I Can’t Quit You, Coffee

It’s time to come clean.  As you know if you’ve been with this blog since the beginning, I didn’t drink an ounce of coffee for ten straight days a few weeks back.  After the headaches stopped on the second day, I didn’t even miss it.  As far as I was concerned, coffee was no longer part of my routine.  I’ll even confess that when I saw others drinking it, just as I had been doing for months (years?) previously, I judged them a bit.  Can’t you see you’re a slave to that green and white cup?  Get out of that warm, fuzzy, caffeinated pseudo-reality and enjoy how it feels to just be natural. I even told the story on this blog about when I did reward myself at the end of the ten days with a single small (tall) coffee from Starbucks, and subsequently felt uncomfortably jittery and dizzy.  How could I have been drinking this crap every single day, when it causes that sort of reaction now that I’m not used to it?

But even that ten-day experience wasn’t enough for me to stop, because as I write this post I’m drinking another nice cup of joe.  And it’s not my allotted one or two per week.  This is the third consecutive day.  And let me tell you, it still feels great.

I am very hesitant to call this an addiction.  Spoken like a true addict though, isn’t it?  The reason I won’t call it the a-word is that I don’t think I need coffee.  I wouldn’t have had a headache if I didn’t drink it today.  And I didn’t drink it because I was tired and needed a jolt to start the day.  I drank it because I love drinking it, because I love the mood it puts me in.  To further support my case, let me explain that I never drink coffee if I wake up tired or on the wrong side of the bed, or even if I have a busy day of not-so-exciting math classes ahead of me.  I just don’t want it then.  But when I have a light schedule, some time with myself to read, think, or now write, then coffee just makes a good time that much better.

Then again, this isn’t completely innocent.  I’m not drinking coffee solely for the taste; if that were the case then decaf would probably do.  I’m drinking it for its ability to make my happy moments even happier.  And in this way, I’m using it for what it really is, a mood-altering drug.  Yes, drug.

I do know that if I believed coffee were terrible for me and could not possibly be part of a healthy lifestyle, then I wouldn’t drink it.  I value health more than whatever it is that coffee gives me.  Problem is, I’m not convinced that the net effect is bad.  I hear about so many studies showing a reduced risk of cancer, Alzheimers, and heart disease from as many as three to five cups of coffee per day, an amount that I don’t consider moderate.  Of course, plenty of negative effects have been shown too.  My point is that if coffee’s net effect is bad, then it’s not at all clear to me yet.

I like this picture of Starbucks signs and all the paradoxical staircases.  Its point, of course, is that Starbucks is infiltrating our lives by popping up on every street corner, turning lots of us into mindless drones whose sole quest is to remain caffeinated.  But for me it has more meaning.  The picture references the well-known M.C. Escher drawing Relativity.  And when I talk about getting blissfully lost in a book with a cup of coffee, the book that comes to mind is Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.  The book’s central theme is self-reference of the type used by Escher, as it appears not just in art, but also in music, mathematics, computer science, biology, and most profoundly, consciousness.  Of course that has nothing to do with coffee (though caffeine addiction is the subject of J.S. Bach’s famous Coffee Cantata).  But to realize that I was caffeinated during most of the time that I spent enjoying my favorite book in the world saddens me a little, and this picture reminds me of that fact in an amusing way.

So that’s where I am with coffee– not sure if it’s good or bad, and not sure how not to love it so much.  I hope to hear if there are any others with the same dilemma, and to get some convincing feedback from you diet-conscious readers about whether you think health and coffee are mutually exclusive.

And don’t worry; Erin and I didn’t go hungry last night!  I just thought something other than a recipe today would provide a nice change of pace.  Recipes will be back tomorrow!

(UPDATE: A few weeks after this post, I decided to drastically reduce my caffeine intake.  See Giving Up Coffee, and Other Nonrandom Sunday Thoughts.)



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  1. Bill K. says:

    Hey Matt, nice article and site.

    I have been a pretty regular coffee drinker for at least 4 or 5 years. Regular meaning 2-3 cups a day M-F, and less on the weekends (if any). I decided to get my teeth whitened, and while doing the treatment, the recommendation is to not drink any tea or coffee, so I took it as a challenge to my willpower.

    That was a month ago. I haven’t had even one sip of tea, coffee, or soda since then. At times it has been tempting, but surprisingly not too bad. I didn’t even get any headaches when I initially stopped.

    I’m not sure how long I will keep from ingesting all 3 of these, but I will for sure scale way back if I do decide to resume my caffeine addiction. =)

    • Thanks Bill, glad you like the site. Congratulations on giving up caffeine like that. I think two weeks is about the longest I’ve made it. The reason you didn’t have headaches is probably because you took occasional weekends off; I think there is some chemical that you stop producing when you have it for many consecutive days. Since you took breaks, you didn’t stop making that chemical, I would guess.

  2. Anybody that knows me knows my thoughts about caffeine – it’s a legal drug that is highly addicting, and we addict our children to it at a young age.

    I’ve almost completely eliminated it from my diet for the past decade or so; other than an occasional food or beverage with a little caffeine or taking a caffeine pill when I start getting a migraine, I pretty much avoid it.

