Breaking up is hard to do.

That’s right folks, I’m in the midst of trying to end a long-term relationship.

With coffee.

I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about 16, which seems pretty young when I think about it. I had a lot of issues with energy in high school, likely due to my crappy dietary choices (bagels, pizza, pasta…. ugh. wish I had known better), and I became essentially dependent on coffee to get me through the day. I’d come home from school or sports practice and just crash… hard. As a senior, I’d literally drive home during study hall to take a nap. I don’t know why I didn’t think to make a change in my life at that point, but hey, teenagers are dumb.

Exhibit A: The Team Jacob / Team Edward Debate. Yes, teenagers are this dumb.

Exhibit A: The Team Jacob / Team Edward Debate. Yes, teenagers are this dumb.

Then came college. In many aspects, my lifestyle got much healthier. I was on a D3 volleyball team for my freshman year, which helped me shed about 20 pounds through intense exercise multiple times a day. Also, the cafeteria provided a lot of great food options to help me start eating more healthily, and I suddenly started caring much more about what I put in my body. Perhaps I noticed how much better I felt and looked when I was exercising and eating fairly well.

Either way, my health consciousness kicked in and I started to become very interested in nutrition.

That said, I still relied heavily on coffee. I always had a mug in the morning before class. Sometimes if I was up late studying, I would grab a cup to take to the library. Mind you, this was in the evening, when most normal humans are winding down. But no, I decided to wait until the very last minute to start my papers, and just caffeinated myself until 5 AM so I could finish my work. Definitely not a healthy habit, but my body managed to tolerate it. (Somehow it managed to tolerate a boatload of alcohol too, though that’s another story altogether.) Heck, I even drank Redbull before going out at night to make sure I could keep up with my drugged/boozed up peers at 3 AM!

Long story short, I was definitely relying way too much on caffeine to get myself through life.

Fast forward to my year spent living and traveling in Australia. At one point I was working as a barista, and the coffee down in Oz is DAMN good. (All 3 of my Aussie readers will agree, no doubt.) But I wasn’t a huge fan of my job. Ok, so I hated it. Therefore, I made the obvious choice and self-medicated with a hefty dose of nearly intravenous cappuccinos to help keep me motivated throughout the day.

Let’s just say my stress level at that job was at an all time high.

When I finally started getting up to 4-5 espresso drinks in a day, I realized that something had to change. So I decided to go cold turkey on the caffeine for a month, which was pretty horrendous. I had crazy headaches, lightheadedness, and the shakes for the first couple days. The withdrawal was pretty intense, and walking past coffee shops made me a little bit crazy.

Slowly I came off my caffeine withdrawal, but despite how much better I felt without being so stimulated during the day, somehow coffee snuck back into my life.

Because, let’s be honest, it just tastes so damn good!

Sometimes we tend to forget that coffee, or specifically the caffeine contained in coffee, is technically a drug. A stimulant. It affects your body and central nervous system in a variety of ways:

  • Can promote anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and tachycardia
  • Increases the turnover of many neurotransmitters, including monoamines and acetylcholine
  • Prolongs sleep latency and shorten total sleep duration with preservation of the dream phases of sleep
  • Causes release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which are also the source of our “fight-or-flight” response
  • Increases the stimulating neurohormone, noradrenaline, and reduces the calming neurotransmitter, serotonin
  • Is diuretic and a mild laxative

Wowza. So that delicious cuppa’ joe is pretty bad news for anyone dealing with any other stressors in their lives. And let’s be honest, who isn’t??

I’ve personally been dealing with a fair amount of stress lately. Being a grad student in a new state, having a part-time job, finding time to cook, shop, and exercise, making new friends, taking care of my dog, and keeping up with my blog and staying on top of relevant Paleo news – all this, whether good or bad stress, is still stress.

Add to that my 4-cup morning coffee binge, and you’ve got a nice little recipe for adrenal exhaustion and cortisol overload.

This is why I’ve decided to go off caffeine, at least while I’m trying to get my stress under control. I’ve been avoiding coffee for the last week or so, and I’m already feeling much calmer. I find myself reacting less strongly to emotional stressors, and my ability to fall asleep earlier has greatly improved. I don’t get as overwhelmed by the amount of work that I have to do, or by the life responsibilities that I’ve been procrastinating on. So for now, I think the lack of caffeine has actually made it easier to cope with my daily workload. Nice.

I’m really interested to see what other benefits come from dropping coffee out of my life. I’ve had quite the tumultuous relationship with the brew, so I feel like the only way to get over it is to just cut it out completely and focus on de-stressing and re-nourishing my body.

Sorry, coffee, but its over.

Has anyone else tried to quit coffee? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear some response from you all about your love (or hate) of coffee!

  • Hannah

    Laura, how do you feel about decaf coffee? I am not one for caffeine, but I really enjoy the taste of a good cup of coffee once in awhile, so I opt for decaf. Any thoughts on this? Thanks! -Hannah

    • http://ancestralizeme.com Laura

      Hey Hannah. Well, decaf may be better as far as caffeine goes, especially if you’re dealing with adrenal issues. However, decaf coffee is also typically processed using chemicals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination

      I would say that decaf coffee on occasion is fine, if you just want some for the taste. But I don’t know if substituting it as a daily beverage is that great of an idea. It’s a tough call… better safe than sorry though, right?

