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Quitting coffee is unthinkable for some of us. In my case, my caffeine “fix” is, quite literally, medicine — though I won’t lie and say I don’t enjoy it. As someone who lived with undiagnosed ADHD for most of my life, coffee — or more precisely, caffeine — allows me to focus and keeps me on track to actually, you know, get something done during my day. I never realized just how much I rely on it until the day I complained to a friend that I’d just re-read the same sentence four times and it still didn’t make sense. By the time I got to the end of the words, I’d completely lost the thread of how it began. Since much of my work depends on my ability to understand very complex policy papers and research, this isn’t just a minor inconvenience. He listened sympathetically, then asked me, “When’s the last time you had a cup of coffee or a Pepsi?” Light dawned — because he’d hit the nail on the head. It had been about two days. I hadn’t had the expected headaches and withdrawal symptoms. I’d just completely lost my ability to focus on anything. A cup of coffee put me right in just a few minutes.
I’m not your typical case, though. For most people, coffee is more a pleasure than a necessity, and for many, it can cause problems. For those who are sensitive to caffeine in particular, drinking too much coffee — and that’s a very relative amount — can cause jitters, increased heart rate, nausea, difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure. The acid in coffee can cause digestive problems for some, up to and including ulcers. Pregnant women have been cautioned about drinking coffee and told to restrict their caffeine intake for decades. Caffeine has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and low birth weight babies. In short, there are many reasons a doctor may advise you to restrict or quit drinking coffee, and plenty of others you might decide to shed your coffee habit on your own.
And no one tells you that it will be easy. If you’ve gone a day or two without your usual morning coffee, you know what it’s like. Coffee withdrawal symptoms range from headaches to irritability, to sleepiness and flu-like symptoms. They can be so bad that most people give up — ironically, just before the symptoms would naturally abate.
There are ways to reduce the symptoms related to caffeine withdrawal, though. These tips from experts can help make your journey from coffined to caffeine free much less painful.
There are two ways to quit caffeine – cold turkey or gradually. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, but going cold turkey — abruptly quitting — is definitely more painful and difficult. Instead, most medical experts recommend gradually reducing the amount of caffeine you consume over a specified period of time.
The gold standard, confirmed by research, is to reduce your intake by about 25 percent every two days. If you’re drinking 4 cups of coffee a day, start by cutting back to three cups for a couple of days, then to two, and so on.
Another way to reduce the amount of caffeine you’re consuming is to reduce the amount of caffeine in your coffee. Try switching to decaf or half-caf for one or more cups a day. There are even some great naturally decaffeinated coffees on the market these days.
Finally, you can try using one of the products that’s specifically formulated to help you taper off from coffee/caffeine consumption, like Wean Caffeine.
People often forget that the coffee they drink also counts toward their fluid intake. If you’re cutting out coffee, make a point of drinking other fluids to make up the difference. Drink more water, or substitute herbal tea, fruit juice or a functional water – with added minerals and vitamins — for the coffee you’re used to drinking.
Exercise can help reduce the cravings and other symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal by releasing feel-good hormones into your system. A brisk walk around the block will release natural energy to combat the lethargy and brain fog that often accompanies quitting coffee.
Improving your diet can help your body manage some of the more common coffee withdrawal symptoms — particularly the one few people talk about, constipation. Remember, coffee is a natural laxative, and your body has likely become dependent on it. Adding fiber to your diet in the form of fruits and vegetables can help you stay regular.
Learn the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and how long they typically last. When you’re on your third day of feeling like warmed-over doo-doo, it helps to know that this too shall pass. But don’t stop there with the preparations. Preemptive ibuprofen can help stave off the worst of the headaches and assorted muscle pains that some people experience when they quit caffeine cold turkey.
Most people can safely stop consuming caffeine without talking to their doctor about it, but there are some circumstances when you absolutely should have a brief talk with a medical professional. Caffeine affects your metabolism, an important factor for anyone who is trying to manage their blood sugar. While research strongly supports the protective role of coffee in preventing diabetes, the jury is still out on how helpful or harmful it is if you actually have diabetes. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence that quitting caffeine can make it harder to control your blood sugar — or at least, change the way your body handles it. If you’re under a doctor’s care, whether for diabetes or any other chronic conditions, it’s a good idea to have a chat with them and find out what to watch for while you’re decaffeinating.