Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bye, Bye, Caffeine

I used to be a complete Diet Coke junkie.  I drank it daily - at least one with lunch (Cherry Coke Zero to be exact), and then sometimes on especially tiring days, one or two when I got home from work.  The soda wasn't working well with my body or my mind, but I wasn't paying attention to the correlation.  

At the beginning of December, I finally came to terms with how icky it was making me feel.  After having a Diet Coke early in the afternoon of that fateful chilly Sunday, I finally made the connection between the soft drink consumption and my physical reactions - my stomach was tossing, my heart was pounding, my eyes were heavy, and my muscles felt like they were trembling.  My mind was undergoing a similar panic - I was very anxious and distracted.  This had happened before when I had been drinking caffeine, but I would find ways to justify it or do my best to ignore it.

This day was different, though.  In a burst of frustration and honestly, fear about the way I was feeling, I decided to remove soda from my life.  Consequentially, all caffeine went along with it.  I've never been a big coffee person and my brief bout with 5 hour energy had already gone by the wayside, so giving up soda meant giving up the whole kit and caboodle.

I didn't go about giving up caffeine in the best way.  I was so freaked out by the way my body responded to that day's soda consumption that I decided to just go cold turkey and give up all caffeine at once.

Then came the headaches.

It was a bad week and a half.  Caffeine withdrawal is a real thing.  I had no idea that I had been consuming enough to affect my body chemistry, but I clearly was.  I figured it would be easy for me since I wasn't drinking six sodas a day or downing cup after cup of joe while at work.  But I felt awful.  Exhausted.  Irritable.  And the headaches, oh, the headaches.

But I was stubborn about it.  I remembered how awful and helpless I felt, and I refused to cave.  Every day, it got a little bit easier (aspirin was a big help too, let's be honest), until eventually, I didn't feel like I needed it anymore.  

Now, more than four months later, I'm caffeine free, and the effect it has had on my body and mind so far has been tremendous.  I'm more alert, I have more energy, the uneasy physical and mental feelings have abated, and my body just feels better.

Here is the short guide of how I went about kicking the caffeine habit and transitioning into a caffeine-free lifestyle (and you may notice that they all have a common theme [now just water you talking about??] ):
#1 - Carbonated Water.  I quickly discovered that I wasn't in love with soda as much as I was with the carbonation.  I could go on and on about my love affair with sparkling water, but I think I will instead devote it to a future posting - so stay tuned!  The short story is - sparkling water, seltzer, carbonated water, club soda - I love it all, and it has saved me from cravings multiple times since my break-up with soda.
#2 - When I started to feel that unforgiving level of tiredness, I drank a glass of water instead. This is a trick one of my TAs in college taught my class shortly before we headed off to the library to cram all night for an exam.  Good and proper hydration is a much better way to restore energy and keep fatigue levels at bay than via caffeine.  It's important to note that caffeine gives you artificial energy, while water prevents you from becoming fatigued.  So one gives, and one takes.  I'm siding with the taker on this one.
#3 - I stayed hydrated.  It is basically what I started to say in point #2.  Hydration is so, so, so important.  And it prevents the kind of fatigue that could have really made me want to grab for a soda during the tough withdrawal period.  8 glasses a day is what you should be aiming for (and these days, I usually try to go for about twice that, when I can help it)!  Read more about the importance of hydration here.

So, there you have it - my personal examination of something that was affecting me negatively and how I subsequently decided to deal with it.  My physical and mental reactions to caffeine were affecting me terribly, and it was the right choice for me.  This is not to say that this is the right choice for everyone - many people are totally fine downing multiple cups of coffee a day with no issue.  If that's the case, awesome - there are definitely benefits to drinking caffeine in moderate (that word again!) amounts.

But if you do decide to give up caffeine, I am by no means suggesting you take the cold-turkey route.  Weaning yourself off of it gradually is much less painful and a much safer means to the goal.

Regardless of what you do choose, please feel free to check out the reading material below.  Many of these texts outline plans for quitting caffeine, but also share with you some of the upsides of the substance as well.  Caffeine intake really comes down to personal choice.  We have to do what feels best for our bodies and minds, whether that means a life full of - or free from - caffeine.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, have come to another one of my vices. I'm not up for tossing away my daily cup of coffee, but I am thinking about cutting back from my 2 and 1/2 cups or so per day. Thanks for the tips! I think I could at least try to start taking my water out instead of my thermos when I'm getting a 9am craving (since I drink my first cup at 6am). Thanks again.