I used to live on coffee. It was the thing that got me started in the morning and kept me going all day long. I was an addict for that next cup, and if I didn't get it, it'd feel like the end of me.
At my peak, I was chain-drinking coffee all day, usually five cups of cappuccino followed by an Americano later in the day.
So when, about 15 years ago, I announced I was going to give up coffee, my friends laughed at me. They said I'd be losing my identity — and honestly, it did feel like that. Still, I knew I wanted to try.
Why I Decided to Give Up Coffee
I was suffering from daily headaches and had recently switched from cappuccinos to Americanos to avoid the dairy. The good news is the headaches did go away, and I lost 8 pounds without even trying.
But the coffee habit still owned me — just like any addiction in which you plan your day around getting the next hit and you simply can't stop thinking about it.
The big shift didn't happen for me until after both my parents died from cancer one year apart. I realized I needed to get off the roller coaster of constant stress — not only from my job but also from the artificial anxiety that came with the cups I was pouring all day long.
Caffeine exacerbates our survival response because it triggers the stress hormone cortisol. And those raised cortisol levels can become a chronic condition. This doesn’t just affect the way we feel; cortisol also signals the body to store fat, especially around the midsection. And high cortisol levels can trigger an increase in insulin levels and sugar cravings, particularly around that “crash time” in the afternoon.
This constant stress can also affect our hunger signals, which can lead to erratic eating and the inability to stop eating when full. In my book Eat to Feel Full, I explain that getting in touch with our hunger is essential to mastering our cravings — and changing our coffee habit is part of this.
And so with all this in mind, I knew I needed a big change. I needed to feel healthy and sane. At the time, I was studying nutrition, spirituality, and emotional healing, and we were told to avoid coffee on the retreats because it “closes down the heart." Well, I wanted access to my heart. I needed that more than coffee.
How I Successfully Changed My Coffee Habits
My first pass at quitting coffee was painful because the headaches were just grueling. Honestly, it took three days before I could even think again. I don’t recommend the three days of headaches — but at least it helped me stand strong in the presence of coffee, because I simply did not want to go through that again.
I now very rarely have coffee, and when I do it's mostly just one sip when the smell gets me. Yes, I still love the smell, the ritual, and the coffee culture — but I love myself more, and that keeps me drinking tea instead.
For the most part, I've replaced coffee with a few cups of green tea. It also has caffeine, but I feel much more calm and able to focus with it (the coffee overstimulated me to the point at which I felt disoriented).
Without coffee, my digestive system feels healthier, and I also find I handle stress and anxiety much better than before. I love that I no longer need something to help me chill after a busy day. Overall, I'm so happy I managed to quit my coffee habit.
If you're also looking to cut back or quit coffee altogether, here's what I recommend doing:
1. Don’t quit cold turkey.
This will never work because your headaches will be extreme, and detoxing will be too much for your body to handle. (I know this because I lived it!)
Instead, switch to black and green tea slowly so you'll still get some caffeine but without the jolt. And drink lots of water while you gradually step it down, to help manage the headaches.
2. Create a (coffee-free) morning ritual.
Many of our addictions are actually more about habit than physical addiction. Sure, caffeine is addictive in itself, but for most of us, it's far more about the enjoyment of the experience.
So, instead of completely cutting out your ritual and depriving yourself, I recommend starting a new ritual that feels just as good.
For example, I replaced my morning coffee ritual with a good teapot, new teacups, and loose tea. Simply dunking a teabag in a mug was not doing it for me because it was the ritual I was really craving. I wanted to continue to practice that morning ritual of making myself a pot of something hot, aromatic, and tasty.
3. Make coffee a mindful treat.
If you're trying to limit your intake of coffee, I recommend practicing mindfulness as a way to turn your cup into a special treat instead of a permanent fixture in your hand.
Every time you drink coffee, take a "time-out" so you actually consciously enjoy it. Research shows that breathing smoothly and consuming food slowly and consciously makes people enjoy food more and helps them consume less.
4. Know your triggers.
This is often the hardest part of changing a habit since cues are one of the most powerful aspects of automatic behaviors. But research shows that becoming mindful of our triggers helps us navigate our options and make better choices.
For example, my triggers (still) are: smelling the coffee, seeing people hanging out in a café, thinking about Paris, and being really tired and exhausted.
The allure of getting the jolt from coffee is certainly there — but knowing the aftereffect keeps me choosing tea instead.
5. Stay positive.
Instead of focusing on how you're trying to avoid coffee, put your attention on why you want to change your habit. Remind yourself how it makes you feel more calm, in charge, and much more nourished.
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