One step closer to a 100% fun-free diet

I’ve been a lazy, lazy blogger this week. I can’t blame the apartment search, because I found a short-term option for June and punted the hunt to next month. This week, there is one reason and one reason only for my lack of blog: caffeine withdrawal.

People who know me well know that I like my caffeine. When I told some people I was trying to go caffeine-free, responses included:

“You are?”
“Is anything else left?”
“So you’ll drink a 2-liter of caffeine-free Diet Coke every day now instead?”
and, simply, “…Why?”

My answers:

“Yes.”
“I hope so.”
“God no.”
and… “I don’t know.”

I don’t have a great answer to the last one. Caffeine isn’t bad for you—in appropriate quantities—and coffee in particular has been associated with lots of nice health bonuses. Diet soda has been associated with depression here, weight gain there, but the data is inconclusive. Both excessive coffee intake and excessive carbonated beverage intake can mess with digestion according to, oh, every list of tips for dealing with IBS ever; and the proteins in coffee have supposedly been found to be “cross-reactive” with gluten proteins in some people—not confirmed, but compelling.

Most importantly, I just don’t like being dependent on caffeine. I’ve spent the past several years playing a little game called “undiagnosed autoimmune disease vs. coffee” and, as of last week, was drinking 11 cups every morning (all at once, over the course of an hour), plus the aforementioned Diet Coke later on. I’m tied to the routine and it sucks up more of my time than it should. If most people are made up of 70% water, there’s a good chance I’m made up of 70% coffee. That doesn’t thrill me.

Photo © Amanda | Flickr

Photo © Amanda | Flickr

Caffeine is such a part of my routine that I nearly cried after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild because I knew I couldn’t possibly carry a large enough supply of coffee and water to sustain me if I ever wanted to hike the entire Pacific Coast Trail. Kindly ignore all of the other reasons I would find it difficult to imitate Strayed (e.g., I’ve never hiked or even particularly wanted to hike). The point of the anecdote is this: I’ve come to see caffeine as necessary. But what if it’s not? What if I could retrain my body to exist and, such as it does, function—without caffeine? What if it would even function a bit better?

As I (half) joked to one friend, “I hadn’t given up anything major for a few months, so it just felt right.” It was only a half joke because it’s true that I don’t feel right about just spinning my wheels waiting for my magical gluten-free diet to magically kick in; I want to keep trying things. This is another thing to try. It’s something that, back in February, I didn’t think I could do. So, progress! Sort of.

I decided to go caffeine-free rather suddenly, with no prior reflection, when I found myself at the end of Saturday not having indulged in my usual afternoon soda fix. At that point, I just thought, “Why not?” I went cold turkey, which is apparently the exact opposite of the right thing to do. Caffeine withdrawal is real, folks, and I’m proof.

By Sunday evening a headache had banded itself around my temples and behind my eyes, rendering me useless to do anything but fall asleep. I woke on Monday and my head still hurtI don’t think I’ve ever had a headache that lasted overnight that way. It’s most likely the closest I’ve ever come to a migraine. I felt so sick that I actually stayed home from work on Monday and slept all day. “Caffeine withdrawal” may sound like a sorry excuse for a sick day, but trust me, I was sick enough. That morning, I came so close to quitting: I even brewed my normal pot of coffee and poured myself a cup. I was saved by the fact that I felt too ill to drink it.

Now, I think I’m past the worst of it, beyond the initial “I’m in hideous pain” phase and into the “I can’t bring myself to do or care about anything because it turns out coffee was the only thing powering my thoughts and actions” phase of withdrawal, which according to reputable internet sources shouldn’t last much longer than a week.

Photo © Christian | Flickr

Photo © Christian | Flickr

Like many of the things I’ve given up (alcohol, lactose, oats, eating out, anything made “in a facility that processes…”), I may not be done with caffeine forever. Heck, I may not make it through the rest of the work week. But, though not necessarily permanent, it’s worth a try. In the meantime, know that although I’ve been posting more infrequently recently, I’m still here and still gluten-free. That, my friends, is permanent.