      • Ben

        Laura, Do you think Swiss water process is still bad?

        • Laura

          I think that’s the best type of decaf to get. This article is a bit outdated… coffee and I are back on again. ;)

  • http://gravatar.com/laurapappashealthcoaching laurapappashealthcoaching

    Great mission Laura. Last year for 2011 I gave up coffee, still did some caf. tea on occasion and since i’m pretty strict Paleo didn’t have any other liquid sources of caffeine in my diet. I felt better and actually used it for things like heavy dead-lift day at Crossfit to get me amped in improve my performance. I went a full 6 months on the no coffee (not even decaf) kick until I went to Spain and Italy for vacation in July 2011….that’s when the habit crept back in! I’m actually planning to head to Australia at the end of March, I’m thinking that a coffee detox may be in store when I return!
    I’ve found sometimes when I want coffee I really just want something warm to sip on, and have found herbal teas or even just hot water (with lemon or plain) does the trick.
    Good luck on your coffee break up!

    • http://ancestralizeme.com Laura

      It’s definitely a tough habit to give up! But I’d agree that the easiest part is just choosing to make something else hot to drink in the morning.

  • http://barrettandhilaryreznick.blogspot.com/ Barrett Reznick

    Hey Laura,

    My wife and I will go coffee free for about 21 days, every 3 months. We concider it part of a “metabolic reset.” This last month we went ketogenic, and caffine free. It was quite a trip, but I think the stint of ketogenic for the same period really help us get over coffee. Now that the first 21 days of the year is behind us, as is the ketogenic diet, we are committed to only having coffee on our weekends (Friday-Sunday) so that we don’t burn out our adrenals.

    We realized a few things on doing this:
    1. Any hot beverage in the morning was a great substiture for us. We tended toward bone broth or home brewed ginger tea.
    2. Teeccino was the closest substiture for coffee that is caffene free. Its a combo of roasted organic carob, organic chicory, organic dandelion root, organic ramon nuts Unfortunatly you can only order the gluten free version onling. You can find it by googling “Teeccino”

    Its not 100% like coffee, but close enough. We found that once we BLENDED it with cinnamon, 1T coconut oil and 2T butter we couldn’t tell the difference. I stress that it needs to be blended or it doesn’t homoganize the fats.

  • Olga

    Hi Laura:

    I too gave up coffee last summer for much of the same reasons you did. I feel much calmer and in control of my life and sleep has definately imporved.

    After 2 months of being coffee free, about when the carvings stopped, I started enjoying the odd decaf coffee, but the big difference is that I choose to have it (becasue as you said, it’s delicious), rather than feeling like I have to have it.

    As for the safety of decaf, from my uderstanding, Swiss process decafinated coffee is perfectly safe, because it’s decafinated using water rather than chemicals. Here is a description of the process from wikipeida:

    Swiss Water ProcessThe Swiss Water Process is a method of decaffeinating coffee beans developed by the Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company. To decaffeinate the coffee bean by the Swiss Water method, a batch of green (unroasted) beans is soaked in hot water, releasing caffeine. When all the caffeine and coffee solids are released into the water, the beans are discarded. The water then passes through a carbon filter that traps caffeine but lets the coffee solids pass through. The resulting solution, called “green coffee extract (GCE)” by the company, is now available for decaffeinating coffee. New green coffee beans are introduced to the GCE. Since the GCE is coffee solids without caffeine, only the caffeine diffuses from the new beans. The GCE passes through proprietary carbon, which captures the caffeine. The process repeats, filtering out all the caffeine until the beans are 99.9% caffeine-free. These beans are removed and dried, and thus retain most if not all of their flavor.

    Although the process was pioneered in Switzerland in the 1930s, today the world’s last major Swiss Water Process decaffeination facility is based near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.[2] However this process is simple enough to be used locally by many coffee roasters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination#Swiss_Water_Process

    Good luck with your break-up!

    • http://ancestralizeme.com Laura

      Thanks Olga! Good find. :)

  • http://www.reinventyourdiet.com Pam Schoenfeld

    Hi Laura,

    I hope you can stay with this removal of caffeine/coffee from your diet. I know for me that drinking only decaf a few times a week makes a huge difference in my sleep and stress levels. Also – I think for some people it is a serious diuretic and can contribute to chronic dehydration – no matter how much liquid is consumed other than coffee. You made some points that I wasn’t so aware of so the blog was helpful. Coffee is a powerful drug – I think most people underestimate it’s effect on the body and mind. But it does taste good.

    Pam Schoenfeld

    • http://ancestralizeme.com Laura

      Thanks Mom. As usual, you’re always right. (and you can get over that I’ve just said that, since you know I trust your judgment about 99% of everything.)

  • Ben

    Hey Laura,

    I talked you you about my HBP issues recently, I quit coffee as one of the many things to combat my HBP and it has been at least 10 points lower since (systolic and diastolic) pretty cool! But yes hard! I still do bulletproof decaf in the morning :>)

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