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  • Writer's pictureKathy Ozakovic

What happens when you stop drinking coffee and avoid caffeine?

Did you know 90% of the world’s population consumes caffeine in some form every day. Most choose coffee as their source. September 2022 I decided to stop drinking coffee. It was in preparation for a health retreat I would attend in October where I knew there would be NO coffee. Being a heavy coffee drinker up until that point, dubbed by my best friend ‘Kaffee’ for caffeinating so much, I decided to wean myself off the world’s most widely available stimulant rather than go cold turkey. Read about my experience.


Yes, both coffee and caffeine do have many health benefits and I have written a blog about this as well: HEALTH BENEFITS OF COFFEE BLOG. Todays blog is my personal reflection on what I learnt over the 10 months without coffee, in particular without caffeine, and what I noticed when I reintroduced it.


For easier reflection, I have distinguished my personal experience between 3 ‘bodies’. This is the model I personally believe in and focus on with clients when addressing disease: a triangle of Mind, Body, Spirit with Emotion at the centre. I have combined the mind and physical body as findings overlap.


4 cups of coffee (1 cup being 100ml and 100mg caffeine) have been found to be the ideal amount for health benefits (that’s 400mg caffeine, 6.5 espresso shots!). However, take this with a grain of salt as contraindications exist...How much caffeine you tolerate comfortably depends on your personal level of adaptation.

FYI: Audible has a book by Michael Pollan ‘Caffeine’ (FREE) where he describes his experience abstaining from caffeine for a few months. It is very similar to my own experience described below. I also want to highlight the HubermanLab episode about caffeine for mental and physical performance (5 December 2022). It has helped me reflect and determine the best dosage and timing of caffeine for me.


How My Physical Body Felt (Including Mind)

Reflecting upon my physical body I include my cognition, mindset, and physiological responses to the chemicals involved. As you may have suspected, I suffered caffeine withdrawal symptoms. This made me take a slower approach to my mission. Initially, I was motivated to cut out coffee and bear the consequences, but I was quickly humbled and reminded of my addiction. The caffeine withdrawal symptoms were less intense once I decided to include black and green tea into the plan. Over 2 weeks I tapered down my coffee intake and switched it for black teas, then switched the black teas for green teas, which I later switched for peppermint tea.


Personally, I did not feel a significant dip in energy or cognition with this slow approach. I put this down to staying focused on my goals. I kept myself occupied with a morning gym routine that included sweating on the stepper to increase my energy levels and help my body eliminate caffeine faster. I basically told myself to just get up and go. I was definitely grumpier in the mornings for those 2 weeks.

TIP: Vitamin C, from both food and supplements helps the body eliminate caffeine faster.

Very soon after ceasing coffee drinking, I noticed a huge improvement in the quality of my sleep. Although I never had issues falling sleep, waking up throughout the night would sometimes happen. Without coffee this is not an issue.


About 10 months later, when I reintroduced coffee, I took notice of the difference in my body’s physical response to 1, 2, 3 vs. 4 shots of espresso. My sensitivity to caffeine increased greatly after abstaining:


  • One shot of coffee or an espresso (60mg-80mg caffeine) has almost no physical effect on my body. I do feel a boost in concentration and focus for up to about 2 hours of writing.

  • A small long black (2 shots of coffee, 120 – 150mg caffeine) keeps my focus for about 4 hours straight and gives me slight jitters. I swear I can now feel the exact moment when caffeine takes effect. It’s like a switch.

  • 3 shots (180 – 200mg caffeine) I haven’t noticed much of a difference between 2 and 3 shots. Slight jitters. I prefer to have that 3rd shot in a dirty chai tea with almond milk. Black tea contains a decent amount of L-Theanine (3x more than green tea) which has been shown to allow caffeine to work its brain-boosting charm without letting it raise your blood pressure or induce anxiety.

  • 4 shots of coffee (2 small LB, 240 – 300mg caffeine) Especially noticeable if I stack them 2 hours apart, and on an empty stomach. It now feels very stimulating and I need to go to the gym to release some of that built up anxious energy. If I have the 2 coffees more than 3 hours apart, with food or milk the effect is much more gentle and provides a sustained level of concentration rather than a burst of jitters.

  • I noticed my mood elevate greatly with a second coffee (4 shots total, 240 – 300mg caffeine) if consumed sooner and on an empty stomach. My gym workout felt better, the muscle pump was also better (caffeine dulls muscle soreness, increases blood pressure and enhances blood flow to muscles). So, I definitely see the perks and the temptation to consume 240 – 300mg for gym (dosage individualised to me based on my personal calculations and observations).


