Sunday, April 16, 2017

What happened when I quit coffee

Strong latte (ie. what we call double shot lattes in Melbourne) at White Mojo in Balwyn, suburban Melbourne
I'm a caffeine addict. I had known this for some time. When I say this, people think I drank a lot of coffee. I didn't. I consistently had one a day, two max. The problem was the duration - I'd done this for about 15 years.

I first detected a problem when I would wake up in the middle of the night, usually in the early hours of Monday morning, after a weekend of not drinking coffee.
When I got woken up by the pain, it wasn't just a minor annoyance. I woke up crying. I wanted nothing more than for someone to rip my head off my spine so the nerves would stop transmitting the pain. I didn't care that this was physically impossible (unless someone killed me, Medieval-style, of course) - I couldn't make sense of the logic because that's how delirious I was getting from the pain.

You see, we had a Nespresso at our office, and Monday to Friday, I was having one a day.

So I saw a doctor, not knowing it was caffeine. I thought I was getting some weird neurological disorder, migraines, perhaps, but after the doctor checked me out for a bit, he asked, "are you in the habit of drinking coffee?" It clicked immediately. At the time, the advice was: there's no evidence caffeine is bad for you in small doses, so you can keep having one a day, or you can try quitting.

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For around five years after that consultation, I decided to stick to the former. Since leaving an actual office, I'd made it my morning ritual to make a pourover each morning - I didn't even have to think about it. I woke up, I put the kettle on and measured my beans. I travelled with my own coffee beans and coffee-making kit, got beans sent to my destination, and even carried caffeine pills, just in case.

I even managed to make a pourover when I couldn't find a kettle...

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Then a couple of months ago, G and I decided to do the RASA Challenge, essentially an elimination diet to help identify whether you're intolerant to common allergens. Although I didn't think I personally had any intolerances (G does, which is why we did it), I decided to do it anyway - I saw it as three weeks of eating whole foods - why not? The RASA Challenge is also caffeine-free, so I thought, what the heck, my diet is going to be so restricted anyway, what's one more thing? Plus, I'll be eating all these awesome whole foods and I'll feel great.

I did not.

Nothing I had read online about quitting caffeine could have prepared me for this. Day three was the worst. I could barely get out of bed. I thought I had the flu. I tried to read in bed, but my eyes wouldn't focus. My head was throbbing; the pain particularly bad behind my eyes, in the sockets - I'd known this to be a caffeine headache ever since my diagnosis, and before the Challenge it would have been my cue to pop a caffeine pill and an ibuprofen, but I persisted. I didn't take a single thing. The pain passed around the fifth day, after which I felt like my head was permanently in a fog, unable to concentrate. My muscles felt fatigued - luckily we were in a big apartment in Tallinn and I spent most of the day in and out of downward dogs to try and stretch the lactic acid (or whatever the fatigue was) out of my muscles.

In weeks two and three, the fogginess continued, but being in a cold place helped, I think. The pain had become more superficial. Instead of inside my head, it was my scalp. Whenever I run my fingers through my hair, it felt as if each follicle was swollen, and every one of them ached when I touched them.

It's now over two months since I've had coffee (I did take a sip at one restaurant tasting. It felt so freaking amazing, it only reaffirmed my belief that I wasn't over this addiction). I'm writing this now because I'm getting a caffeine headache again, but am forcing myself to concentrate on one task - writing this blog.

There are all these articles online about how people felt great within in a week, how their skin was clearer, or how they felt more productive - I'm sorry to say that I feel none of these. Quitting feels like sh*t. But, I figure, if quitting something feels this sh*t, it can't have been good for me to begin with. (Not that coffee isn't good, but the habit of having it every day).

These days I'm having a lot of non-caffeinated (sometimes lightly caffeinated) teas and tisanes. Rooibos is a recent favourite, as it actually tastes like tea, and chamomile seems to help, especially on the days my muscles feel flu-ey. And I've found myself judging cafes by their non-coffee offerings - oh, how the tables turn.

The generally-accepted, too-cool-for-school, hipster thing to say about a coffee addiction is, "Why on earth would you quit coffee? I can't live without it," as if being addicted was the badge of connoisseurship itself. Trust me, I love coffee. I love how it tastes, and I love studying and practicing the factors that go into making a good cup. It's just that one day in the near future (as I keep telling myself), I hope to be able to enjoy coffee without being dictated by it.

1 comment:

  1. I did the same about 12 years ago and had the same withdrawal symptoms. It was agony!!! But one of the best health decisions I ever made. No môre stiff joints and foggy heads in the morning when I wake up. Keep going. Rooibos is actually a local South African tea and we even drink as "espresso" and lattes.