Quitting Coffee for 60 Days

by | 10 July 2020 | Health, Life | 9 comments

10 min read

I actually didn’t have the plan to do an experiment like this anytime soon. Quite the contrary actually, as I’m currently living in Chiang Mai, which is an absolute heaven to be for coffee lovers. Considering the combination of density of cafés, a high quality product, amazingly skilled baristas, and affordable prices, no other place I’ve been to comes even close to what’s available here.

So why would I undergo an experiment that would deprive me of that experience for such a long time?

It was a spontaneous decision, triggered by a video I watched on YouTube. Of course. Sometimes something just manages to trigger my curiosity, and this is exactly what happened.

On a side note, Alex Becker’s channel is my current favorite to watch, since this guy always goes all in on whatever he does. I’ve first seen his videos years ago and back then he was the storybook douchebag selling courses on SEO and other marketing topics, in what I found to be very shady and cringy ways. Then I rediscovered him a few months back, and he seems to have foundationally changed his mindset and lifestyle. Now he’s sharing some genuine knowledge on a regular basis, not shy to share his own failures and missteps. Shout-out to him.

Well, and he also got me to give up coffee and caffeine for two months.

A Developing Habit

Illustration of coffee cups aligned into a pyramid shape

I can’t really remember the day on which I had my first cup of coffee. I only know that I used to not like the taste at all when I was a kid and tried a zip from my parents “adult juice”.

It wasn’t until I enrolled at university, when I started drinking coffee more regularly. That is probably a not so uncommon starting point for many to develop a coffee habit. I remember that it started by sometimes getting a coffee during the first morning break between two lectures. I was definitely only drinking coffee when I felt like I needed an energy boost, especially since the coffee available at university was really not good and it wasn’t the taste that was appealing to me. Fully automatic coffee machines to serve hundreds of students with cheap coffee each day. Ugh.

The next step was the exam periods, which usually meant a few weeks of studying together with others at university from morning until late at night. During those sessions coffee became an actual fuel for the first time to keep me awake on a regular basis. But I still didn’t drink coffee daily during normal periods.

Ironically, it was the time when I studied in China — a country that discovered coffee fairly recently on a big scale — during which I started to drink a lot more coffee and explore the whole science and art behind it. I went to many different cafés, sometimes trying out a new one was part of my day plan. After all, there are many nice things being built and occurring around the art of making and drinking coffee. I even bought my own little espresso maker to brew coffee at home, trying to figure out the perfect process.

From that time on, coffee became a daily habit for me, even after I returned back home after my studies. My preferred time to drink one was mostly right after lunch, but every now and then I would also have one in the morning. I also started drinking an espresso shot before doing my workout for a while, being sure that it would help me to get a little extra boost.

What I already knew at this point was, that compared to other people I’m definitely quite sensitive to caffeine. I can clearly tell whenever I had “too much” caffeine by feeling nervous, even anxious at times, with usually an energy crash occuring shortly after, but not being able to sleep properly either. Therefore, I always knew that two cups of coffee per day is my maximum.

During a time of experimenting with my diet and intermittent fasting, I started to not have breakfast anymore and replaced it with only having black coffee mixed with butter or coconut oil, a so called “bulletproof coffee”. It was supposed to help me get some calories in while not eating in the morning anymore, and I actually really enjoyed that for a while, as I started to feel like I could concentrate a lot better during the morning hours.

Looking back, I think those benefits came more from not eating in the morning, than from drinking that coffee each morning.

This was a habit for a long time then. One big bulletproof coffee in the morning and one cappuccino after lunch. Day after day for more than two years, and I pretty much kept that up until about two months ago. I swapped the morning bulletproof coffee for a cappuccino here in Chiang Mai, but that’s still two cups.

If I wasn’t that sensitive and wouldn’t feel it drastically, I’m quite sure I would have started drinking even more coffee, which seems to be a common pattern for many.

After having one experience that made me feel like having a panic attack from too much caffeine, I know my physical limit. But I still made sure to get my coffees each day and to stay just right below it.

That’s the story behind my coffee habit, from none to two per day for more than two years.

What’s yours?

How Caffeine Works in Our Body

I really had no idea how coffee actually works in our body before this experiment. As most people, I just knew it makes us more alert and keeps us awake and somehow is capable of giving us an energy boost.

So it was surprising for me to learn, that caffeine is not providing us with a boost of energy, but actually is just suppressing our natural urge to rest and sleep.

This phenomenon has to do with the process in our brain behind what’s making us tired, which this video can explain much better than I ever could:

This was a pretty interesting learning for me.

Firstly, because it explains why a caffeine high is often followed by a deep energy low, which I’m quite familiar with. The accumulation of adenosine simply continues, even while we’re suppressing its direct effect with caffeine for a while. Once it wears of, we are suddenly facing all that accumulated adenosine, which makes us tired. Caffeine works simply like a credit, until we need to pay it back. In full, with interest.

