Thank you for reading past the title of this post. I wasn’t sure anyone would. After all, here I am offering advice on how to quit the world’s most beloved beverage. (“Hold my beer,” says Beer.)
The love of coffee transcends national and cultural borders. Around the world, most of us start our day with coffee. Folks take pride in sourcing the best beans and pairing them with the ideal grind and brewing method. We meet friends, clients, and first dates for coffee because coffee shops are comforting, safe spaces.
As good ol’ Anonymous observed, “Humanity runs on coffee.”
Yet here I am suggesting you might want to quit. Before I get into why, let me assure you that by and large, I still think coffee has more benefits than downsides. It improves workouts and memory, fights fatigue, and epidemiological evidence links coffee consumption to a host of health benefits. You can check out my Definitive Guide to Coffee to learn more.
There are downsides, though. In the pursuit of optimal health, it’s essential to examine our choices and behaviors and ask which of them might be undermining your health and longevity goals. That’s what I’m suggesting you do today.
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Why Would You Want to Quit Coffee?
Because you’re a masochist.
Kidding, of course. Really, if you think quitting coffee will be that painful, that’s a sure sign that you need to take a break. No substance aside from water or air should hold you so firmly in its grasp. I want to enjoy, not depend on, my morning coffee (and maybe a glass of red wine at dinner).
As to whether coffee is truly addictive, we clearly shouldn’t be talking about coffee in the same breath as something like heroin. However, there’s no question that it shares common features with other addictive substances. It stimulates dopamine release in the brain, creating a “feels good, want more” effect. With repeated exposure, you develop a tolerance such that caffeine no longer exerts the same effects. Plus, as many of you know if you’ve tried to kick the habit before, the withdrawal can be brutal.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/‘>2 For people dealing with a lot of stress—and who isn’t right now—drinking too much coffee may not be wise. It can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate cortisol and cope with the stressors.https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/493529‘>4 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ef8c/e1f994091de73049df7e08d71b6497fe86bf.pdf‘>6 On the other hand, two recent meta-analyses concluded that coffee actually helps with symptoms of depression.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26518745‘>8
If you’re a menopausal woman, think twice about drinking too much coffee. In two studies, caffeine intake was associated with increased vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes.https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6be1/708f6629c6e67a23126688d31585b6d08791.pdf‘>10 Those were correlational studies, but in a separate experiment, researchers administered caffeine to pre- and perimenopausal women who were or were not on estrogen therapy. Perimenopausal women’s blood pressure rose significantly after taking 250 mg of caffeine (equivalent to two to three cups of coffee), regardless of estrogen status.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12397877/‘>12
Many of these side effects are dose-dependent, meaning they get worse the more coffee you drink. For most people, modest coffee intake—two or four cups per day—is probably fine, maybe even desirable. Nevertheless, there’s always the possibility that you could quit coffee and feel better than you do today. Wouldn’t you want to know that?
Other Potential Benefits of Quitting Caffeine
They also promise you’ll save money, but in my experience, I just end up reinvesting those supposed savings into trying new teas, so that’s a wash. That said, I also don’t buy multiple frappe drinks from Starbucks every day. If you do, you might put some cash back in your pocket.
Who Should Take a Break from Coffee?
For the sake of self-experimentation, I’m going to go ahead and say: everybody.
It’s especially pressing if:
- Your inner voice is telling you that you have become dependent on caffeine
- Your sleep is anything other than deep and plentiful
- You have health issues that might be exacerbated by coffee
Also, if you’ve built up a tolerance—and you certainly have if coffee is a regular habit—taking a break means you should be able to return to your beloved coffee and actually feel the desirable effects of caffeine again when you use it strategically. That would be nice.
Anyway, aren’t you a little curious?
How to Stop Drinking Coffee
Time It Right
Unless you have an urgent health concern that means you should stop ASAP, consider waiting until a lower-stress period. Normally I’d say vacation is a perfect time, but we’re not taking many vacations right now. Perhaps a staycation is in order (for more reasons than one).
