Three weeks into my month-long no-coffee challenge, something unimaginably horrific happened: I drank a latte.
OK, so it wasn't the end of the world. But it did mark the end of my total caffeine abstinence. Since then, I have begun to regularly drink coffee again. Oops! However, I don't see my challenge as a failure. In fact, the three weeks I spent off the coffee wagon transformed my relationship with caffeine and helped me realize that with certain parameters in place, I can actually have a healthy relationship with coffee. Who knew?
After the first two weeks of the month, I was finally used to coffee-free mornings. Getting out of bed was still somewhat psychologically challenging, but once I stood up and chugged 16 ounces of water, I felt energized almost immediately. I began to realize that feeling groggy right when you wake up may just be how you're supposed to feel after you've slept deeply. Past the withdrawal symptoms that plagued my first two weeks off caffeine, I was starting to accept that life without coffee was possible.
On the afternoon of the eighteenth day of my challenge, I found myself with a strong craving: not so much for caffeine, but for the familiar blend of steamed frothy almond milk and bitter espresso. Suddenly, I found myself walking out of my apartment, and my feet were taking the familiar route to my favorite neighborhood cafe. Unable to stop my body from entering the coffeeshop, I repeated "I'm going to get tea, I'm going to get tea" to myself like a mantra. Once inside, though, I made eye contact with the barista, and the words "Small almond milk latte, please!" spilled out of my mouth. Once I paid for it and the barista made the latte for me, I had to drink it. So I did. It was delicious.
"Because I'd already broken my streak, I found myself with what some would call 'a case of the fuck-its.'"
My latte episode easily could have been a mere fluke, but the next day, I had to catch a super early bus ride to Washington DC. Because I'd already broken my streak, I found myself with what some would call "a case of the fuck-its." I already failed the challenge, what difference would one more cheat make? On the way to the bus stop, I grabbed a coffee.
I didn't have coffee these days, because I knew I'd be in large crowds without easy bathroom access. But in stark contrast to my life before this experiment, it wasn't a big deal: I felt fine not having coffee and didn't experience any cravings or withdrawal.
I started a new job on day 24, so yes, I've had a cup of coffee every single day the past week. However, it's been a lot different than how I drank coffee before January 1. First of all, I don't have coffee right when I wake up; instead I drink water and eat breakfast first. After an hour or two, I have a bit of coffee, usually at work. I also don't drink any coffee after 12pm in order to make sure I don't hinder my ability to fall asleep at night. With these rules in place, I haven't had time to drink more than a cup of coffee, maybe two, per day. That's a huge change from the former eight-cup-a-day addiction I was saddled with at the start of the year.
So, How Did The Whole Thing Go?
Even though I ended up drinking coffee this month, I still feel that this challenge was an overwhelming success. By forcing myself off coffee for almost three weeks, I managed to learn just how unhealthy my relationship with the beverage had become. Drinking coffee isn't itself necessarily bad for you—according to many scientific studies there are health benefits to coffee—but excessive consumption of any substance is usually not advised. My need to have coffee the moment I step out of bed and continue consuming it late into the day were making my life harder than it needed to be. As with doing a dry January, carving out some time to examine my relationship with coffee helped me become more aware of how I'm using caffeine. And the horrible withdrawal was a much-needed reminder that caffeine is a drug that has a palpable effect on my body each time I use it.
"While I did learn that my relationship with coffee had become somewhat dysfunctional, the most important lesson I learned this January was how awful my water drinking habits were."
What I Learned
The main takeaway from my challenge might surprise you. While I did learn that my relationship with coffee had become somewhat dysfunctional, the most important lesson I learned this January was how awful my water drinking habits were.
I knew that I could stand to drink more water daily. In fact, on most days before this challenge, I drank no water at all. Yet by substituting coffee with herbal tea and water, I realized how much my body had been craving critical hydration. Because I needed a beverage to sub in for my coffee drinking, consuming water has become a habit for me. I now drink about five 16-ounce glasses of water a day, as well as a cup or two of tea. I've never felt better. I have more energy and better stamina, I snack a lot less, I don't get hangovers as easily, and even though I've begun incorporating some coffee into my daily routine, my skin still is brighter than it had been before.
I realized I may have been mixing signals in my brain. I thought I was craving caffeine during my pre-2017 habits, but my body may have just been wanting water. Now when I wake up, I quench my thirst with water, and continue to drink it throughout the day. Coffee had been my go-to beverage. Now that water has taken its place, coffee feels more like a treat and less like a necessity.
Where I Will Go From Here
Ideally, I will maintain the parameters I've set up for myself to ensure I drink enough water and don't let my coffee consumption spiral out of control. I think I can do it. I started a new job, having to get up earlier each morning than I was used to, with these rules in place and had more than enough energy to do so. If I can survive that struggle with limited caffeine, it's hard to imagine what would lead me to coffee binge again.
However, I know that I am human. There may be stressful times that I begin to rely on coffee as a comfort drink of sorts. That could lead me to become more addicted again. By the end of 2017, I may find myself drinking eight cups a day. That's why I'm going to start making coffee-free January a habit for me, as many people do with a dry January. Even if, as I did this year, I can only make it a few weeks, it's important that I set aside some time to make sure I'm not hurting my hydration and sleep habits too much. Hopefully the memory of the insane withdrawal I experienced early in 2017 will keep me in line so that a coffee-free January won't even be a big deal in 2018.
To read the final resolution posts from our other writers, click here.
Kicking a Coffee Habit
Part I: I'm Giving Up Coffee—Cold Turkey—for One Month
Part II: Here's What Happens the First Two Weeks After Giving Up Coffee
Part III: Three Weeks Without Coffee Transformed My Relationship with Caffeine
Checking Out of Social Media
Part I: I'm Signing Out of Social Media for the Month of January
Part II: I'm Halfway Through My Social Media Fast and It's Been Eye-Opening
Part III: I Successfully Went One Month Without Logging Into Social Media
Making Meditating a Daily Habit
Abstaining from Alcohol
Part I: I'm Making a Dryuary Resolution to Not Drink in January
Part II: I'm Doing Dry January and It's Giving Me a New Perspective on Alcohol
Part III: Here's What I've Learned About Drinking at the End of Dry January
Cutting Out Sugar
Using Painting as Therapy
Part I: I'm Using Painting as Therapy to Treat My Seasonal Affective Disorder
Part II: This Year, I'm Coping With SAD by Painting and Here's How It's Going
Part III: I Spent a Month Using Painting as Therapy and Here's What I Learned