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Why I Quit Coffee & How that’s Been Working Out

Why I Quit Coffee & How that’s Been Working Out
Angelo Coppola

I’ve been regularly drinking strong, black coffee my entire adult life; anywhere from 1 to 3 cups a day, on average—sometimes more, rarely less.

So when I decided to give up coffee for a month, I expected to suffer from some serious withdrawals: headaches, sluggishness, lack of energy, mental fog.

Clearly, February was the perfect month for this experiment: just 28 days.

Turns out, I was totally wrong, though. And now that I’m an ex-coffee drinker with a 3-month coin, I have no plans of kneeling again before the rocket-fuel gods. I do still enjoy the very occasional cup of Joe, and I have even higher expectations of the dark elixir than ever before.

Why Quit Coffee?

Some believe there are many benefits to quitting coffee and even caffeine in general. However, much of the latest research suggests there is little to fear from coffee consumption. Coffee is a popular beverage in several Blue Zones, too (Sardinia, Italy; Icaria, Greece; and Nicoya, Costa Rica—the Okinawans sip green tea and Loma Linda’s Adventists prefer water).

Coffee is the #1 source of antioxidants in the American Diet. But unfortunately, coffee’s champ status is mostly due to the crappy Standard Western Diet and it’s general lack of fruits and vegetables.

To be clear, mine was an experiment to give up my coffee habit for a month, not to entirely give up caffeine. My caffeine levels would certainly drop drastically, but I still planned on drinking black or green tea in the late mornings or early afternoons. A cup of tea has approximately 1/4 the caffeine of one cup of coffee. I averaged 1 to 2 cups of tea daily, throughout the experiment. This means my caffeine consumption was cut by 75% or more.

I was particularly interested to see what would happen with my energy levels and sleep patterns (bedtime, quality, and wake-up).

My uneasiness with the Bulletproof Coffee trend in various health communities may have been a motivating factor. Also, my recent dietary modifications may have been an influence, since it certainly has felt as if it has increased my baseline energy levels (and it still feels that way, btw). I suspect that I simply don’t need coffee quite as much as I used to when I was doing more standard versions of Paleo.

I enjoy tinkering with my diet, and I also make it a point to periodically question my own assumptions. To me, one of the most uneasy feelings is the I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out smugness that is typically built upon a foundation of confirmation bias, habit, and closed-mindedness.

Expectations

Here’s what I expect from myself when experimenting:

  • to go into an experiment with an open mind;
  • to gain new experiences without too much concern for the outcome;
  • to integrate new knowledge and feelings that will presumably improve future decision making;
  • and not to be too hard on myself if I can’t complete an experiment, preferring to redesign it rather than to beat myself up.

For me, the proper use of willpower is to temporarily experience something new. Afterwards, it’s important to trust myself to make better decisions, having integrated any newly acquired insights.

Remember, even if you decide that you can’t trust yourself, you are still trusting your decision not to trust yourself. You simply cannot escape it: you are your own final arbiter.

Remember, even if you decide that you can’t trust yourself, you are still trusting your decision not to trust yourself. You simply cannot escape it: you are your own final arbiter.

The Experiment

Here are the rough guidelines I followed throughout the month of February:

  1. No coffee.
  2. Morning beverages: Dandy Blend or water
  3. Allowed caffeinated beverages: green tea*, black tea (1 to 2 cups per day max)
  4. Other beverages: water, carbonated water, herbal teas (primarily chamomile), some alcohol (mostly on guy’s night out)

* This green tea is my personal favorite, considering value and quality. Note: when it’s available at Costco, it costs about $5 less than it does on Amazon.

Big Surprise: No Headaches & Increased Energy

A while back, a Latest in Paleo listener turned me on to Dandy Blend. This beverage is a gluten-free, water-soluble extract of roasted dandelion roots, chicory, beets, barley, and rye. More information about it is available on the manufacturer’s site, if you’re interested (FAQ).