  3. Blaine, what do you think about taking caffeine before a race? Are there real benefits or are they overstated?

  4. I have watched Matt struggle with this since I stopped drinking caffeine over 2 years ago. I can see that he likes the idea of “no caffeine” and will go for short spurts without it but then always finds his way back to it! I have found that I really am just as good if not better without that daily jolt! I haven’t looked back and find that when I do have a craving for “it”….the “it” turns out to be a hot drink of tea which is just as tasty to me caffeine free.

  5. Maybe you are just genetically predisposed to getting a stronger reaction from caffeine which makes you more easily hooked on caffeine than others… I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but I feel like I could use that Starbucks IV today.

    • Thanks for commenting Joe. I think I do get a stronger reaction than others, maybe not a wake-up reaction but definitely a mood-enhancing one. I’m really seriously thinking of allowing only one cup per week, as part of my training to qualify for the Boston Marathon (see next post). I think I can give it up if I have a strong enough reason to.

  6. I didn’t realize how coffee and the caffeine effected me until I read your blog a week or so ago and you said how comsuming it after a 2 week absence had made you feel happy. I hadn’t had any coffee either for a couple weeks and then had a cup. I was SO surprised with the JOLT! I hadn’t remembered having that feeling before, but I realized how happy and energetic and UP I felt! It felt good! But it concerned me a little too. I, like you had had no idea how differently it made me feel! And I had only been drinking maybe 4 cups a week. I guess I had built up a tolerance to it. And now, I’m thinking the same way as you. I sort of like the feeling, even though it makes me wonder if something with that much punch could really be safe, time and time again. I don’t know… but look at Aunt Elinore. Eighty-four years old, healthy, happy, has never liked or eaten very much of dairy products, has eaten limited red meat and has had 2 cups of coffee with sugar every day for almost 70 years! Sometimes, I guess, if it feels good, it may not be all that bad for the entire body and soul.

  7. The problem is never the coffee. It’s people who cannot control themselves in moderation.

  8. Katie McAvoy says:

    Hey Matt great site!

    I’m no coffee drinker – but like you when I do have a cup I get HAPPY. Unfortunately, if I’m tired or stressed, I just get jittery. Sigh.

    BTW, caffeine acts as an inhibitor of the chemical adenosine in the brain. Adenosine acts on at least four different receptors on a bunch of different cell types – but we don’t really know how it increases awareness, etc. Ah, the limits of science.

    • Hey Katie, thanks for checking it out. I actually decided today that I’m only going to drink coffee once a week. I just can’t give it up on the weekly Barnes and Noble trip! But it really has no part in my training program to qualify for Boston, so I’m going to start drinking green or herbal tea instead.
      I would be interested to know more about how caffeine works… is that the same chemical that causes the headaches for people who stop drinking coffee after many days in a row of drinking it? I think somehow the body stops producing something, seems like that could be it.

  9. Katie McAvoy says:

    You’re mostly right- adenosine is what causes the headaches in people who sop drinking coffee. However, it’s not that the body stops producing something, it’s that it produces more. Caffeine inhibits the binding of adenosine to its receptors. Thus, adenosine can’t activate its signaling, which includes effects on sleep and blood flow (we think). In someone who drinks caffeine regularly, the body compensates for less adenosine signaling by increasing its receptors and making more adenosine – this is why you get tolerance. The withdrawal symptoms mostly come b/c when you take away caffeine, there’s all this extra adenosine, which increases blood flow in the brain and gives you a headache.(I just looked this up and there’s actually a really cool study where they imaged blood flow in the brain and saw that in people having caffeine withdrawal it went way up!)

  10. Katie McAvoy says:

    My guess is that in moderation caffeine is a good thing. I think there are some studies that show beneficial effects on cognition with a cup a day- I’ll have to ask the lab down the hall from me. They work on adenosine signaling and caffeine. They also have their own espresso machine in the lab….

  11. Kate,
    You seem like your very knowledgeable on the subject and have access to information that is not common.

    I’m 25 and have no apparent health problems. At lest none that would be diagnosed by an allopathic doctor. I’ve quit drinking caffeine many time over the past 5 or 6 years. I’ve quit for a month or for two or even 3. Last year I quit for 3 months. I was very active and living in another country. I never seemed to get my spark back. I was very mellow and never really got over my addiction. I’m quitting again now and I’m also doing a raw food cleanse and will be doing a juice fast next week for three days. How long does it take to get over caffeine! I can’t seem to break this addiction!

  12. Bob Ingalls says:

    It took me about 5 days before i was over the headache. However, I am past my 2nd week now and I still get strong cravings for coffee. This is no walk in the park. Coffee is addictive period.

  13. I just finished 2 weeks without any coffee and I formerly was a heavy daily drinker. I’ve been using Brendan Brazier’s Thrive book as a guide and I really dig the recipes in the book and on his website. But while I’m convinced of the healthiness of the vegan athletic lifestyle, I’m not always on board with the ph-Balanced and alkaline business, sounds a little too much like Tony Robbins’ green drink (and while I love a lot of what Tony says, that green drink sounded like product placement). He’s strictly no coffee (even black) and I think that some coffee (not as much as I was drinking, obviously, I was around a pot a day.)

    Anyway, I’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile (I’m a long time vegetarian but just switched to a vegan diet because I’m training to increase my marathon times and I hoped that this big change might help) and thought I’d chime in here because I’m slowly re-integrating coffee back into my diet on a moderate basis. No freakouts yet!

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