Experience any of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms the day I stopped drinking coffee
Raise your hand if you want to quit drinking coffee.
Who would want to do such an awful thing?
Coffee makes the world go round (at least for coffee lovers, anyway).
I get it. Coffee is awesome! Whether you drink it black or you get it from Starbucks, coffee fills plenty of needs and can help you accomplish a lot of things. And I mean a LOT!
A Brief History Of My Coffee Habit
I was living in Singapore from 2009 to 2013. I was working in a hotel and used to work night shifts. When I worked at night, I usually had a packet or two of Old Town 3-in-1 white coffee with me to keep me awake. It tasted so good (more sweet than bitter) that I soon found myself drinking it for breakfast or on rainy days, as well.
Fast forward to 2013 when I moved to Norway.
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Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash
It’s common to drink black coffee in Norway. And when I learned that drinking black coffee helps you lose weight, I was sold right away!
It’s like drinking water, but with added benefits such as:
Improved energy levels
Possible fat-burning effects
Improved physical performance
The biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet
Being a fitness nut, I just couldn’t resist the appeal.
I started by drinking a cup (about 500ml) of freshly brewed black coffee before each workout. Soon after that, I started doing intermittent fasting so I doubled my coffee intake to keep me going till I broke my 16-hour fast. I realized that some days I could go longer than 16-hour fasts as long as I had coffee, so this reinforced my habit to drink more black coffee to help me lose weight further.
It wasn’t long before I started associating coffee with a lot of things.
Waking up? Coffee
Eating breakfast? Coffee
Want to read a book? Coffee
Working out? Coffee
Eating dessert? Coffee
Cold, rainy, or snowing outside? Coffee
Somebody asks if I want coffee? Coffee!
Want to go to a birthday party? Sure! They probably have coffee there (like I don’t have any at home)
I didn’t realize that I was slowly using coffee as a crutch to get me through almost anything. I started drinking between two to three liters of black coffee a day. Was I addicted to it? I’m not sure. But I’m positive I was utterly dependent, so much so that I would get cranky when I couldn’t get a cup in any of the above situations. That’s when I turned into a zombie.
So what happened?
My wakeup call
I didn’t think that coffee affected my sleep at all. I could drink coffee at 8 pm and have no problem going to bed at 10 pm, sometimes even earlier than that. I was a light sleeper, though. I’d wake up whenever I heard footsteps or a door opening but would quickly go back to sleep after. I didn’t think that was a problem. In hindsight, it was probably a sign.
As the years went by, I felt the effects of coffee less and less so I had to keep drinking more.
Until one day in January 2019.
After my usual 2 cups of coffee in the morning, I was preparing to work out when I noticed something was wrong. I’d just had 7 hours of sleep (which to me is a lot) but I felt exhausted. Like, late in the day exhausted, even if it was only 10 am. On top of that, my whole body was sore, like I had just played basketball for two hours.
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Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash
I thought this was because I worked out a lot and it was my training program doing its work. So I tried to push through it and go on with my workout. I drank one more cup of coffee for good measure.
After finishing my coffee and my dynamic warm-up, I did the most unexpected thing: I took a nap (I work out at home so the sofa is just beside the area where I train). And only after taking a one-hour nap did I get enough energy to push through with my workout.
This was the moment I realized coffee no longer works, or that I’ve developed a high tolerance for it. Can you imagine how tired you must be to be able to take a nap even after drinking about a liter of steaming black coffee in the first few hours of the morning?
I wasn’t going to start drinking four liters of coffee daily to get me going. As much as I loved coffee, I thought that was madness.
How to quit drinking coffee
I quit drinking coffee slowly but surely.
My cousin suggested drinking green smoothies like the ones she saw from Sergei Boutenko on YouTube. I saw this as an opportunity to add veggies to my family’s diet since I was not good at cooking meals that had veggies. There was nothing to remove from my diet; I just had to drink around a liter of green smoothie every day.
The first time I tried a green smoothie was awesome! It tasted good because I put four different types of fruits in it and I didn’t really taste the veggies. Around the fourth day of drinking smoothies, something strange happened: I didn’t crave a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.
I was not tired at all. It took me around two hours before I got around to making a cup of coffee. I think I ended up drinking only two cups that day. This was because the green smoothie gave me an alternate boost of energy from the vitamins and nutrients coming from veggies and fruits.
After about two weeks, I decided to cut my coffee intake to one cup a day since I didn’t feel the need for more. Three weeks into drinking green smoothies, I tried not to drink coffee for one whole day.
The first day without coffee was not hard, but around 9 pm, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks because I was so sleepy but couldn’t go to bed yet since I was still working till 11 pm.
(My coworkers confirmed that there were no tears shed. My eyes were bloody red, though.)
It was one of my proudest moments.
I did it! I got through a whole day without coffee. So I did it again the next day. And the next. As long as I had my green smoothies, I didn’t need coffee so I aimed to go caffeine-free for one week.
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Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash
When I cleared one week, I decided to go for one month without coffee. That went well too. The more I had green smoothies, the less I craved coffee.
Two months went by, then three. Around the fourth month of drinking smoothies, I felt that I could go one year without coffee, so I aimed for it.
I was counting down the months till my one-year coffee-free anniversary, and when it finally came, I celebrated by having a barbecue (and a green smoothie, of course).
How Did I Feel After Quitting Coffee?
These are my personal observation after quitting coffee for over a year:
My Productivity Increased
Most people use coffee to get them through work, either because they’re too tired and can’t focus or for the mental alertness that it brings.
For me, drinking too much coffee greatly affected the quality of my sleep. It didn’t matter if I had five or nine hours of sleep; I felt tired and sluggish upon waking. And since I drank coffee throughout the day, it was basically impossible for me to sneak in a midday nap.
