To Caffeinate or Not to Caffeinate

Let’s start with this: I love coffee. I started drinking it absurdly young. I vividly remember going with my parents to the local diner as a kid, ordering coffee, and loading it up with milk and sugar, only to drink it from a straw. By the time I was seven, I had my first espresso which my parents were not expecting me to down in one shot like medicine.

My love, it would seem, would only grow from there.

Yet over the years, I’ve had to change my attachment to my excessive coffee drinking. At some point – likely, when my workouts became much, much more stressful – drinking “too much” coffee was no longer a personality quirk. Instead, I started experiencing a variety of health issues – primarily hormonal – that all pointed to cutting out caffeine.

Cut it out

I’ve gone back and forth with caffeine for a few years now. The first time I stopped including it in my diet was when I went to an Ayurvedic doctor for a chronic urinary tract infection. One option was for me to, essentially, be on antibiotics for an undefined period of time. The other, which I chose, was to try an alternative health care method.

As a result, I made huge changes to my diet, which included cutting out caffeine, sugar, and dairy for a period of time. It was difficult, but it worked. For me.

In the past two years, traveling between the US and Brazil – as well as traveling for work – plus working on becoming a competitive athlete has affected me in different ways. While I’ve suspected having endometriosis for some time, I recently discovered that I’ve developed uterine fibroids. Both conditions tend to be exacerbated by “inflammatory” foods, and caffeine in particular.

Food is medicine

Because of my previous experience with changing my diet and changing my health – and a general suspicion of being too quick to use medicine as a way of treating symptoms, rather than the root cause of a problem – I started looking into the ways diet may affect my current symptoms.

Time after time, coffee pops up.

Because of the way it interacts with vitamin absorption. Because of its effects on hormones. Because of how it affects sleep and recovery.

So I removed it. I always go cold turkey, as painful as it may be. For me, I typically feel headaches for about a week and extremely tired for the first three to four days. I try to give myself ample time for sleep and to work in a nap whenever possible.

Making a warm drink the morning also helps me to feel like I’m keeping my routine, even if there’s a big chunk of it missing. Whether it’s a golden milk or simple (herbal) tea, having a warm drink while sitting at the breakfast table brings me the familiar feeling of sipping on coffee to start my day.

Finding moderation

The hardest part with removing something like coffee/caffeine is the ritual. I love waking up to the smell of coffee in the morning or as a pick-me-up in the afternoon. I love suggesting to “go grab a coffee” when it’s time to catch-up with a friend. I love sitting in a coffee shop, sipping a coffee for hours while working.

To help, I’ve a) finally adapted to just drinking decaf when there’s no other option, and b) I’ve started replacing coffee with herbal teas instead. If I’m honest with myself, it’s never quite as satisfying, but it allows me to do what I want to do: take care of myself and enjoy the ritual.

Finding alternatives is key. Whether it’s removing caffeine or another food group, such as for an elimination diet, you need to find some way to replace its role in your life. It’s also important to find a way to transition it back in. Depending on the situation, this kind of strictness may not be necessary forever – and if it’s not, it’s time to learn how to moderate.

matcha caffeine

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For me, I’ve felt a huge difference in my health since switching away from coffee for about three months. At some point, I decided I felt comfortable enough to add in a coffee from time to time – on special occasions, like when we were visiting Italy because I think my heart would have literally broken otherwise.

I’ve also start experimenting with different forms of caffeine to see if I can handle it better. For now, I’ve been making matcha lattes in the mornings. Especially when I know I will be training later in the day, to ensure I have enough energy for, well, life. (There’s also some research supporting that the other components of matcha may be beneficial for endometriosis. That’s a huge plus.)

It’s important to experiment with your body. It’s even more important to be in touch with your body enough to learn how to “read” your experiments. Research, learn, understand, and try. These changes have been working for me right now. It may change in the future, but for now, I’ll ride this wave.

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