Friday, January 16, 2015

Cracking the caffeine Crutch: How I broke up with my caffeine dependency

I began drinking coffee in college and had a wee coffee pot in my dorm room. I'd make a fresh pot each morning and my roommate liked that her towels, that were stored below, smelled like coffee. As the work load increased, so too did the coffee consumption. Once in a while coffee become each day.


After I finished my bachelors, I had a summer to recharge and realized that I didn't like how much coffee I was drinking. My teeth were too yellow, it is expensive to buy coffee that tastes decent (let alone responsibly grown) and I didn't like that I didn't feel good without it. So I quit. A few days of headaches and eventually I was free.

Enter grad school. Dun dun duuuuunnnnnnnnnnn.

My grad school program at OSU was a two year masters program with a thesis, plus a nine month internship program...all in two years. Dare I say busy? The clean-from-caffeine cruise lasted for all of five minutes and then I was back on the java wagon. I also worked part time as a coffee barista, so that only added fuel to the fire. Coffee in the morning and coffee in the afternoon and sometimes more.

And that's how it has been for six years.

Yikes.

So here's the thing. Coffee actually has some real health benefits. It has phytochemicals, it is moode boosting, etc. I simply didn't like that I needed it. If I didn't have coffee in the morning and coffee after lunch, I felt groggy and got a headache. Less healthy are coffee drinks with added sugars, added chemicals or whipped cream. Those desserts-in-a-cup aren't really "coffee", they're treats.

I realized it was bad when one of my former interns discovered through LEAP testing that she does not tolerate coffee and had to quit cold turkey. My heart sank when she told me the news and I felt like she had told me someone had died. Life without coffee? How can she go on?

I reflected on my reaction and realized that it was rather dramatic....but that is how I truly felt. I love the smell of coffee. I love the ritual of making the mug each morning and afternoon. I love grinding good coffee beans. I even love putting the spent grounds in my garden. What I realized I don't love is that without coffee, I felt like garbage.

Time for a change.

I didn't think cold-turkey was for me, so I started to taper my caffeine intake down.
  • Week One: Afternoon cuppa joe half-caffeinated
  • Week Two: Morning and afternoon half-caf.  
  • Week Three: Morning half-caf, afternoon black tea, which has some caffeine, but less than the half-caf coffe
  • Week Four: All black tea
  • Week Five: Herbal "tea"...things like raspberry zinger and mint tea aren't truly teas, they're herbal infusions, but that is a story for another blog post. 
I thought that going down slowly would make things easier. Maybe they were, but it was still rather rough. I had a lot of headaches. I felt groggy and my mind felt sluggish. And you know what else felt sluggish? My bowels. Caffeine can stimulate the smooth muscle of your GI tract and mine was sloooooooooow. 

Say hello to a grumpy Holly!

It took weeks without coffee before I felt mostly normal without it. I don't think I'm fully there, but I am much better than I was a month ago. I'm not planning to give up coffee forever, and I have enjoyed a few cups over the past month, but I never want to be in a place where I am dependent on it again. Independent. That's me. 

This experience has really made me think about those who are struggling with addiction to substances a lot more complicated than caffeine. 

What are my tips for lowering your caffeine intake?
  1. Taper down. I think that going cold turkey would have been worse.
  2. Drink lots of water. I think that being dehydrated also contributed to feeling sluggish in the afternoons and so while caffeine would perk me up, I also would have benefited from a big glass of H2O! 
  3. Allow time to rest more such as a small nap or going to bed earlier. 
  4. Experiment with other hot drinks. I love the ritual of a hot drink and have had fun exploring other teas that I wouldn't have bothered with before. 
  5. Perk up with walks, fresh air, exercise and time in the outdoors. 
So far, my favorite new teas are Cinnamon Apple Chamomile, Cranberry Orange and Licorice Spice. No, it isn't the same as the robust mug of coffee ("mud" as my dad would call it), but at least it is something. 

And I feel more independent without the need for coffee. 

Have you ever broken up with coffee? Did you find any tricks for making the transition smoother?

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