Saturday, March 12, 2016

How to Beat Your Caffeine Addiction

Good morning everyone!

Today's post is going to be on a subject with which I have a lot of experience. I've been addicted to caffeine and come off of it several times in my life and I have some strategies that have minimized the pain that I thought I'd share with you.

I love coffee. I don't drink a lot of soda or other caffeinated beverages, but every time I've been addicted to caffeine it's been because of that morning cup (cups) of coffee.

I most recently discontinued caffeine at the beginning of April 2015 when I went to South America for 5 weeks, so now it's been about a year of being off of caffeine.

I was drinking about 20-24 ounces of drip coffee every morning before that. It was as good a time as any, and though South America does have some good coffee, there was only instant available most of the places I was living, which is only worth drinking if you're addicted.

I get terrible fatigue and headaches if I skip a day of coffee when I've been drinking it for a while, and I hate being dependent on it. That said, it had been almost 2 years since I tried going without caffeine.

I was also ready to start trying to get pregnant, and really wanted to be completely off of it for that [the consensus is that 200 mg a day of caffeine - about 1 cup - is probably safe but I wanted to not have any dependencies while pregnant or trying to conceive.]

How to Beat Your Caffeine Addiction

1. Write Down Your Reason
Although quitting caffeine isn't quite the same as quitting smoking or other addictive drugs, it can still be surprisingly difficult. Recognizing that it may not be easy and that sometimes you won't feel like it's still a good idea is important. 

Decide what your motivation is and write it down somewhere. 

Maybe you don't feel like yourself because you're always running on some artificial fuel. 

Maybe like me you're doing it for pregnancy, breastfeeding or trying to conceive. 

Maybe you're well over the "moderate" amount of intake [1-2 cups] that the American Heart Association says is safe or perhaps beneficial for your heart and you want to be sure your intake is healthy.

Maybe like in my fourth year of medical school, coffee is starting to give you stomachaches but it seems absurd to replace it with something less healthy like soda.

Maybe you're trying to save money.

Whatever the reason, just know what it is.

2. Assess Your Daily Intake
Before you decide how to quit the caffeine, you need to know how much you're drinking.

If you order your drink at a coffee shop, you probably know the number of ounces, but it makes a difference whether you're drinking drip coffee or something with espresso shots. If you're making it at home the coffee maker cups are 5-6 ounces. Say you're drinking 4 coffee maker cups - that's about 20 ounces or typically 2 standard mugs. Don't forget to account for caffeinated tea, sodas, energy drinks, "energy" vitamin waters etc. if you also drink those regularly. It's not necessary to figure out the number of milligrams of caffeine, we're not going to do the decrease in intake so precisely, just have a realistic idea of how many of what types of drink you have in a day.

Feel free to take a whole week and make a note of your caffeinated beverages each day, especially if you don't always have the same thing.

3. Decide Your Approach
Some people are proponents of cold turkey discontinuation.
This has the advantage of you feeling terrible all at once and getting it over with faster, but you shouldn't underestimate how long it can take to feel normal again even if you stop all at once. It won't be a couple days - it will probably be weeks.
Personally, I've done it cold turkey and it's worked well but I also think a tapering approach is sometimes more manageable. It also depends on what else is going on in your life at the time.
The disadvantage of tapering is that you're delaying the inevitable, and some people lose resolve and just return to their previous intake. You know yourself better than anyone. You can always try one method and then the other if you feel it was the wrong fit for you.

4. Have a "Replacement" Ready
It's important to identify the times of day when you crave caffeine, and what types. Maybe you really enjoy a morning ritual with a mug (or 7) of coffee. Maybe you always sip throughout the whole day. Maybe you look forward to that Diet Dr. Pepper at 3 PM.

If you have something else to reach for when you would usually choose caffeine, you'll have a much better chance of success.

Lots of people switch to tea. If it's not the coffee itself you're worried about you can make a straight swap to decaf. Sparkling water is also a great choice. I would just caution not to replace with desserts - it's a natural tendency to look for that boost of energy from sugar instead but that realistically would be a step backward in your health.

5. Decreasing Caffeine
a. If you're going cold turkey, do it. Don't wait for the perfect day. My fourth year of med school I stopped cold turkey in the middle of residency interviews. That was mostly because all the travel coffee was giving me stomachaches, so I had a good incentive, but it was still very imperfect timing.

b. If you're going to taper:
   - Cut it in half for 1 week: The taper shouldn't be delayed through some ridiculous fractionation of your previous intake through 15/16 and 3/4 etc. If you drank 2 sodas a day, cut it to 1. If you drank 8 cups of coffee a day, cut it to 4. If you drank 8 cups of coffee, 2 Monsters, a Big Gulp and took a couple caffeine pills, we need to talk about the other things going on in your life - but the instruction is still the same, cut it in half.
   - Cut it in half again for 1 week: Unless you were already down to 1 drink a day, you'll probably want to cut in half again. Even if you were down to one drink a day, maybe you're not quite ready to be done and want to cut the volume in half or make it half-caffeinated.
   - Stop completely: Don't mess around with more than one or two divisions of your intake, you're delaying that feeling of actually no caffeine that is inevitable even when you taper.

6. NO caffeine for at least 4 weeks
To some people this step might seem kind of cruel. Maybe you were just trying to cut down your excessive intake or you weren't really trying to get off of caffeine completely.

Trust me though, this step is worth it. Actually letting your body adjust to having no steady influx of caffeine let's you figure out your natural energy highs and lows. Use sunshine, water, stretches or a quick walk to wake you up when you're feeling sleepy and enjoy being stimulant free.

7. You're Not Done
In the past, I ended up back on caffeine every single time after a few months. The only reason I haven't ended up back on my cup a day this time is probably pregnancy.

Once you've gone through all of that, it's important to decide whether you're going to be a no-caffeine person, a just the weekends person etc. Keep in mind it's completely possible to be addicted to just 1 cup a day, which I personally kind of hate, but maybe that's fine with you.

Hope this helps.

Do you have any advice to add?

Thanks for reading, see you soon.

1 comment:

Nursing Jobs said...

Thank you so much for your post. This post really help me a lot and I have learnt some new things from your blog.

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