To put these amounts into perspective, let me rehash what I learnt whilst writing my ‘health benefits of coffee’ blog: 4 cups of coffee (1 cup being 100ml and 100mg caffeine) have been found to be the ideal amount for health benefits (that’s 400mg caffeine, 6.5 espresso shots!). However, take this with a grain of salt as contraindications exist. For starters, in pregnancy no more than 200mg (2 – 3 espresso shots) caffeine daily is recommended. Research has shown you can reap benefits of the coffee cherry bean even if it is decaffeinated as it is packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, just saying (I see your snarky faces).


How much caffeine you tolerate comfortably depends on your personal level of adaptation. Prior to abstaining I was accustomed to having anywhere between 300 – 500mg caffeine. However, now I am more sensitive and see the benefits of staying caffeine sensitive.


Andrew Huberman in his podcast 'HubermanLab' reports body weight being a good indication of how much caffeine will be beneficial without making us feel overly anxious in a single dosage (NOTE WELL this formula is for people accustomed to caffeine, regular drinkers): 1-3mg/kg BW. This turns out to be pretty spot on in terms of what I have noticed with myself at 70 – 210mg (1 – 3 shots) I feel okay.


Definitions:

  • Regular coffee drinkers: drinking coffee daily for 2 weeks

  • Intermittent coffee drinkers: 2-4x weekly

  • Where do you sit?

  • Where do you want to be?


How my Emotional body felt

My emotional body to me is about how I feel within myself, how present I am in the here & now, how well I can distinguish between high/low energy and high/low pleasantness. What I noticed after a few months without caffeine is an increased sense of calm. My emotional state was more at ease. I would describe un-caffeinated Kathy as relaxed, mellow, easy going, content, peaceful, comfortable, grateful. I noticed other people’s emotional bodies much more.


When I reintroduced coffee, straight away I felt a shift in my emotional body. I noticed increased feelings of agitation, anxiety, restlessness and feeling frazzled at times. Overall, a surge of energy I sometimes didn’t know where to direct. Thinking about the physiological changes of increased heart rate and increased blood pressure, I assume (educated guess) that what I felt is my body shifting into the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Even my confidence is bit wobbly at times when highly caffeinated (4 shots).


However, I also noticed when caffeine free I was touchier in certain situations. Perhaps caffeine free Kathy is more her feelings. When I reintroduced caffeine, I was more carefree and resilient. With further tracking of my mood and coffee intake I noticed a correlation with my menstrual cycle (hormones)! Without caffeine during ovulation and PMS I am sad and sooky. With caffeine I am more motivated and somewhat cranky. I now choose being motivated and cranky as I find I can use this energy at the gym or to write blogs!


How my Spiritual body felt

Personally, my faith is strong. I believe in God. You may know God by a different name: The Universe, Higher Power, Quantum Hologram, Buddha, Allah… Or you may simply believe in the power of the mind (NuFit Wellness preaches about the importance of the 6th Pillar to Wellness: Mindset/Spirituality).


I am also a big believer that the cleaner the vessel, the stronger the connection with my spiritual self. In my world, the physical body is a meatsuit for my spiritual body. The spiritual body is the consciousness that is moving the meatsuit.


The meatsuit is held together by energy and matter. However, when attention is removed from matter, it behaves like a wave/ frequency (double slit experiment observer effect). Therefore, the meatsuit acts as an antenna. The way I understand it now is, if my meatsuit is too busy detoxifying, re-balancing PH, working hard to maintain equilibrium then it is more matter and less wave. Therefore, the antenna is not as effective. It is a low grade 2G signal. When I detoxify my body of acidic foods and stimulants (including caffeine), the antenna is upgraded to 5G.


I am most in touch with my spiritual body upon waking, in the early hours of the day when I sit down to pray or meditate. I have noticed that personally this habit was much more consistent when I wasn’t drinking coffee. I felt much more comfortable in myself, much calmer, guided, secure, grateful and blessed when I had this regular practice. Although I have now chosen to be an intermittent coffee drinker, I am also conscious of these spiritual benefits and choose to detoxify seasonally and leading up to spiritual health retreats.


Research has shown you can reap benefits of the coffee cherry bean even if it is decaffeinated as it is packed with antioxidants and polyphenols.

