Coffee might just be my favorite drink. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a close second.
I started drinking coffee when I was 16. I vividly remember waking up each morning to the sound of my mom grinding coffee beans and the rich, warm scent of brewing coffee drifting up the stairs and into my bedroom. In those days, I’d add a hefty dose of hazelnut or french vanilla creamer (okay, maybe it was more creamer than coffee). It was sweet and delicious, and I’ll admit: I felt pretty grown up as I strolled into school, large coffee mug in hand.
Over the years and into college, I skipped the creamer and drank it black. The first cup was always pleasure-filled. I’d breathe in the aroma, eyes closed, enjoying each small sip. I’d drink a second or third cup, but only if I’d stayed up late the night before.
Once I became a working adult, coffee became a way of life. During the week, coffee fueled my productivity during the 9 to 5, and on weekends a good book and a mug of piping hot coffee was my way of relaxing.
So, why give it up?
I told my mom about my plan and heard her pause over the phone, then ask: Why on earth would you do that? If I loved it so much, then why give it up? The answer was simple: there was no joy in drinking it anymore.
Over the last couple of years, each day started the same. Get to work, make coffee, gulp it down, make some more. I averaged three, sometimes four cups each day. I was no longer tasting the flavor, and I sure wasn’t savoring it. I needed it. It had become such a staple in my routine that I couldn’t remember a day when I went without it.
Even though there’s growing research out there that shows coffee may help you live longer, it was important to me to take a break from it. I kept thinking about giving it up and talked about it ad nauseam to anyone who would listen, and finally decided it was time to stop procrastinating. I wanted to learn if I was truly dependent on the stuff, to understand what my body’s natural rhythm felt like again.
I convinced myself that if I could give up social media for 30 days, I could give up coffee for 30 days.
Would I miss it as much as I thought I would? I’d heard about the notorious coffee withdrawal headaches (and had suffered from them once or twice myself), but I wasn’t swayed. I convinced myself that if I could give up social media for 30 days, I could give up coffee for 30 days.
I made a point to take notes of how I was feeling throughout the four weeks – here’s what went down:
The first day wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. I got a slight headache in the morning and was pretty sleepy by the afternoon, but nothing crazy. This is easy! I thought, why was everyone making such a big deal out of this?
Until day 2. That whole morning was a slog, and the headache arrived like a ton of bricks. It was searing. I popped two Tylenol, which helped, but a few hours later it was back with a vengeance. At work, I avoided the kitchen like the plague, knowing that if I set foot in there, the temptation to brew a cup would be more than I could handle. I also suddenly had an acute sense of smell – the scent of coffee followed me wherever I went. I drank water all day to try and alleviate the headaches, and by late afternoon, I went on a brisk walk to help wake myself up (and so I wasn’t tempted to make an afternoon cup).
Days 4 and 5 brought weird body aches and more headaches, even though I was drinking much more water than I probably ever have before in my life. They weren’t quite as pounding as day 2, but definitely there in the background. It took every ounce of energy to get out of bed in the mornings, and by the end of each day, all I could muster was make dinner then collapse on the couch.
On day 8, the tides shifted. I woke up at 6 am feeling much more refreshed. It somehow became easier to introduce new, healthy habits into my morning routine. I had always heard that drinking warm lemon water was good for your digestion and helped to wake the body up naturally, but coffee always managed to outrank it. So, after waking up, I sipped some lemon water, meditated, then did some journaling. But I didn’t stop there: I went for a run. I’ll be honest; I am NOT a morning exerciser – it usually leaves me feeling a bit nauseous and the most I’m willing to do at that time of day is some gentle yoga. I don’t even like running all that much. Was this how non-coffee drinkers felt every morning?!
Unfortunately, it turned out that day 8 was kind of a fluke – I didn’t wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every day. But my headaches vanished, and the body aches too.
Three weeks in and I felt lighter, like my body wasn’t weighed down by fatigue or stress. I found myself naturally waking up each morning around 6:30, excited about my new routine of drinking lemon water, meditating, and journaling. If I was feeling extra energetic, I’d go for a short walk or do some yoga, but more than anything, it was this clear-headedness that I was loving.
