How I Beat my Caffeine Addiction + {You Can Too}

by Katelyn Block on February 7, 2013 · 22 comments

So, there are a lot of things I don’t know. There are a lot of things I don’t know about business (but luckily I’m curious, so I learn a little bit every day), about CrossFit (it’s true!), about diet (ratios, good and bad this, good and bad that), and coffee.

You heard me. Coffee.

Progress: That’s tea.

I love it. I won’t lie to you. But, I’m cutting back. Here’s why I’m cutting the caffeine and how I did it.

What happened?

Over Christmas week, I cut down on my caffeine tremendously by sleeping a lot (whew! had a lot to catch up on), and making all of my coffee half-caff. This worked incredibly well because I was on a break from CrossFit (not as tired), and was always eating something wonderful, so I didn’t get much in the way of headaches. When I got back to Syracuse, I was pretty steady with one cup in the morning and no more until just before CrossFit. But, soon enough, I began sitting at a desk for most hours of the day with an espresso machine readily available. My grand tally of coffee cups most days added up to around 4-5. EEK. No good.

I either ended up drinking that much coffee because I either am: A. Tired, B. Bored, or C. ADD. I was tired of:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Caffeine-induced headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Delayed muscle recovery
  • Being a slave to the cup of joe.

So, what did I do? It was quite simple. I stopped being tired, bored, and unable to focus, and started drinking less coffee.

Here’s how I tackled my caffeine addiction.

1. Trick yourself. This part’s deceptively simple. I started brewing all of my coffee half-caff. I was able to trick myself with this one, having a cup at breakfast, after breakfast, after lunch, and in the mid-afternoon. This added up to only about two full cups of coffee (caffeinated), and at the beginning, was a huge struggle. To be honest, I didn’t think I would get through it. I got reverberating headaches and thought I was going to lose my marbles.

My tip for you: Instead of making one full cup of coffee in the morning (and trying to stick to that), brew a pot of half-caff and have the two cups. Or three cups. Decide how many cups-worth of caffeine you’re going to reduce to (remember, take it day by day), divide it up, and add an equal amount (or more) of decaf grounds whenever you brew.

2. Sleep more. I have this thing where I could stay up all night working if I wanted to, but that doesn’t coincide very well with the fact that I love waking up early. I get more done in the morning, so I generally wake myself up around 6 or 6:30. Granted that both of these are true, I started going to bed slightly earlier, sleeping a bit later (until 7 or 8am), and taking advantage of time in the afternoon to get in a quick nap. I only needed a few days with hour-long naps before I felt more like a functional person again.

My tip for you: Set your bedtime and give yourself 8-9 hours of rest. If this is unrealistic (career, family), set aside as much time for rest as you can, and try to slip in a couple of 20-minute naps throughout the day.

3. Eat more vegetables. I found that when I was really about to crunch some pencils around 2pm, if I built myself a big ol’ salad, I felt a lot better. I’ve started adding more vegetables in general because I think they’re typically considered to be pretty good for you (just a hunch). The organic, live, crunchy, and incredible vitamins, minerals, enzymes in veggies give a little bit of an extra boost. For an even bigger boost, I make green juice. How bout them apples.

My tip for you: Add some fresh vegetables to your lunch, snacks, and dinner. Small baggies of chopped vegetables or lunch salads are great ways to get a crunchy fix when you’d normally be looking for a cup of joe. Instead of grabbing pizza for lunch, pack some veggies (see #3), good protein, and healthy fats. Quick one: Salad with homemade chicken, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Boom. Quick and satisfying.

4. Exercise. In the first few days of doing this, I would get extremely tired and cranky around noon. Yes, noon. Instead of giving in and drinking coffee (kind of how I feel when I’m learning certain things in CrossFit: dont. give. up!), I would head to the gym and get in a good workout. Getting the blood pumping and lifting some heavy weights usually does the trick, and I’m back on track (and focused) for the rest of the day.

My tip for you: Hit the gym during your lunch break. Or, if that’s not realistic, take a walk outside. The fresh air (and more importantly, the physical activity) will get your blood pumping for an energy boost better than what caffeine has to offer.

5. Hydrate. Drinking lots of water (frequently) will help to clean your system a bit and offset headaches. There are debates about whether coffee actually has a dehydrating effect (I’m still convinced that it does), but with and without it, water is our friend. Hydration will keep you energized and reduce the negative effects of the process.

