A couple weeks ago I decided to experiment with caffeine reduction into elimination.
The biggest question out there: why?
Truth be told, I was suffering no ill-effects of caffeine to my knowledge. I was sleeping great, not sinking into an afternoon slump and I LOVED my miracle morning which was punctuated by my morning cup.
There is plenty of evidence out there supporting the incredible benefits of caffeine - from cognitive sharpness to physical productivity to antioxidants that begin coursing through our bodies just minutes after our first sip. There is even some literature to support it can reduce cancer risk. Plus…in so many of us it sparks JOY! Aren’t we told to bring more things like this in our lives? Maybe the bigger question should be why WOULDN’T we want caffeine in our systems?!
On the flip side, the curious thing about caffeine is this symbiotic relationship it has with humanity. Wealthy countries are devouring it faster than it can be sustainably harvested. The more we drink it the better we feel, perform, think - yet…it is so disruptive to our sleep (a quarter life of 12 hours means you’ve still got it in you at bedtime) that in some cases, it actually can negate the benefits. We all know sleep is THE foundation to the pillars of heath and yet, it is the first thing to be sacrificed in the name of productivity.
And pretty convenient for caffeine, is that the very problem it creates…it also solves.
For me, the catalyst to that ‘why’ question was in a word: curiosity.
I was so intrigued by the chapter of a book ‘This is Your Mind on Plants’ by Michael Pollan, dedicated solely to the plant’s history, benefits, human dependence and overall affect on society, that I had to understand what it’s power had over me.
The more serious consideration I gave to caffeine’s impact on my life, the more dots I connected. Things like using supplements to assist with sleep and not being cognizant of daily consumption made me wonder if there was an unseen link. And more interestingly (to me), what would it feel like to not use it at all? After all, I loved my coffee for the taste, so if I could get the same experience with 2% of the caffeine in a decaf cup, that may be something I was interested in exploring!
I knew it would be uncomfortable, but I am reframing any discomfort or uncertainty in my life as an opportunity to gain clarity and understand something important. To feed my soul an experience that aids in its expansion. And ultimately, add some texture to my world. And regardless of outcome, this would be a great exercise in practicing all of that.
So I suppose my deeper ‘why’ was best summed up with another question: What could I learn from this?
Though the author recommended quitting cold turkey I didn’t go that route because there was no need. There are no extra points for martyrdom, and suffering unnecessary would be for what? Stair stepping down in my dosage would be more attainable and still teach me a great deal. Plus I have committed to to put down that all or nothing mindset in my life, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to practice that.
And so it began with a morning cup of decaf coffee alongside my breakfast, and willing husband (who may actually be a Saint), about to give it a go with me.
Beyond the taste of my black coffee I, like so many, love the ritual. And whether it’s because the experience itself that comes with the peace of a day that has yet to fully unfold, or that my brain has tethered the soothing warm cup to caffeine - I don’t know. Addiction works in mysterious ways. Regardless, I kept everything else the same.
That first morning I took a quick inventory (notably later than I should have), and realized I was absentmindedly more than doubling my daily caffeine from sources beyond my morning cup. My preworkout, turns out, had about 150mg in the partial serving I would take and sip on throughout my training. I told myself I loved the taste - and I do - but could that ‘love’ be the effects caffeine had on my brain? And power in the gym? Then, upon further consideration, I realized caffeine was also coming in the form the occasional afternoon kombucha, tea and chocolate. Smaller amounts yes, but incremental nonetheless.
It was all so slick….the way I could turn a blind eye so I never saw how it added up. I mean - I was a one-cup-a-day kind of girl! ’That’s it!’ So how was I managing to consume the equivalent of 2-3+ cups daily without even knowing it?
By eliminating that morning cup, I put a dent in my consumption, but by my estimation, still only reduced it from somewhere around 350mg+/per day to around 150+mg.
Baby steps indeed.
