From mid-September to mid-October I gave up coffee. You can read about how that went here. It was an interesting month. There were things that I expected – fatigue, irritability, head-aches. But there were quite a few things that I did not foresee. I chatted to Karina Francois, naturopath and author, about what happens when our bodies and minds are addicted to caffeine and what happens when you give those things up. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
Please note that the below is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have any health concerns, please see your health professional and never rely solely on the internet for your information.
What actually happens to my body when I consume coffee?
There are many physiological side effects that occur when you drink coffee. They affect various body systems but these effects vary between individuals and dosages.
- The cardiovascular system (heart, blood and blood vessels): Caffeine can make your heart contract faster (that racing heart feeling) and has been shown to constrict blood vessels, which can raise your blood pressure. These effects last 3-4 hours. More than 5 cups a day of unfiltered coffee has also been shown to raise cholesterol.
- The gastrointestinal tract (stomach, bowels, kidneys): In some individuals caffiene can cause indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, gas and constipation. Caffeine can also act as a diuretic.
- The muscular and bone system: Caffeine can draw out calcium from the cells which can lead to bone loss and hence it’s a major risk factor in osteoporosis.
- The reproductive system: It has been shown that more than three cups a day can result in both male and female infertility.
- The respiratory system: Caffeine can stimulate the nervous system therefore we breathe more.
Hmmm.. okay, so clearly a lot of coffee consumption is not ideal…
What I thought would happen after giving up coffee was a couple of days of headaches and sleepiness followed by feeling amazing. It hasn’t quite worked that way. What is realistic to expect when giving up something you have become dependant on?
This is different for everyone. Caffeine has not been proven to be an addictive substance. However through my experience working with my patients, I’ve noticed most people experience withdrawal, therefore it’s fair to assume that it fills both physiological and psychological needs.
The psychological needs vary between individuals. For most I have noted that it’s an excuse for time out. Having a cuppa is about relaxing. It’s also about connecting with others. It can also be about ‘me time’.
Yes! I definitely relate to this. It’s one of the crutches I rely on when I feel like a need a “reward” or a break from a stressful situation. But how do I replace the kick it gives me?
The physiological needs may relate to not nourishing your body properly where you are relying on stimulants to keep you going through the day. It’s a false sense of energy. “I need a coffee”…may really mean “I need nourishing foods to help keep me energised”. It can also mean that you are not giving yourself enough permission to rest and become reliant on this false energy to keep you going through the day.
I thought that I would wake up craving coffee, but that hasn’t happened. The craving really kicks around 4 – 5pm when I find myself being incredibly fatigued. What can I do to replace the energy that coffee would normally have sustained?
It’s about setting out your diet to nourish you throughout the day – you need to fuel your body properly so that energy comes from food rather than caffeine. It will mean that you need to eat at least 5 small meals a day, properly balanced with good fats, protein and carbohydrates.
Is it possible that a caffeine dependence masks deficiencies? After a few days of giving up coffee, my muscles really began to ache. My sister suggested that I was magnesium deficient.
Caffeine dependency does mask a lot of mineral deficiencies, magnesium being one of them. It can also mask deficiencies in trace minerals like chromium.
An interesting side note: Magnesium plays a role in over 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body meaning it is easily used up therefore we have a greater demand as many of us lead stressful and busy lives.
If you suffer from the following then it may mean that you could have a magnesium deficiency:
- Do you experience muscle cramps?
- Are you stressed?
- Do you have a difficult time getting to sleep?
- Do you have low energy?
- Do you crave chocolate?
- Do you suffer from headaches?
- Do you get leg or eye twitches?
- Do you experience period pain??
But muscle aches themselves can result from many different things. I would recommend that you speak to a health professional who can take a proper history to be able to advise you on this question.
I notice that one of the things I am missing about coffee is the ritual of it – the walk down to the coffee shop, the chat with the barista, that first whiff of coffee. How much is that ritual side of it tied up in a food or drink dependancy?
The question here is about connection. As humans we seek connection and pleasure. The smell of coffee and the entire experience can bring joy to one’s life. I would ask myself am I lacking pleasure in my life? Am I missing connection?
As far as dependency, I would ask myself, am I filling a void? Is it about time out? What am I truly craving for here?
I definitely agree that for some it’s a cultural experience – having a coffee is in their DNA.
I think it might be in mine! I have a Dutch background and they drink it like water.
My ideal is to get to a point where I have one coffee on the weekend and when I am catching up with friends. Is that an okay level of coffee consumption? Is there any danger in elevating coffee to “treat” status?
Drinking coffee becomes a choice. If you are going to have one, have an organic one and enjoy it.
Once a week? Well again this depends on your own goals and your own health.
I would recommend that you go off it for three months, and then decide if you truly enjoy it. Most of my clients who have given it up never go back to it. I enjoy a cup of coffee probably three times a year, and it’s usually black and organic.
What’s the best way to wean yourself of coffee?
Replace it with a delicious organic herbal tea – they are full of essential minerals. For my patients I recommend a blend I created, called Clean Eating Tea. Those who have replaced coffee with this tea say they don’t crave coffee. It is mineral rich and filled with chromium, plus it tastes delicious.
Since our conversation I haven’t given up coffee (again), but I am thinking about reducing my intake considerably. At the very least I will be changing some of my habits so that I am not so reliant on coffee.
If you are interested in reading a practical guide on clean eating and how to create a positive relationship with food though an understanding of what it actually does and why you crave certain things, check out Karina’s book, Clean Food Clear Thinking.
I have been gifted Karina’s book. I have not been paid for this post.
Do you think you rely too heavily on certain foods/drinks to get you through your day?