My tip for you: Keep a water bottle (or glass) near you at all times. When it’s empty, fill it back up. If you have to, set a timer, and make sure that you drink the whole thing within 60 minutes. Have a meeting? Bring a water bottle. Make simple changes to incorporate more water into your day.

Now:

I drink a cup of Earl Grey in the mornings, and drink decaffeinated tea and coffee throughout the day. The goal of this wasn’t to cut out caffeine completely (after all, it does give me an extra kick-start before workouts), but to reduce my caffeine. Go from dependent (read: addicted) to controlled and enjoyable amounts; not so much that I would have withdrawal symptoms without it. The results are so much better:

  • I’m sleeping more deeply
  • Reduced acne/breakouts
  • Less cravings for sweets
  • Stable energy levels
  • Better workouts
  • Decreased recovery time

YES, it’s true! My workouts are a LOT better. I take a half-cup of coffee before workouts, as opposed to two cups. Whereas I used to go into workouts with my heart beating out of my chest (because I was convinced it helped me lift heavier and go faster), I go into workouts with a clearer head and better breathing.

My skin has seen the most improvements. I never realized before how the acidity of coffee might have been affecting my skin… until now.

I’d like to know:
  • Have you ever tried to cut down on caffeine? How did you do it?
  • Are you a tea or coffee person?
  • What benefits have you seen with changes in your caffeine intake (increased or decreased)?
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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Farrah @ Fairy Healthy Life February 7, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Wow Katelyn, great job staying strong. I did this a few years ago and it helped a lot with my weight loss and I’m pretty sure my metabolism.

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Siobhan McCarthy.ca February 7, 2013 at 12:05 PM

I cut down my coffee intake and I started having more tea! I even found one called “Coffee Pu’erh” from DavidsTea which helped to trick my system into thinking I was having coffee. On average, I only drink one cup of coffee a day and I agree- the results are so much better!

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Paige @ Your Trainer Paige February 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Yay! I’m glad tea is working for you. It definitely helps cut the cravings, right? I’m currently trying my very best to do every other day – or at least just doing black tea on the days where I don’t have to work very late.
Great tips, girl :)

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Sarah @Pickyrunner February 7, 2013 at 12:18 PM

I’m one of those crazy people who actually DOESNT drink coffee or soda so the only form of caffeine I get is from chocolate. And if I eat too much late at night, I don’t sleep. At all. Last night is a prime example. Instead of my 10pm bedtime, I was wide awake until well after 1am. Big mistake.

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Danielle @ Clean Food Creative Fitness February 7, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Love this! I’ve always wanted to cut back on caffeine but never had the guts to do it! Maybe with some of your tips I’ll finally be able to get rid of the addiction!

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Hillary | Nutrition Nut on the Run February 7, 2013 at 12:57 PM

I’ve definitely gone through periods of high coffee consumption, but I think I’ve found a happy medium.

I love Yogi Muscle Relief Green Tea – you might like it, too!

CrossFitting again? :)

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Katelyn Block February 7, 2013 at 1:21 PM

That sounds SO good! I heart Yogi tea. Yes, still been CrossFitting this whole time :)

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Sarah February 7, 2013 at 1:07 PM

I’m so intrigued by this lady! I’m happy to see you posted this :) I’m definitely a coffee ‘addict’, or so I say. I cut it out for a week about a month ago and noticed absolutely.no.difference… huh?! I might just have to try it out again seeing all the positive things you have noticed (even though the initial stage blows!)

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Hollie February 7, 2013 at 1:20 PM

These are really great tips Katelyn. I stopped drinking full force coffee and trying to mix half decaf so that I’d be sleeping at night and not as tired. It has worked out really well. Though I feel like I drink more coffee/caffeine in the winter just to keep warm!

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Sarah Kay Hoffman February 7, 2013 at 1:49 PM

Great post girl! I used to cut cold turkey, too, until I realized that there are million foods I can’t eat and I LOVE coffee. So for me I decided a small cup of coffee every day was just perfectly fine. It’s my “thing.” I drink it just black with coconut milk. I love it, and I am in no way addicted to it anymore:)

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Presley @ Run Pretty February 7, 2013 at 8:10 PM

I couldn’t quit right now, but I should probably cut back. The jitters aren’t sexy, ya know? haha thanks for the tips!

