My Randomized Plan to Quit Coffee
Or, really, to quit drinking caffeine.
The “why’s”: Making lasting change starts with having strong enough “why’s.” Here are mine. Caffeine is an incongruous part of my otherwise healthy way of life. I try hard to stay away from acid-forming foods and to eat by the principles of Thrive, where energy comes not from stimulation but from nourishment. I want to maximize the energy I have available to create an exciting life, and coffee, in the long-term, only robs me of this energy.
I’ve tried hard to quit coffee in the past—I even went a month without coffee a while back. But I keep coming back to it. I come back to it because I have this idea that it helps me think better. I enjoy reading books and doing math more when I drink coffee, and I think I come up with better ideas when I’m caffeinated. But I know that’s not true. The type of thinking coffee helps me with is a very linear kind, a proficiency at checking items off a list or even of recombining old ideas in a new way. This isn’t real creativity. Real creativity is nonlinear, the creation of truly new ideas that haven’t yet been conceived, not simply the reordering of old ones.
One pound regular coffee beans, one pound decaf coffee beans, and a bunch of little baggies. And oh yeah, a randomizing device/wife.
The plan: Here’s the deal. A standard weaning-off isn’t going to work. I know this because I don’t have a problem going a day without coffee or caffeine. I never drink it before long runs, so I think that one day off per week has kept me from developing a physical addiction. No; my problem is that on gut level, I believe that coffee makes me happier and more creative. This is what needs to change: I need to convince myself that my thinking is just as vibrant, or more so, without coffee.
I’ve often wondered how much of the caffeine high is a placebo effect. What if, I’ve often imagined, I were given a cup of decaf that I thought was the high-octane stuff? Might I experience the same mental fireworks, completely of my own accord? My belief is “yes,” and it’s on this notion that my plan is based.
So here’s how it works. I use five scoops of coffee beans each morning. I gave Erin (my randomizing device) the amount of beans that I’ll use this week, three-fifths of which are regular, two-fifths of which are decaf:
I’ve asked her to put five scoops in each bag, but here’s the kicker: I had her randomize the number of caffeinated scoops and decaf scoops I get each day, and not tell me the amounts. The only rules were that one day must be all caffeine; one day must be all decaf. The rest of the proportions are to be whatever she decides.
I make no secret of my love for gambling, and my hope is that the “gamble” each morning, the chance that I’ll hit the jackpot and get the fully-caffeinated version, will keep the experiment alive. What would be really special is if I find I can’t identify which days are hi-caf, or even better, if I find that I’m happy no matter what, but on the hi-caf days I get unpleasant jitters and fatigue later in the day. That would go along way to changing my gut level associations to coffee.
So this week is three-fifths regular, two-fifths decaf. Next week will be the same randomization process, with two-fifths regular and three-fifths decaf. The next will be only one-fifth regular. I’ll keep it in this proportion, knowing that on any given day I might be drinking a fully-caffeinated cup of Joe, until I’m convinced that caffeine doesn’t make me any happier than I can make myself.
My biggest concern is that I won’t be able to make that gut-level change of the emotions I link to drinking caffeine, and to that end, I’ve ordered a book called Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Dangers of America’s #1 Drug. I found this book thanks to Mel, one of the coolest bloggers I know, who mentioned it on her blog She Runs Brooklyn. (Yet Mel still drinks coffee and loves it more than most. Could that be why I think Mel is cool? Hmm…)
So here I sit, Day 1, Week 1, with my cup of java. I’m pretty sure it’s not the jackpot. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s an even mix. Or maybe it’s the all-decaf, and the little buzz I’m getting is my mind’s own doing. And that’s exactly the point.
iHerb.com shopping spree winner
While we’re expounding on the virtues of randomization, it’s time for a lottery draw! There were 103 comments, and we’ll leave it up to the goddess Fortuna to bestow upon the lucky winner the $50 iHerb.com shopping spree. Here we go…
#21 is Anne, another starving grad student, who said she would buy lots and lotsa chia seeds and coconut oil! Congrats, Anne, enjoy your $50!