I wouldn’t advise ditching coffee the same week you have to deliver a big presentation at work, your kids are starting a new schedule at school, or you’ll otherwise be stretched thin enough as it is. Coffee withdrawal can lead to some pretty miserable symptoms—migraines, fatigue, irritability. Pick a week where you’ll have the mental capacity to deal with those, the ability to sneak away for naps, and ideally, fun distractions to keep your mind off the suck.
Pick Your Strategy
Some people have no problem quitting cold turkey, but tapering down your caffeine intake will probably be more pleasant. Start cutting your regular coffee with decaf, and slowly decrease the amount you consume altogether. Make your coffee weaker, and stop adding cream and sweeteners so it’s not as appealing. If you’re drinking coffee in the afternoon, cut that first.
Whatever you do, don’t compensate by adding caffeine back in the form of energy drinks or caffeine pills. Don’t drink energy drinks anyway, but definitely not now. That defeats the purpose entirely.
How Long Will it Take to Get off Coffee Completely?
The half-life of caffeine is about five hours, so within a day of quitting, your body should be free of it. However, withdrawal symptoms can last significantly longer—a week to ten days or more, though some lucky people don’t experience any noticeable withdrawal.
Beyond the chemical dependency, there is also a behavioral component to coffee. For most coffee drinkers, it is a habit, and habits are harder to break. You might find yourself headed to the coffee pot in the morning, or reaching for the mug that’s usually on your desk, well after the initial weaning period.
Worthy Alternatives to Coffee
For some people, coffee is merely a caffeine delivery system. Others enjoy the rituals around coffee—preparing it in the morning, breathing in the aroma, sipping a hot beverage while they work, and communing with coworkers and friends over a cup. You can still have all those things if you strategically replace coffee with an alternative that fills the hole coffee leaves.
The most obvious answer is switching to tea. There are so many different types of tea, each with its own benefits and flavor profile. If you were a snob about your coffee, you can easily channel that energy into tea. Brewing tea is an art unto itself. Just watch your caffeine intake. Teas vary considerably in caffeine content, though they are still lower than the average cup of joe.
You might also consider mushroom coffee, which has about half the caffeine of regular coffee, or chicory root coffee or dandelion tea, which offer some of the coffee flavor with none of the caffeine. Fans of these options swear they get a lift similar to the one they got from coffee without the jitters.
My go-to hot or iced option is Primal Kitchen’s Matcha and Chai Collagen Keto Lattes, and not just for the obvious reason. Caffeine can inhibit collagen synthesis in the body.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26608744-seizure-control-by-decanoic-acid-through-direct-ampa-receptor-inhibition/‘>1 and if you combine it with caprylic acid, the anti-seizure effect seems to increase.https://todayspractitioner.com/alzheimers/caprylic-acid-shows-greater-plasma-ketone-response-in-humans-consuming-different-medium-chain-triglycerides/#.XjDlfhSYVBw‘>3 is the most ketogenic medium-chain triglyceride of all.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919387/‘>5 while all three are effective against oral bacteria.https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Gambhirsinh_Vala2/publication/280574942_Medicinal_Benefits_of_Coconut_Oil_A_Review_paper/links/55bb561b08ae092e965ed871/Medicinal-Benefits-of-Coconut-Oil-A-Review-paper.pdf‘>7
- The odor of myristic acid draws the newborn to the breast and helps trigger the appetite for mother’s milk.[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28886572‘>9
- Myristic acid in milk also possesses anti-listeria activity.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/div-classtitlevariations-in-daily-intakes-of-myristic-and-linolenic-acids-in-sn-2-position-modify-lipid-profile-and-red-blood-cell-membrane-fluiditydiv/83AA3871CA89CDD1D0D48CC5B6019203‘>11
- High-fat dairy is consistently linked to better cardiovascular health despite being one of the best sources of myristic acid.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7270479/‘>13
What’s happening? Why the discrepancies?
- Some in the diet is way better than none. Too much more than 1-2% of calories (about 10% of calories from dairy fat), and the benefits start dropping and even reversing. However, that “1-2%” limit was in the context of a higher-carb diet. If you’re lower carb, you can probably benefit from higher intakes.
- Myristic acid in the blood isn’t so much “dangerous” as it is indicative of metabolic dysfunction. For instance, the most reliable way to reduce blood levels of myristic acid is to reduce your carbohydrate intake.
