Twelve months without coffee and still going in strong: this is my journey as a Naturopath who has, let’s say, managed to get a handle on her coffee habit.
Now for me, I noticed that I had an issue with coffee about twelve years ago. I realised that I was craving coffee in the morning, and I felt more motivated and energised when I indulged in my almost daily cup of java.
I have, on numerous occasions, attempted to give up coffee, and for a few months at a time, I could eschew the comfort of coffee. Still, I always found myself returning to the habit within a period and caving into the instant pick-me-up that coffee provided.
In the clinic, I frequently have conversations with folks about coffee. It seems to be one of those substances that many of us have difficulty giving up, and I am all too familiar with this struggle.
I have always tried to be transparent with clients in my clinic, confessing that I had an issue with giving up coffee too, and you can imagine that I felt like a hypocrite for a long time.
Now you might be thinking, yeah, but I’m ok; I can give up coffee any day; it does not affect me. But some theories suggest that if coffee were discovered today, it would be a prescription medication.
In short – how coffee can negatively affect your health
In brief, coffee can affect everything from digestion to absorption, nervous system and endocrine system and then the kick on effects from this start to present in the cardiovascular system, skeletal system (think osteoporosis) and, if you follow the patterns of influence, it can also contribute to long term health conditions, especially autoimmune conditions. I do not include links to medical research on this subject; this information is to help you understand the all-encompassing influences of coffee on your physical wellbeing.
Now, if you have ever had the jitters after a really strong or too much coffee, you would understand how influential this drug can be. Yeah, I said drug.
Why do you drink coffee?
Now, I’m just speaking personally here, but I know many others can relate to this.
We all do things for a reason, and when it comes to habits, we develop them when attempting to self-regulate or self-medicate to help soothe our discomfort.
It took me quite some time to identify what I was trying to rebalance with my coffee consumption. Still, when I realised my WHY for coffee habit, it made it so much easier to understand and eventually forgive myself for using coffee to make myself feel better.
It makes sense, right? If you understand why you are doing something, it becomes a little easier to work through the process of removing it from your life.
Adenosine and coffee
To get an idea of why coffee might be such an addictive substance, I think it is good to understand how coffee affects adenosine, an amino acid that, simplistically, influences energy manufacture.
Adenosine is a central nervous system neuromodulator with specific receptor sites; when it binds to these receptors and reduces neural activity, it makes us feel tired and sleepy.
Coffee (or caffeine, more specifically) is an adenosine blocker; it attaches to the same receptor sites as adenosine but without reducing neural activity.
With fewer receptor sites available for adenosine (because coffee/caffeine has bogged in and taken over), the natural down-regulation of neural activity usually influenced by adenosine is replaced by an increase in neural activity.
This is where it gets complicated – several neural circuits are activated, and your pituitary gland signals your adrenal gland to start producing stress hormones.
Ok, things are ramping up here. Adrenaline has kicked in at this stage, you are no longer drowsy, and you are pumped and ready for the day.
But what happens the next day? Your adenosine levels increase, you start to feel sleepy and tired, and you have to go through the whole process again.
In the long term, this cycle of activation and excitement creates a dependency and the feeling (which I know too well) that you can conquer the world on coffee alone, which can become part of your everyday routine.
As you can imagine, in our already stressful lives, activating your adrenal glands to make more adrenaline than usual is not going to be healthy in the long run.
But what happens when you give up coffee?
Now, I looked into this for some time, I read other people’s accounts of how they gave up coffee, and after only a few days, they were back on the path to a healthy coffee-free life. But that’s not always going to be the case.
I’ll tell you about what has happened to me.
I was already pretty stressed, I’m generally a bit of an anxious person, but I had created a stressful environment in my home life. I was using coffee to keep myself upright and functional, to the point where I was considering getting one of those tiny fridge magnets with a messy looking cat on it that says “Coffee addict”.
Seriously, it took more than a few days to feel like coffee was no longer needed for me. As I mentioned earlier, I have given up coffee many times but never really felt like I had succeeded.
What I did discover, underneath my coffee habit, was a whole lot of tiredness and lethargy.
In all honesty, it took around four months for me to sink into the feeling that I could function well without coffee. Now, this might not be the case for you; you might pop back into place a lot quicker than me. I want to keep it real here but also give you my account to help you understand why you can give up coffee for, let’s say, three months, but you always go back to it.
For me, I was often trying to give up coffee when I had a whole lot of other things going on. That’s probably not a good time.
For those of you who have been following my story for a few years now, you will know that I embarked on a big journey of decluttering and simplifying my life (read my article The Health Benefits of Decluttering Your Life). It’s almost like I needed to streamline things BEFORE I could give up coffee.
I also think there is a significant psychological component to this process, not just physiological. I had been practising ‘letting things go’, material possessions, things that I thought were part of my identity, and people who were no longer beneficial for me. Yeah, I Marie Kondoed much of my life and I was ready to feel vulnerable enough to accept how I truly felt underneath my coffee addiction.
In all honesty, I felt pretty crappy. I had become accustomed to my high energy, super-efficient way of doing things. I think this stark contrast of energy levels was what was keeping me feeling low for so long.
So, how did I get through it?
I realised that I needed to reconnect with real and tangible ways to activate my energy. Yep, I needed to Naturopath myself the same way I consult with my clients.
I learned that eating well, resting well, and above all, physical activity was the best way to ensure that I had enough energy to get through the day.
I had become so dependent on coffee that I had forgotten that a good walk on the beach, a delicious well-prepared meal and a good night sleep were essential to help with energy manufacture and wellbeing.
There are no shortcuts to health and wellbeing, and when we use quick-fix remedies to give us a false sense of energy and wellbeing, we’re only kidding ourselves.
If you would like to share your experiences with giving up coffee, please let me know in the comments.
The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking any action based on this article. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. If you rely on any information provided in this article, you do so at your own risk.