For the next week I changed nothing but turning that morning cup of regular into decaf, and it actually went…fine. I was shocked! And super stoked that indeed I was NOT addicted to this highly addictive plant! And in the interest of further proving this to myself, I decided it was time to end my preworkout drink ‘ritual’ as well. I loved it - but did I need it? Nah…
That was cute.
I got through my morning and workout just fine and without any notable decreases in strength. But the afternoon. OH MY GOSH it was as if the moment time clicked over to PM, I took a tranquilizer to the brain. My body slowed. My words lacked. Driving took more effort than the split squats I had programmed earlier in the day. I felt immobilized yet still somehow forced through my day.
I considered bailing on the whole experiment for the greater good (I was about to pick up my kids from school - in what circumstance would I expose them to a caged wolverine? It seemed reckless); I was just one quick cup away from getting all my mom swagger back.
The discomfort had finally arrived. Rather than take control, I leaned into it. I got out of my head telling me all the reasons I should quit - and into my body. What came up was this: time to get curious, Katie.
That afternoon isn’t one I care to relive. I had a headache that felt like my heart was throbbing outside my skull. Patience was thin. Hunger was high. Mood was ‘ask dad.’ Even sleep didn’t come without friction, which was really frustrating because HOW did I not crash into the deepest most restful sleep of my life?!
Ugh. Withdrawal symptoms. I knew that very thing that caused this discomfort would also solve it.
Note: I was still getting more than trace amounts of caffeine. About 5mg came from my decaf cup, and according to the internet I may have been getting as much as 35mg from my dark chocolate. The occasional kombucha (which I’ve temporarily stopped) would have maybe as much as tea, about 45mg.
The next morning I woke up groggy and constipated. Things just got real.
Even though my husband started the process with me, he folded one Saturday at a cheer competition (I fully supported this). I was at a crossroads. Did I really have any skin in this game? Yeah I was actually addicted to caffeine, but it was manageable, enjoyable and productive, so what was the point of this? Despite my nagging mind wanting to pull the rip cord I said: one more day.
From that moment on, the only agreement I’ve made with myself is to simply take it one day at a time. Continue to stay curious, jot down any notes about my experience, and find the miralax.
The day after that, I reminded firm in my new routine. I was a little sluggish but not in any discomfort. Digestion was not great, but ok. Then a gift: that night I had maybe the best sleep of my life.
I dreamt lucid, uplifting dreams that I journaled on in the morning. I mediated with more clarity than I had, maybe ever. I felt empowered. Emboldened. Capable. Proud. I had just done a really hard thing. And not a rip-the-band-aid-off kind of thing like a tabata workout; no - I had persevered some ongoing discomfort, and more importantly told my ego to take a seat and let my body show me what she was capable of.
If you’re still with me, you can see this little adventure turned out to be about something far beyond experiencing life without caffeine. What began as an experiment to unearth some curious ties we as a society have to this wildly used and accepted drug, evolved into an experience that wasn’t even on my radar (and has incidentally been another stepping stone bringing me closer to my wonder of plant medicine).
It became an opportunity to expand my mind, my soul and experience some uncertainty in a world that I have historically wanted to keep SO VERY CONTROLLED. Controlled for pain, for pleasure, for intake, for output, for purpose. What if instead of always feeling purposeful, my soul and my body just wanted to feel something NEW?
It’s a lot to unpack - and I am still processing it a little, unsure of what will unfold next for me here.
Do I think everyone needs to go on a caffeine hiatus? Absolutely not. I don’t even know how long I will keep it reduced to a minimum. I’m sure there will come a day when I want to be extra dialed into a situation or a project - and I’ll use it! I’d love to say maybe it will just happen a couple times a month, but for now I like the uncertainty of the future.
I am enjoying the freedom of knowing my body can operate brilliantly without it. There is something about the independence of no dependence that actually gives me a different kind of energy.
NOTE - No coffee was consumed during the writing of this blog post - so you've got the realest version ever right here - mistakes and all. Thank you so much for journeying with me here. Please share any questions you have for me in my IG DMs or comment below! Tell me...would you ever try this? Or maybe YOUR version of caffeine is something else that might set you free in a way you never considered! Please share with me!