Quitting Coffee

Only you can decide if its for good or evil

Coffee is a regular part of many person’s diet;  about 1/3 of people in both Europe and America regularly drink the caffeinated beverage.  Whether this is a good or bad thing is up for debate.  I have scoured the Internet and professional journals for years about a conclusion on coffee and caffeine, and there is none to be had.  The Olympic committee has banned the substance because caffeine has been proven to increase athletic performance in skills such as distance running. But from an overall health perspective, it seems coffee isn’t too bad, but nor is it a panacea.  There are numerous articles out there on quitting coffee, but if you plan to quit, you will need a good reason to do so, for as I have found, reducing caffeine intake can be a challenging task.

I have had an abbreviated history with caffeine, as I didn’t drink soda as a child.  I first stared drinking coffee regularly in sophomore year of college, and have been drinking it ever since.  Caffeine has a pronounced effect on me, probably in part due to my late introduction and perhaps just due to my body chemistry. The Mayo Clinic talks about caffeine sensitivity, but luckily its effects aren’t that severe with me, but a cup at 10:30PM will keep me up until 4am.  So why stop?  When I first started working a standard hours job, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and was consuming 1 to 3 cups a day.  The experience was a daily emotional rollercoaster, a little too much to regularly handle.  I cut it down to 1-2 cups a day, but I still had a rise and fall in the morning and early afternoon, which would often conclude with a cup of tea around 2PM.

First You Need a Reason

I am taking the GMAT in a few weeks, which is a 4 hour long standardized test.  I have experimented with studying at all hours of the day, with differing levels of caffeine, which lead me to some conclusions:  The caffeine rush was not helping me focus, and I would have withdrawal effects by the end of the test, which would be even less of a help.  The only deductible conclusion was to kick my morning caffeine habit before test time.  That left we me approximately a month of weaning, which based on other articles I’ve read would be plenty of time.

Many people try quitting cold turkey, but that can cause withdrawal symptoms, and why deal with those?  I had things I wanted to accomplish, and if there was a way to quit caffeine without ill effect then I would try that method first.

  • I had about three weeks to achieve my goal
  • I would attempt to drink slightly less coffee each day
  • I had to be sure to get enough sleep each night to reduce the physical desire for coffee

Week One: Reduce Your Coffee Intake Each Day

My first week I went from a full cup of coffee per day down to 1/2 cup.  This actually wasn’t that bad, As I reduced my caffeine intake by about 1/14.  I did notice though, that I was drinking more water, and was slightly more tired during the day.  I ended up taking a nap by 6pm or so, after which (about 2o minutes) I would wake up feeling refreshed.

The first weekend I woke up and played some tennis, and had no coffee.  Things went really well, but I have done this numerous times in the past, and the rush of physical activity would always counteract any lack of caffeine.  I then tried to study thereafter, and ran into an impenetrable wall; I HAD to drink some coffee before I could do any work.  I carefully brewed 1/2 cup of coffee, and thereafter I was able to study.  I think this sort of roadblock can feel defeating.  Can I really make it without caffeine?  Rather than completely give in, I showed some restraint, and didn’t deviate from my desired path.

Week Two: Switch to Mostly Decaf or Tea

I think with any purposeful caffeine change to one’s diet, it is important to know how much of the drug you are getting in any serving. I have found the numbers for the same beverage vary wildly between different sources, so let’s just look at the Mayo Clinic figures:

  • Coffee: about 150mg per 80z cup
  • Decaf Coffee: about 10mg per serving
  • Black Tea: about 75mg per 8oz cup
  • Green Tea: 10mg per serving
  • Soda: about 30-50 mg per 12oz serving
  • Energy drinks: 100+ mg per serving

Coffee (and contemporary “energy” drinks) has by far the most caffeine.  When looking to reduce your caffeine intake, you could use a mixture of decaf and black coffee, or black tea while still getting enough caffeine to prevent withdrawal, yet avoiding the buzz that coffee creates.

By using the caffeine content information,the  next week went much better, no naps required, and I switched from coffee to either black tea or decaf coffee.  I found I like the habit of drinking decaf in the morning, but the psychosomatic effect was not enough to hold me over, and I still ended up drinking a cup of black tea in the afternoon.  However, this amount of caffeine did not cause my mood to rise and fall like a cup of regular coffee did, which was my goal all along.

By the end of the week, I switched over to only tea in the morning (I found an alternative to Lady Grey which I love),  and again I needed a nap in the afternoon.  These naps may be the most visible effect of stopping caffeine, as with its effects, I now know I need more sleep than I have been getting.  I think this is true of any mind-altering chemical; once you stop using it, it lets you see who you truly are.

Week Three: Green Tea

I think an excellent goal for anyone who enjoys hot beverages is to primarily consume green tea. Whereas the benefits of coffee are debated, Green Tea has been considered beneficial to one’s health for decades.   Black, green and white tea, which comes from  Camellia sinensis plant is considered healthful, and some anti-cancer books promote drinking many cups a day. It also comes in a plethora of varieties and flavors, so anyone can find a flavor they like.

The real question is will I again drink regular coffee after my test?  I think I will take at least a month off of regular coffee to see if there are any other advantages I see. So far I have seen a rise in my performance in sports, but it is too soon to tell if it was truly caused by my abstention of caffeine.

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