Best sources: coconut fat, palm kernel oil, milk fat, breast milk
4. Stearic Acid
Stearic acid is enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately. People are mixing isolated stearic acid into clarified butter to create a “super-stearic butter.” Why?
- Stearic acid is one of the saturated fats that even SFA-phobes admit has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels. If anything it boosts HDL.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30087348‘>15
- Diets based on either red meat or cheese—two foods high in stearic acid—improve metabolic and blood markers.https://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-straight-dope-on-cholesterol-10-things-you-need-to-know-part-2/‘>18 That’s not good.
Or the fact that palmitic acid is toxic to skeletal muscle cells, impairing glucose uptake and increasing insulin resistance.
Or that palmitic acid induces inflammationhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7730302‘>20 And arachidonic acid,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24521082‘>22 And finally, if you throw in a little oleic acid alongside that “inflammatory” palmitic acid, you obliterate the inflammation.https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering‘>1 Nothing we do as humans proves to be as fulfilling as lending a hand to someone else.
To test this theory, researchers had participants write either a supportive note to a friend or write about their route to school or work before undergoing a lab-based stress task.https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html‘>3 which refers to “a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.” Which, in real language, means that when a person does a favor for someone they don’t like (or feels neutral about), it creates a mismatched feeling between their actions and their attitude. To avoid cognitive dissonance, your mind essentially makes you believe that you must really value this person in order to do such a nice thing for them. When you ask someone for help, it builds likeability and trust, and starts to form a bond between you and the other person.
On top of that, asking for help makes you stronger. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to unapologetically ask for help when you need it. While that might feel outside of your comfort zone right now, I can tell you from personal experience that growth happens when you start to get comfortable with a little discomfort. Any time you force yourself to do something outside your norm, you become a stronger person for it.
How to Get Better at Asking for Help
Honestly, most people underestimate how willing people are to help them. It could from a limiting belief they have from their past. Or maybe it’s the negative self-talk that creeps up now and then. Or perhaps you’ve had some less-than-awesome people in your life that literally weren’t able or willing to help you. Even if those scenarios ring true for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t get better at asking for the help you need. Keep in mind that these are for non-emergency situations. If you need immediate help, please reach out to a crisis hotline.
Here’s a quick look at different ways you can make asking for help easier. Hang tight, I’m going to unpack these strategies down below.
- Make small requests
- Ask people you trust
- Be clear about what you’re asking
- Focus on the end result
- Remove any judgement
1. Make small requests.
Big asks can feel daunting, especially at first. So, start by getting comfortable with making smaller ones. Ask your significant other to cook up a pan of eggs and bacon in the morning. Or get your kids to walk with you so you stay on track. Seeing yourself ask for — and receive help gets the ball rolling on building your confidence in this area.
2. Ask people you trust.
The risk of being rejected or dismissed drops dramatically when you request help from people you have a solid rapport with. It’s much less scary to be vulnerable with your spouse or family members than it is with your boss or the new guy at work.
3. Be clear about what you’re asking.
Assuming people know what you need is the fastest way NOT to get it. Sure, it would be great if people immediately offered to help the second the thought entered your mind, but that’s not how it works. Instead, get clear on what you’re struggling with and what exactly you could use help with (i.e. I’m following the Primal Blueprint, so please don’t bring home donuts). The more you practice asking for help directly, the easier it gets.
4. Focus on the end result.
Imagine for a minute that you got all the help you needed. What benefit would that bring you? Would you be less stressed out? Less grumpy? Less apt to skip your workout? By focusing on the outcome, you take the attention away from the uncomfortable feeling of asking and put it on the fantastic feeling of having gotten the help you need.
5. Remove any judgement.
Don’t assume you know what people are thinking about you. It’s so easy to presume that you’re a burden or being perceived as weak when you ask for help, but you have no clue what’s going through their mind. Also, don’t compare your struggles to someone else’s. Everyone processes things differently and at different paces.
And remember, you can always hire a professional to help — in practically any area of your life. That’s what we’re here for!
Are you good at asking for help? Or is it something you struggle with? Share your experiences in the comments below.