A Month Without Coffee

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.

If you’re considering dropping coffee, cutting back, or even just doing a 30 day experiment, here are my tips:

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.

29 thoughts on “A Month Without Coffee

  1. Not easy to do! Those caffeine withdrawals can be nasty. I found, when I gave up coffee, that drinking tons of water helped the headaches/malaise subside. Once in a great while, I’ll have a cup with my husband, but then I’ll find I don’t like the taste anymore, which I find very surprising. I just LOVED the nutty round taste of coffee and now it tastes like acid. So going without it just isn’t an issue anymore. (Though I still ADORE the smell of it.)

    Congrats!

    • That’s good to know that your palate changed where coffee is concerned. I had that same experience with soda. Like I mentioned in the post, I used to drink loads of it. After I quit and I tried it again after some months had passed, it tasted way too sweet and syrupy. I couldn’t drink more than a sip. It makes sense that coffee could be a similar reaction, especially since for many people it’s an acquired taste.

  2. Good for you!! I quit coffee cold-turkey (bad idea…didn’t research a weaning method…got major headaches) and immediately realized the damaging effects it had on my body. I drink it now as a special treat. You can’t escape the lure of a good coffee shop every once in-a-while. ;)

    • There are a lot of coffee quitters chiming in! I like it! What kinds of effects/changes did you notice? Those coffee shops are inviting, indeed, with the delicious smells wafting out of their doors! :)

  3. Powerful post. Very real. I had a to laugh a little at the whole do it when you are sick idea, but it’s true, if you are already too sick to have much food or anything, that’s a good time as any. My coffee detox was rough and I had only one cup a day. It was much more intense than even going raw or vegan or anything like that. (well juice feasting was more intense). I love how you slowly got off it, and substituted in hydrating other things. Don’t you feel so free now that you are not addicted? I sense you just didn’t like being dependent, as I did too.

    • Thanks, Bitt! Yes, I could see some people not loving the idea of adding something else when they’re already sick or feeling crummy, but I think it’s easier to get it over with in one swoop. That’s interesting that your coffee detox was rough since you were drinking so much less coffee than a lot of people. You’re right, it’s freeing to not count on an outside source for a pick-me-up.

  4. Hi, Cadry! Good for you for kicking the caffeine habit, being coffee-free for a month, and for sharing such helpful info about it! I know it’s not an easy thing to do. Or even to decide to do! We gave up coffee (our source of caffeine other than a little chocolate nut milk and the rare cocoa powder in baked goods) a couple of weeks before I went to the McDougall 10-Day program in 2007, where caffeine is discouraged and so coffee is off the menu. I wanted to be in the comfort of my own home when I got the withdrawal headache! Like you, I only drank 1-2 mugs of coffee a day and weaned myself slowly, but still suffered a few headachy, sluggish days before starting to feel all those great benefits of being off the stuff.

    After that, we didn’t miss the caffeine, but did miss the flavor and aroma of that hearty cup of joe in the mornings (and occasional cold evenings) that no herbal tea or juice could provide. So within a few months of going coffee-free, we found these three excellent substitutes that I thought I’d share, since they might be especially helpful to anyone in the early stages of giving up coffee. All of them have health benefits and the first two are easily portable when traveling – just need a tea kettle, a mug and a spoon! :-) We enjoy all three with a bit of chocolate almond (or soy) milk and a teaspoon or two of sucanat…

    Dandy Blend Instant Herbal Beverage
    Roastaroma Herbal Tea
    Teeccino Herbal Coffee
    (We especially love the Maya Chocolate flavor Teeccino, brewing ours in a coffee press.)

    Now if only they served these in coffee shops! :-)

    • Hi, Laloofah! It’s nice to “see” you again! Good for you for being caffeine free for five years! What kinds of benefits did you notice when you quit? Thanks for suggesting these different herbal beverages. I’ll look for them!

      • Hi, Cadry, it’s nice to “see” you again, too! I’ve been negligent in my visits, and more so in my commenting. A thousand pardons!

        It’s been a while, but I do remember experiencing several of the same advantages that you did. Most notably the fact that I wake up with more energy and sustain it throughout the morning, if not throughout the day. It’s a noticeable and welcome change from waking up feeling groggy (and often headachy), perking up after drinking coffee, and then later feeling groggy again. My husband enjoyed the benefits of giving up that acidic “hit” to this stomach every morning (mine is a cast iron tummy, so I didn’t notice that benefit as much).