Love this idea! I don’t drink coffee (tea drinker) but can imagine this would help a lot!
I was forced [told to] to give up coffee as it caused me heart arrhythmias. But I managed to find a balance. Like all things in life there is a balance… I only drink one cup a day. It’s like the most cherished cup of coffee in the whole world.
The rest of the day, I drink herbal teas, water etc…
Good luck with your experiment!
I think that you have a great plan on your hands. I love the whole idea of leaving it all up to the wifey. You are essentially putting it all in her hands actually. Good luck!
I actually love coffee, but I can’t have it very often b/c it seriously messes with my energy levels! I feel fine within the first 30 min, jittery and shaky the next hour, then absolutely need a nap soon after that! While working on school, if I’m absolutely desperate, a mildly caffeinated green tea does the trick.
.-= Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete´s last blog ..Random Jogger =-.
Ok, I’m going out on a limb here but I’m going to say you got the all Decaf today because it’s only Tuesday but you are wishing us a happy ‘hump day’….???? Hmmmm you could be on to something here.
But all joking aside, I too have been toying with the idea of kicking the habit. My stomach fell a bit when I read your title. My reasons are similar to yours in that I primarily want to eliminate any acid producing foods/drinks from my diet. My second reason is that I just LOVE it so very much!! I get so much enjoyment from coffee… I’m sure I could enjoy decaf as much as I’m pretty sure it’s the taste/experience that I’m after and not the caffeine because like you I can go without it and not experience any ‘withdrawal’ affects.
I’m curious to see how your experiment goes. I guess I’ll go buy me some decaf…
.-= Bernadette´s last blog ..Sabotage =-.
Forget the stupid plan and just quit. I think the problem with your project is that you know about it. I think you are going to analyze each cup and figure it out whats in it, within a close margin. It would work better if Erin did it without your knowledge, then I think you might be fulled. I took your 30 day challenge months ago and have not looked back. Once I broke it, I didn’t even think about caffeine anymore. I drink plenty of decaf during the day though.
I also gave up coffee for an extended period of time, can’t remember how long, but eventually introduced it back into my system and it was a huge high. I was flying! I think I sort of liked it so started allowing myself to have it once a week, then it soon became twice a week and now I am up to three on certain weeks.
I don’t have the same buzz I used to, but the other day I had a decaff espresso drink instead of caffeinated and never felt a bit jittery like I normally do, but still enjoyed the beverage.
Unfortunately it’s not just the caffeine that is bad for you. I’m going to have to get over this mental enjoyment of coffee to kick my habit.
.-= Caleb´s last blog ..Come get your love =-.
Have you ever tried Teeccino? I’m not much of a coffee drinker anyway but their product is the closest thing I’ve found to the rich taste of coffee, and to be much better for you.
Their site is at teeccino dot com
PS – I have no relationship to the company
ha, cool experiment. I went off coffee for a few months and then started again in the winter for the warmth of it. I don’t drink regular any more though because it makes me crazy but I do have 8oz Americanos fairly often. They’re half the caf and so it’s like drinking a 4oz coffee.
I’d love to give it up but probably won’t until summer. I’m addicted to heat and tea gets cold fast.
GOOD LUCK! I don’t know if I could ever do that. I’ll see how you handle it and then I’ll decide if I ever want to take the plunge. But I’ll be honest…probably not 🙂
I recently (Sept 16 to be exact!!) had to give up all caffeine b/c of doctors orders. I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse/dysautonomia—meaning my autonomic nervous system isn’t quite up to par, chronic state of dehydration with low bp and heart-rate.
A day did not go by that I didn’t have my 2 cups of coffee….the morning just wasn’t complete without it!! I also had to cut out all chocolate and cocoa. I have developed a love for carob now that’s for sure! I limit myself to one cup of decaf (since it still has a tad of caffeine in it) and that’s it. Strictly decaf teas now as well. I thought it was going to be tough (ok, giving up chocolate is really freaking hard!!!) but honestly I feel 100% better than I did before but then again I had a reason to give it up. And it hasn’t affected my running at all…i might even be faster!!
