Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Deal with Coffee, By Reader Request

Many of you have heard this story a million times, or at least once, so feel free to skip this post. A reader asked in a comment about my experience moving from coffee to tea, and I started to write my reply likewise in a comment, but I've never been known for my brevity. It's going to take a little more space than a comment can afford.

My deal with coffee is this: I started drinking it at age 14 and gradually increased the amount until I was drinking quite a bit by the time I was an adult.

By the time I was in my mid-30's, I began to notice that my heartbeat had become quite irregular when I was drinking a lot of coffee and that I was very easily jittery when I had too much. I knew my mom had always struggled with terrible withdrawl symptoms, just like coming off a narcotic, every time she had attempted to reduce her intake of caffeine, so I knew I might be experiencing some serious addiction. I didn't like the idea of being physically addicted to a foreign substance, and I didn't like how I was becoming increasingly jittery and how my heart was racing, so in 2005 I just decided to see if I could give it up.

I cut it out of my system cold turkey. The headaches were intense at first, and still lingered on and off for weeks, maybe more. I can be a little strong-willed, however, and I was determined to outlast them. I did. Once the caffeine was completely out of my system, it was like my body rewired itself completely.

I no longer felt the uneven jags of fatigue and energy all day as I always had. Although I am still not a "morning person," I don't drag like I used to. I don't feel grouchy in the mornings AT ALL anymore. I watch my husband's energy level go up and down all day long with his caffeine intake and I just smile--that just doesn't happen to me anymore. I am now a fairly even-keeled person, with the same mental and physical state generally carrying through the entire day.

I drink decaf tea now, as I still love the 'good company' of a steaming hot mug, and if I am someplace where there is no decent decaf tea available, I actually just drink hot water. I still love the smell of coffee, and a coffee-flavored ice cream can make me swoon. When my husband pours a cup of joe, I will often take one small sip of it, but that's really all I want. I don't need it and I don't even crave it anymore. Coffee and I have parted ways amicably.

My mom used to try to wean herself off of it gradually. She would make a custom mix each week, starting with 7/8 regular and 1/8 decaf, until she was drinking only decaf within two months. But decaf coffee still contains a decent amount of caffeine. It is not UNcaffeinated. Decaf still contains more caffeine than a cup of regular green tea, in fact. So she never really got over the caffeine addiction this way. Her body still needed it and she always went right back to full strength after all that work--and all the headaches and irritability. We kids knew to run for cover when Mom was trying to go off the caffeine again. No offense, Mom. I'm sure you know it was not pleasant for any of us--especially you.

I know it is a very painful process to go 'cold turkey,' but it did work for me--with time.

I do have to struggle not to laugh or lecture people when they complain about feeling so run down that they really just NEED another cup of coffee--and the expensive hobbies (hello, Starbucks or Dunkin' or Dutch Bros. or whatever!) that follow their beloved coffee addictions. It's like they hold their addiction sacred; they are completely controlled by a foreign substance in their bodies and they're somehow proud of it. Since ditching the caffeine and getting it completely out of my system, I feel SO MUCH BETTER. But people don't want to hear that, for some reason. They like their addictions just fine. I guess it at least gives them something to complain about and something to blame their mood and energy swings on.

Ok, now I'm getting snarky. I'd better stop.

Seriously, though, every once in a while (like once every six months or so), when I've made a fresh pot of coffee for my husband and father-in-law, and it smells sooo good and the house is a little chilly and I went to bed at two o'clock in the morning, I will pour myself a half of a very small mug. If I manage to drink it all (half of a junior-sized mug!), I become a jittery, hyper mess within minutes. Completely unaccustomed to caffeine now, my body is very sensitive to it and reacts very strongly to it--way more than it did when I was drinking 4-6 cups per day.'s as if I'd built up some kind of resistance and it was taking more and more of it to have any effect on a drug...

Ok, I'll stop now. I think you get the picture.

1 comment:

The Taskers said...

Thank you! Until I measured my intake in my trusty Pyrex cup and figured out how many mg of caffeine I take in a day I wouldn't have said I was a "heavy coffee" drinker, or "addicted" - but I've run the sums, seen the numbers and they don't like - I'm hooked, bad.

I've decided at this point to try the weaning method (but not by substituting with decaf, just gradually cutting back until I reach one 8-oz cup) - I did the cold turkey and I can't do it again, for the sake of the kids. My sister actually works at Starbucks and about 2 years ago was on about 8-10 cups a day, insane. She weaned down to 1 and is still there and loving it.

She actually said the same thing you did about if you don't have any at all that the little bit really screws with you, which is one reason I'm going to try and keep one in my plan.

But I"m looking forward to finding other substitutes like herbal and floral teas. Thanks so much for your post!