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Best approach to nix caffeine: Cold turkey or slow fade?

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?)...

Before you turn to a caffeine I.V. drip

Whether your doctor’s ordering you around or you’re just sick of the afternoon jitters, you’ve decided to simmer down on the whole coffee thing. Good timing really, with caffeine use disorder becoming such a big deal, only… now what?

You’ve got two options: Go cold turkey and nix caffeine from your life entirely, or take a page from the player handbook (admit it, you’ve dated enough of them) and do a slow fade. Here are the pros and cons of each option and how to decide which is best for you.

On going cold turkey

The more caffeine you use, the higher your tolerance level becomes and the more you need for the desired energy boost. If you drink pots of coffee a day (you know, like me), then the cold turkey approach will lead to not-so-pretty withdrawal symptoms.

"Withdrawal symptoms can include severe headaches, muscle aches, temporary feelings of depression and irritability," says nurse practitioner Diane K. Newman. "When people experience these symptoms, they often just take in more caffeine to make them go away. This cycle’s hard to break."

So true. When I tried going cold turkey, my brain waves stopped waving and my 15-minute yoga routine took over an hour. Oy to the vey. The good news: Once the withdrawal was over and done with, I felt like a completely different person. The bad news: When I caved, I caved hard. I binged on coffee to the point where I stopped blinking.

If this is the route you want to take, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Sure, it’s the fastest way to detox, but there’s a price to pay: It’s like the worst hangover ever.
  • Along with the withdrawal symptoms above, you’ll likely struggle to focus. Productivity, heard of it? Not cool if you have a particularly demanding career.
  • The withdrawal symptoms tend to last one to three days, so if you want to take the plunge, take it when you have time off to get through the initial grumpiness and nausea. (Worst. Hangover. Ever.)

On doing a slow fade

After oodles of research, the general consensus is doing a slow fade is the best option, especially if during the withdrawal period you struggle to function. The slow fade involves quitting caffeine by gradually decreasing your consumption level over time. It helps make the withdrawal process less icky, but you have to keep very close track of how much caffeine you’ve consumed and stick to the process of cutting back.

Ways to do so include:

  • Cutting out one cup of coffee at a time, until you’re at your desired quota.
  • Using a smaller coffee mug, as opposed to the bucket you’re accustomed to.
  • Brewing weaker coffee.
  • Mix half-caffeineated, half-decaf brews.
  • Sipping your coffee instead of sucking it up like a Shop-Vac.

This gives your body the opportunity to replenish its natural energy levels so you can go back to enjoying coffee instead of depending on it.

If you feel yourself wavering...

We all have a different sensitivity to caffeine and a different tolerance level to the withdrawal symptoms. (For me personally, I’ll do anything to justify having another cup of coffee. In fact, I’m justifying right now.) If you’re sitting on the fence, why not give the Caffeine Zone app a try? Created by researchers at Penn State, it helps decipher whether that next cup of coffee will boost your productivity — or ruin your sleep that night.

More on coffee

Can we have a "come to Jesus" about coffee?
Is your coffee habit a medical addiction?
Study shows you should drink coffee, just not too much

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