Home > Food, Health > The coffee need

The coffee need

On the first day of Lent, I committed to giving up the junk food that’s been my bane for the last many months. I usually eat junk food sparingly, but have been dosing it with myself most evenings since I wrote “my bulimia / my beautiful body” after my last Whole30.

“Junk food” means something different to me than it does to many people. For me, “junk food” is anything not listed on the Whole30 Autoimmune Protocol shopping list. It’s food that leaves me feeling crappier after eating it than I did before, whereas eating food on the list leaves me feeling better.

I usually feel like I’m swimming in rainbows a week or two into eating junk-free.

like this,

Like this, but with so many more rainbows

Not so this time.

A week in, I realized I was feeling very little rainbow action. Maybe it’ll come later, I told myself. After another few days, I still wasn’t feeling much. But how could that be?! The only difference between this and previous differences was … coffee.

But a cup or two in the very early morning couldn’t be pulling me down that much, could it?

No way.

Still, I decided to nix it for now, to see if it was indeed dragging me down.

I had excruciating headaches for the first two days, well above and beyond any I’d experienced before. After that, I felt kinda okay. My sleep wasn’t immediately improved, but I knew from conversation on a post I read earlier in the year that I wasn’t alone there.

After eight days without coffee, I visited Legoland with my family. I justified having a cup three cups of coffee as a treat. I felt splendid … until the next morning, when my nerves were so on edge that I had a half-cup of coffee just to take the edge off. It did, but just barely.

The next morning, I awakened far too early–and far too on edge–when my toddler shrieked, “Mama!” I barreled into his room and soothed him back to sleep, turning around afterward to catch a moonlit glimpse of a stuffed rabbit that I immediately detected as a Serious, Imminent Threat. It was out to get me! (As a horror fan, I’m more easily creeped out in darkness than light, but specific targets are extremely uncommon. Which is, of course, in part because I don’t routinely keep ventriloquist dummies or porcelain dolls in the house.)

Anything involving this

How I saw the bunny

“Oh, hell, no,” I told myself as I exited Littler J’s room, certain that everything in the entire house posed some kind of threat to me. “Coffee is out!”

I wondered again why I could have six- and seven-shot lattes when Li’l J was a toddler while barely tolerating a cup now. Based on my reading yesterday, it looks like a body’s cortisol production increases with age, and that it takes longer to recover from cortisol spikes, such as those related to coffee ingestion or, oh, stress.

For so many reasons, my daily stress level is so, so very much higher than it was five years ago. One key difference is in now having two kids. I was woefully unprepared for how much more time, energy, and exhaustion is involved in raising more than one child. I assumed two coulds would be twice as much work, when really, it’s been about fifty times as much work, with less time, space, and energy for myself by far than I had with one child. I have had to do so much more with–at best–the same amount of energy.

(“One kid is a hobby,” a friend told me when I was pregnant with Littler J. “Two kids is work.” I was sure she was exaggerating about how much harder it was, a misperception about which I texted her while crying on my dining room floor when Littler J was two months old. “When does it get better?” I asked her. “Maybe in six or nine months?” she replied, inspiring me to weep even more profusely.)

Why am I surprised that coffee makes me feel like crap? I’ve written about this several times on my other blog, and was astonished how great I felt when I cut coffee out for four weeks earlier this year.

Somehow, I keep forgetting.

Honestly, the convenient forgetting’s been in how much I love the taste, feel, and smell of coffee. How I savor the revved up feeling I have an hour or two after having it, despite the crash that follows closely and the insomnia I experience later still after having a single cup.

It’s in how darn addicting coffee is.

Let me tell ya, I want to consume things because I truly choose them, not because they fool my body into believing they’re absolutely imperative for daily life. If any substance is mandatory just to get out of bed and make it through the day, I don’t think the solution’s in any kind of drug, no matter how tasty. At that point, a life configuration assessment is in order to suss out possible areas to build in more joy and less stress.

In a week and a half, I’ll return to periodically eating junk food at intervals long enough to heal from them. I will not be reintroducing coffee, which amplifies anxiety, makes me 1,084% more road rage-y, and messes with my sleep.

I’ll miss the taste. I’ll miss the smell. I’ll miss the buzz.

I won’t miss the need.


Back to water as my morning cuppa!

  1. March 10, 2016 at 5:56 am

    I should stop drinking coffee too 😦 I know it messes up my system, but I like it too much.

