One month ago, I almost entirely quit coffee. I had been a coffee drinker for a long time (over 7 years). I would have 1, 2 or 3 cups in the morning, and then 1 or 2 coming back from the office. I always felt like having coffee. I don’t know if my tolerance level had gotten really high because of the high consumption, or if I wasn’t as sensitive to coffee naturally. I could have coffee in the evening without experiencing any sleep issues. Quitting coffee had been on my mind for a while, but an unexpected set of events sped up the whole process. I now skip coffee altogether during the week, and only enjoy it during the weekends.
Let’s see how I did it.
I had tried quitting in the past
I remember going a little over 24 hours without coffee, just to try. I got massive headaches at work. At the time, I didn’t even know that not having coffee when you’re addicted to it can cause massive headaches. A colleague randomly brought it up when I complained about it. I couldn’t handle it, so I went to have coffee and was fine after a little while.
I had also tried reducing my coffee consumption in general, but I always felt the need for it. The morning cup was obviously the most important one. It’s so nice to work with a warm cup of coffee next to you. I also had an after-office cup, the one I had after getting back from the office, to start tackling the work on my blog around 5–6pm.
I live in a country where winters are really dark. At the peak of winter, the sun doesn’t rise before 9:30am, and it sets at 4pm. It’s pretty tough on the body, and on the mind too. When you wake up at 6am and the sun is still 3 hours away from rising, it’s pitch black outside. It feels like waking up in the middle of the night. Coffee is a matter of survival, so trying to quit it during the winter was a no go.
All of the sudden, I didn’t have a choice
I got really sick over one weekend. I spent 2 days in bed and couldn’t eat or drink much, having very low energy. The combination of my sickness and the lack of caffeine gave me massive headaches too.
As I got better, I got my appetite back and started eating again. I realised that I had already been through the bad headaches normally caused by trying to quit coffee, because I had been sick. All of the sudden I was cured, both from my sickness and my coffee addiction. So I figured I wouldn’t start again. Was it going to work?
Handling the mornings
Around the same time I quit coffee I was experimenting with quitting added sugar. One of the main benefits of quitting added sugar is enjoying much easier mornings. You feel less groggy and reach an “awake status” a lot quicker. So it sort of made up for the lack of coffee at 6am.
I would always have a fresh fruit juice an hour or so after my coffee. Now, I have it whenever I want. It’s fresh, it’s a little sweet, so in a way it wakes me up better than coffee.
Another important aspect of handling the mornings while trying to quit coffee is to get your sleep right. If you feel too tired/groggy in the morning, you’ll have a hard time skipping coffee in the morning. The headaches can be bad, and the more tired you are the worse they get. 7 to 9 hours of sleep is a minimum.
Replacing the office coffee habit
I had successfully made it through the 2 hardest parts of quitting coffee: headaches, and mornings. But there was still one hurdle to deal with: the office.
I don’t even enjoy the coffee from work. We have 2 coffee machines. A normal one, and a fancy one. Everybody says the fancy one tastes better. But to me they’re both not so good. Yet, I would often find myself drinking this coffee, to be a little social, hang out with my colleagues, or just go for a little walk.
The classic scenario would be this: I’ve been working at my desk for a while, and I feel like going for a walk, to get the body moving a little bit. I walk to the coffee machine, grab a coffee, and then go enjoy the coffee outside in the entrance, or walking around the building. This was a tough habit to fight, and it reminded me of Charles Duhigg’s cookie habit.
In his amazing book The Power of Habit, Duhigg explains he had a bad cookie-in-the-afternoon habit.
His habit loop looked like this:
His cue was roughly 3:30pm. His routine was to go to the cafeteria, get a cookie, and chat with colleagues. His reward was a moment of distraction. He realised that if he walked up to a friend’s desk and chatted for 10 minutes, he would still get his reward, eliminating the need for a cookie.
His habit loop now looked like this:
I was in the exact same situation, but with different variables. My cue was a long session of work ending. My routine was the walk to the coffee machine and going for a small walk. Through experimentation, I realised I wasn’t seeking the coffee, but the distraction and the break from work: my reward. I still liked to stand outside in the sun, or to walk around, with a beverage in my hands. I replaced coffee with water.
I changed my habit loop from this:
This was easy to change because as I said, I didn’t even like the coffee from work that much. I didn’t have a physical urge to drink it. With that last problem solved, I was well on my way to becoming an official occasional coffee drinker.
Becoming an occasional coffee drinker
Now, I’m jittery when I drink too much coffee. This never happened before, because my tolerance to caffeine got way too high over time.
I will indulge in a coffee once in a while, if I’m meeting with a friend after work, or if I deserve a relaxing moment. I still drink coffee on the weekends, usually in the morning, and sometimes after lunch, or in the afternoon. Overall, I drink 4 to 5 cups per week, mostly on the weekends, which is what I used to drink per day.
Various health organisations tend to agree that anything above 7 to 8 cups a day is not good for the body, and I was never above that any way. But I’m glad I was able to get control over my coffee consumption. The temptation of the morning cup is always there. But even if I start drinking more regularly later on, I know I’ll now always keep my consumption in check.
Regardless, coffee will always be amazing.