For most of my adult life I started each morning with a hot fresh cup of delicious caffeine-packed coffee. I liked mine with several tablespoons of French Vanilla creamer, so much creamer that my husband often asked, “Would you like a little coffee with your creamer?” When I started eating healthier a couple years ago, I switched to honey and half and half, but my coffee was always a light beige color by the time I was through with it.
Each morning began with a cup (or three) of coffee. Then I’d follow up with some hot green tea. I wasn’t trying to be dependent on a substance to get through my days, I had just “heard” that caffeine was good for you. Of course, I had also heard the opposite, but I enjoyed my morning coffee and afternoon hot green tea. It picked me up in the morning and helped me to be productive throughout my day.
And I’ve seen how many people out there feel the same way. You’d be hard pressed to go an entire day without seeing a coffee meme on Facebook. There are even t-shirts out there now that say things like, “Coffee is my life!” or “Don’t talk to me until I’ve finished my coffee!” I truly and honestly don’t care if you love or hate coffee or any caffeinated beverage. I’m just here to tell you, life is actually better without it.
That’s right. I dare to say that you can not only survive without caffeine, but be more awake and alert than when you’re drinking it. I can say all of this with absolute certainty because…I’ve been doing it for over two months!
I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that I could have given up caffeine. I loved it. I lived by it. But when I started experiencing severe irritable bowel symptoms, I was forced to give it up. There’s simply no way I would have chosen to give it up on my own, but in doing so, my eyes were open to a whole other reality: I was living for caffeine. That substance that was assisting me in waking up and being productive was wreaking havoc on my insides. Not only was it controlling my moods, bringing me up and down throughout the day, but it was killing my gut.
I went to my primary care physician first. She told me I most likely had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) since the tests she ran showed nothing more serious going on, but also said I would have to see a gastroenterologist to investigate further. She suggested I give up caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten, and anything else I suspected was triggering my symptoms, including stress (very funny doc!). So I went home and did a little more research. Most of the studies I had come across made coffee and caffeine sound like health foods, claiming your risks for things like cancer and heart disease decrease with consumption, and the benefits far outweigh the risks, although they never really say what the risks are. Once I started looking into its effects on the digestive system, I saw plenty of risks. Apparently, caffeine causes the stomach to produce more gastric acid secretions than normal, which can lead to acid reflux and ulcers. It can also cause food and drinks to pass too quickly through the digestive tract, causing diarrhea, which can affect the absorption of nutrients, which can lead to dehydration, anemia, and malnutrition. Caffeine is also known to raise blood pressure and heart rate, which can make you irritable and fatigued after it lowers.
Due to my symptoms, I knew I had to give up caffeine, and not slowly, but immediately. So I did. I loaded up on herbal teas at the grocery store since I had read that some herbal teas could actually help with stomach issues, and I got rid of all of the green teas in my pantry.
The next day, I started my morning with a hot fresh cup of lemon ginseng tea, 1 tablespoon of honey and a quarter of a fresh squeezed lemon. It wasn’t coffee, but it was delicious and warm. By mid-afternoon I was exhausted and had a pounding headache. Moody is an understatement. I wanted to crawl in a hole and sleep forever. That night, I made myself a cup of nighttime herbal tea and went to bed early.
The next day I woke up with a headache. It was no longer the pounding one from the day before, but a new dull ache throughout my brain. I wasn’t much use that day. I did the bare minimum just to get through it. I had the same lemon ginseng tea in the morning, followed up with a couple other flavored herbal teas throughout the day, and ended my day early again with the nighttime tea.
This was my life for the next three days after that. Each day I woke up with a dull ache in my head (although it did ache a bit less each day); each night I went to bed early, wondering if I’d ever feel the same without caffeine.
On the 6th day, I woke up and the headache was gone. Hallelujah! I felt good. I felt alert. I actually felt better than before! And surprisingly, I started to watch the pounds drop on the scale. Who knows if it was from giving up the caffeine or the other foods and drinks I gave up (or perhaps a combination of everything), all I know is the pounds dropped, and quickly! I lost 14 lbs in a month! It took me 2 years to lose that much after I had my 5th baby!
I gave up caffeine two months ago and I am here to tell you: it was the best decision I ever got forced into making! I’m no longer on that rollercoaster of feeling peppy then crashing. I don’t crave caffeine. I’m able to wake up just as early and go to bed just as late as before, I just feel more refreshed throughout my entire day. I am able to work out just as hard (if not harder). I feel like I am able to deal with life overall better, which has to be good for my stress levels.
So why do I think everyone should go caffeine free? Because I believe it is a drug that is doing more harm than good. Ask yourself these questions:
Could you imagine going an entire day without coffee? Would you be tired, irritable, get less done?
Can you feel your heart race after you’ve consumed caffeine?