    • March 10, 2016 at 7:29 am

      Hear that. I feel so great without it in the longer term, but those first couple weeks without it are no fun at all. I really do miss it.

  2. March 10, 2016 at 5:59 am

    I keep going back to coffee too.
    Some nights are just too short, and all the mornings are too early. Always. The coffee helps me focus, but, yes I feel better when I’m not drinking it. It’s just those first couple hours at work I have to struggle through until my mind decides it doesn’t need it each day.
    Yesterday I didn’t make it.
    We’ll see how I do today.

    • March 10, 2016 at 7:30 am

      I almost caved on Tuesday. I used my car for a lunchtime nap and barely made it through that way.

      I will be so glad to get it out of my system.

  3. March 10, 2016 at 6:46 am

    This is very, very interesting. I’ve just turned 67. My wife and I–hmm, maybe six months ago–quit the afternoon and evening snacks. God it was tough. I love cheese and crackers during the day–while reading. Ice cream at night–while watching movies. But we stopped.

    We did the exercise and also did away with supper. In four months I lost thirty pounds. Pick up thirty pounds of weights and it will amaze you. That’s how much “extra” fat I was carrying around.

    Okay, so now, it’s the small pains I’m trying to get rid of. The ache in the legs. The tiredness. The lack of energy. I drink coffee. I love coffee, the smell, the taste. I love the ritual of coffee. I collect coffee cups!

    BUT, I get tired in the middle of the day. I can’t sleep well at night. I get a wee bit depressed.

    Okay, Deborah, I’m gonna give this a try. I’m drinking coffee right now. But I’m stopping. I’ll give it a week and see, maybe two weeks, maybe three.

    thank you for this!

    • March 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm

      One of the big things that had me wondering what the heck is up is actually aches, pains, and healing time. Usually by the end of 30 days, I’m notably more relaxed through and through. Any bumps and bangs heal quickly. This time, I have felt each and every one, and they have lingered!

      I started reading a book called Caffeine Blues yesterday. It’s a little over the top in some regards, but illuminating in many others. The reviewers’ comments also had me (generally) very, very glad to be stepping away, though I’ll surely miss the experience of that morning cuppa!

      I’d be curious to hear how it goes for you, if you feel like sharing!

  4. March 10, 2016 at 7:08 am

    I totally understand. I’m down to one cup a day (just at work) and I never drink any caffeine after 10:30 a.m., but I still have issues with insomnia. I’m coming to the painful realization that I’ll probably have to sacrifice even that little bit – but I do so love the smell and taste and the ritual of starting my work morning with a cup. Hot water with honey and lemon (while much better for you) just isn’t the same. 😦

    • March 10, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      I’ve been having a cup soon after awakening (around 3:30 a.m.) and occasionally adding another once at the office a couple of hours later. Despite the early hour, sleep is a struggle! Much as coffee didn’t used to impact me this way, I am starting to accept it does so now. There’s a little bit of peace in that acceptance, and in finding myself feeling calmer and less harried by the hour … but I suspect I will miss the experience of consuming coffee for some time. 😦

  5. March 10, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I drank decaf (I know, blasphemy) for awhile because I loved the taste.
    I applaud your willpower and ability to stay away from junk food.

    • March 10, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      I was having a helluva time getting back in board for the last many months, so I was delighted to find all resistance melted away with Lent timing.

      I feel so much better when I eat this way that I can’t imagine why I ever deviate for more than special occasions. And then, then life happens, and “infrequent” becomes “sometimes” and “sometimes” becomes often.

      I don’t think I’ll replace my new normal way of eating with my old one, because it feels top darn good. The question will be whether I can keep dinnertime beer and chocolate a rare treat. If so, then I’ll feel great enduringly, but it can be a challenge weighing great taste against feeling great.

  6. March 10, 2016 at 7:36 am

    I am lover of coffee. If it were a man, to me it would be like 007, with a hot and sexy suit, swagger and ohh the smell of the divine! But alas, anxiety and a mocha do not mix well…stirred or shaken. I think I may follow your lead! I followed your other blog by the way. 💜

    • March 11, 2016 at 4:49 am

      Your comment made me LOL. Thank you for that!

      I’m reading a book called Caffeine Blues that includes copious citations about caffeine’s impact on (among others) anxiety and sleep. Apparently he and his editor worked out a deal where he took his footnotes from 700 to about 300 pages–!!!