Dandy Blend is just dandy.

Dandy Blend is just dandy.

My experiment reminded me of this product, because of one claim that they make in particular:

“There are no headaches or other withdrawal symptoms when switching from coffee to Dandy Blend. It is like switching from one brand of coffee to another. Most people generally can’t tell that they aren’t drinking coffee.” —Dandy Blend Home Page

Well, I was one of the people who could tell the difference in flavor. Fortunately, I really like it and the mouth feel is great, too. I think of it as a unique beverage in it’s own right. To my delight, I experienced just one mild headache during the experiment. It occurred early on, it was a little before bed time one evening, and it was gone when I awoke the next morning.

A snippet of Dandy Blend's back packaging.

A snippet of Dandy Blend’s back packaging.

I drank Dandy Blend daily throughout the experiment (and now I have a very occasional cup here and there). Whether Dandy Blend gets credit for my overall lack of headaches or caffeine withdrawal symptoms, I have no idea. In the past, missing my morning jolt of java typically meant a tired, headache-y feeling by late afternoon, whether I dosed up with a cup of tea or not.

While I can’t attribute my smooth sailing in this experiment to Dandy Blend, I’d say it’s still notable. And I do think having it as a substitute throughout the experiment did make things easier. It was hot, dark, creamy, and flavorful…allowing me to maintain those parts of the coffee habit, while ditching the actual coffee and lowering my caffeine intake.

Two Weeks Was Enough

At the two-week point, I noted several things:

  • I felt better overall and didn’t miss my morning coffee at all.
  • Energy levels upon awaking in the mornings were much higher. On many mornings, I would quite literally leap out of bed, whereas previously it was a much…slower…ordeal.
  • Falling asleep at night was perhaps a little easier, because tiredness was setting in a little earlier.
  • My weight remained stable.
  • I noticed no difference with regard to walking and hiking endurance, and I continued to see steady gains with regards to resistance performance at The Y.
  • I noticed no difference in productivity, creativity, or ability; my brain wasn’t downgraded.

Completing the 4-week experiment turned out to be a cakewalk. After the 4 weeks ended, my list of bullet points was identical to what I have above. So, in my case, I learned as much after two weeks as I did after four.

Your mileage will likely vary, but if you’re considering experimenting with giving up coffee, you may only need two weeks or so to discover how it sorts out for you.

Higher Expectations in the End

Since I experienced nothing but benefits from my experiment, I saw no reason to pick up the coffee habit again.

In fact, now I’m happy that I can use coffee more like a drug. E.g. if I pull an all-nighter working on the show or if my almost-4-year old Lucy crawls into bed with us some night to practice kickboxing on my head…I can pull coffee out of my toolbox of stimulants—and it works far better than before!

Now that I’m walking around with a much lower baseline caffeine tolerance, a single cup of coffee gives me a real boost. I’ve had 3 opportunities to test this over the last couple of months, and it has worked like a charm each time.

When it comes to coffee, at least, letting go of the daily habit actually made it better for me. Even more than before, I love the smell, the flavor, and the pick-me-up. I own my coffee now, instead of it pwning me.

Have you ever considered or tried giving up coffee? How did it go? Any recommendations? Any experience with Dandy Blend or other coffee substitutes? What has been your most successful experiment?

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  • Thomas Perlat

    OT: The fact that “Dandy Blend” prints “gluten free” on the packaging is complete and utter bullshit. A reason not to buy it.

    • foljs

      Well, in 90% of the cases gluten intolerance is mostly hipster BS than an actual medical issue, so it doesn’t matter.

    • Generally, I would agree…but I bet the number one question they get these days is whether the product is gluten-free or not. I consider it a processed food, so it’s not really something I want in my daily rotation. But, it’s also only 5 or 10 calories of processed food, their processing does not seem extreme, and while I wouldn’t want a Dandy Blend habit, I suspect it’s mostly harmless.

    • Madeleine

      Yeah, I notice they say “gluten free” and then list barley and rye as ingredients.