        Traveling with Dandy Blend is much easier too, especially since we hated the brewed coffee you get in most places (and in motel room coffee makers). We took our package of Dandy Blend with us to Maine and got our lovely vegan B&B hostess hooked on it. And she wasn’t even a coffee drinker (she’s from England, so tea’s her beverage of choice!) But she thought it smelled so good she asked to try a cup of it one morning and then had to get her local food co-op to start carrying it! :-)

  5. I’ve never had a coffee habit because, as I was about to possibly develop one, I discovered my body couldn’t handle caffeine, and that was that. But, I do love the smell of coffee beans being ground and brewed — it’s like a hypnotic perfume. I never want to drink coffee, just inhale the fragrance. This post is a wonderful window into what it’s like to give up a coffee (or any) habit, and I imagine it will give a lot of positive support to those who may be trying to accomplish such a feat.

  6. You inspired me to stop drinking coffee from our last exchange. It’s been 10 days and I am still alive! I’m not sure if this is a permanent thing or just a little “detox” from it, but I am feeling similar as you said about even energy. I think that is what I am loving most about it. Glad to hear that you are doing well without it!

    • Congratulations on ten days coffee free and still being alive! (I’m especially happy about that last part.) Whether you decide to go back to coffee or not, it is interesting to see the effect it has and what part it plays in the way that “normal” feels. Don’t you think?

  7. Welcome to the tea club! :-) It did seem very addict-like when you had to pack a coffee POT to go to a friend’s house! lol

  8. Congratulations! While I’ve never been a coffee drinker, I love the smell of coffee just not the taste. I could stand outside a coffee shop all day just smelling the coffee (although not on the days when they accidentally burnt the beans). Good for you for breaking the habit! :-)

  9. i cant stand the smell of strong coffee.. and the only time i drink some is a really mild one in the evening,.. though we do drink tea every morning.. maybe i should try cutting that out to see how my mornings turn out!

  10. Well done on giving up. I too have given up for the past four months or so and I’ve had the occasional “treat” coffee and up until now I never realised how anxious and nervous it made me feel. I’ve also realised that I take way less meds for anxiety now, in fact I could hand on heart say that 90% of my anxiety condition has disappeared. Anyone suffering from awful anxiety or insomnia should try your 30 day experiment to see how strong the *drug* caffeine is and I can guarantee they will be surprised and relieved at the reduction of the condition; and the suffering involved. Caffeine is useful in some ways, for example it is effective in aborting some types of migraines, and it certainly can make you ready and on your toes for an event which requires you to be on edge (like a competitive sport, for example). I’ve replaced my morning coffee with a barley& malt coffee alternative drink in a jar from my local health food shop, used just like coffee – it creams up just the same – and is a good substitute for dealing with the psychological switch, which let’s face is, is the hardest part. I also know my skin is more hydrated and less red in places and I definitely sleep sounder and for longer. Like I say, the odd slip up only reminds me of why I stopped drinking it in the first place – a return of horrible (needless!) anxiety symptoms and that is after only one cup. I don’t miss it at all! Good luck everyone if you’re giving it up, it’s well worth it <3

  11. OMG…I have been trying to quit coffee and it has been a rough road. I feel like a drug addict lol. The longest I went was 5 months after reading the book Skinny Bitch. I fell off the wagon when I was on vacation. My mom was brewing a fresh pot and I caved!!! I began drinking it again every morning. 2 Cups of French Roast is my norm.

    About a year later, I was sick with the flu and of course I stop drinking coffee when I am sick. My husband said you have the flu and you look better than when you are well. We put 2 and 2 together and came to the conclusion that coffee was making me look awful. After that I stopped drinking coffee but would relapse every 2 weeks and each time I would relapse, I would notice dark circles, double bags under my eyes and my skin would break out and I looked unhealthy. Not only did I look unhealthy but I felt unhealthy too. After my initial high wore off from the coffee, I began to feel terrible. I researched adrenal exhaustion and I know that coffee is really affecting my adrenal glands. Also I notice as soon as I stop drinking coffee, the dark circles and bags go away. My skin clears up and I do not have the afternoon lull.

