Should you give up coffee? Here's what happened when I gave it up for a month...
Oh, coffee you swirly cup of deliciousness, who could possibly give you up?
But with all the research and contradicting stats being published around the pros and cons caffeine has on the body, I decided to do a little experiment of my own. Unsure what advice to follow, I gave it up for one month to make my own call on the matter, based entirely on how I felt before and after the experiment.
When I moved to Australia I had no idea what made a good coffee from a bad one. I previously enjoyed a Starbucks Frappuccino now and again, but hated the proper stuff and only had anything coffee related for the caffeine hit. I quickly learnt, however, what people meant when they said Sydney gets you addicted to coffee when I got a new job.
Keen to bond with my new colleagues and impress with oodles of productivity, I’d join the twice daily trips to the local barista and started experimenting with different types of coffee. I eventually landed on my one true love, the Soy Flat White, and it wasn’t long before I was heading out for a third in the afternoon. It went from something I didn’t like but gave me energy, to a frantic rush to get my fix every morning.
I worked out I was racking up a coffee bill of about £50 a week! That’s almost £2600 a year! On coffee?!!?!?
This is outrageous.
In an attempt to save money I would make one at home for the commute and started a coffee club at work. We’d take it in turns to buy a bag of coffee and make them for our fellow clubbers with a press. Each week we tried new blends from Italy, Colombia, and even Vietnam.
Aside from the excessive costs I started struggling with a few side effects. I was already a little anxious at work with it being a new job but this quickly catapulted. My hands would shake most of the day, I would jump at the slightest sound, and my stomach always had that butterflies feeling like I was about to require a major adrenaline rush.
I was wired all the time, but excessively tired. It was no longer giving me the boost I needed and my tendency to reach for a third or fourth to power me through the afternoon slump meant my sleeping was suffering….requiring more coffee the following day!
What a caffeinated rut!
During this time I had been chatting with a friend who was recovering from chronic fatigue brought on through burnout. When hearing of my new nervousness she suggested I stop drinking coffee. At the time I nodding along all the while knowing I would not be doing this. How could anyone possibly give up coffee?! How would I stay awake ALL DAY!? The concept seemed barbaric and I didn’t consider it for a second.
Shortly afterwards on a trip back to the UK I continued my hunt for coffee, and realised I’d become quite the coffee snob. I would reject so many coffees and was disgusted by the lack of Soy milk available.
Two weeks into the trip my family and I were on a coastal walk in West Wales, a place where no one has a worry in the world. I was shaking and anxious for no reason other than my 2 cups of coffee that morning and was wondering when and where I’d get my third. Coffee was fuelling a stress that was coming from nowhere and the butterflies were making me feel sick.
In my state of unnecessary panic and struggling to find a Flat White that met my new Aussie standards, I decided to finally take my friend’s advice and give up coffee for a month. I was on holiday, how hard could it be, right?!
Here’s how it went…
Waking up the first morning without the coffee routine in place, I was mostly just aware of the change in routine. I wasn’t yearning for the caffeine hit, but missing the trip to the coffee machine and holding a mug of warmth in my hands. Thankfully, it was easier than expected and exhaustion didn’t all consume me like I was expecting. I slept well that night feeling a sense of accomplishment but an underlying jitter remained strong.
Day two was when this became a challenge. Sleepy, headachy and grumpy is how I’d describe this day. It was spent with my family and frankly I think they’d have preferred I wasn’t there. Irritation was so high that puppies and cupcakes would have had me complaining. I generally sulked the day away, but nevertheless, persevered.
Days 3 - 4
During days three and four I mostly felt groggy and kind of hungover. My skin felt dry as well as the inside of my mouth. Coffee dehydrates us but I hadn’t been replacing the coffee with anything else. So with giving up coffee, I was also giving up 3 drinks a day. Not smart - introducing a new drink was a must.
Days 5 - 7
Finally, I started to feel more normal. The headaches passed when I replaced the coffee with a cup of tea. I purposely picked tea free of caffeine, like Peppermint or Chamomile, to ensure I was giving up the main culprit here.
Days 8 - 14
This was a glorious week! My anxiousness was noticeably improving and I felt calmly energised without the coffee. It was a different form of energy than my Flat White days. Whereas before I found my body to be buzzing but my brain was a mush, this was a consistent, slump-free energy carrying me through the day with ease.
Days 15 - 21
This week I had a couple of sleepy days where the temptation to reach for a coffee was strong, but I powered through without giving in. I am so grateful I resisted the urge because I noticed my skin feeling more hydrated. As someone prone to troublesome skin this was the ultimate motivation to continue!
Days 22 - 28
My final week was spent reigniting my old love of herbal teas and sleeping like a baby. I bought Pukka’s Tumeric Glow tea, I soaked mint leaves in hot water to make my own mint tea and I detoxed with hot water and lemon. I was exploring a whole world of hot drinks I’d forgotten about in the daily hunt for my drug of choice.
So you may not be surprised to hear that after a month of sobriety, I’ve decided to keep up this good habit, but I’ll admit, with a little leeway. On my return to Sydney temptation was all around so I allowed myself 1 or occasionally two of my favourite coffees a fortnight.
From a little research I now know this is the right amount to be having for a boost in energy. By having a coffee every day, the caffeine is replacing our natural Cortisol production which is why we often don’t feel the boost and instead feel an afternoon slump. By having just the occasional coffee we are adding to the Cortisol energy spike instead of replacing it.
I now often order a Decaf Soy Flat White to live on the edge of my wild coffee days, but more often opt for Green Tea.
After finishing this month, I invite you to try your own experiment but more importantly be sure to ask yourself the bigger question:
Are you reaching for a daily coffee for the enjoyment of it, or are you hiding a greater issue of tiredness and long term fatigue?
Give a coffee-free month a go and find out!