  • Patrick Smith

    I used to only drink coffee at work with people who also drink it. But I haven’t drunk it regularly for over a year. I actually find it more detrimental to me personally the caffeine hit, it wakes up just part of my brain but doesn’t make me more aware, think any better or faster. It makes me feel a bit crappy to be honest. I just have a glass of water in the morning.

    I find the culture of relying on the morning coffee totally weird because of the semi-bad feeling it gives me, but I believe it must be helpful to other people. I don’t like the idea of a stimulant when I should be able to just push myself, or if I’m tired then I need to listen to my body and rest. Then once I’m recharged again then I should be able to think and work fine. However, I am often not an early riser in my recent time of working for myself from home, and I would like some kick to get out of bed, I can see how the routine of having a coffee can help you get out of bed if you believe it’s going to make you ready for the day?

    • There is almost definitely a psychological component. However, caffeine does only take 5 minutes or so to start working, and it peaks at about 20 minutes. So, the effect is also very real.

      Diet likely plays into this in a big way. For those who are eating the Standard Western Diet, giving up coffee could actually be a bad thing. After way upping the plant-based foods in my diet, I noticed my energy levels unmistakably going up. So, the stimulation I was giving up with caffeine may have been compensated for with a more stimulating diet. Just hypothesizing there…

  • Thank you! I’m addicted to coffee and I quite don’t like it. As I read about your experience I understood that I’m not alone here. Now I’m about to end this addiction.

    • If, like me, you’re not to concerned with entirely giving up caffeine…I would definitely recommend switching to a cup or two of tea. I wish I could say more definitively whether the Dandy Blend helped, but it’s a good beverage on its own. I’m a fan now, and get an occasional craving for it.

  • Glenn Whitney

    I’ve switched to decaf for about 75% of my coffee consumption (usually 1-2 cups per day). Gevalia is the best we’ve found so far for on a quality-for-cost basis. How about you and decaf? I think a good decaf tastes more like the real thing than coffee substitutes.

    • When I decided to do the 30-day experiment, I thought about decaf, but realized it would take a good bit of research to get to the bottom of the various decaffeination processes, whether they were healthy or not, which brands were best, etc. Meanwhile, the literature on tea is widely available, and we have Blue Zone examples of tea drinkers doing really well. So I just went that route. I’ll check out Gevalia, tho. Thanks for the tip, Glenn!

      • Madeleine

        I use an organic, locally roasted, small company, water process decaf. The best ones have the roasting date on the package so you know it’s fresh. I can’t drink tea any more (histamine issue), and chicory and rye don’t agree with me. But I drink both burdock root and roasted dandelion root as teas.

  • Tea definitely feels less addictive for me. I know some people get really intricate with various tea rituals, and others make their tea a lot stronger than I do—so I’m sure it can be addictive…but I seem to do well on it. About 80% of my tea consumption is green, with the other 20% being split among black and herbal teas.

  • william

    I love your podcast and just signed up for Facebook updates a few days ago. Love your work!

    Regarding coffee, I used to drink coffee everyday (I started when I first entered the work force back in 1999). I initially drank 1/2 cup in the morning. That became one full cup, and then I found my self eventually having a second cup at around 2:00pm, and another at around 6:00pm. It just slowly snowballed and when I got to thinking that I needed a fourth cup, I knew there was a problem and decided to quit cold turkey in 2001. During that time I experienced headaches that were remarkably consistent and occurred daily at 8:45am, 2:00pm, and 6:00pm. Looking back so many years later, I have no clue how I got through that, but the headaches gradually went away over the course of about 5 months. But then I had a different problem that I didn’t realize was a problem– I was on the standard american diet and fueled myself with Tropicana Orange Juice in the morning and 7-Up, Sprite, Pepsi, Coke, or some other sugary soda in the afternoon (but hey! At least I was off of caffeine!). I experimented with a vegan diet, a nutritarian diet, and a few others in-bewteen, and have finally settled on a (mostly) Paleo diet. As part of that food journey from 2002 -> 2013, I continued to stay off caffeine and gradually eliminated processed foods (including Tropicana and the sugary drinks).

