A month without coffee – the surprising outcome

Kelly Exeter Random musings

Giving up coffee

Late in January, in a podcast episode of Straight and Curly, Carly and I were discussing the merits of giving up alcohol for a month. And I felt a bit bad when that episode aired because I was probably a bit blithe about the whole thing; as if giving up alcohol for a month was the easiest thing in the world to do! (Well it is for me – I seldom drink!)

Around the same time my friend Catherine put out a call for anyone thinking of going cold turkey on something for a month.

So I thought to myself, maybe I could try giving up coffee for a month.

It’s something I was drinking every single day (like some people drink alcoholo) and if I was honest, I was drinking it more out of habit than for the enjoyment of it.

So I made the commitment.

My goals? Well I was interested to see how hard I would find it. I was also interested to see whether life might actually be better without coffee. (I fervently hoped it wouldn’t be.)

My history with coffee is a long one. I’ve been drinking it my whole adult life and bar some periods when pregnant and it didn’t appeal to me, I’ve never had a break from it. I started out drinking cappuccinos and have progressed to long blacks. Before I started this challenge I was drinking 3-4 long blacks a day.

Now February was perhaps a bad month to quit coffee. Not only was I finalising my book ready for launch and doing all the pre-launch promotion, I was also trying to get on top of all aspects of work and home life ready to go away in early March. While I try to make sleep a priority as I know how crucial it is to both my productivity and also to being a nice person, I knew I was going to be sacrificing some sleep in February to get everything done.

So – how did it all go?

Well, to my consternation, two days into my experiment I felt a distinct shift in my mood. For the better. It was like there’d been a thin layer sitting over my mood … and suddenly that layer disappeared and I felt instantly lighter and happier. I then promptly got a shocking cold for a week so that kind of killed the good mood. But when the cold finally passed on I definitely noticed that the ‘lighter’ mood (I have no better way of describing it) stuck around. Also, my anxiety levels which had been off the charts in January were distinctly more under control despite no change in my personal circumstances.

When this became apparent to me I went rushing to see if there was any link between coffee and anxiety. And while it’s known that coffee can cause cortisol spikes, I couldn’t find any definitive research linking its consumption to triggering or exacerbating anxiety.

Was I sleeping better? I certainly expected to be sleeping better. But I didn’t notice any distinct difference in the quality of my sleep (which is always reasonably good) or my ability to fall asleep. In fact my ability to fall asleep seemed to be worse – but that may have been because in February I was on my computer a lot after dinner, something I’ve stopped doing in recent times.

What about the cravings? Oh god – they were bad. I got to see exactly where all the triggers in my day for ‘I need a coffee’ were.

  • Waking up in the morning
  • Feeling a little tired while driving my son to school
  • Feeling a little tired at any point in the day
  • Feeling a little hungry at any point in the day
  • Walking into a coffee shop
  • Smelling coffee

All of these were full on triggers and it got to the point that in much the same way someone giving up alcohol for a month would find it hard to go to the pub, I had to stop going to coffee shops and cafes. It just seemed really wrong to go to a coffee shop and have a pot of tea!

But … while I may not have been having tea at cafes, I was certainly having it at home. I re-discovered my love of English Breakfast tea in particular. And thank god for that. After a week of green tea, no matter how nattily flavoured, I was over it.

Did I crack?

As deep as 27 days into February I was having full on coffee cravings still and harbouring thoughts that if I had one, it’s not like anyone would know. On two occasions I had decaf just to get the feeling of having coffee in my mouth – but I didn’t finish either of those cups because … decaf!

But I never cracked.

Then March 1 rolled around. I am not sure if it was because I was just getting over the effects of gastro from the previous day, but I had zero desire to have a coffee. So I didn’t have one. March 2 – still no desire so, no coffee. March 3 – same thing. On March 4 I was sitting in a café having breakfast and I was thinking ‘This is ridiculous – you can have a coffee now. So have one!’

So I did.

And it was completely underwhelming.

I didn’t enjoy it … and it also did absolutely nothing for me (didn’t give me any kind of energy boost).

I was stunned.

I didn’t embark on this experiment with the intent of giving up coffee. I knew I was addicted to it and I don’t like being that dependent on anything. But I’ve always figured that if that was my one vice in life, I was doing ok. Plus I couldn’t find a single piece of research that said drinking black coffee was bad for you. It seemed to be universally agreed that 3-4 cups a day was totally fine unless you were one of those people for whom coffee caused big cortisol spikes. (It didn’t do that to me.)

But – it’s undeniable. I’ve completely lost the taste for coffee … and all those things that used to trigger off a craving for coffee, now triggers a craving for tea. And when I have a cup of tea, it’s comforting and tasty in a way that coffee has not been for me in recent years. Funnily, in the short space of a month, I’ve become one of those people no one can make a cup of tea for because it needs to be made just ‘so’.

Also, my anxiety levels are definitely more under control and my general mood is still lighter.

So there you go. Quite an unexpected outcome. One I am super-interested to hear people’s thoughts on!

Have you ever given up coffee? Did it make your life better?!