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Lauren February 7, 2013 at 8:18 PM

Great tips! I cut out coffee in the fall, and it’s been great. I no longer rely on it in the mornings, and instead I drink a lot of yogi tea (peppermint licorice and ginger lemon are my favorites!). On weekends, I may enjoy a cup of coffee with breakfast, but it’s more because I love the taste rather than the caffeine. I definitely agree that you gotta focus on more sleep, so you’re not drinking caffeine to get you through the day!

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Katie @ Talk Less, Say More February 7, 2013 at 8:44 PM

YES! Funny thing is I did this on accident and learned that it wasn’t always about the COFFEE but the COMFORT of drinking something warm in the morning. I still start my day with a cup of coffee but then I drink tea (generally DECAF tea). If I need another cup mid-afternoon, I have it but I don’t allow myself more than 2 cups/day. When I do, I end up immediately falling asleep or my body doesn’t feel great. It’s been amazing AND I still get to enjoy a delicious cup each day. :)

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Jody - Fit at 55 February 7, 2013 at 10:20 PM

Great tips – not gonna happen here but I don’t have issues with it either. :)

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Phyllis February 8, 2013 at 1:57 PM

I have made it to the other side myself recently and found the same benefits. better sleep, better workouts. I did not find it all that hard taking the same steps that you laid out in this post.
I am lucky that I really enjoy tea. If I did not enjoy tea, I would never have made it.

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Melissa February 8, 2013 at 5:03 PM

I reduced my caffeine about a year and a half ago from morning coffee and lunchtime Diet Coke (I know, I know, horrible for you) and an occasional extra afternoon coffee to just morning coffee. I also switched from artificial sweetener to regular sugar because it’s better for your body to process something that’s more natural. Now if I have an occasional soda it’s gross to me!

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Lisa February 8, 2013 at 11:38 PM

Sometimes too much caffeine can be a bad thing (well I guess to much of anything is) so I’m glad you were able to cut back. There’s no way I’ll be giving up my addiction anytime soon;) Although I only drink max 2 cups a day, so I’d say that’s decent.

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Sarah (The Simple Dietitian) February 10, 2013 at 8:00 AM

I gave up caffeine through the month of January just to see if I could do it. I cut it out completely. Cold turkey. Crazy, I know. I literally felt ill. My entire body was cramping and my head (of course) felt like a giant basketball. I felt as if I had the flu for an entire week!

Once the initial withdrawals went away, I decided that I still wanted my coffee (I love the taste!) Now I mix about 1/2 cup of my morning soy/almond/coconut milk with 1/2 cup regular coffee. It’s much less than what I normally would have drank and I’m happy to keep my tea decaffeinated in the afternoon. It’s a nice balance. :D

Anyways. Good for you for deciding to cut back!! As I know from experience, it’s NOT easy to do. :D

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Andrea @Pencils and Pancakes February 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM

I didn’t even think of reducing caffeine intake to reduce cravings….I know I need to I’m just putting it off!

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Lorin February 28, 2013 at 7:18 PM

I’m on day 2 of giving up caffeine. I switched to decaf, however I still drink tea, like chai. Around 1 or 2 I start to get a headache, but moving around, and drinking a lot of water helps. I definitely notice that my acne gets worse when I drink too much caffeine so that’s why I started cutting back. I love the taste and ritual of coffee though, so that’s why I don’t want to give it up completely. It’s hard, though, because I have a bunch of papers and midterms for classes and coffee helps, haha. good luck though!!

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Chris November 17, 2013 at 11:15 PM

I used to drink multiple cups of coffee every day in conjunction with continual shift work. It was kinda essential for putting a crowbar back into my circadian rhythm and created a bad habit of dependancy in the process, irritability, shakes, increased fatigue, insomnia all the usual. Now I’ve cut back my shift hours and started cross training, alternate strength/weights training and cardio days. I do love a good well made coffee and rather than write it off completely, I’ve found that it is a great performance enhancer on strength days, though on cardio / rest days I don’t touch it at all. I’ve found alternating days and giving the body time to recover (along the same line of thinking like muscle recovery) has aleviated the bad side effects I used to get. My rule is 1 cup and never drink 8hrs before you go to sleep (around the three-thirty-itis mark) as caffeine takes 8hrs to process through your system. To sum up I think coffee has it’s health benefits if used correctly in the right moderation but like anything can be bad for you if you have too much.

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