Diary of a Coffee Fast

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | November 5th, 2008 | No Comments
topic: Detox, Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

I’ve written a bit recently about coffee and tea, and their health benefits, as well as downsides. I’ve also been thinking a lot about food addictions and habits, and how to break them. I’ve heard it said that it takes three weeks to break a habit, and there are plenty of ways you can rewire your mindset to change your behavior.

I decided to spend the month of October finding out what would happen if I went on a coffee fast. I’d go the entire month without drinking coffee, just to see the effect it would have on my body and on my psyche. I have notoriously little willpower, and I was curious if I could find the strength to go a month without one of my favorite things in the world. Read on to see if I did it.

Day 1: It feels strange waking up and not heading for the coffee maker. And I didn’t plan ahead and stock my pantry with a fun tea selection. But I find a few bags of green tea, and brewing them up turned out to be far easier than making a pot of coffee… just boil some water and pour it into the mug.

By mid-afternoon, my head hurts with a dull, pervasive ache that no amount of aspirin can cure. It’s a struggle to be friendly and pleasant at a family friend’s dinner party.

Day 4: A package from my sister-in-law in New York includes a stash of some delicious teas, and I actually find myself getting excited about trying them in the morning. The headache miraculously didn’t last longer than a day or so. Then again, I’m still drinking caffeine, just not as much (black tea has about 40 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, while coffee has upwards of 80 mg, depending on the variety and how it’s brewed).

Day 6: Today, a Saturday, is the first day that my resolve is wavering. It’s a beautiful Saturday morning and any other day, I’d get a to-go cup of coffee and head for the farmers’ market. A mug of Earl Grey seems a poor substitute. I am very nearly tempted to suspend my coffee fast… after all, it’s the weekend! But I stay strong and keep sipping my tea.

Day 8: I’ve gone a full week without coffee. And I feel good. Is it my imagination, or is it getting easier to wake up in the morning? My husband notices that I never cleaned out the coffee pot before the beginning of this experiment, and there’s little spots of white mold in the carafe. Gross!

Day 9: I weigh myself this morning and discover I’ve lost 1.5 pounds over the past week. Is it because of the coffee fast, or because of my efforts to be more active? It gets me to thinking about how the act of taking charge (in my case, having the willpower to cut coffee out of my diet) has motivated me to make other positive changes in my life, like exercising more and eating better. And I’m starting to really enjoy the taste of green tea.

Day 13: It’s the second weekend since quitting coffee, and this weekend was a little easier. I woke up this morning not thinking about how much I was craving a cup of coffee, but how much I was looking forward to a pot of the fancy chocolate-flavored tea that I discovered in the back of my cabinet. Unfortunately, that feeling of being able to get up easier seems to have passed… as the days get shorter (and the mornings are still dark when my alarm goes off), it’s harder and harder to get out of bed. So apparently that side-benefit to quitting coffee is a myth, at least for me. I do, however, like being able to drink tea throughout the day, switching to lower-caffeine green tea in the afternoons. If I’d had a cup of coffee late in the day, I’d be up all night!

Day 23: A jaunt to Asheville this past weekend was nearly my undoing. For one thing, there’s nothing I love more than drinking coffee in other cities. "You’ve got to go to Double Decker Coffee," My brother-in-law told us as we were leaving. I wondered if they served chai. One morning, we waited outside for what seemed like hours for a seat in a trendy café. The café had generously set up a little coffee station for the waiters, and I looked around jealously at everyone wrapping their hands around steaming mugs in the chilly October morning. For a moment, I wavered: what’s one cup of coffee? But then I thought about how lousy I would feel if I had so little will power that I couldn’t even go a month without coffee. I settled instead on drinking chai made with frothy steamed milk wherever I could find it. Only 7 more days.

Day 32: I wake up this morning thinking, I did it! I went the whole month without a single sip of coffee. I’d decided in advance to reward myself with a coffee made with a Clover machine, a super-fancy commercial machine that is supposed to produce the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had. I’m almost nervous heading over to the one café in town that has a Clover machine. What if I’ve lost my taste for coffee? But one sip and I realized that I loved it just as much as always (although I must admit, the Clover coffee wasn’t as ethereal an experience as I’d imagined it would be).

I learned a few things about breaking a habit or an addiction from my experiment:

  • Tell the world. Telling my husband and my friends (and of course, you, dear readers) what I was up to made me more responsible. How embarrassing would it be to fail when everyone was watching my progress!
  • Find a substitute. I stocked up on fun teas that I could enjoy in place of my morning coffee, and when I went to coffee shops (which I often do, to work), I treated myself to a chai latte. It helps to not feel deprived.
  • Practice tough love. On the occasions when the devil on my shoulder purred in my ear, "What’s just one cup?" I waged a silent war against myself: If I didn’t even have the willpower to go a month without a cup of coffee, how could I ever accomplish anything in my life? Ouch — but the lecture worked.
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