If you like coffee, chances are you also considered at some point to stop drinking coffee.
Very often when people hear about my health journey and the diet choices I made in order to heal, they are surprised, almost disappointed to learn that I like to drink coffee.
But, in all honesty, coffee has changed my life. In fact, I can separate my life into to two distinct phases; the “brain fog” era (before I discovered coffee), and after.
Indeed, coffee has its benefits which science was able to confirm. At the same time, however, coffee and more specifically caffeine is an addictive substance. So, as a part of my ongoing quest to optimize my health, I decided to respect my body and mind, and stop drinking coffee for one month. Here’s what happened.
The “Brain Fog” Era
To put my relationship with coffee in prescriptive, allow me to share a “typical me” kind of scenario.
I am on a customer meeting which my team and I have been working very hard preparing for. Despite my best intentions, 30 minutes into the meeting, I find myself completely spacing out. Ugh, not again.
The night after the meeting, I was had to go over my notes and do some damage control. I came up with educated assumptions, and that was a stretch. So, it’s wasn’t a complete disaster, but, I did, missed a lot of cues during the meeting. To say that I didn’t capture some small details is an understatement. I specifically remembered that the customer raised a few concerns which I couldn’t see in my notes.
*Sigh*. Nothing’s new here. I became used to these disconnects since I was a teenager. To the outside world everything was fine, since I did learn to mitigate these episodes, but in my heart, I knew this wasn’t right. Is there’s another way?
The Coffee Era
Interestingly enough, the reason I started to drink coffee, was after I read about its benefits for longevity. And I remember this day very clearly. I ordered an organic low acid coffee, and had my first ever french press “black” coffee. Nothing but coffee, water, excitement, and good vibe.
I could feel the chocolate notes. I liked the aroma and the texture. Ten minutes later I had a great bowel movement. This was great, since I did suffer from constipation during that time.
It was then, when I started to feel that my brain was alive. Just like you turn on the lights on a Christmas tree. I was focused, motivated, happy, and excited. This lasted for ten hours. The “brain-fog” era was officially over.
Since then, coffee became my morning ritual. Always with the same two immediate effects. A good bowel movement, and better brain function. My workouts were also better. I had no crashes, and no jitters. I became a believer. Sure, overtime the lights on the Christmas tree weren’t as bright. Still, there was plenty of light to power my day and keep me going.
Why I Stopped to Drink Coffee
A common wisdom teaches us that everything in life comes and goes. This includes the way our body responds to coffee. After a while, the body builds up a tolerance to caffeine. So, you can either stop drinking coffee for a while, or drink more coffee. The second option is very problematic, especially since caffeine is an addictive substance.
For me personally, a second cup of coffee usually backfires. It makes me nervous. All I need is one good strong cup of coffee and I am good to go. So, I thought I could easily stop drinking coffee for a while, and hoped I could lower my tolerance to caffeine.
How to Stop Drinking Coffee
My first spontaneous attempt to quit coffee, ended up very quickly. I always have my coffee in the morning, so I skipped my morning coffee, and was actually fine until the evening came.
It was then, when the infamous caffeine withdrawal kicked in. In particular, headache and nausea that lasted all night, and ironically, kept me awake.
Since the headache got worse the day after, I decided to drink coffee again.
Alas! The headache was still there. Oh, the misery! So, I learned my lesson. Back to the drawing board.
Turned out, my first attempt has a name. It is called the “cold turkey” method, and for most people, it ended up with caffeine withdrawal. To minimize these, the gradual method is often used. You slowly reduce your caffeine intake, and take coffee substitutes. Mainly, medicinal mushrooms, and adaptogen herbs such as ginseng and tulsi that help with energy, focus and stress.
So, I gave the gradual method an honest try for a month, below are my findings.
Here are my findings
The first week
During the first week I slowly reduced my serving size of coffee by 5 grams each day, and added tulsi and ginseng. I didn’t have caffeine withdrawals, but after day 4, I noticed less motivation and energy. Apparently, my brain figured out something was happening. Additionally, I became slightly more hungry. But, the biggest and very good news: I could still function.
The second week
Since the very beginning, I knew the second week would be the real test. With absolutely zero caffeine in my system, I was concerned that the “brain-fog” era would return. And, I wasn’t too excited about it, to say the least.
Interestingly enough, it didn’t. I was able to focus. I did notice less energy, but that wasn’t really a major problem either.
The biggest issue, however, was lack of motivation. There was a part of me that became very lazy, with no desire to do things or even exercise, which I usually love. Taking ginseng before my workout did help a little bit, but let’s be clear here. This was not even close to the effect one cup of coffee has. In fact, I had to drag myself out to the gym. Not cool. And there was nothing I could do to change that. It’s a crappy feeling of not wanting to do anything.
Also, I noticed more hunger, and to me, that was very unusual. My diet is very low in carbs, almost keto low, and is strongly based on mindful eating principles. So, I am very connected to how foods make me feel, and I rarely feel hunger. I did, however, feel I wanted to eat more foods, even after my belly was full.
By week three, two things became crystal clear:
- My brain and body run better on coffee. That one cup of coffee in the morning improves my motivation, sharpens my mind, and boosts my physical energy better than other herbs, or in fact, foods.
- I missed drinking my morning coffee. I was very surprised by this finding, because I have never considered my black coffee as a tasty beverage. Still, I did miss the smoothness and thickness of coffee, and started to fantasize about the moment we will reunite.
These two observations didn’t change and became consistent also during week four.
If food can be seen as medicine, coffee definitely deserves a place in the hall of fame. Despite its bad reputation and addictive potential, we have enough evidence and long traditional use to know coffee may benefit our life in more than one way.
So, just like we all need to be mindful about our relationship with foods, and perhaps even more, I think we can benefit from paying attention to the role coffee plays in our life. Does coffee power us and improve our performance, or does it make us shake like a leaf on a windy day? Are you depending on coffee to function, or one cup is all you need?
One thing is for sure. If coffee agrees with you, chances are it can benefit you in many ways. If there’s one thing I have learned, is that no one, should accept to live in the “brain-fog” area. The dark ages are over.