I was thinking today about trying to cut back on my coffee….totally? to one cup? not sure…I think the thing that makes me resist kicking the coffee habit is more about the routine or ritual I create around my coffee drinking….When I tried the green smoothie thing, I noticed a definite decrese in my desire to drink coffee.
I just forwarded this to my bf who has recently decided to give up coffee . . . more for the reason that he spends $2.50 a day on it , which is $75 a month
Cool experiment. I’m excited to hear how it goes.
I love coffee. It is the warmth and taste that really makes me a happy little chica. Small amounts of coffee have also been shown to have positive benefits (although they go back on the positives and negatives all the time). I like both full caf and decaf so I just try to enjoy it in moderation.
.-= Erica´s last blog ..Great Weekend & Workouts =-.
So will you stick with all decaf coffee? No interest in the antioxidants or supposedly good features of coffee?
.-= Caroline´s last blog ..Hurts so good =-.
I used to drink several cups of coffee every day, but gave it up when I was pregnant. It was hard at first, but I grew to love green tea. I love the taste of coffee and still have a cup every so often when my husband makes a pot and has some left over, but I really don’t miss it that much. Plus, I love discovering new teas and new flavors!
.-= Aimee (I Tri To Be Me)´s last blog ..Swim, speed, sick =-.
how do you grow to love tea?
I’m trying to work coffee into my life. I’m hoping it will help me lose weight. I don’t care if I die with addictions, I want my tombstone to say “At least she was thin…”
Okay, kidding. Kinda
I can’t wait to read about your randomized coffee experiment results!
Your comment to sign up for another race right away is something I totally planned to do! I’ve found a couple more half marathons in a few months I’m looking into. I feel like I need the motivation of an upcoming challenge to keep me on target.
.-= Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather´s last blog ..How Sweet It Is =-.
Congratulations! Caffeine is a nasty substance – you are better off without it.
Maybe you could consider having non-caffeinated green tea instead of the coffee a few times per week? Then you not only eliminate the caffeine, but you also introduce some healthy elements rather than introducing more unhealthy elements in the decaf.
I don’t have anything at my fingertips, but I know I’ve read that drinking 1-2 cups of coffee a day is GOOD for your health.
No way I could give up coffee. That stuff is my best friend in the morning 😉
I understand both sides of the great “coffee debate.” The thing is…coffee is one of those things that gives me great joy. I’m so healthy and balanced in every other aspect of my life but I don’t plan to get rid of my coffee 😉 Props to you though!
You are so thorough in this it’s actually making me laugh. I don’t remember how I quit caffeine exactly but… I did it. I assure you, at some point it gets really easy and the only challenge becomes avoiding caffeine. I had an “espresso” flavored bar and I swear it was like 3 cups of Dunkin Donuts
I like this! But I have two questions. When will you find out the make-up of each day’s mixture? Will you get immediate answers at the end of the day after you describe how you felt and what you believe to be the mixture? That would be interesting for us to see how close you are to feeling what you think you’re drinking. And my second question… what if the fully caffeinated coffee DOES make you feel better and think more vibrantly and actually is not connected to feeling crashes later in the day? Is the acidic increase worth it? And third question after I said I only had two… how do you even know how much acidic increase the coffee is causing? Maybe it’s too little to matter. I like the doing what you love mindset.
Sounds like an interesting plan. Best of luck.
.-= Angie´s last blog ..Week’s Workout Schedule =-.
I’ve always personally wondered how much of drinking coffee is a placebo effect, which makes me super interested in your plan. 😀 I think it’s a genius idea of weaning yourself off of it, and wouldn’t mind trying something similair myself. As much as I love my morning cup of coffee, it’s not for the caffeine…I just like the ritual of having a warm cup of something each morning!
