Let me ask a question: Why do we feel the ‘need’ to drink caffeine in the first place? America ‘runs on Dunkin’, Red Bull and Monster energy drinks. What does that really say about the American population? Why are we seeking a ‘high’ in a bottle or beverage? The reality is we are stressed and undernourished. Traditional cultures took great measures during the time of conception to make sure both parents were adequately nourished. This is not something we take time for anymore or as great of measures as our ancestors once did. We end up getting jipped of adequate brain function and suffer the rest of our lives with a little less than the generation prior. Not to mention, the American diet keeps getting worse and worse, the environment more polluted and on and on. So what do we do? How do we find the ability to optimally function in this rather skewed world in which we now live? One thing we can do is replace false sources of energy with the real thing. In order to do that, we need to stop giving ourselves the counterfeit drive from caffeine. That’s what I am going to talk about in this post today.
Caffeine can’t provide energy, only chemical stimulation, an induced emergency state that can lead to irritability, mood swings, and panic attacks.
Caffeine’s ultimate mood effect can be letdown, which can lead to depression and chronic fatigue.
Caffeine gives the illusion of heightened alertness by dilating pupils, quickening heart rate, and raising blood pressure. In fact, caffeine does not increase overall mental activity. (~Source: Caffeine Blues by Stephen Cherniske, M.S.)
Now that you are convinced you should give up caffeine, (after reading ‘Caffeine: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly‘) – how do you go about it? Quit cold turkey? Probably not the greatest idea on the planet. First of all, you need to be aware that your body has adjusted to a drug-induced stimulation and you will need to recover your natural energy levels and brain function. In my opinion the best approach should be a gradual weaning WITH nutritional support. Withdrawal symptoms are no fun, and I certainly don’t want those to stop anyone from attempting to ditch the caffeine to begin with. Keep in mind that your blood vessels are constricted when you use caffeine and when you go off of it they will suddenly open up and allow more blood than you may be used to, to flow through. This is a good thing, since your brain needs that blood flow, this increase in circulation can cause those caffeine withdrawal headaches. Another symptom that can come along with going off caffeine is constipation. The caffeine helps to contract the muscles that lead to peristalsis. The problem is, this is forced and not a natural effect. It can take time for the body to restore it’s own natural peristalsis. Then one can also experience ‘brain fog’ and lethargy. Keep in mind, this is not because the caffeine was giving you true energy, it was causing your adrenaline to rush and off of caffeine it won’t need to. You were living on that adrenaline rush, albeit short lived, and not on true energy. This is not something any of us need in this already high stress ‘fight or flight’ culture we live in. The good news is, these symptoms can be avoided and you CAN recover from caffeine use and successfully wean off of it.
Your best bet is to work to wean off the caffeine and support yourself nutritionally as well as make sure to get some movement in daily. I’ll discuss a nutritional and supplemental approach in my next post, for today I want to give an approach to wean off the caffeine in 21 days. Not everyone will be ready or able to do it in just 21 days, but for most of us it’s totally doable. Keep in mind, support may be needed. You are essentially detoxing a ‘drug.’
Strategy for Weaning Off Caffeine
Week 1 (day 1-7): Start to replace the caffeine you consume with either decaf or lower caffeine options. So for example, say you start your morning out with 16 ounces of full strength drip coffee. Try either reducing it to 12 ounces (using a slightly smaller mug) or cutting it with 1/3 decaf coffee. Be sure to add fat to your coffee, like heavy cream (no skim milk please), or make it bullet proof like I mentioned in, ‘Caffeine: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ For black tea drinkers, brew your tea a minute less than usual. Use a timer so you don’t forget. The length of brew time affects just how much caffeine is in your cup of tea. Learn to enjoy ‘weak’ tea and pair it with fat. I drink my tea with 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil (and have done this for 3 1/2 years). The goal this first week is to end on day 7 with 1/3 less caffeine than you normally use. Additionally, work to cut back on the sugar you add to your coffee or tea. Cut it back by 1/3 this week.
Week 2 (day 8-14): This week you will work to cut your caffeine intake back by another 1/3 the amount of the week prior. Consider cutting your coffee with an herbal coffee this week to work towards making that your beverage of choice over the cover.
Tea drinkers can make weak tea by brewing the tea for an even shorter length of time and reusing the same tea bag for the second cup . Or choose to replace that second cup with an herbal tea, green tea or adaptongenic herbal tea, such as licorice, ginseng or ashwagandha. You can also use an adaptogen type of tea and brew it with your regular tea, just be sure to add the regular tea in the last 1-2 minutes of brewing time, since many herbal teas take 10 minutes or more to steep.
The goal is to reduce your actual caffeine intake by another 1/3 to that of the previous week. By day 14, aim to get your caffeine intake down by 2/3 of what you started with. Additionally, remember to cut back on any form of sugar you are adding to your coffee or tea. Aim to cut it back by 2/3 of what you originally were using when you started.
Week 3 (day 15-21): This week you will work to cut your caffeine intake to the point it’s all gone! Make sure by now you have decided what beverage, if any, you will replace your caffeinated beverage with and have some on hand. You may decide to simply switch to decaffeinated coffee (keep in mind it still has small amounts of caffeine). You may switch to herbal coffee such as Dandy Blend, or make a version of it at home. You may choose to drink herbal teas in place of black tea. Whatever you choose, make sure you are including it in this week and adjusting to it. The goal is by day 21 you will have worked down to no to very very low caffeine.
A note to serious caffeine addicts: To anyone who is drinking caffeine all day every day, such as a whole pot of coffee, 3-4 monster energy drinks or a large quantity of caffeine daily – you may need far more time than this and far more support. Please read my upcoming posts on Caffeine & The Adrenals and Supplemental Support for Getting Off Caffeine.