Everything You Need to Know about Kicking a Caffeine Addiction
Not going to lie—I’ve put off writing this blog post on coffee detoxing for months now. The truth is, who the heck wants to take a break from drinking coffee?! If you’re a coffee lover like I am, I’m sure you’re vehemently shaking your head as you read this. “Definitely not me. Nope. Not a chance!” BUT, fellow coffee lover, you’re precisely the type of person who would massively benefit from taking a short break from the good stuff.
So, if you’re that person who can’t go a single day without a cup of coffee in the morning to wake you up, consider this tough love (and please read on!)
The sad reality is that although coffee can be very healthy for you (if you’re buying the right stuff—more on that later), it can have deleterious effects on your mental health if taken for too long without a break. Remember: caffeine is a drug, not just a beverage. It’s important to use it wisely.
With that said, coffee definitely still deserves a place in a balanced diet. The health benefits of good quality coffee are plentiful: from improved cognitive function and physical endurance, to reduced risk of liver damage, gallstone development, and colon cancer risk. It’s just important to ensure you’re using it smartly. So, in today’s blog post, I’ll take you through the who, what, where, when, why, and how of a strategic caffeine withdrawal to improve long-term mental health, sleep quality, energy, and mood!
First of all—
Who Should Do It?
Anyone who drinks coffee for prolonged periods of time, especially if you feel dependent on it to wake up and feel energized in the morning. If you’ve been drinking coffee everyday for (basically) your entire life, and especially if that entails more than one cup per day, you should seriously consider incorporating tolerance breaks every few months.
What to Expect
Of course, if you’re highly dependent on coffee (and have been for years or decades), it’s not going to be the most fun week of your life. The first few days might be downright miserable. BUT, by day three, most of the withdrawal symptoms should subside and you should be feeling mostly fine, but maybe a little sleepier compared to usual.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can include:
– Loss of appetite
– Intense desire for coffee (duh)
– Muscle tension
– Lack of concentration
– Disorientation and forgetfulness
See? It’s not too bad! Caffeine withdrawal is a breeze! (I kid.) Listen. It will be difficult the first time, but it gets easier every time after that. So, if you can stick with it for a few days, the rest of the week will be mostly painless.
Where to Start
With the research! Coffee is a bit of a controversial topic in the health world. Some consider it an antioxidant rich health tonic while others believe it’s no more than a toxic staple of the typical western diet. However, I think one thing is quite obvious when looking at the research—the key to whether coffee can be considered healthy or not really depends on the quality of the coffee.
Coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed plants on the planet, which means that poor quality coffee beans contain large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals that wreak havoc in the body. Depending on how long it was roasted and how fresh it is, it can also contain dangerous chemicals and molds. The coffee industry can also be corrupt and detrimental from an environmental point of view—a couple more good reasons to be extra aware of the quality of coffee beans you’re buying and consuming.
Unfortunately, the vast majority (approximately 95%) of the coffee beans sold around the world are of poor-quality (this includes the beans used by those coffee shop chains found on every other block). Even if it tastes fresh, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good quality. Furthermore, the quality of the cream (whether dairy or plant-based) and sweetener (if any) used in your daily coffee can have a large impact on your health as well.
The best coffee companies check their products on a few different criteria including molds, mycotoxins, and pesticides. They are organic, fair-trade, and sustainably sourced. You actually feel the difference when you switch to a good-quality coffee brand. In a nutshell, it feels like a “cleaner” energy. Rather than jittery and anxiety-inducing, these good-quality organic coffees make you feel cognitively clear and quietly energized.
Some of my favourite clean coffee brands include Bulletproof, Kion, and Purity Coffee. If you’ve never splurged on really good-quality coffee, I highly recommend doing so after you’ve taken your coffee tolerance break.
When Should You Do It?
Even if you regularly use one of the clean coffee brands I highlighted above, taking a break from coffee and caffeine in general is still important to do every few months. Ideally, a break every two months for one whole week is enough to reset your adenosine receptors—which is the whole reason I’m writing this blog in the first place!
So, finally, let’s get to the good stuff:
Why Would Anyone Want to Do Such a Thing?!
Good question. Tthe answer is not because we’re masochists. Actually, everyone would benefit immensely from regularly scheduled tolerance breaks from caffeine—even if coffee isn’t your go-to caffeine source. (Tea, energy drink, and soda pop drinkers should listen up, too.) But especially if you deal with anxiety and other mental health disorders, poor sleep quality, infertility or difficulty conceiving, and digestive issues, among other things.
So what’s the issue with drinking coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages for extended periods of time? The answer is adenosine.
Because caffeine is both water- and fat-soluble, it easily passes the blood-brain barrier, changing our brain chemistry over time. Brain cells, when subjected to prolonged use of caffeine, begin to grow more receptors for an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine, an almost identical molecule to caffeine that causes feelings of tiredness and lethargy. So, in short, the more caffeine you consume, the more tired you start to feel, as adenosine is no longer able to bind to the excessive receptor spots in your brain cells.
This is why it’s easy for someone who’s addicted to coffee to drink more and more and still feel they need a “pick me up”. They basically build up a tolerance to caffeine. Luckily, it only takes about a week of caffeine withdrawal to reset your brain cell’s adenosine receptors. The result is improved energy in the long-term and an ability to feel energized naturally, without needing caffeine as a crutch. And if you do suffer from anxiety and sleep problems, you might just find you want to stay off caffeine all together.
How to Do It
First, you’re going to want to get yourself a bomb shelter or maybe a small camper at least 50 km away from the nearest city. Just kidding.
The truth is, there are several ways to wean yourself off coffee, and the more you do it, the more painless it becomes. Here are my three recommendations:
Decaf Coffee Method:
– Day 1: using organic, fair-trade, mold-free coffee, replace ¼ of your morning cup of coffee with swiss-water processed decaf.
– Day 2: replace ½ of your cup of coffee with decaf.
– Day 3: replace ¾ of your cup of coffee with decaf.
– Day 4 to 10: drink only decaf to allow adenosine receptors to reset.
Lowered Caffeine Method:
– Day 1: Instead of coffee, brew yourself one cup of green tea (like matcha) which still has caffeine, just at much lower concentration.
– Day 2: Brew yourself a smaller cup of green tea.
– Day 3 to 10: Remove green tea all together once the worst of your withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
Cold Turkey Method:
If you’re a beast, you can quit cold turkey. I recommend doing this over a weekend, so you can have a couple of days to relax and do very little as your body goes through withdrawals. You can replace your coffee right away with a caffeine-free substitute. You can drink herbal tea, but my go-to is Dandy Blend. It’s an herbal drink made from roasted dandelion and other herbs, which tastes almost exactly like regular coffee. I prepare it the same way I like my coffee, with a scoop of collagen and some dairy-free nut creamer to make it nice and creamy.
There you have it! If I’ve convinced you to start taking tolerance breaks from caffeine every few months, I’d love to hear how your first withdrawal went in the comments below! Let me know what it felt like and which of the methods above you decided to use. Also, if you have a favourite “clean” coffee brand, I’d love to hear from you as well 😊