Oh, and I would love to take full credit for the improvement on the blog’s pictures, but honestly…it has a lot to do with my new canon camera. 😉 I swear, it could make anyone look like a professional photographer.
.-= Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down)´s last blog ..Planning Ahead =-.
I was an absolute coffee junkie! In college I lived on the stuff and used it as social lubrication as much as most people do beer. After I went vegan (I’m not saying coffee isn’t vegan, or has anything to do with that) I started drinking vegetable shakes (green drink) for breakfast & herbal tea with almonds. I no longer crave the black stuff at all. I feel much better throughout the day. No headaches without a coffee fix or anything. Good luck man. Love the blog and I’m glad you’re enjoying your vibrams.
Have you tried Teeccino? A lot of people use it as a coffee substitute to wean themselves off of coffee. Instead of caffeine, it has potassium in it to give you an energy boost. I’m a tea and water drinker, but every once in awhile, I get a craving for some coffee, and I go for the vanilla nut Teeccino with vanilla soy creamer. They have other flavors too.
Very cool. I actually have a huge love for coffee. And its not for the caffeine. I just really enjoy the taste. So switching to decaf works just fine for me. Ive tried to cut it out but that didnt work. So for me, I just try to limit my consumption to 1-2 cups perday then I switch to tea. That seems to work pretty well for me. Have an awesome day!
.-= chrysta´s last blog ..Back from a little vacay… =-.
That is one interesting experiment. I’m sure you can kick the habit, no problem. After living abroad in a coffee-centric country for a while, I really view it in a completely different light. It’s no longer a dependency thing. I make sure I maintain a level of drinking it that doesn’t lead to a physical addiction though, like headaches without it. I can go without it some mornings, no problem. I view coffee as very cultural so I don’t have a goal to cut it out. Speaking of caffiene drinks, sodas of all types, on the other hand, are completely out of here! 🙂
.-= Lori´s last blog ..Local Eats in Louisville =-.
Reading this post brought a few thoughts to mind:
1) Quitting coffee = bad idea – for me, at least.
2) You’re pretty scientific about the whole process, so maybe it won’t be so bad after all.
3) I’m sticking with the coffee ’cause Mel thinks it’s good.
.-= Crunchy Granola Gal´s last blog ..Emerging Adulthood =-.
This is a cool idea and a better approach than I took to quitting coffee. I quit cold turkey last February, and haven’t had a drop since, but the 1.5 week-long headache that I endured was brutal. I may have a green tea in the morning if I feel like it, but most mornings I don’t have any caffeine, and I feel better because of it. Hope that you’re able to stick with it!
Neat experiment! I’m creating a philosophy of life based on the scientific method in which we treat everything as an experiment. I’m calling it Think, Try, Learn, and randomization becomes increasingly important as the project moves from anecdotal to more rigorous. We’ve created a new tool that allows fellow personal experimenters to track and record activities like yours. It’s at http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/ if you’d like to check it out. A few java-related ones include “Yerba Mate vs. Coffee” (http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/experiments/show/53) and ”
Improve Sleep Hygeine” (http://edison.thinktrylearn.com/experiments/show/73).
Until now experimenters like you have used blogs as a way to share and track their projects, such as this one. The mapping is: Blog = Person; Post = Experiment; and Comment or Edit = Data/Observation. We’ve found that having a tool that makes explicit the scientific nature helps keep a positive perspective on the process. Also, as you’ve discovered, integrating the social nature of public accountability helps keep us on track. Better yet, we are growing a community of folks who are experience and positive-minded re: self-improvments like yours.
I stumbled across your blog… somehow… and anyway, I think your plan is flawed. I wrote a blog entry on it, but you could also try searching for “operant conditioning” and “partial reinforcement schedules.” Just responsible disclosure [I’d feel bad writing a post criticising your plan, and not telling you about it… 🙂 ]
I am so tired of reading on every second website that coffee is a “health” food. It’s a stimulant that interferes with both the hormonal and central nervous systems and therefore interferes with health. I do miss it, but I also miss other unhealthy stuff from time to time… And I miss my pets and relatives who have died. To me, at this stage of my journey, drinking coffee is just not worth it. But every person has to make that decision for him/herself. Good luck!