Do you ever have crazy mood swings or get irritable easily?
Do you get headaches when you haven’t had caffeine for a little while? Does caffeine help get rid of your headache?
Do you have trouble going to sleep at night?
Do you spend a lot of money on caffeinated beverages?
Do you just not feel like yourself until you have caffeine?
If you answered yes to any of these, you are probably addicted to caffeine. Addiction is a strong word, but the fact is that many people underestimate the effects of caffeine on their body. Caffeine meets all of the requirements to be labeled an addictive substance: it induces dependency, tolerance and withdrawal in those who consume it. Do you want to give that kind of control to a drug???
How would you feel if I told you that instead of having to have a cup of coffee, or an energy drink, or caffeinated tea in the morning to wake up, feel refreshed and be productive throughout your day, you could just wake up and already feel that way? You probably wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. I dare you to try it.
Here are a few things I think can help the process of withdrawal (because you will go through withdrawal):
Prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. This won’t be a one day fix. It is going to hurt. You are going to want to give up. Don’t. Don’t let caffeine dictate how you feel or live your life. Believe that you will get past the uncomfortableness. The headaches and irritability will pass! It took 5 days for me to feel normal. It may take you longer. Pray that it takes less.
Write down the date that you started your caffeine free journey. Post it somewhere you can see it. Maybe write an encouraging quote near it like, “I am NOT caffeine’s bitch.” Look at it anytime you start to feel discouraged.
Replace your favorite caffeinated beverages with something else, but make sure you drink plenty of water. I start every day by filling up a 9 cup jug with water. I only drink water and caffeine free herbal teas on a daily basis. Caffeine free herbal teas aren’t actually from tea plants, they’re a combination of herbs, flowers, leaves, seeds, roots or bark steeped in hot water. Green tea, decaf teas (other than herbal teas, which are naturally decaffeinated) and even decaf coffees still have caffeine in them (although decaf coffee has a very small amount, so if you really just think you love the taste or “experience” of drinking coffee, switch to decaf). I tried switching to those a while back in an attempt to go caffeine free. I was miserable! After a month, I went back to my fully caffeinated beverages.
Figure out how much money you’ll save by giving up caffeine. After I stopped making coffee in the morning, my husband started making his at work. So now, I don’t even have to buy coffee or half and half for him anymore! I don’t make sweet tea anymore, so I don’t have to buy sugar or tea bags. I gave up sodas (although I do still indulge in a caffeine-free carbonated beverage from time-to-time). I do spend about $5 a month on herbal teas, but I figure I’m still saving at least $35 per month with all the other changes I’ve made. If you buy your coffee from a coffee shop/bar, you might save that much in a week! Saving money was never a deciding factor in giving up caffeine for me, and there’s no way I would have given it up just to save $35 a month, but it is a nice bonus! Now, had I been spending $100 a month on my addiction, saving money probably would have been a good reason to give it up!
Give yourself your best chance. I chose to go caffeine free during a hard time, a couple weeks before Christmas Break. I had to get up early and we had a lot going on. I didn’t really have the option to choose a better time. If I had, I would have waited until the week after Christmas when I could have slept in and was staying home with the kids instead of going to the gym and school parties and such. If you can, choose a time where you don’t have a lot going on, like a long weekend or a school break (unless of course you think you’d rather be miserable at work than at home with your kids).
If you fail, just try again. Like I said, I was forced into this. Caffeine was literally making me sick to my stomach. I know it would have been harder to do it without that side effect. If you cave into the beast, just start over. I promise, you will feel better once you get past the withdrawal phase. And the good news is, once you get past the withdrawal phase, if you try to drink caffeine, it will probably make you sick (or at least feel too energized) so you won’t want to go back to it.
Now, what happens if you get to the end of this post and you still want to drink your caffeine? That’s OK! You won’t receive any judgment from me! My sister went caffeine free 10 years ago and had tried to tell me countless times that it’s possible to live without it. Obviously, I didn’t listen. She didn’t present it in the way I’m presenting it to you though. She didn’t tell me the negative side effects of caffeine, give me helpful hints for going through the withdrawal process, or tell me how long it would possibly take. I’m hoping that the points I’ve made will be enough for you to try it. I’m hoping that once you see how miserable the initial withdrawal is, you’ll understand just how powerful this drug can be. I’m hoping that you’ll make it through the withdrawal process and come out happier and healthier without the dependency on a drug that can destroy you from the inside out. But I’m also a pursuer of happiness. I believe you should live your life in the way that makes you feel happiest.
Are you up for the challenge of giving up caffeine? I’d love to hear how it works out for you!
*I am not a medical professional, nor do I pretend to be an expert on health and nutrition. I can only relay what I’ve heard, read and experienced in my personal life. If you are concerned about your health or well-being, I suggest you seek professional advice before making any serious changes in your diet.
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