I don’t know how I slipped into being such a coffee drinker – most probably it became a crutch to deal with the sleep deprivation that comes with having three kids and a full time job and all the sleepless nights and busy days that this entails. Combined with the fact that great coffee is so easily available in my neighbourhood and that I actually really like the taste of coffee and the rituals that go along with making and drinking it, I easily became a coffee fan and it was part of my daily routine.
Until, a couple of months ago I was drinking two cups in the morning before lunch seven days a week, no biggie you’re probably thinking, but it was a habit I wasn’t proud of. In the past, I’ve never been especially sensitive to caffeine but my coffee consumption was starting to sit uncomfortably with me and my wellness goals, both in a physical sense – internally upsetting my digestion, supressing my appetite and raising my anxiety levels and externally making my skin look puffy and dehydrated. On top of this, more I thought about it I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on something and I definitely didn’t like the idea of my daily plastic consumption contributing to the further destruction of the planet.
First off, I researched if and why it was a good idea to quit coffee and what kind of difference I could expect. Once convinced by the endless evidence, I gave up coffee and started documenting my energy levels, moods and appearance, what helped and what didn’t and posted about my experiences on Instagram. Thanks so much for all the comments – I was really impressed by how many of you have given up or cut back on coffee already and amazed how many of you are considering it. Then I wrote this blog to share how I quit coffee and you can too, if it’s one of your wellness intentions.
To be completely transparent, I did not give up caffeine entirely, just coffee – I still drink green tea, mainly matcha (my favourite, for its fresh taste, high levels of antioxidants and the way it delivers a steady flow of energy that keeps me focused). After lunch, I stick to water and herbal teas. I’d also like to add that I did not write this blog to make anyone feel guilty about drinking coffee – it is delicious, so please enjoy your brew – and what’s more research has found that a moderate amount of coffee may actually help protect against health issues like heart disease, Parkinson’s and diabetes.
Why you might want to quit coffee yourself?
Coffee is not the answer to tiredness – it used to give me the short-term boost I needed to get the kids dressed and out of the door on time and it certainly helped me motor through the morning but I’ve learnt that we still need proper replenishing sleep. Propping yourself up with strong coffee is certainly one way to cope with all you have to do, but at the same time, you’re building up chronic sleep debt which can quickly become a safety issue and an immediate self care priority. In the end, after years of not having enough sleep, I addressed my tiredness the night before, by going to bed earlier and ensuring I get good quality sleep, instead of eliminating it with caffeine the next day.
Coffee is not a substitute for breakfast– often I would buy a coffee on my way to work after dropping off the kids at school, thinking I would eat breakfast once I got to my desk. More often than not, I didn’t end up having breakfast as I didn’t feel hungry anymore, the coffee having suppressed my appetite and given me a short-term energy boost – this is a far from balanced and nutritious way to start the day (and also not recommended as a good way to manage your weight).
Coffee can be ageing to the skin – caffeine dehydrates our bodies, which can make the liver work overtime and disrupt healthy skin function. While we can sing coffee’s praises as a laxative, it is also a diuretic, which means it causes us to lose hydration, which has a direct effect on our skin. Dehydrated skin causes inflammation (redness) and premature aging (collagen loss). If you have milk and/or sugar in your coffee as well – you’ve got the associated impact of dairy and sugar on your complexion as well – which can mean acne or congestion for some, lack of radiance for others. I don’t know about you – but anything that helps slow down the ageing process is warmly welcomed by me – if that means quitting coffee, I believe it’s definitely worth a determined effort.
Coffee can make you feel anxious and stressed – coffee gets your adrenaline pumping and your body fired up – I actually do know some people who drink a double espresso on an empty stomach before a gym session for this very reason – but it you are already suffering from heightened anxiety levels, drinking coffee is going to put your body under a great level of stress. Caffeine – in all its forms tea, energy drinks, very dark chocolate – can increase your heart rate, dilate your pupils and heightened your reaction to external stimuli, think carefully about how much and when you drink coffee.
