Quitting Coffee: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

christina canters quit coffee crossfit crossfit-u west melbourne

I’ve been drinking coffee every day since I was 18.

There were so many things about it that had me addicted – the taste, the morning ritual, the instant perk-up, the social aspect.

I wasn’t a ‘double espresso 3 times a day’ sort of person, but I didn’t feel quite ‘right’ if I didn’t have my morning caffeine hit.

And for a while, I had bulletproof coffees every day for breakfast. Yep, no food. Just coffee and 2 tablespoons of creamy butter. I even made a video about it:

My coffee dependence had never been a problem for me – until I started getting really bad migraines. For some reason, if I had coffee on an empty stomach – I would migraine. If I had coffee and didn’t eat for a few hours – migraine. If I had a coffee and was lacking sleep – migraine. If I had coffee and was stressed – migraine, migraine, migraine. And it knocked me out bad.

I realised I needed to stop.

So in January this year, I went cold turkey.

Here’s how it went:

Day 1: Super determined to see this through. Preparing myself for the worst, I attempt to distract myself with various herbal teas. Feeling a bit tired, but doing ok.

Day 2: Not feeling too great. I have a slight headache. Typical withdrawal symptoms. I can deal.

christina canters quit coffee caffeine withdrawals twitter

Day 3: Lacking motivation to do anything. I look around my apartment and can’t even motivate myself to do the dishes or laundry. I just want to go to bed.

christina canters quit coffee caffeine withdrawals twitter

Day 4: Hating life. Why did I do this to myself? I’m not getting any work done. I google ‘effects of caffeine withdrawal’, and up comes ‘lack of motivation’, ‘excess tiredness’ and even ‘depression.’ Huh.

Day 5: A bit better than yesterday, but not exactly bouncing off the walls. How do other people not drink coffee? I wonder. I get an encouraging tweet from a friend to keep it up.

christina canters quit coffee caffeine withdrawals twitter

Day 6: Still lacking motivation, but I’m determined to keep going. I’m drinking 6 cups of green tea a day, trying to eek out as much caffeine from the whitelisted beverages as I can.

…and so on.

Until finally:

christina canters quit coffee caffeine withdrawals twitter

So I lasted over a week…which wasn’t too bad. However, it’s not long enough to break a 10-year habit. And let’s be honest here – off coffee, I just wasn’t getting any work done.

So I took a different approach, and began to reduce my caffeine intake. I limited my full-strength coffees to once or twice a week, and I bought decaf beans to have at home. I know decaf beans are chemically treated and aren’t great health-wise, but I figured if it helped with my migraines it was the lesser of two evils.

And then…

Along came the Crossfit-U 8 Week Winter challenge. Lizzy Marsh from Primal Junction gave a talk on nutrition to kick us off, and explained there is NOTHING good about caffeine. She said it messes with our natural cortisol cycles and prevents us from sleeping soundly, no matter what time of day we drink it. Plus, it turns us into angry crazy people. (Think about it – it’s probably the main cause behind morning road rage – we just haven’t had our coffee yet.)

Anyway, it was the final kick in the butt I needed. I vowed to stay off all coffee (decaf included) for the entire 8 week challenge.

And you know what? I stuck to it. No coffee (or alcohol, mind you) for 8 weeks. And it was nowhere near as bad as the first time I gave up coffee. Probably because I’d been drinking decaf for a while, and my body was used to the lower caffeine levels.

8 weeks, I found, was an excellent length of time to kick the habit. By the end, I didn’t even crave it.

So am I still off the coffee?

Um…no. But before you start shaking your head in disappointment, know this – I no longer need it.

I don’t wake up every morning and go “Give me coffee!” It’s not something I MUST HAVE BEFORE I DO ANYTHING OTHERWISE I’M GOING TO RIP THE HEAD OFF A SMALL CHILD. I feel good knowing that I don’t need to have a coffee to start my day.

Instead, I drink it strategically (if I know I’m in for a long afternoon of work) and socially (when I’m catching up with someone and the coffee roasting smell is too good to resist) Right now I’m drinking it about 3 times a week, and if I feel like it’s getting a bit much, I cut it back again.

How to quit your addiction

Is there something you want to quit? Maybe it’s sugar (which I have also done), or alcohol, or dairy. Whatever it is, here are two important things I learned about quitting:

1. Be aware of how you operate

Through this experience, I learned that I’m not an “all or nothing” person. I’m actually pretty good at having things in small amounts, and being able to control it. If you’re the same, then I recommend cutting your intake of whatever it is you’re quitting, then work your way down from there.

Or you may be like my sister Lizzay, who gave up alcohol and smoking cold turkey over a year ago, and hasn’t looked back since. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to control herself if she had “just a little bit”, and that’s what worked for her.

2. Make sure your needs are met

You need to replace whatever you’re addicted to with something else. But here’s the key – that ‘something else’ MUST fulfil the needs that your addictive substance was meeting.

And there are 6 human needs (something I learned from Tony Robbins): certainty, variety, love/connection, significance, contribution, growth. If something meets 3 or more of these needs, it becomes addictive.

For me, coffee met my needs for:

  1. Certainty – I knew it would give me a perk-up
  2. Variety – with approximately 3 million cafes in Melbourne, I’d never get bored
  3. Connection – coffee with friends? Uh, yes please!
  4. Significance – yeah, look at me, blogging on my Macbook whilst drinking my pretty fern-patterned flat white that was hand-crafted by a tattooed bearded man. Sooo Melbourne.

Luckily for me, drinking tea also meets most of these needs. The only thing is, I despise paying $4.50 for a tea bag in a pot of water (which I can do myself). But I committed to my goal and treated the extra $1 as a “no-migraine tax”. And after 8 weeks, I was conditioned to walking into a cafe and ordering a tea. And it became normal.

So that’s the story of my coffee-quitting odyssey. If you too are addicted to the caffeine, just know that quitting is possible. I used to think it wasn’t, and I’d wonder in disbelief at the people who didn’t drink coffee. But I’ve done it, and discovered it’s amazing how your mind and body responds when you commit and condition yourself to something. You can do it!