My coffee addiction started at about 17 years old. The vending machines at the university helped me keep my eyes propped open during the gruelling 9am-9pm intense days. Socially it was important too, we drank lattes and mochas at friends houses, or sat in coffee shops enjoying the socialising during the day.
I was an office manager by 18, and an operations manager at 22. A skinny cappuccino from Pret marked the start of my day, and while I tried to keep it as a treat, I could easily have three a day without too much thought towards the caffeine or the cost. It was the culture, and people used to chat about how much they needed a coffee to rejuvenate, wake them up and enable them to refocus.
Strangely enough through my pregnancies, I couldn’t bare the taste. Luckily we always told family quite early, but if not they would have guessed from my sudden aversion to coffee! After each pregnancy, I was back to 7 cups a day and was convinced that it kept me sane during the sleepless, exhaustion that comes with young children.
I tried giving up coffee a few times for the health benefits, but I never lasted more than a few days.
The suddenly I had an awful 24-hour tummy bug and ever since I haven’t been able to stand the taste of coffee. I tried to carry on regardless for a few days, hoping my taste buds would re-adjust but a week later I decided to cut it out completely.
The first few days without coffee were the worst. I was drinking lots of water to rehydrate, but no matter how much I drank I couldn’t shake an intense headache that lasted almost 36 hours. By day 3 the headache was starting to ease but the exhaustion, muscle aches and fogginess set in and lasted the best part of a week.
The best way to describe it was it felt like I was suffering from a mild flu virus. I just couldn’t function and the exhaustion left me needing to rest. I would say by 10 days I was feeling much better, my energy levels had levelled out, and I could finally think clearly again. I was really shocked by how much the withdrawal had affected my body, I knew coffee was addictive but I didn’t expect the withdrawal symptoms to be as bad as they were. It was only after experiencing the withdrawal symptoms that I decided to give it up for good.
A Coffee Culture
One of the hardest parts of giving up caffeine has been breaking from our coffee culture giving up my ‘coffee break’. Not so much the actual coffee, as the break itself. The social culture of sitting down and relaxing while enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
For me as a stay at home parent, the coffee break is an anticipation of a rest (One that might not happen with young children!) I would put the kettle on to boil while unloading the dishwashing, then wipe all the surfaces and load the washing machine while it was cooling to a drinkable temperature. Then you have a three-minute window to drink before its ‘clap cold’ as my Yorkshire grandma would have said.
The realism is that it would end up in the microwave, where I would need to take out the previous coffee before reheating the new one! It never really tastes the same when its reheated does it? There is just something special about savouring a drink that’s cooled to the perfect temperature if you can catch it in time…
It affected me more in winter, I mean whats better than warming your hands by cradling a hot cup of coffee after a walk in the winter chill? Thankfully its an easy switch to hot chocolate, but I could never drink the same volume of hot chocolate a day that I could in coffee!
I don’t know the psychology behind it, but I think its why I occasionally drink decaff-tea now but without the same dependence or enjoyment (Decaff tea tastes exactly like normal tea, unlife decaff coffee which tastes dreadful!)
Long-term benefits of being almost* caffeine free
* I still have diet coke, chocolate and regular tea occasionally if decaf tea isn’t an option. It’s surprising how many places don’t offer decaf as an option.
One of the best side effects of going caffeine free has been the better quality sleep. I used to be an extremely light sleeper and struggled to get to sleep, often spending hours laying awake. Since I stopped drinking caffeine my quality of sleep has improved drastically, I get to sleep more easily, have a better quality of sleep and feel much more rested come morning time. I haven’t completely cut caffeine out of my diet, but I can tell a noticeable difference in my sleep on the days I have had too much, and as a parent of four young children, I definitely need my sleep! I have also learnt from painful experience that if I drink 2 bottles of diet coke in less than 2 hours a migraine is inevitable!
I’ve suffered from anxiety from being a teen, it tends to come and go, and while quitting caffeine has not been a miracle cure, but it has definitely eased A LOT in the last 6 caffeine-free months. Its hard to say exactly how much going caffeine free has helped because my diet is healthier and I’ve also started running in the last 3 months. But my anxiety has definitely eased in the 3 months before I made those changes. Science has found that caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands which can increase anxiety levels.
Every morning would start with a coffee to wake me up, and at around 2 pm I would feel lethargic and need my mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Since quitting coffee I no longer experience caffeine related ups-and-downs. I am more focused and energised on a morning and don’t have energy spikes during the day. It’s not a cure for the mid-afternoon lethargy, that still happens, but I can quickly shake it with a splash of water on my face or a walk outside.
No turning back
Since I have stopped drinking coffee I am definitely more aware of the effects of caffeine on my body. If I have lots of caffeine in a short space of time. If i drink two bottles of diet coke, I get a headache as soon as it hits my bloodstream. That headache quickly turns into a migraine if I don’t respond quickly with lots of fluids and pain relief. I get the same effect if drink too much regular tea. I did try having a cappuccino a few months ago, but even after a few sips I could feel my heart start to race and I couldn’t drink anymore.
In short, giving up coffee (though not through choice initially) has definitely been worth it for me; Whilst I won’t cut caffeine completely out of my diet, but I won’t be going back to my six cups a day (at least!) coffee addiction.