I love this post, I just found it through one of your new posts. This cracks me up, because this sounds exactly like something I would do and my wife would laugh at me for nerding out about it so much. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I want to cut coffee out of my diet as well.
I hate to tell you this, but decaffeinated coffee still has caffeine, a considerable amount, often as much as 40% as regular coffee. So if you feel caffeinated after drinking decaffeinated coffee, well, that’s not because of a placebo effect, but because you are still actually consuming caffeine.
The only thing that makes me want to quit coffee is the price! I am a Starbucks junkie, and they, like everyone else, prices just go up and up. I was getting triple shots for the longest time, now I step it back to 2 when I have the willpower. The longest I have been able to go without it is a week. I have tried the decaf thing, but believe it or not, I can taste the difference, and after a few sips, I just dont want it. One of the days I hope to cut it out though. Maybe use the money I save for something more important, like a house!
Teechino! Avid coffee drinker here: 40oz a day! I found a product you can buy on the web, http://www.teeccino.com. I’m not selling this stuff, I’m just saying, it is awesome, and I haven’t been drinking more than 4oz of regular coffee a day for 3 weeks with no headaches, and I like it better than coffee. I started with the sample pack and my favorite is the Mint flavored one. It tastes like a coffee with Junior Mints melted in it. That’s all I got folks!
I gave coffee up when I found out I was pregnant. I think the hardest part was the mental “comfort value.” I didn’t actually feel less energetic, I just felt down because it was a part of my routine. I started taking a juice or water break instead of my usual morning coffee break, and that made it a lot easier to quit.
Great article no meat athlete!! love the site!I had a really really hard time quitting caffeine. But I decided to do it cos Icouldn’t figure why i always felt great then awful, energetic, then low. Was pretty healthy but just felt exhausted half the time. I really urge you to quit it…my sleep is so much better as is my diet. i wrote a blog about it http://www.caffeinefreeliving.com I hope you enjoy it, its changed my life….i reckon caffeine is far far worse than common perception dictates. good luck everyone.
I want to get your feedback on this article. It starts right off by espousing coffee consumption in league with two pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of HepC.
Now Hep C is nothing I am making light of. The thing that strikes me is a blanket approval of the us of two drugs and a mainstream imperative to tout a potentially addictive substance along with it as “beneficial to your health and maintenance.
Better health & maintenance are the reasons I gravitated toward a cleaner, vegetable based and more responsible diet.
Instant coffee has additives that are unhealthy. It is not the real thing. Machine expresso coffee made from fresh beans, is, in fact, very healthy and scientific studies have shown that drinking 3 to 5 cups a day will give you a lower incidence of certain cancers. Caffeine is good for you in moderation and .as a scientist who runs rings around my peers, it is part of my reward system after a high intensity training session.
I have a caffeine addiction myself. I’ve given up smoking/alcohol/ crappy snacks, but like you, I always go back
to coffee. I am currently doing 1/2 decaf, 1/2 regular, but someone just told me that decaf is really bad for you.
They said it’s way worse than regular coffee. That they use formaldehyde to make take the caffeine out of the coffee. Does anyone know if this is true?
Isn’t decaf or the process really bad for you? Does anyone know? It always seems to give me a stomach ache.
Coffee made from fresh roasted beans in an expresso machine is healthy. Studies have shown this. Regular coffee drinkers have a lower incidence of certain types of cancer. And you should be getting a high feeling if your intake is kept to 4-5 cups a day. However, instant powdered coffee is not good for you because of the added chemicals. It is foolish and unscientific to make caffeine a whipping boy.
