you don’t need coffee

You don’t need coffee.

HEAR ME OUT. Before you come at me with your pitchforks and large iced Dunks, I am not demonizing it or saying it is strictly forbidden all the time forever. I’m saying that 5th cup of coffee you desperately needed to stay awake and finish out the work day? It’s not doing you any good.

Release the death grip on your stainless steel tumbler because chances are, you already kind of knew this.

First thing’s first. There are two kinds of people in this world, those who metabolize caffeine quickly, meaning they may get the health benefits of coffee, and those who are slow metabolizers, which is most of us. The latter group gets the adrenal response, especially if you’re an “extra-extra” type person.

The adrenal response is the stimulation of your stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. When your adrenaline levels are constantly fluctuating with chronic caffeine consumption, it causes abnormally elevated levels of cortisol, which can lead to a host of negative consequences, including:

  • Adrenal fatigue: If you’re adding lots of sugar to your coffee, it rushes into the bloodstream and spikes your blood sugar levels. In response, the adrenal glands secrete insulin to counteract and avoid hyperglycemic shock, delivering the sugar into your cells and out of the blood. When your blood sugar levels drop, adrenaline kicks into gear and makes you hyperfocused and alert. Caffeine goes through a similar process, stimulating the adrenal glands to release cortisol into the blood stream. I’m tired just explaining it, imagine how your adrenal glands feel processing it cup after cup!
  • Weight gain: Out-of-whack hormones can make it much more difficult to keep weight off, not to mention the cravings that can come with an imbalance. Cortisol inhibits the role of insulin, so insulin can’t do its job regulating blood sugar levels (which can also lead to diabetes).
  • High blood pressure: With a fatigued adrenal cortex, physically coping with stress can be more difficult. High blood pressure is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.
  • Impaired mental health: Adrenaline and cortisol help us mentally deal with stress as well, and if we’re unable to do so properly due to imbalances, depression, anxiety, moodiness, and deeper issues may arise.
  • Suppressed immune function: One function of cortisol is to help lower inflammation, but with chronically elevated cortisol (from stress, poor diet, high caffeine intake, or other factors), the immune system can become suppressed as it is overworked in trying to fight off the effects of chronic inflammation.

Increased acidity in the gut can also cause or worsen digestive issues. If you do have a cup, try to find low-acid coffee. I’ve seen this at Trader Joe’s. (For better and more health-supportive ways of enjoying coffee, see these tips from Joyous Health.)

There is an actual emotional connection to your cup of joe, so if you’re snarling at your computer and cursing me, I understand. No one’s stopping you from enjoying a fresh mug on a rainy Saturday morning with your lover, however, or grabbing a cup when you really need a boost. We’re talking about NEEDING it, LITERALLY DYING without it, DON’T TALK TO ME BEFORE I’VE HAD IT.

Let me be clear: enjoying coffee a couple times a week will NOT cause all of this to happen.

However, if you’re depending on coffee every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to function, you truly feel you can’t perform well at work or survive your day with out it,  you’re doing your body a disservice and we need to address the root cause of the dependence. Coffee should be enjoyed for pleasure, not depended upon as your life blood.

Caffeine increases your dopamine levels along with your adrenaline levels, giving you that lovely high, sought-after on sleep-deprived mornings and hungover afternoons. But you know what happens next – you come down and are reaching for the next cup. It creates its own addiction. It’s time to get in tune with your natural energy levels.

My first job out of college was as a newswriter at a horrible content farm agency that had me churning out 450 articles A MONTH. I worked overtime every week, including my first week, for a measly salary that helped fund the caffeine addiction I’d developed due to stress and lack of sleep. Little did I know I was creating  an even more stressful environment in my body.

If I have caffeine now, it has to be before 10am or I’m bouncing off the walls until at least midnight. I am clearly a very slow metabolizer. So what do I do to wake up these days?

Waking up naturally

  • SLEEP! Make sure you’re getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, and get a blackout sleep mask. Trust me, they’re life-changing.
  • Hydration. Every morning I drink one Camelbak Eddy-sized bottle of water before I eat or drink anything else. It helps flush out my system and gets me energized for the day. Side note: Coffee is a diuretic, and you’re probably peeing out all the good benefits (if your body metabolizes them) before they’re even absorbed in your system. It does not count as water consumption and actually dehydrates you, so for every cup you drink, counteract it with 1-2 cups of water.
  • Substitution. If I want a coffee-like beverage, I love Dandy Blend. It’s an instant herbal drink/coffee substitute made with dandelion and chicory root powder, which is great for helping your liver and kidneys do their job of detoxifying the body. I bought the 2-lb bag on Amazon and it has lasted me for-ev-er. I mix it with cacao powder, ghee, almond or coconut milk, and sometimes coconut sugar. It does contain barley and rye, BUT as extracts only, which means it’s 100% gluten-free, as gluten is left behind during the extraction process.
  • Herbal tea. If I just want something warm, which may be your case if it’s just the habit you crave, herbal tea does the trick. My latest favorite is Pukka Love, which I discovered at a wellness conference and stole several packets from the lobby to hold me over until I could find it at a local store. Thanks, Wyndham Hotel. It’s a blend of rose, chamomile, and lavender.

Are you a zombie with dreams of putting a Keurig on your nightstand? Try swapping out one of your cups of coffee with a non-caffeinated beverage per week to wean yourself off.

If you’ve kicked your caffeine habit, share how you did it in the comments!

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