I stole the phrase “fun-free” from this post on Gluten Is My Bitch. Have you read her book yet? It’s funny!

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25 thoughts on “One step closer to a 100% fun-free diet

  1. Dad says:

    Well, if you’ve made it this far, were you really dependent? More like “used to”. Every Lent and Advent I give up coffee, and while I miss it, because I so much more prefer it to tea, it’s just that; missing something I get used to. About a gradual reduction instead of cold turkey we already spoke about.
    But good luck with it. I know that when I tried the Atkins diet several years ago, that was one of the foods I had to give up, because it can interfere (or so it was theorized) with insulin release. Which, if true, could certainly affect all sorts of diets and digestions.

    • Molly says:

      There’s also evidence that coffee (caffeine, but also coffee specifically) is a colonic stimulant, e.g. this article from 1998. I usually read about this as causing diarrhea for some and constipation in others because it’s also a diuretic and because the muscles can become dependent on it and not be able to move properly without it (like any stimulant-type laxative). Interesting how no two bodies respond quite the same way to these things!

  2. Lynn was just telling me yesterday that she found out carbonated drinks can mess with digestion! She told me to tell you, and I told her you probably already knew. Hah.

    Anyway, good luck. Giving up caffeine sucks. I think it’s best to just give it up for a bit and then slowly build up your tolerance again. In the meantime, you’ll have a good period of time where you only have to drink 2-3 cups a day. Not having any at all actually makes it really hard to function at 100%, even if you don’t realize it. After I had given it up for a bit, whenever I had a cup I would think SO MUCH FASTER. IT WAS AWESOME. But then I started drinking a zillion cups a day again. I’m going to take a coffee hiatus the week after school ends just to lower my tolerance a bit.

    • Molly says:

      If I already function at, say, 80%, does that mean I’ll now function at 70% then? Or maybe it’ll have the opposite effect and by the time I see you next week (!!) I’ll be powering along at 110%. That, or falling asleep during the ceremony. A coffee hiatus sounds like a good idea, though I’ll need you at full capacity for our apartment search. 😛

  3. I drink green tea which has much less caffeine that coffee. I never could past of the taste of coffee or the smell. Good luck to you.

    • Molly says:

      I do like tea, too (usually black, sometimes chai, rather than green—actually, I never got into the taste of green tea, especially when used as a flavor for other foods like ice cream; that was a trend that passed me by). Of course, not drinking it right now. Thanks for the good luck wishes!

  4. Laurie C says:

    I think it’s a good thing for you to do, to see what happens. Can you take something for the headaches, though?

    • Molly says:

      The first day I felt too debilitated to even go out and buy headache medication, and now I’m only getting minor occasional headaches, so I’m trying to just stay extra-hydrated (as usual) and skip the meds. We’ll see how that goes. Many of the big name brand headache pills are gluten-free, though, so if I need to resort to them I can.

  5. denisedaniel says:

    I’m off diet coke for the next three weeks because I’m doing a corn challenge to see if I’m allergic to it based on a scratch test. I caved, well I actually didn’t even consider going off caffeine, and bought caffeine pills (which were gluten, wheat, egg, milk, soy and corn free) and cut them in quarters. I just prefer my life on caffeine. I’ll prefer my life much more if I turn out not to be allergic to corn. I’m not sure I can handle getting rid of Skittles on a permanent basis. Good luck with the withdrawal, I went off once between college and law school and I had the worst migraine of my life.

    • Molly says:

      Oh, losing Skittles would be much worse than kicking Coke! I googled around to see if there were corn-free homemade Skittles recipes and didn’t immediately find any recipes at all. I did find this snarky Yahoo Answers thread on the subject, though. I have faith that if you need to give up Snickers you’ll develop a suitable replacement! If you do, you’d better blog about it; you just might be the first one to do so.

      Good luck with your challenge & test and thanks for the luck wishes!