Sorry, typo…You should NOT be getting a high if your intake is kept to 4-5 cups…
Have to agree with Graham. Coffee gets such a bad rap but it is a very healthy drink. High in polyphenols, it has been shown in research to lower risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and a few types of cancer. It is also good for aiding memory and is a natural diuretic. As with anything (even water!), too much can be dangerous but anything less than 4 cups a day is probably more beneficial than unhealthy. Don’t believe me? Just google the health benefits of coffee for various research studies.
You are definitely physically addicted to it, that is why you go back to it. It takes a few months to get over the addiction and for the body to start repairing itself…. cortisol levels stabilize, gaba begins functioning normally etc
Reply to tens…addiction is the term for a chemical/molecular change taking place within the body wherein the body becomes reliant on the substance ingested to maintain a feeling of comfort..not possible with coffee…you really mean “dependence” as it is not possible to become addicted to coffee. Additionally, there is a vast difference between instant coffee and freshly brewed expresso coffee served straight from the machine.
Has anyone tried Matcha? I had for first time the other day and really enjoyed. It has less caffeine than coffee and a bit more than regular green tea-plus it has relaxing properties while helping with focus like coffee. The only weird thing I found was that it has a tremendous diuretic effect (at least for me I was whizzing like crazy!)
I’m a professor, and I give up coffee every summer. This results in three straight days of incurable headaches. Last year, I drank only decaf coffee every day and guess what? I had three straight days of headaches when I quit in May. So this year, I’m going full out caffeine! Yayyyy! 🙂
Drink only freshly brewed coffee from freshly ground roasted beans straight from an Expresso machine…that is the only true and healthy coffee…unfortunately, non of the USA commercial coffee chains have ever learnt to make real coffee…sad…Go to Italy and learn..
I quit for 2 months by drinking Dandi-Blend which I found to be a great substitute that even tastes like coffee. All natural from dandelion root. I’m back on coffee again, only because I ran out of Dandi-Blend and then coffee was re-introduced via peer pressure. Ready to give it up again too. Good luck Matt.
So what was the result?! Did you quit eventually? I am going through the same thought process right now! I love the effects of it mentally?!
A study in Medscape, Oct 3, 2013 looks at the overall effects of coffee involving 43,727 people over 30yrs plus other meta analyses…conclusion: amongst coffee drinkers averaging 4 cups /day…reduced risk of stroke and clear evidence of reduced risk of CVD and diabetes, some studies also showing a lower incidence of certain cancers….but, the coffee should be freshly brewed expresso coffee.
Matt, I have just purchased your new book and it is yet to arrive…I do hope that it is more intelligent than your unscientific stance on coffee. You have got it wrong.
Lately we have been seeing a lot of reports on the benefits of coffee; too bad there is not more easily searchable data on the risks of coffee especially those that go beyond the physical.
Like the article author Matt, I too enjoy the mental sharpness that coffee seems to provide. His observation on the type of mental energy is astute. Coffee provides me excellent energy for cleaning house, cranking through a list, or chopping wood. But, when it comes to lateral thinking requiring outside the box skills or creative thinking, I find my mental faculties lacking when I am on coffee. In addition, the late-day sluggishness, anxiety, and blood sugar dips are tough to handle. If I have coffee before a race, I have a wall that keeps me from top performance. I do not have these issues with green or black tea.
When it comes down to it, one has to decide for themselves how well it works, and if the pros outweigh the cons. For me at least, they do not. I started this week cutting back on coffee. This morning I was down to 12 oz (always freshly pressed at home). Despite the mid-day mental fog, I survived. Drinking water and good food helps. By the end of the week, my goal is to be off coffee, have only green tea daily, and black tea on race days.
Hope you have a great 2014 Matt and that you have come back to realise that freshly made expresso coffee is very healthy as demonstrated in numerous well-designed studies…I also hope that you enjoy what you currently have and be content instead of searching for some new way to give penance..Are you a masochist at heart?
Hy i was wondering Did you quit eventually? i quit caffeine for 30 days now and it feels so great. İ keep reading blogs about caffeine and i hope that people will quit caffeine to live healthy. Keep inspiring people!
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