Other things I have learnt from my experience:

  • Did you know there are a variety of non-caffeinated beverages available at cafes? Sometimes they are even listed as “NOT COFFEE” which made me chuckle

  • I did some research and learnt that the average person may only need between 5 days and 2 weeks to clear caffeine from their system if they go cold turkey (10 months was a long time without coffee, inspired by my mum being coffee free 30 years!)

  • Research has shown that consuming L-Theanine with caffeine allows the caffeine to work its brain-boosting benefits without it raising blood pressure or inducing anxiety. The ideal ratio is 2:1 (L-Theanine : Caffeine), this means consuming 200 mg of L-theanine for every 100 mg of caffeine (think: whatever amount of caffeine you’re having, double the amount of L-Theanine, both are in mg) for best results consume L-Theanine 1 hour prior to caffeine

  • L-Theanine (available to order from NuFit Wellness via Designs For Health) health benefits include: decreased cortisol (decreased stress), decreased anxiety, decreased inflammation post exercise, improved cognitive function (memory and attention).

  • My nutrient absorption, in particular Iron did not improve at all indicating my gut lining may be weaker and needs more healing (this is individualised to me given my history of an Eating Disorder and breast implants causing an overstimulation of the immune system, IBS, operating in SNS)

  • Coffee can be very helpful to enhance my mood at particular stages of my menstrual cycle! This is how I have now decided to use it – When I’m PMSing, throughout menstruation and during ovulation caffeine helps boost my mood and motivation.


Takeaways

I thought I wasn’t addicted to coffee. I thought I could give up coffee easily. I was humbled and had to admit to myself that I was very much co-dependant on coffee. This awareness enabled me to slowly wean off coffee. I was curious about what my baseline consciousness is without a stimulant which has 90% of the human population in an altered (caffeinated) state. Coffee and I went through a 10 month separation after which I wanted to adjust the role it would now play in my life.


My relationship with coffee nowadays is “a good friend I can call upon when needed”. It is now a loving co-created relationship that produces blog posts, precious projects and enhances my mood during my menstrual cycle lows. I would call myself an intermittent coffee drinker as I’ll go 10-12 days without it and 4-6 day with it, tapering my caffeine dosage up/down depending on feels.


I love coffee for it’s taste and for the health benefits of both the bean and caffeine. Caffeine enhances alertness, reduce tiredness and fatigue. It also has neuroprotective effects, antidepressive and performance-enhancing effects, both mental and physical performance. However, I do think is it important to get your individualised dosage and timing right. Not everyone will respond to the same dosage of caffeine the same way. A healthy useful dosage for one person will not be the same as for another depending on weight, metabolism, adaptation and background level of stress. You won’t really know until you experiment for yourself. This is why I am an advocate for trial & error & correction to find success rather than following the averages.


Few more notes from the HubermanLab podcast:

  • If you want the best performance effect (physical and mental) of caffeine, abstain for 2-3 days or use caffeine on an empty stomach

  • L-Teanine is not recommended for individuals who wake up from nightmares and sleepwalk

  • Sleep is most important (read my sleep blog here). To preserve the quality, duration and benefits of sleep - try to avoid caffeine 12 hours before bed (if you can’t do 12 then 8-10hrs) due to it’s quarter life of 12hours (half life 6-8hrs depending on if you are a fast or slow metaboliser)

  • Caffeine can also have a positive effect AFTER being exposed to learning material. It increases memory by spiking adrenaline (you can also achieve this with deliberate cold exposure. I'll take the coffee, thanks.)

  • Waiting 90min after waking to consume first coffee/caffeine will help offset the afternoon slump

  • If you are not accustomed to caffeine even 25 – 50mg can cause anxiety and impact your performance negatively

  • 20 days abstaining showed the best increased performance effect when reintroduced

  • 5 days abstaining enhances performance when consuming caffeine on the 6th day

  • If you are a regular coffee drinker, being a person who consumes caffeine every other day can help you maximise most of the benefits of caffeine without suffering caffeine withdrawals

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Did you find this blog helpful and informative? Tag & Share with your friends who would love it too! Sign up for my Free NuFit Wellness Newsletter to stay in the loop. Attend my Wellness Workshops. Promoting consciousness in food choices helping people heal. Dietitian & Wellness Coach, Health Presenter, Gut Health Specialist - Kathy Ozakovic.

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KEYWORDS: Coffee, Caffeine, Withdrawals, Coffee Beans, Sleep, Performance, Mental Health, Benefits, Concentration, Mood, Gym, Stimulant, L-Theanine, Anxiety, Jitters, Caffeinated, Dopamine



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