Why I Quit Caffeine

I quit caffeine nearly one year ago and it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made. You can too, if it's the right choice for you.

Caffeine had been a cornerstone in my life since I was a kid and teenager drinking Cokes and Mountain Dews with friends and family. As a junior and senior in high school I'd often get flavored coffees with friends at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks while we caught up. Soon after starting college I learned to rely on coffee to help get me through those morning physics and chemistry classes after late nights. Inversely, I also chugged many a caffeinated beverage to get through those late nights so I'd have my work done for the following morning's class. In college I also discovered energy drinks, energy drink powder + pre-workout pump powder, and a variety of caffeine pills. These started to become a problem as they were more powerful and would sometimes interact negatively with alcohol and medication. In college and in the five years afterwards I'd use caffeine daily and as a crutch before personal training clients, teaching exercise classes, or even filming a YouTube fitness video... all in an effort to get myself more motivated and also appear positive and energetic. After transitioning from the fitness industry into the marketing world, I'd continue leaning on large amounts of caffeine before meetings, presentations, interviews, company events, or even social events with friends and family. 

All throughout this time I thought mostly that caffeine was helping me and allowing me to perform at a higher level than I otherwise would have. Over the years I've recommended it in lower amounts (via healthy green tea or black coffee primarily) to countless personal training clients, marketed many products high in caffeine, and even wrote about the benefits on several media outlets. I thought caffeine was my secret weapon and wanted others to benefit from it as well.

But after nearly two decades of caffeine use, over a full decade of which I took caffeine sources in significant amounts on a daily basis, in the back of my mind it was becoming clear that caffeine had become more of a burden than a benefit in my life. Nobody gets arrested or ruins their life because of caffeine, but it had become a problem for me and I was sick of it. I actually joked for years that quitting caffeine was a lot harder than quitting alcohol because I could never seem to go more than a week without caffeine. I was impressed by people I knew or read about that were caffeine-free and thrived on just their own natural energy. Imagine that?!

By age 30 I had gotten to the point where I either couldn't, or felt like I couldn't, do anything without caffeine. Couldn't work, hang out with friends, or even spend time with family without feeling like a zombie sans caffeine. My energy had been low for my whole life and it was really holding me back personally, professionally, and physically. Anxiety had always been a major problem for me since I was 10 years old and I knew that the caffeine probably exacerbated the problem. I had trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep and this caused a lot of other problems for me. I just didn't feel healthy. I knew I needed to quit. I quit drinking at age 26 so I knew it could be done, but I was definitely doubtful.

A few months after turning 31 I decided I had to scale back on my caffeine use at nearly all costs. If I was less productive and alert at work or at social events then so be it. Something had to change. I cut down on energy drink packets by about 50% during the first few months, but added in a cup of green tea with lunch. Then a few months after that I switched out the remaining energy drink powder for another cup of green tea. After another couple months I cut down to just 1 cup of green tea per day. Finally, a few months later, I switched that final cup of green tea to decaf. Each period of decrease was difficult physically and psychologically for a couple weeks but then I adapted. It was a miracle and I was free!

Over the past year, at the age of 32, I've stuck to caffeine-free green tea daily. I avoid coffee, tea, soda with caffeine, and obviously energy drinks. Once a month or so if I've had a really poor night's sleep or something very important (presentation, interview, or work project deadline) I might have a cup or two of regular caffeinated tea. Otherwise I abstain and only ingest the few milligrams of caffeine in the decaf tea or very small serving of dark chocolate I might have. 

While I haven't noticed any real improvements in the sleep department, it has been a major improvement in terms of energy, mood, and anxiety. I also don't have to worry about being dehydrated (bad for health, performance, and skin) as often since I don't have caffeinated drinks sapping my body's water supply. And the positive healthy move of quitting caffeine has given me the confidence I needed to get my daily nutrition back on track and switch to a more vegan-based diet without dietary supplements

It isn't all rainbows and butterflies however. I had some headaches and lethargy the first few weeks without caffeine. I still haven't noticed any real improvement in my ability to fall asleep or stay asleep as a result of quitting caffeine. It's sometimes also a little challenging or awkward to turn down a soda, cup of coffee, or energy drink in a social environment. And I actually put on about 5 lbs of fat months after quitting caffeine because I didn't have the daily boost in metabolism and reduction in appetite. Also while there are some new studies on the dangers of carcinogens in roasted coffee, there are countless studies published about the health benefits of caffeine and coffee. Quitting caffeine also isn't a panacea for all of the other challenges that I deal with. But overall I know that for me, all of these are easily rectified minor issues compared to the struggles of increased anxiety, low energy, and psychological / chemical dependence. 

I'm not saying that caffeine or caffeinated beverages are negative things for everyone, or that I'm better than anyone for not imbibing any longer. It really depends on your own social, nutritional, and medical circumstances whether it's right for you or not. I just advocate trying to moderate your use or consider trying to go without it. And if you don't currently drink caffeine on a daily basis, I'd advise you don't start.

I hope you enjoyed this article about how to reduce or eliminate your caffeine consumption while staying on a tight budget.

Interested in more articles about frugal nutrition? 

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