I am a coffee lover. I think it’s fair to say that coffee was one of the things that got me through my first attempt at quitting sugar in 2013. Back then, I had coffee with milk and it wouldn’t have been unusual for me to have five or six coffees a day.
At one point, I don’t remember when, I decided that this was just too much caffeine and, to help me cut back, I switched to black coffee. I now only have two coffees a day, one first thing in the morning and the other one from my plunger when I get to work, or sometimes at a coffee shop before I go to work.
My March energy experiment, which is based on chapter 4 of Chris Bailey’s book The Productivity Project and is intended to help me identify the times during the day when I have the most energy, involves cutting out alcohol, increasing the amount of sleep I get and tracking my energy over the month. In the book, Chris suggests cutting out all stimulants, especially sugar, coffee and alcohol, to give you a more accurate picture of your body’s natural cycles.
Cut out coffee!?
Um, no. No freaking way.
You’d have to wrench my morning coffee out of my cold, dead hands.
Okay, not exactly true. I’ve had in the back of my mind for maybe 12 months the idea of cutting out coffee for 30 days just to see what happened but I had no real interest in actually doing it. It didn’t even make the “potential 19 for 2019” list. Quitting alcohol was going to be much easier.
One of the first books I read this year was Dr Libby Weaver’s Exhausted to Energised. It’s one of my go-to references for finding strategies to give me more energy so that I can do the things I want to do this year. Dr Libby talks about caffeine in the book.
Caffeine sends a message to the pituitary gland in your brain that it needs to send a message to the adrenal glands to make stress hormones: adrenaline and/or cortisol.
Basically, these hormones prepare your body for action so that you can deal with the “threat” that has triggered the release of the stress hormones, and the functions that aren’t necessary for ensuring your immediate survival start to slow down. They also make you crave sugar for getting fast energy, rather than taking energy from your fat stores.
I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of chronically high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream due to stress as part of the wellbeing work I’ve been doing this year. A lot of the calming strategies I’ve been putting into place (thing 6 of 19 for 2019) have been to address this issue, so now I know that consuming caffeine may also be contributing to me being not-calm, perhaps it’s time to rethink my reluctance to at least experiment with not having it.
Dr Libby recommends taking a break from coffee for four weeks just to see if there is any change in your energy levels.
Still reluctant to stop completely, last week I decided to cut back from two to one coffee a day, with the idea that once my coffee supply at work ran out I wouldn’t replenish it. That happened on Thursday so Friday was my first one-coffee day.
I made sure I had a substitute ready to go so I at least had the ritual of having a drink when I got to work, even if it wasn’t the same thing. No problems.
I think I would have been happy with that until this morning when I read chapter 23 of Chris Bailey’s book and I started to rethink things. Chris says that drinking caffeine is a way of borrowing energy from later in the day.
Eight to 14 hours after you consume caffeine, your body metabolises it out of your system, which causes an energy crash (the exact number varies from person to person). There is a chemical in your body and brain called adenosine, which tells your brain when it’s tired. Caffeine prevents your brain from absorbing this chemical, which prevents your brain from knowing it’s tired. But . . . while caffeine prevents your brain from absorbing adenosine [it] continues to build up until caffeine eventually lets your brain absorb it again. Your body and brain then absorb a whole whack of this tired chemical at once, which causes your energy levels to plummet.
I didn’t know this but it makes a lot of sense. Basically, caffeine attaches to the same receptors in your brain that adenosine attaches to and once the caffeine wears off you get a massive hit of adenosine, feel exhausted, so you grab another coffee to wake yourself up. Apparently, this is why people who drink coffee late in the day can feel exhausted the next morning because the drowsy-causing adenosine is still in their system, so they head straight for the coffee first thing in the morning.
I don’t drink coffee in the afternoon but I certainly get a huge energy crash after lunch that lasts well into the late afternoon and sometimes early evening. I put it down to my body needing to rest after a meal, but the duration of my low energy spell in the afternoon seemed to be excessive so, having learned about adenosine, I wondered if there was more to it.
All factors were pointing to the coffee experiment needing to take place.
Thinking about this, I figured the worst that could happen is that I felt a whole lot better and had more energy in the afternoon and felt less anxious. The best would be that it had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever and I could continue drinking coffee.
I still wasn’t sure. I mean, it was a four-week experiment. If I can quit alcohol for a month, surely I can quit coffee.
I went to get my second coffee of the day.
The coffee machine made a weird noise and stopped working.
I am not making this up.
If ever there was a sign, that was it.
It seems as though the decision has been made for me and I will be abstaining from coffee for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be interested to see how this pans out in the energy tracker over the next couple of weeks.