    I ran across your article and I have not had coffee for 3 days and this time I want to really quit and never look back. Plus I want to become a Vegetarian again. I was for 2 years and recently added fish back into my diet. Your site has really motivated me to get back in gear and eliminate coffee and fish from my diet and go back to how I was when I was on a plant based diet without coffee. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  12. I decided to quit coffee cold turkey. I didn’t think it would be so bad because I only drink it in the morning, although a large mug. My first day felt like someone was driving screws into my skull. I was so incredibly fatigued that I had to take a nap as soon as I got home from work and slept a good 3 hours. When I woke my head was still pounding. The next morning I had a dull headache, but it tapered off by the afternoon. Now I really feel that it has improved my life. I actually wake earlier now and do a Pilates routine, then eat breakfast before work. I have been sleeping better at night, and haven’t felt like napping after a long day at work. I also feel reinvigorated to eat healthier. My teeth are whiter too.

  13. This is my third time giving up caffeine (coffee), the first 2 times it was pretty easy I did it while I was sick with the flu and a sinus infection. I was taking meds an sleeping all day anyway, it was pretty easy. I slowly started drinking it again when I started a new job and I’m hating the dependency of it. I’ve switched to a caffeine pill, which at least got me out of the habit of drinking the coffee and the extra calories the cream and sugar would add it in when I used it, but I’ve tried a few times to cut the pill in half and quarters to try and reduce the caffeine input, but it’s not working, the headaches are unbearable. I have 2 little boys and I leave for work at 7am and don’t return until about 6pm or 8 on gym nights, so I’m on the go a lot and finding the time to deal with a caffeine migraine is impossible. Please give me suggestions of other ways to get through the headaches.
    -Petrina

  14. I’ve been a coffee drinker for 40 years and have noticed a change in the way my body reacts to it. I love ghe taste, the ritual of making coffee, the smell and the effect but it had to go. I’ve replaced it with Teeccino, Dandy Blend and tea – more for the ritual then for anything else. I feel better, have more energy throughout the day, save money, sleep is deeper, less anxiety, lower Gerd issues and overall seem healthier. And to be honest it was simple. I’ve always been an advocate of replacing bad habits with good ones (instead of just quiting the bad ones) and drinks like the ones I mentionaed above did the trick.

  15. I have been off caffeine for 1 month and two weeks now and the first week or two were the worst thing to me, i found quitting caffeine was harder then quitting smoking. Im not complaining because i sleep deep and through the nights now although i still long for a cup of coffee everyone once in a while, maybe i will have an occasional coffee every now and then but i really want to see how long i can last first.

  16. I am about to start down the road again. I have tried to quit so many times I’ve lost track. I did stop for about 6 weeks a year ago, took about 4 weeks for the fog to clear. I am desperate to see how I feel when I’m off caffine. Mostly I think it makes me irritable. Here we go again….

  17. I was on a desperate search today for coffee/caffeine withdrawal symptoms information, or help with dealing with breaking an addiction to caffeine. I accidentally did not consume coffee today after noticing that we were out of our usual iced coffee in the fridge, and I was very busy getting my daughters out the door for school. I made myself a quick decaf cup around noon, again not really registering that I had not had any caffeine yet today.

    Around 1 p.m, I started feeling terribly ill, with pounding headache, nausea, sudden fatigue that made me practically collapse in bed, crying, etc. I really felt like an addict going through withdrawal. And I am not even the kind of person who usually thinks I “need” coffee to get through a morning or a day or a workweek. My problem is that I love iced coffee in the summer, and before I knew it, I was consuming mutiple glasses (probably at least 10 oz each) per day, often at practically undiluted strength (very little ice, some milk). What was I doing to myself?

    I am feeling so bad now, that it is reason enough for me to never want to drink coffee again. I really need some help, and feel that weaning is much better for me than cold turkey, because I have children to take care of and other responsibilities this week. So I am sipping a very watered down cup of earl grey tea right now, and it tastes good. If I can get to a cup of tea a day, it will feel wonderful. I also love rooibos tea and other herbal teas, so I know I can do this, eventually eliminating all beverages with caffeine.

    Just wanted to say thank you for this post, and that reading these comments, no matter what year they were written, has been so helpful for me. I am not alone….and there is a light at the end, somewhere.

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