Coffee is expensive in many ways – it’s not only our bank balance that suffers when we’ve got a take-away flat white habit, it’s also the planet. According to The Times around seven million disposable coffee cups are used in Britain every day, that’s around 2.5 billion a year. Fewer than one in 400 of these are recycled. They can take decades to break down, are clogging landfills and, when you think about it, aren’t actually all that necessary.
What I noticed in the first couple of weeks
My productivity dropped, a little – anyone who knows me, knows I get a LOT done in a day. In the first week, I noticed it took me longer to get going in the mornings and there was a lot more day-dreaming out the window, wondering round the office looking at products and discussing things with colleagues – not a bad thing actually.
I got really bad headaches – for the first week, everyday around 11am, I would get a really bad headache. This is because caffeine narrows blood vessels in the brain, and when you quit drinking it or so much of it, there is an increase in blood flow. They were awful but drinking extra water (roughly 3 litres a day) helped and they did pass.
My appetite increased – this was bonus for me, but won’t be for everyone. Be prepared to feel more hungry. If you don’t want to gain weight make sure you have healthy food at home and nutritious snacks to hand at work.
My skin looked a lot better – towards the end of the second week, I noticed a real difference in complexion, my eyes are noticeably less puffy and my skin certainly feels more plump and hydrated – this can also be contributed to the extra herbal tea and water I’m drinking but all round it’s a win-win.
I wanted to do more yoga less cardio – I don’t know whether this was because I was less caffeinated and therefore in a calmer state of mind or because I was embarking on a new “wellness path” but I didn’t feel like explosive, plyo-moves or going for a run.
Tips that helped me transition into being a non-coffee drinker
Be accountable – one of the main reasons I was able to be quit coffee was that I told everybody, my kids, my family, my followers. I have pretty strong willpower but I knew I would get wobbly especially at the weekends browsing the markets or brunching with friends. With everyone in the loop, I was determined not to disappoint myself or anyone else for that matter.
Try new things – quitting coffee definitely made me more experimental and introduced a whole new menu of drinks, teas and plant milks to my diet that I had been meaning to make at home but hadn’t for one reason or another got round too. Beyond my regular green tea or matcha, I’ve been drinking white tea and chai and experimenting with colourful, plant-milk lattes like Charcoal and Beetroot. I’ve also been adding in adaptogen herbs – mostly, Ashwagandha or Turmeric.
Avoid your triggers – I knew walking past the café in the park was going to be difficult for me, I knew going to my favourite bakers was going test my self-control to the max, I knew the local deli was a temptation too far - so I avoided them and changed my route and shopping habits for the first month. I also had to make some social changes, instead of meeting my friend for our usual morning coffee, we met in the afternoon over a herbal tea instead. The more time passes, the more confident I feel in my resolve and these triggers are not quite so tempting.
Be prepared – if you always buy a coffee as a treat on Saturday morning on the way to yoga or pop out mid-morning from the office to give yourself a little break, you need to replace that action with something else or you are going to be thinking and fixating on the coffee you didn’t have but wanted to. “Having a coffee” is a ritual so ingrained in our society we hardly think about it as we tap to pay – think carefully, and be prepared – change up your routine, stock up on tea, drink a big glass of water and ask yourself if you still really want that coffee?
To sum up
My non-scientific conclusion is that once I got over the initial headaches I don’t actually need coffee to function and I don’t miss it effects anywhere nearly as much as I thought I would. I do miss the social aspect of popping into my local café – ordering a herbal tea is just not the same, neither is chatting with my friends over a hot water and lemon.
I certainly don’t intend to going back to my old ways of mindlessly drinking coffee on a daily basis, the health and wellness benefits are just too great. I may drink coffee every once in a while – as a little treat, in a keep-cup of course, but then I might not. We’ll see. This approach feels right for me, for now.
As always, let me know if you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share.
Keep well, Lucy x