    That brings me to today where I am enjoying a nutrient-dense diet, a life free from sugar drinks, a total and absolute freedom from caffeine addiction, and regular opportunities to read about your food journey. I enjoy learning lessons from your podcast (and now, your blog as well), and experimenting a few things here and there thanks to your creative inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing your coffee experiment. The feelings of “increased baseline energy levels” are exactly what I felt when I quit coffee, and I, like you, only drink it once in a rare while for what it’s meant to be– an occasional stimulant and not a way to maintain a baseline level of normal-ness.

    • Hi, William — great to have you here and on the facebook page, too. Welcome!

      Thanks for sharing your experience with coffee “freedom.” I like the way you worded that. I don’t know if I would have lasted 5 months with 3 daily headaches. Wow. So glad to hear it’s paid off for you, and you sound like you’re in a really healthy place in your life. Cheers!

  • I made the choice to give coffee up for good when I was having constant nausea. I didn’t think it was coffee but it was one of the only things in my diet (as well as chocolate) that was questionable for someone with Celiac disease to be consuming. Two weeks of no coffee or chocolate and the nausea I had been suffering for three solid months disappeared. I tried reintroducing just coffee a couple of times and every time have regretted it with every fiber of my being. Drinking quality chai tea with raw milk has been a more than satisfactory subsitute. Plus I reuse my tea bag for most of the morning so I can continue drinking something hot without drinking the caffeine of three or four cups of coffee.

    • Hi, Kayla. Glad you got to the bottom of your nausea! Reusing the tea bags is a great idea. I’ve just been composting them after a single use, but I’ll have to give this a try.

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  • Carol Topalian

    I gave up coffee last week. I was drinking 3-4 cups of black coffee per day. I took 5-6 days to wean myself off completely. This is my 4th day without any caffeine. All good. I’m on vacation time, and am eating clean and exercising over one hour per day. In place of coffee is tap water with fresh lemon and ice. I have good energy.

  • Eridani Black

    Black tea has caffeine; the average cup is half that of an average cup of coffee. You didn’t get headaches or feel sluggish because you never went through withdrawal.

  • Erin Eliason Lott

    I recently was decaffenated by a stay in the hospital where I was allowed nothing to eat or drink for three days. The first 24 hours I presented with a dull headache, which I suspect would have been worse if I wasn’t already on Toradol for the pain that put me in the hospital. :-/ The nurses gave me ice packs for the headache which helped. Now I’m decaffenated and I am loathe to start up the habit ever again! Dandy Blend is wonderful for the coffee-like flavor and hot beverage craving I still have in the morning. My question is, how can they say there will be no withdrawal from caffeine when switching? I didn’t have the chance to try it since my hospital stay forced my hand. There are no stimulants in Dandy Blend…perhaps one or more of its ingredients are medicinal for headache? Anyone who knows the science of this, feel free to explain!

  • Brad

    I enjoyed reading your article Angelo. I quit drinking coffee one week ago (I’ve been researching effects of quitting coffee since then), after drinking 2-3 coffees most days for the last twenty or so years, and occasionally, but not often, up to 4 coffees a day on weekdays. I wouldn’t drink coffee at night-time, but I used to feel like I couldn’t function first thing in the morning without a coffee hit. Now I’m waking up feeling more refreshed and alert, and it’s such a pleasant change to not have lingering coffee breath at night-time. Due to the mild diuretic effect of coffee, fewer short trips to the bathroom without it are also a perk. I’d initially planned to quit for a month and see how I feel, but I think looking ahead I’ll rarely have it – drinking water with lemon juice in the morning is a nicer change, and there are some decent herbal/chai teas available as a substitute when having a social hot beverage with a friend.