  6. Mary Kate says:

    I gave it up maybe 7 or 8 years ago, but have allowed it to creep back in. It’s so much easier to deal with sinus season on coffee, but I also know I feel better off it, with small amounts of tea in my diet when caffeine is needed. Good luck, though.

    • Molly says:

      Thanks! I think of it as a bit of a Band-aid and I’m wary of relying too much on those surface fixes. Then again, a moderate daily intake of coffee or tea is actually associated with a surprising amount of health benefits, so I’m not at all opposed to returning to it in the future, hopefully more…moderately.

  7. Oh WOW I’m impressed and a little scared for you 🙂 But then again I’m totally biased. With two kids who don’t sleep = a mom who lives off of caffeine. To be fair, I only have 2 cups a day, but without those 2 cups I would probably not survive. Good luck with your experiment!
    -Dana

    • Molly says:

      Two cups a day, I think, is in that magical “good for you” zone, so don’t worry—you don’t have to give it up! (Is it 1 cup per kid? Does caffeine work that way?) Thanks for the luck. I’m scared for me, too.

  8. mellieann85 says:

    i gave up caffeine after feeling like i had palpitations at work (i was drinking two monsters a day and a Dr Pepper at lunch) and heading to the ER because it felt like chest pain. it was also embarassing because i’m a nurse. lol. i sometimes have a tea or a Coke but nothing too crazy. it took me a couple weeks of headaches and weaning down to nothing. once you stop you feel how crappy the caffeine is for you, but i figure a Dr Pepper every once in awhile is okay.

    • Molly says:

      Haha, better safe than sorry! My one emergency room visit was really anticlimactic too (though I’m not a nurse). I think a moderate approach is probably key (not that I’m following that advice myself).

  9. brickiepedia says:

    Good luck! I love my coffee – but no where near that amount!!! I reckon you could reintroduce it. Like 2 cups a day. But ditch the soda!!!! For sure!!!!!

    • Molly says:

      Yes! Soda’s gross. I honestly don’t know why I’ve kept drinking it for so long, especially on a daily basis. People always seem surprised when they find out how much diet soda I drink…wonder why…

  10. Vinny Grette says:

    Have you read about inflammation? It’s the current cause of all that ails us. When our body chemistry tilts toward acidity on the pH scale, arteries, lung capillaries etc become inflamed – which leads to disease (heart, cancer, lung etc). When we maintain a neutral or alkaline pH, inflammation subsides and disease is held at bay. Coffee and coke are big-time acidity inducers. Green tea and lemon juice (surprisingly) are big alkalinity tilters. Thus ends the lesson for today (you probably already know all this)
    Signed, Huge fan of green tea and lemon juice 🙂

    • Molly says:

      Thank you! That’s really interesting. I need to get into green tea now that I’m off coffee and soda (and alcohol!). I miss drinking things that taste like something. 🙂

      Of course, there’s also evidence of coffee having antioxidant properties, so it’s hard to sort it all out and come to a conclusion about whether it’s good or not!

  11. You can do it!! I had to give all caffeine the boot a few years ago and I LOVED my lattes, but it was giving me bad stomach pains, headaches, and I hated the jitters, it was almost anxiety for me. So I honestly didn’t have (or just don’t remember) any caffeine withdrawals. I now have a coffee substitute called Krakus that you can buy at most health food stores. It’s 100% all natural and made from extracts of roasted barley, rye, chicory, and beet root. If you’re a die-hard coffee drinker though you might find it tastes a bit different but I honestly think it tastes close enough to coffee for me to enjoy it. Good luck 🙂

    • Molly says:

      Thanks! I don’t think I can have that particular coffee substitute because barley and rye are no-nos on the gluten-free diet…but I do want to get into herbal teas. Glad you could kick it with no withdrawal. That’s lucky!

  12. […] were all super supportive when I announced I was giving up coffee. Thank […]

  13. […] the way, I gave up coffee, picked it up again, found a new apartment, and went to a bunch of fun events. Oh, and my […]

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