We recently posted “I’ve Gone 4 Days Without Coffee and I’m Still Alive.” This is a follow-up to that piece
I’m sitting at my kitchen table in shorts, unshowered, unshaven, and a bit under-rested. Not that this is anything new, but one thing in particular is different this time. For the first time in a week, I have a hot cup of black coffee next to my keyboard, and it’s quite nice.
The past week has been quite the happening; I never thought I would love tea the way I do now, and I’ve felt more balanced and rested than anytime I can remember. So, what in the name of all that is holy am I doing drinking a cup of coffee again? The answer to that brings me to a few questions that came up from readers, and the internet at large, last week.
Is Caffeine inherently a vice?
No. In my opinion, nothing is inherently a vice. It all comes down to user error. In my case, I was drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day; basically I would have one whenever I was bored. For me, that was too much. I started to feel like my momentary emotional state was just a roller coaster on the tracks of different caffeine levels.
I’m not saying coffee, or caffeine in general, is bad for you, in fact there’s quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. But personally, I needed a break.
As always, One Week Without is about using temporary elimination in order to learn more about moderation. It is my belief that by taking time off of things we take for granted, we learn to appreciate them in a new, less jaded light. This gives us the chance to learn about or habits, and even reset them, if appropriate.
I use One Week Without as a mechanism for discovery. I don’t know what I’m going to learn heading into a challenge, all I can do is stay flexible and attentive, and try to learn all I can from the experience. Sometimes, I find that the thing I’m fasting from should be eliminated entirely, other times it only needs to be enjoyed less frequently.
Regardless, at the end of each challenge I have one less thing I take for granted, which brings me at least one step closer to living an Intentional Life.
Gotcha. But what about coffee?
In a week’s time, some things have changed, others stayed the same. I still love coffee just as much as I did before. I enjoyed the cup of coffee I just finished, and I will very likely enjoy a similar one tomorrow morning. But, after swallowing this last, murky sip, I don’t feel the urge as I once did to have two more cups before I go to work. That, for me, is a small victory.
For this writer, Coffee falls into the latter of the two camps mentioned above, a treat that should not be eliminated entirely, but should also not be over-indulged upon. In arriving at this knowledge, I also learned several things about my relationship with caffeine that seem salient here.
1. The Caffeine rush is 100% about tolerance
As noted in this challenge’s setup, I’ve used tea sparingly to wean off of the caffeine without dropping my habit like a tooth-tied anvil off a cliff. What surprised me the most was that by day two, a small cup of green tea with one third the caffeine of a cup of coffee would deliver the same rush that coffee had only a day earlier.
This is the fastest tolerance adjustment I’ve ever had to date, and I found it quite encouraging. If you’re contemplating replacing coffee with tea, go for it, because it’s really not as hard as it might seem.
2. Consuming less caffeine, earlier in the day helps you sleep better
I noticed this from the very first day of the challenge. Instead of 4 cups of coffee, I just had one cup of tea in the morning, and that was it for the day. By 11pm I was already tired (which is really something, being a bit of a night owl myself). By midnight I was fast asleep, with none of the usual rustling around under the covers for thirty endless, grueling minutes. This continued throughout the challenge, and was perhaps my favorite part of it all.
For this reason, one of my big take-aways from this challenge was that I just can’t have caffeine past the early afternoon, and maybe even that is too generous. I find it well worth the tradeoff to escape the anxiety of lying eternally sleepless in bed each night.
3. Caffeine withdrawal doesn’t have to be so bad, if you wean off gradually
Horror stories abound about the headaches, nausea, and general sufferings that accompany caffeine withdrawal. I can’t shoot these down, because as noted I was terrified of cutting out caffeine entirely from day one. That said, even for a caffeine junkie like myself, gradually dialing down the caffeine levels was painless.
Since there really isn’t much evidence that caffeine is bad for you health-wise, if you find caffeine to be a problem for you, don’t try nixing it from the get-go, just switch to a cup or two of green tea a day. It’s easy, delicious, and it still gives you that bit of a jolt when you need it.
4. Consuming less caffeine leads to a more balanced energy level throughout the day
Before this week without coffee I would slug down cups all through the workday, constantly riding that mile high energy wave–until I fell off. With a slighter schedule of caffeine intake, however, I found myself gliding through the day evenly. 3 o’clock would roll around and I would find myself actually sitting upright in my chair, not cowering under the desk. This was a significant improvement.
. . .
Altogether, the greatest take-away from this challenge is one that I’ve carried away from all of my week without challenges: power. Silly as it might sound, I now feel that I can make coffee bend to my own will, instead of being locked to my previous schedule of a cup at nine, eleven, one-thirty, and four.
The greatest strength I’ve found through these challenges is in knowing that I am not the sum of my habits, the real me is rooted deep underneath them. Of course I don’t need anything to be me, but every time I remind myself of that through one of these challenges, I feel one week wiser, fitter, and stronger.
may we all get better together.
(Contributing author Nat Eliason has also touched on his experiences sans coffee, which can be viewed here: Why I Don’t Drink Coffee)