered my confidence that I could get by on none at all.
2. During the weaning process, start practicing new habits – juicing, smoothie-making, drinking caffeine-free herbal tea, or starting the morning with cucumber/lemon water.
3. Consider dropping coffee on a week you already feel crummy or are taking pain killers. If you’re a woman, this could be the week of your period, or it could be a week that you’re starting a new exercise regimen or are sick. If you don’t feel good anyway, might as well pile it on at once and get it over with.
In the end, do I think I’ll never have another cup of coffee again? No. However, I like the idea of it being a special occasion treat. Maybe I’d have a cup on a weekend out of town or a girls’ day shopping trip. It would be something I enjoy as a conscious, deliberate choice instead of as a habit.