When I was in high school, I wore a pin on my jean jacket that said, “Death before decaf.” My first job was at Starbucks, and I often started each shift with a quad shot of espresso. This habit has followed me throughout the years — I’ve always taken my coffee black, and in copious amounts. I tend to think of myself as somewhat of a caffeine superhero, as I can drink the stuff late at night without incident — it doesn’t impede my ability to sleep, and I’ve never experienced the dreaded withdrawal headaches I’ve heard can be so debilitating if I happen to skip a day.
That is, until recently.
Two months ago, I was experiencing one of my normal chronic migraines, which run in my family and are unrelated to caffeine. However, when I get them, I tend to avoid coffee, because the pain makes my appetite completely disappear. The original headache lasted two days, and on the third day, a new headache began. This new headache was in the front of my head and felt completely different than my normal migraines — that’s how I knew. I was experiencing caffeine withdrawal.
This headache, and the realization that my favorite beverage had betrayed me, sent me reeling. I ended up in the emergency room, and even morphine couldn’t save me. I realized that no matter how much I love coffee, I needed to make the changes necessary to cut out my favorite beverage. I’m here to impart my caffeine-cutting wisdom upon the masses, so you’ll have an easier time than I did, should you decide to make the cut.
1. Do it slowly
Don’t go cold turkey. This can throw you deep into the sort of withdrawal headache that I experienced, which is incredibly painful. If you make your coffee at home, buy some decaf and mix more in each day. Trader Joe’s even makes a half-caf blend! If you order coffee out, ask for half-caf. Or, if you’re a multiple-cups-a-day drinker, just start by cutting back on how much you drink.
2. Up your water intake
Coffee drinkers are usually dehydrated. Drinking more water will naturally make you feel better, and just the action itself will remind you that you’re aiming for better health. It’ll also help with digestion, which can be naturally interrupted when you make huge changes to your diet.
3. Start switching out some coffee for tea
Black and green teas have caffeine in them, too, so check how much each blend has while you’re cutting back, but they usually have far less than a cup of coffee once diluted in water. Making this simple switch can help you cut back on caffeine while allowing you to keep the ritual of a lovely, warm beverage. Eventually, switch to herbal teas.
4. Practice self-care
You may be a little tired while you’re cutting back on coffee, as well as a little extra grumpy. Be gentle with yourself. Allow time for naps, or go easy on your workout routine. Switch hard workouts for yoga, or go on a nice walk. Take baths or warm showers and eat foods that will make you feel nourished.
5. Create new rituals
For me, part of loving coffee was about the ritual. It was a comfort food for me, more than pizza or baked goods ever were. Now, I make hot water with honey and lemon in the morning, and I love that just the same. For you, it might be a decaf latte or an herbal tea. Whatever you replace coffee with, it’ll be worth it if you feel the benefits.
Though sometimes I miss coffee (I have tried decaf and it’s somehow not the same), I think back to my weeklong headache whenever I’m tempted to dive back into a mug of the stuff. For me, the most important part of cutting coffee out was finding a new ritual to replace my morning coffee, and finding a new go-to beverage (mint tea!) whenever I meet a friend at a coffee shop.
Bottom line: While coffee can have some health benefits for some people, it can also have significant drawbacks for other people, and if you feel you may benefit from cutting back, there is a safe and easy way to do it once you put your mind to it.