Truth first. The only reason I was ever able to give up coffee and all the other things I enjoy (eggs, chocolate, hamburgers), was because my body had declared war on me. I was taken down by severe, severe acid reflux.
Here’s what happened to me in the year that I gave up coffee and went plant-based.
It all began last October, 2019 when I was on the last leg of a cruise trip through the Mediterranean. Instead of enjoying my last night out in Barcelona, I was in my hotel room sobbing, clenching my chest, reeling from pain that felt like a heart attack and which wouldn’t relent for over six hours. I flew back to the U.S. petrified of eating and drinking and found myself the sudden unwitting participant in an emergency crash-course plant-based alkaline diet to literally save my life.
Gut repair became my immediate focus. I started to take a very powerful daily probiotic. Naturally decaffeinated teas and/or hot water with lemon were the only drinks I allowed myself. Cooking plant-based meals took center stage of my life, on top of working full time and being a parent. Suddenly I was learning how to make kale, spinach, broccoli, tofu and beans actually taste good. I starting buying things I’d never purchased before, such as nutritional yeast, eggplant, spaghetti squash, cashew milk, plant-based butter, oatmeal and hummus by the bucket, beans and almond flour and rice noodles. I learned to juice and bake vegetable bread with the leftover pulp. I swapped my farm fresh organic eggs for seeds, nuts and protein powders. The “green” aisle at the grocery store became my second home.
Living large like my grandmother, I began eating dinner at 4 o’clock in the late afternoon to ensure my body remained upright and had at least 4 to 6 hours to digest it prior to lying down.
Despite these changes, daily acid attacks continued for a while and only finally relented after four months. That’s how much toxic build up was inside my body. When the attacks did wane, I didn’t veer off course. I was still petrified, but I did finally breathe a sigh of relief. Something had started to work. In fact, by that fourth month I was transforming.
Quarterly blood work is a requirement in my life because I have Hashimoto’s and my thyroid requires monitoring and medication. It’s well medicated, but my last three visits to the doctor had me worried. My cholesterol levels were near 300. One more high result like that and I’d have to start taking medication. This time though we had good news. Very good news. My cholesterol plunged over 130 points down from 298 to 164! In fact, all of my blood work appeared to be sparkling clean.
My clothes were looser too. I hadn’t realized that 20 pounds had fallen from my body! Not only was I lighter, by a lot, I was feeling slightly less anxious (that was of course until Covid-19). My hormones felt more even keel. My brain fog had receded. And after three years of croaking from acid, I was suddenly also froggy croak-free.
Confidence in my plant-based cooking grew, too, and I actually began to enjoy a wide variety of dishes that are delicious, enjoyable and completely preferable. Yes. Truly.
By the end of this summer, I’d successfully lasted six months without an acid attack, was feeling remarkably well, comfortable and secure enough to reintroduce other acid-based foods. But not coffee. Not one sip. Coffee remained verboten.
I knew at the end of August I could have tried coffee again. I’d reached a healthy new balance, weight, resumed exercise, kept my plant-based diet at around 75% of my intake and was holding steady. Yet, I had changed on the inside. I now wanted to wait for a full year. That was my new goal.
Habits are hard to break. Rewiring our brains and mustering our wills around new efforts isn’t easy. For me, it took pain, suffering and fear to force me through it. True, I was healthier now, yet I wanted another reason. I wanted it to be something I chose simply because I chose it. No fear. No pain. I needed to prove to myself that I could change and let go not just of my beloved coffee, which is especially hard during the cooler months when you long for that first warm sip, but of anything, and frankly, of anyone. How often do we all hold on to things, behaviors, habits and even people in our lives who are toxic for us? How often do we delay creating boundaries and delay choices that we know in our hearts hold within them our best interests, our better lives and our higher callings?
My lower cholesterol, my lower body weight, my far more balanced loving and less brutalizing exercise routine, the gentleness and patience that I gave myself has given me a new freedom to love myself in ways I hadn’t imagined.
Giving up coffee may have started as a necessity but it morphed into a calling and a revolution in my own thinking that it was possible to put my own needs first. That can feel impossible in this country when our culture cultivates accolades, appearances, success and profits at all costs. The drum beat of rushing, running, achieving and pushing ourselves has been my norm – arguably everyone’s norm in America – for the better part of my 48 year-old life.
No wonder coffee was my perfect partner. Coffee is the gasoline to our engines. It’s the fuel for our fires. It’s the get up and go for our days. It’s the gun shot on the starting gate. Without coffee, how do we mush forward to become the titans of industry, any industry, that we’re told we must become?
But…but, the rat race can kill you. As it almost did me. Throughout this journey the switch to herbal tea wasn’t just an alternative drink. It became the morning gong of the meditation bell. It calmed. It soothed. It slowed me down. It became a symbol of nurturance, healing and a different way of living and loving myself.
The truth is that even with a slight change like this one we can still surprise ourselves. That’s what giving up coffee for a year taught me. I can change for the better and I have the loving power within to alter my path, my destiny and my life.
My one year anniversary is approaching on October 28th, 2020. I’m planning to have one fine freshly brewed cup of coffee with a dollop of half-n-half to celebrate. Only for that day. I have a new life now and I’m holding on to what feels right, for me.
Kirsten Sharett is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School. She’s a storyteller, writer, former journalist and college application personal essay writing coach who relocated to N.J. after 25 years in New York City. Her website is www.kirstensharett.com