I’ll admit though, I missed sipping on something warm in the mornings while at work, so I’d make a matcha latte or green tea, both of which have considerably less caffeine than coffee (eight ounces of green tea has about 35 mg compared to 100-200 mg in one cup of coffee). Since there was such a difference in caffeine levels, I didn’t feel like this was cheating, plus it was such a comfort just to hold something warm in my hands.
By week four, my energy levels changed. Rather than the surge of energy that coffee produced in the mornings, my energy stayed at a consistent “slow burn” that lasted all day. There was no trace of any afternoon slump. I was also incredibly hydrated from all the water and tea I was drinking now. I found myself getting home with enough energy to exercise, cook dinner, and do a bit of writing before heading to bed.
What I learned after 30 days
Going into this challenge, I really wanted to see if A) I could last for 30 days, and B) if my body really needed coffee to survive. Well, I did last 30 days, and I did survive without coffee. But other things happened, too. For one, I was much more hydrated – averaging way more than 8 glasses of water every day. I was also getting better sleep – I was able to fall asleep faster at night and wake up each morning feeling rested – major perk. My energy stayed level throughout the day and I was less prone to crashing by the afternoon.
Without coffee, I started a morning ritual that I’ve grown to love and that provides much-needed balance to my life. Before, I’d roll out of bed and rush to eat breakfast and get out the door, my mind thinking ahead to the cups of coffee that were in store for me. Now that I’m sleeping better and waking up earlier, my morning has become a time of contemplation and peace. I look forward to my mornings when I can quietly sit in meditation and do a bit of journaling before leaving for work. It cultivates an inner calm that I take with me throughout the day.
I also realized that sometimes, to fully appreciate something, you need to say goodbye to it for a time. Whether that’s 30 days or 3 months or a year, giving something up can help remind us what it means to us, and what it provides us in life. For me, coffee means comfort, nostalgia, deliciousness, and yes, a certain pleasing wakefulness. Sure, my love for coffee runs deep, but I don’t need it. I also love wine, but I don’t need that either. Hmm… Is there a month where I give up alcohol in my near future…?
Going back to the bean
At the end of 30 days, I still went back to coffee. While it was really nice to take a break, I genuinely missed the smell, the flavor, and the comfort it brought me. Coffee makes me happy, and I’d rather not deprive myself of happiness.
But I’ve learned a valuable lesson in all this: moderation is key.
Before the 30 days, I would gulp down my coffee like someone was going to take it away from me. This might sound silly, but allowing my body to have some time away from it, I respect coffee more. I respect the fact that it was grown on this earth, harvested by hard-working people all over the world, and packaged and shipped to where I could purchase and enjoy it. In fact, this whole experience has made me take a good hard look at how I was eating and drinking in general. What we consume shouldn’t be shoveled into our mouths as fast as possible, it should fuel our bodies so that we can live our best lives. I now eat and drink more slowly, allowing myself to truly enjoy what I’m putting into my body and giving thanks for the nutrients and sustenance it gives me.
I respect the fact that it was grown on this earth, harvested by hard-working people all over the world, and packaged and shipped to where I could purchase and enjoy it.
Giving up coffee helped simplify my life and in the process, helped me realize that I already have everything I need. These days, we’re so accustomed to wanting more – more stuff, more money, more time – that the act of simplifying can often be misconstrued as a state of ‘lacking.’ When, in truth, you actually gain something. For me, I gained resolve, strength, resilience, and gratitude. And that’s just by giving up coffee! Who knows what else is possible if one was to give up something bigger.
These days, all I need is one cup to feel the benefits of caffeine and I’m savoring that one cup like I used to. I’ve even started to incorporate a small meditation while I enjoy my first cup. Taking the mug in both hands, I close my eyes, breathe in the aroma, and let my thoughts drift up and away, just like the steam rising from the mug. It only takes a minute or two and I instantly feel calmer and more at ease.
There’s merit in giving up the things in our lives that we may unknowingly take for granted. Only when they’re gone can we truly appreciate what they provide for us.
And if I ever need to take another coffee break (see what I did there?), it’s comforting to know that I have the willpower to make it happen.