Friday, December 21, 2012

I broke up with you, Mr. Caffeine.

I remember the Saturday morning when I denied you my bloodstream, Mr. Caffeine. I thought you were going to bring me days of heart-broken distress. Tears. Headaches. Ups and downs.  You were essential to my everyday well-being and productivity. I loved you so.

But I got over you fast.  Like lightning fast.  Even I was surprised. I may have loved you, but I didn't need you.

I'm still talking about my long affair with caffeine, namely coffee (in case any of my past heartthrobs should be reading this).

All of this is true.  I stopped my daily consumption of (at least) 16 oz of strong coffee. The kind that moves your bowels within seconds. The kind to which my mom would add enormous amounts of sugar and cream in order to make it taste "palatable".

The reasons were basically threefold:

  1. I developed a neurological condition this year that affects my eyes.  I'll write more on that later, but I wanted to see if I would experience relief by removing ingested stimulants.  Bottom line here is that removing caffeine did not help this condition, as far as I can tell.
  2. Did I really "need" caffeine to function?  I provide nutrition coaching to athletes of all levels with all sorts of goals. In order to achieve these goals, it is necessary to make behavioral changes to support the goals. This means changing the mindset, changing habits, doing some experimentation to find what works in a positive manner. Aside from whether you believe coffee is "good" or "bad" for our health and what the (mixed) research shows, I wanted to go through the process of breaking a habit to see what would happen and how I would endure the process.
  3. For sport performance reasons. I like to use caffeine for its ergogenic benefits during racing. We know that the more habitual caffeine we consume, the more caffeine we must consume to provide ergogenic benefits. Since I'm not in big training mode right now, it made sense to cut the caffeine so that next year I won't need as much to give me the boost.
Not only has the daily habit of coffee consumption been broken, but my emotional tie to it has been severed. It turns out it wasn't that strong of a tie as I thought.

I challenge you to think about some of your habits... or things you think you need in order to do your work, or your training or exercise.  Maybe you don't even realize what your habits are! And sometimes, we put too much feeling into things just because we have done them for a very long time. The thought of not doing that "thing" anymore can be scary but once you decide to make a change and you commit, you experience a new sense of freedom and a redefined relationship with that "thing" that had control over you.


  1. I've stopped coffee drinking for ever several times. The last time I was drinking it I backed into someone's car stoned on 2 Venti Americanos from Starbuck's - 40 oz, 8 shots of espresso. Switched to tea. After 2 years I was drinking up to 3 QUARTS of strong green tea a day. A friend was mailing me lovely organic green tea from Japan. Her tea shop said I was drinking more than their restaurant customers ordered. I had a bad headache for days after stopping. Now I only take a bit of caffeine from CytoMax electrolyte drink and it does not set off my addiction. I sometimes take guarana in pill form in the morning of a big hike or climb.

    In the rest of my life I am an addict - alcohol and sugar - and avoid these substances totally. Never had a drug problem.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Caffeine is certainly a powerful drug and most people don't see it that way until it is too late or other health parameters suffer.

  2. Dina,

    Great write-up. I've struggled with some over-training syndrome in 2012 that I believe was related to the caffeine. I was never ingesting a ton of caffeine, but 200-400mg on race day and sometimes nothing on other days. After experimenting with stopping all caffeine save for the little amounts in decaf coffee/tea and chocolate, I've been feeling much better. Have you experienced anyone else who has had trouble with Caffeine affecting their adrenal and/or hypothalmic system?

    Thanks for your information and congrats on stopping caffeine!
    -Tyler McCandless

    1. Hi, Tyler! Yes, caffeine can have a negative effect on adrenal function especially when combined with a high volume of training and inadequate sleep and recovery. I've not seen any athletes who only had problems with caffeine ingestion on race days; rather, it is more of chronic consumption and the pattern of increasing levels. I'm glad you have found some relief by minimizing your caffeine intake!