When I stopped drinking coffee, there was a huge difference in my energy level upon waking up. Due to the combination of the benefits I got from green smoothies and because of the better quality of sleep, I felt energized and refreshed after only six hours of sleep.
This means that I’m up at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning and can do plenty of things before my day officially starts. I can journal, read a book, practice gratitude, exercise, and make breakfast before waking up my kids at 7:30 am.
I also spend less time going on coffee breaks, and my focus while writing has curiously improved. I used to get coffee to fight brain fog, but too much coffee was probably what was causing it in the first place because I wasn’t sleeping well.
2. Bowel Movements Were More Difficult
I watch what I eat. I try my best not to overeat and on top of that, I also do intermittent fasting. In short, I don’t eat too much.
Without the laxative effects of coffee, it’s more difficult to pass bowel every morning given how little I eat. It’s not a problem if I ate a lot the day before, but for someone who’s restricting their calorie intake, this could be an issue.
3. My Teeth Are Healthier and My Breath Fresher
This is an observation from my wife.
Coffee contains compounds called tannins which stick to the teeth and leave a yellow hue. It also has a strong odor that can stay in the mouth if not treated with odor-canceling foods such as parsley and apples.
4. My Mood Improved
Anxiety, depression, and irritability.
These are the three things that I usually encountered when I couldn’t get a cup of coffee. Caffeine alters the brain chemistry so having too much of it can cause these three issues, among others.
When I stopped drinking coffee, my mood became much more even throughout the day, and I don’t think about when I’m going to get the next cup. Most importantly, I do not get upset or irritable anymore when I can’t get coffee.
5. My Workouts Were Affected
Coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and provides a tremendous boost as a pre-workout.
It helps improve focus while working out, helps muscle activation, can aid in fat burning through lipolysis, aids in increasing your body temperature (therefore helps in burning more calories) and can also spare glycogen from being exhausted during the workout due to lipolysis, making this a huge boost for endurance training. It can also help reduce tiredness during workouts.
I used tea as my pre-workout drink and I immediately felt it didn’t have the same desired effects as coffee.
6. I Gained an Inch Around My Waist
You can either lose weight or gain weight depending on the type of coffee that you drink. If you’re the Starbucks kind of person, then you might lose weight when you quit coffee because of all the calories you will be avoiding. If you’re a black coffee drinker like me, then it’s possible to gain weight.
Eight months after quitting coffee, I noticed my work pants were getting tighter and it took more effort to put on my belt. When I measured my waistline, it was at 33 inches (a full inch over my normal waistline), and depending on when I did my measurement, sometimes I’d see my waistline up to 34 inches.
This was not a big difference and wasn’t noticeable physically. But my clothes certainly noticed the change.
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Left-Apr 2018 when I drank coffee whenever I wanted, Right-Nov 2019, around 10 months after I stopped drinking coffee
While green smoothies are an awesome hack to increase your energy in place of caffeine, it obviously has more calories than black coffee so I took it easy on the fruits and started measuring what I put in my smoothie to avoid putting on more weight.
Coffee was my go-to drink when I felt hungry. It helped me to fast longer because it helped curb appetite. Sometimes, when I felt hungry in the evenings, around 8 pm, I would drink coffee and the hunger vanished, and I avoided consuming calories late in the day.
It helped me stay in a caloric deficit in all those years because it helps curb appetite.
Ditching coffee meant I consumed more calories than when I was drinking coffee.
How Long Does Coffee Withdrawal Last?
Fortunately for me, I didn’t experience any of the caffeine withdrawal symptoms the day I stopped drinking coffee. I credit this to this awesome substitute called green smoothies. If you’re planning to ditch coffee, I suggest you have a good substitute for it so you don’t experience any withdrawal.
And speaking of quitting…
Is it bad to quit drinking coffee cold turkey?
It’s also possible that I didn’t experience any negative side effects because I quit drinking coffee gradually.
Some horror stories about people quitting cold turkey include:
Difficulty in concentrating
(pretty much like caffeine withdrawal)
However, some people say they didn’t get any negative effects despite quitting cold turkey. I’m not a doctor, but it looks like different bodies react differently to cutting caffeine from their diet.
Quitting caffeine benefits for me are as follows:
Better quality of sleep
Healthier teeth and fresher breath
Can take naps midday
Is it good to quit coffee? It depends on what your goals are.
Although I love my afternoon siesta, I can’t deny that drinking coffee has its benefits, as well (especially on my workout and my weight), which is why I decided to start drinking coffee again (I also didn’t want to miss out on all those antioxidants, as too).
However, there are plenty of conditions:
I only drink coffee in the morning so I won’t mess up my sleeping pattern
I only take one (heaping) scoop of coffee
I drink coffee before a workout (it’s an awesome pre-workout)
If I’m not working out and I want to drink coffee, I have to do something to exhaust all that mental stimulation like writing for two hours
I sort of have to earn my coffee
My experiment showed that drinking coffee does have a positive impact on one’s weight. But I also learned that drinking too much coffee is not ideal and that it is important to find a healthy balance to get the most out of the benefits. Cycling your coffee habits helps too as it prevents the build-up of tolerance.
(Obviously, we’re all different and my body might react differently to intermittent fasting and coffee, or lack of it, like you).
If somebody asked me today, would I rather have a cup of coffee and all the benefits that come with it or have a good night’s sleep and no coffee at all?
My answer? I’d like to have them both, please. And yes, it’s possible as long as you find out what works for you.
How Does Coffee Affect Weight?
Could Your Morning Coffee Be a Weight-Loss Tool?
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