Secondly, because now it makes sense why for many there is only one direction in terms of a caffeine consumption habit, which is drinking more and more as time goes by. The body simply tries to compensate the effect of caffeine, by working actively against it.

Having learned those two things was what made me curious to try simply avoiding caffeine for a while.

No Coffee for Two Months

Without having had any specific expectations,  I wanted to find out whether or nor I will feel any difference when abstaining from caffeine for a while.

Upon starting my experiment, I started reading the book Caffeine Blues which was published in 1999. Talking about the many different effects of caffeine on the human body, this book by Stephen Cherniske is pointing out why uncontrolled consumption of caffeine has the potential to cause and enhance problems with our health.

To sum up the book in one sentence: caffeine = stress. And increased levels of stress over extended period of times are pretty much the reason behind most diseases that are plaguing our modern society.

I didn’t have any strong withdrawal symptoms, such as strong headaches, which others often report to have when quitting coffee abruptly. This happens, because caffeine causes blood vessels in the brain to shrink, which then extend again when a regular caffeine consumer doesn’t get any for a long enough period of time. This causes pressure in the brain, causing a strong headache.

The only thing I could feel during the first week was that I felt a bit more anxious and not as motivated. Apart from that, my experience was quite smooth.

Prior to this experiment, I actually had some trouble falling asleep quickly at night, often lying awake for a while before being able to drift off. This definitely improved after about two weeks and has been better since.

Another thing I kept an eye on was my facial skin, as I had read that many people noticed that their skin was getting better, when abstaining from caffeine for a while. This has also been the case for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures to be able to compare directly.

Of course, there are many factors that could have played a factor for these things to change during the time of that experiment, but it’s an indicator to consider and enough reason for me to rethink my coffee and caffeine consumption habit.

Less Often, More Conscious

As a result of my experiment, I will actually reduce the amount of coffee and caffeine that I am consuming and will do so more consciously.

Learning about the impact of caffeine on our body and the results that I could see from these two months, made me realize that it doesn’t really make sense for me to treat caffeine any other than alcohol or sweets and snacks. After all, caffeine is a highly stimulating substance that, as a matter of fact, is causing our brain to actively want to counter its effect.

This fact combined with my own history, which has taught me a lot about how important it is to listen to my body’s signals, is reason enough for me take a step back when it comes to my passion for coffee.

I’m always an advocate for balance and finding the right ratio with things, rather than starting to demonize things that also bring joy. But just as I’m not drinking alcohol daily, or don’t eat 500 g of chocolate a day, I won’t be drinking coffee every day from now on.

This will make the coffee I get in a nice café when catching up with someone on the weekend even more joyful. And I won’t have to say no to a nice cup of coffee like this one, when it crosses my way either. Just not daily.

Picture of a Flat White served at Ristr8tto in Chiang Mai, Thailand

After all, what I have learned from my own experience with coffee and caffeine, and from what others are sharing, is that this is a highly individual topic for everyone. A variety of biological factors play a role in how our body is dealing with caffeine and what kind of impact it has on us.

But I would always recommend now for anyone who has established a daily routine of drinking coffee, to maybe check in with it at some point, especially when it has been getting more and more.

It can’t hurt to sometimes question the things that became so usual to us, that we don’t even consider their impact on us anymore.

Just give it a try and see how it goes.

(The “Buy me a coffee” button below seems like an especially ironic finish to this article now. But after all, I still like coffee.)

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Danny

Next challenge: “Quitting Sugar for 30 Days” 😉

Ken

You’re a brave soul. I’d ideally like to quit, but it’s so stinkin’ good and the increased focus is a plus… smh

Tahlia

Great post Benny! I now have a similar relationship with coffee too. Previously I used to drink two medium long blacks per day but as you mentioned the dips and panic attacks ultimately turned me off them. It was one panic attack in particular and I swore off it basically. However, I don’t mind the odd one when I’m in America it seems to be a thing I love to do there. Now though I just stick to my black tea 🙂

PatriciaC

Great blog Benny. I’m extremely intolerant to caffeine, one cup of coffee keeps me going for two days straight, so none for me. I love the taste but I also need to sleep… lol

Niels

Great article Benny! I’m a moderate coffee drinker myself. Like yourself, very sensitive for caffeine; if I drink 4 cups I won’t sleep at night. However, I really appreciate good quality coffee. These days I’m searching for the perfect Nespresso cup, expensive, but worth it if you only consume two of them a day;) What I find odd is that I’ve never experienced that coffee gave me a boost of energy (same with energy drinks). Usually it doesn’t affect my energy level, but only makes me more tense and restless..