      Seeing all of the details behind the generalized “moderate consumption is OK” makes me very, very glad to be taking the path I am, and reaffirms–for me–the importance of looking at who sponsored/authored any particular research paper!

      I’m still feeling elevated stress levels following last week’s coffee binge. This makes me want to stick to vegetable bingeing, you know? No addiction-building there! (Of course, with already eating 3-4 cups of veggies per meal, not sure where I’d find the stomach space for such a binge …? Heh.)

      • March 11, 2016 at 5:20 am

        I’m with you. I’ve known for some time I need to drink more water, no coffee. Is it weird that I feel horrified at the thought of a decaf life?

  7. March 10, 2016 at 9:21 am

    With you here sister. I gave up coffee a few months ago when I found out I was pregnant with my second (and believe me… you’re whole “hobby” vs. “work” memory has me scared, lol) and I’ve been surprisingly MORE alert and LESS tired now that I don’t have to deal with always NEEDING more, more and more coffee. I do miss the taste though 😦 It’s a shame decaf is so damn bad for your!

    • March 10, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      I also felt more alert and less tired, by far! It has me wondering what the crack I was thinking when I started having it again. (It was supposed to be a just-this-once thing, but it never is!)

      Now Littler is almost two, I am finding little pockets of time and quiet that are so rejuvenating! And I find that the sweetness of seeing my two little guys playing and snuggling makes all the parental growing pains so very, very worth it. 🙂

      • March 10, 2016 at 5:09 pm

        Awe, thanks for the inspiration, as always 🙂

  8. March 10, 2016 at 10:20 am

    A hobby vs work – I’m laughing so hard right now because damn it’s true.

    I’ve been eating way more junk food lately because I’m working a lot and feeling stressed. (I was munching cheez-its as I read this.) It’s not good, especially because the lack of time means a lot less exercising, but a handful of cookies helps me get through a packed afternoon of work.

    • March 11, 2016 at 4:55 am

      Since health woes a few years back led me to my newer diet, I’ve only gone a few months at a time between cleaning up/resetting. With super-high stress working as a contractor last year, I kept eating Paleo meals, but would have beer and/or chocolate frequently in the evening. The hit from it kept me coming back, even though I recognized myself feeling crappier and crappier by the day as I persisted.

      Until Lent, ditching the short-term boost was harder this last year than ever before. It took me twice to thrice as long to actually successfully find my way back. Even though I’m not feeling the rainbows the way I usually do, where I’m at is so very much better than where I was at baseline a month ago. It kinda makes me smile to type this because I remember several times telling Anthony, “It’s wild I’m doing this! I want the long-term good feeling, but I keep eating and drinking the stuff that gives me a short-term boost and longer term drain so that, because of the long-term drain, I need another short-term boost just to keep going right now! It’s a vicious cycle!”

      After a week or two out of the cycle, life feels so much better to me … even if it’s not yet swimming-in-rainbows better. 😉

  9. March 10, 2016 at 11:39 am

    I had to give up coffee (food insensitivities). Goodness it was hard. I now get my caffeine from (very weak) tea. And should probably give that up too.
    Good luck. I hope the rainbows return quickly. Too many rainbows is barely enough.

    • March 11, 2016 at 4:59 am

      I think there’s something to be said for quality of life as a factor, too. Giving up everything can feel very sad and isolating, so that choosing to have something physically non-optimal (and non-addicting, preferably) can be very important for social and emotional reasons.

      My way of eating seems very restrictive to folks who don’t eat this way. (Man, is my health worth it, though!) One of the things I like, though, is how it does change your diet completely–even after the 30-day program period–while recognizing that sustaining that kind of limitation enduringly is itself unhealthy. With this in mind, I’ll be looking to indulge on special occasions, thus retaining the benefits of eating well while not feeling like my entire life is restricted by it.

  10. March 11, 2016 at 4:32 am

    Tremendous respect for you cutting out coffee AND realizing it was the trigger for the effect you were feeling. I personally will probably never cut out coffee completely, however I have been cutting down as of late. I could easily house a full pot of coffee in less time than it took to get burned or bitter sitting on the warmer; add to that Starbucks and K-cup throughout the day along with the free coffee at work, I drank a lot of it. I’m down to 2 purchased cups a week, 1 cup on the morning, and decaf herbal tea at night. My headaches tell me I’m doing something right 🙂

    • March 11, 2016 at 5:06 am

      Thank you and rock on! I recognized it as a trigger some time ago, so that I’m kicking myself for telling myself “no, no, it can’t be” after having gone through this very cycle before! Hopefully I’ve really internalized it this time!

