My Journey to Being Caffeine-Free
I think my coffee addiction started in college, maybe even high school. To be honest, I don’t remember the exact moment it started, I just remember it always being there. As you can imagine, working full time while getting my MBA only made the addiction worse. I was finding that while some days I could get away with just one cup of coffee, others required two big mugs during work hours and one, more normal-sized cup, at school. If I didn’t have coffee before noon, I had a pounding headache for the rest of the day. If I traveled internationally, I had to make sure to have a coffee on the plane to avoid the headache. If we were staying somewhere overnight, I had to be sure that I would be able to get a coffee in the morning. The thought of how and when I would be getting my next cup of coffee added more stress to my life than I realized.
If you have been following my blog for a while, it will come as no surprise that I have had chronic anxiety and GI issues for a long time. At doctor’s appointments, I was often asked whether or not I drink coffee. The reason why it was an important question for me is that the caffeine and acidity of coffee could easily be a contributor to increased anxiety and stomach problems.
Months before getting married, when my symptoms started to reach an all-time high, I decided it was time to take the plunge and finally cut out caffeine. I had actually tried to do this a few years before, and attempted replacing coffee with black tea as my first step (this was theoretically supposed to help me cut out both the caffeine and the acidity of coffee). I felt that black tea was ideal because it would still offer me a slight caffeine boost as I was trying to wean myself off caffeine altogether. What I found out, though, was that the immediate switch to tea led to headaches every day from caffeine withdrawal. In addition, I was generally more unhappy because I was completely depriving myself of coffee, something that I genuinely enjoyed whether or not it had caffeine in it (while drinking a tea that I didn’t even like!).
So, when I decided to cut caffeine again in 2019, I changed my approach. I decided to cut out caffeine first, before working on the acidic component of coffee. That way, I was working with a gradual adjustment without making sudden changes that would leave me feeling deprived. With that in mind, I started working on a transition to decaf coffee. (Note: for anyone who doesn’t already know, a cup of decaffeinated coffee still has a little bit of caffeine in it, just a lot less than a regular cup of coffee (about 97% less).)
I keep coffee grounds in a small to medium-sized airtight container. When the container was around halfway full, I decided to top it off with the same coffee brand, but a decaf version. I left a little bit of room at the top so that the ratio was about 1 ½ regular to 1 decaf to start. I mixed it all together and used that coffee mixture to make my morning coffee. Morning coffee: check. Slightly less caffeine: check. Headache-free: check! Once my coffee container had about ⅓ – ¼ of my custom coffee mixture left, I added more decaf to dilute it even more. In a matter of weeks, I was still headache-free and already filling the entire container with decaf coffee.
As soon I started drinking coffee that was completely decaf, I naturally started feeling comfortable cutting out coffee altogether. While I still loved the taste of coffee, I knew that if I was ever craving a cup, I could always treat myself to a cup of decaf. This time, cutting out coffee didn’t feel like I was depriving myself because I could still drink coffee whenever I wanted without sending myself back into caffeine dependence. That’s when I started experimenting with teas and finding flavors I actually enjoyed. Now I was drinking teas based on how much I liked them, not on how much caffeine they had (my current favorite is rooibos, which I tried for the first time on J and my honeymoon in South Africa!). Sure enough, even without a cup of decaf coffee in the morning, and with a relaxing, delicious cup of tea instead, I remained headacheless.
It took me a total of about 8 weeks from my first decaf dilution to my first coffee-free day. It’s been almost a year since then, and while I will still treat myself to a regular coffee every so often, I no longer feel dependent on it. When I order one as a treat, I try to always request decaf, and there are now 100% decaf coffee grounds in my airtight coffee container.
So now for the important question: do I actually feel physically better having gone caffeine-free? I can’t lie, I was definitely more tired for the first week or so of this journey, but that seems like an obvious side-effect of reducing caffeine intake. After years of starting my days off with a boost of caffeine, it certainly took some time for my body to get used to the fact that it would have to wake up on its own, but honestly, that didn’t take long.
I will say that I have noticed longer anxiety-free periods and a generally calmer stomach. I, personally, feel more in charge of my own body and my own health journey. DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor. I can’t say for sure that reducing my caffeine intake has helped my anxiety or that removing an acidic drink has helped my GI issues. I have made more than one lifestyle change to try to keep my symptoms in check, so I can’t pinpoint one specific thing that helped the most. Additionally, my anxiety and GI issues aren’t just going to go away, so I am most certainly not saying that going caffeine-free is a cureall.
Mentally, I feel amazing. The fact that I am not dependent on coffee to have a good day, makes me feel so much more in control. That alone makes me grateful that I cut out caffeine from my daily routine.
So that’s it! That was my journey to being caffeine-free and I hope it was helpful if you were looking for some inspiration or tips on going caffeine-free. Now, how about a cup of rooibos?