Why I gave up coffee

May 28, 2015

coffeeI used to be one of those people who would take a picture of my artisanal latte or cappuccino and post the picture on Instagram. I always felt like a lunatic doing so, but I couldn’t help it; that cup, with it’s gorgeous crema and lovely hues of taupe and brown was not only visually striking to me, but felt as though with every sip, my soul was being lulled into a state of bliss.

Except, it wasn’t.

What it was really doing was simple not making me feel as bad as I was previously feeling. It was pulling me up to neutral, from a murky, dark place where I couldn’t think straight or even crack a smile. Without it, I felt dizzy, and achy. Everything in my head, including my teeth, hurt without it.

Of course, I would have never admitted to it. I truly believed that I loved coffee.

I was addicted to coffee. I would wake up thinking about it, beelining away from my family bed, praying my toddler would stay asleep so I’d have just enough time to put the kettle on, grind my beans and get the Bodum set up. I’d drink 2 cups before having my green smoothie, then drink the 2 together, one sip here, one sip there. Finally, I’d start to feel good (until about 2 pm when I’d have a crash). My husband, who is one of those pure of body, mind and heart kinda people (who can be soooo irritating, frankly), would often gently urge me to notice how dependent I was on caffeine. I denied it, but knew it was true. That because it’s a socially accepted stimulant doesn’t mean it isn’t screwing up my system…and I knew it. It was. From digestion (a-hem) to cognitive function, everything was grinding to a halt without my java fix.

Then January 2015 rolled around, a cold miserably Montreal winter month and I just felt…awful. I decided I needed to make some changes to my health. I couldn’t start running again (I’m really not very hard-core when it comes to winter running, and this year was a mammoth of a winter), my diet is already pretty decent, and I have been dabbling with meditation and the like, but I needed something that would have an immediate impact. I picked up Dr. Weil’s Spontaneous Happiness: A New Path to Emotional Well-Being and liked the simple approach he outlined. One  major happiness-killing culprit? Good ol’ java.

Instinctively, I knew this was true for me. Nothing that can be responsible for my happiness could also not be responsible for my unhappiness. In other words, those little brown beans held too much power over me. I was a slave to the drink, and everyone around me pre-coffee were suffering the consequences.

I had quit coffee before, when I was pregnant but that was different as I developed a hormone-induced distaste for it. At 4 months pregnant, in Costa Rica of all coffee-meccas, I wasn’t even enjoying the flavour. Gradually I began to drink it again after Z was born. As he didn’t seem to have a reaction to it through my breastmilk, I gradually upped my intake to about 3 cups, spread out throughout the morning. Not a crazy amount of coffee, for sure. But without it? I felt I couldn’t work. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t smell my essential oils properly. Couldn’t be a good mom. I felt like my heart would just stop. I thought I was a bad person, pre-coffee.

So, I began my detox again in January. I cut down to one cup for a few days, then to a half cup, then to decaf and a cup of tea, then tea, then nothing for several weeks. Eventually, I started having either 2 cups of Earl Grey (25-55 mg caffeine per 8 oz vs coffee’s 80-200 mg) or a couple cups of green (usually 1/2 to 2/3 less caffeine than black tea, depending on steep time) as my morning drink, but only once I was free from the bean. The caffeine in tea definitely affects me differently, and always has. Yes, there’s less of it per cup, which is a good reason why. Another reason is an amino acid found in tea, called L-Theanine, which crosses the blood-brain barrier and actually improves concentration. I definitely feel the difference between the calm alertness tea provides me, rather than the manic, hyper, jittery buzz coffee provided. When I was a writer by trade, I used to say coffee was for writing, tea for editing. If you’re familiar with either of these tasks, you know how the feel is very different. I felt this difference in every molecule of my body. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I felt far more nervous and my thoughts raced out of control with coffee coursing through my body. For someone with anxiety, this is soul-crushing. With tea, this issue is in far better control.

When I mention quitting coffee, many people are intrigued but say “I could never, I get these headaches…” (which is one of the effects of coffee’s addiction!), but if you know it’s not doing you any favours, it takes only about 2-3 weeks to wean your body off of it. I sometimes miss it, but I do feel better. I don’t get those weird boom-boom-boom heart palpitations, my anxiety is much lower, I feel calmer and more centered.

And when I really miss it? There’s always decaf.

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