      What really struck me about the coffee post I included was this text:

      As many of you have experienced with our Whole30 program, the more “cycles” you complete of (a) going without a particular food, and (b) reintroducing it, the more acutely aware you are of the effect that food is having on you.

      This has been totally true for me. This awareness was even more profoundly enhanced by the fact I’d just gone eight days without coffee before last week’s binge. The difference between how I felt on day eight without and day two with was super stark. The pro is that it’s really, really hard to ignore such a stark lesson. The con is that the lesson’s starkness made me feel sad at the prospect of probably not ever again finding in coffee the comfort I’ve found in it until now.

      Then again, I’m not really giving anything up, so much as choosing feeling better over feeling worse … so in time, I’m sure that mourning the experience I used to have will diminish.

  11. March 11, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I like my coffee and tea. I don’t drink a lot of either and have never know the caffeine to be a trigger for me. However, if it was, I can only imagine how difficult it’d be to not have that little jolt every once in a while. I applaud you for trying to do without, being true to what your body needs.

    • March 11, 2016 at 7:02 pm

      Thank you. The book I’m reading explains that coffee (including not just caffeine but various other components which might impact a person) is just one piece of the overall stress puzzle. If your stress level is super high and has been that way for a while, coffee is likelier to provoke a more pronounced stress response that it’s harder to recover from. If, on the other hand, life is in a pretty good groove for someone, coffee itself won’t likely have a huge impact on such someone. With my stress levels being what they are right now as we go through yet another life reconfiguration, it doesn’t surprise me at all that coffee is impacting me much more heavily than I recall it doing in the past … and yet, though it’s worse now, the fact it could have this kind of impact on me at any point makes me happy to step away from it! In the short term it doesn’t feel great, but in the long term, it feels much, much better.

      • March 12, 2016 at 4:28 am

        I didn’t know any of that about coffee. I can see how lifestyle events + coffee can lead to different results. It’s wonderful how you know yourself, and how you react to stress, so that you can monitor/limit/remove coffee to make yourself whole and sane. Smart girl, you are.

  12. March 13, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Not coffee, please not coffee. It is one of my true loves. I have others, also bad for me I know. But coffee? It warms the cockles of my heart. When I wake in the morning the smell of the fresh brew wafting from my kitchen remind me I am alive and the world is not entirely tipped off it’s axis. When I sit down at my breakfast table with my two terrible habits together, all the tension in my body flows out of me into the universe and I am whole and complete.

    I am glad for you though. I hope this works and you find yourself more relaxed, more stress free. I will root for you. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • March 13, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I’m finding myself more relaxed by the moment, thank you! Yesterday we went to a birthday party that would’ve usually had me all kinds of fidgety, but I soaked in each moment for what it was instead. (Littler J finally finding his balance in the bounce house filled me with happy.) I’m seeing various other benefits, too, though it’ll probably be a couple of weeks until I’m fully adapted.

      I don’t see a space for coffee in my life now I know how it’s able to hit me, but there’ll be place for other mildly caffeinated things. I’ll still have an occasional celebratory IPA, and that’ll be the vice I favor. 🙂 I do think it’s important not to give everything up. There are some detrimental effects to just about everything in the world today, so that sometimes the overall emotional well being of partaking of some things you love–despite any mild negative impacts–outweighs some physical detriments. For me, caffeine’s impacts are pretty pronounced, but the impact varies wildly by person!

      • March 14, 2016 at 4:01 am

        I understand the balancing act. I do truly. I think coffee has little to no impact on me. On the other had, for obvious reasons alcohol is wildly terrible. Despite my great love for wine, I avoid it most of the time.

        We all have our much loved vices that must be avoided.

  13. March 27, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Wow. Giving up coffee made you feel better.

    • March 27, 2016 at 10:27 am

      It’s definitely helped me feel better physically, but I’ve got a ways to go! Psychologically, I am still very, very much wanting coffee pretty much every moment I’m awake. After three weeks, I take this as I sign I wasn’t just enjoying it but actually addicted! Staying away thus feels like the right choice, though I still want allll the coffee. 🙂

      • March 27, 2016 at 12:46 pm

        Personally I don’t enjoy coffee but i know how you’re feeling

  1. March 13, 2016 at 6:46 am
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