C'mon, It's Just 7 Days

How Cutting Out Caffeine Shook up My Routine (in a Good Way)

And why I'll (probably) never do it again.

January  9, 2019

In C'mon, It's Just 7 Days, members of the Food52 team share what it was like to take on a personal challenge for one week: skipping caffeine, going plastic-free, and more. (Spoiler alert: We all survived.)


For the past decade, I’ve started each day more or less the same way: I wake up with the sun, hit the snooze button twice, get up halfway through the second snooze, and then jump out of bed. I immediately make a beeline for the kitchen to fill my little electric espresso maker with freshly ground beans. After brewing, I’ll brush my teeth, read the news, and drink one cup of coffee before heading out for a run. And after that, there’s the second cup, either post-run or post-shower. No matter how rested (or unrested) I am, I always have two cups of coffee to start my day.

In the last 10 years, my morning routine alone has amounted to roughly 7,300 cups of coffee, over half a million coffee beans (figuring 70-plus beans a cup), and upwards of 1,200 hours of my time (assuming 10 minutes a cup)—that’s 50 full days! And this is not to speak of my long and storied past with caffeine, even before then: countless all-nighters in high school and college, fueled by Venti Caramel Macchiatos with extra shots of espresso; Red Bulls and Monsters aplenty; swigs of 5-hour Energy. It left my sleep cycle a mess and set the stage for my current caffeine-dependency.

Many of my colleagues are participating in our C'mon, It's Just 7 Days challenge. Some folks are trying new recipes every day for a week; others are spending $0; others are eliminating all animal products and animal-derived products. So when I thought about a way to challenge myself, to really push me outside of my comfort zone, it seemed like giving up caffeine was a good place to start—after all, it was just for seven days. But even then, I had doubts. Could I function normally without coffee? Or tea? How would it impact the start of each day, and affect my energy levels throughout? There was only one way to find out.


Day One: Dec. 24, 2018

Woke up craving caffeine; tried replacing coffee with hot apple cider (did not work). Fully exhausted myself by searching for ibuprofen, taking a nap, and boarding an airplane. Things are off to a solid start!

Day Two: Dec. 25, 2018

Went for the hardest run of my life; felt slightly like a woolly mammoth attempting underwater aerobics. Was so grumpy I picked fights with literally everyone I came across. Drank a single glass of wine and fell asleep at the dinner table… at 9 p.m. Merry freakin’ Christmas.

Day Three: Dec. 26, 2018

Cheated today (but just a little!) because my sister made some pretty incredible pour-over coffee. Was it worth it? Yes. Was I consumed by guilt the rest of the day? Also yes.

Day Four: Dec. 27, 2018

Tried becoming an “herbal tea” person (also did not work). Developed a raging–monster headache that didn’t go away, even with multiple doses of ibuprofen.

Day Five: Dec. 28, 2018

Experimented with golden milk, which I’d never tried before—and it’s actually pretty good. Cheated again with a teeny-tiny afternoon coffee, but also went to Barry’s Bootcamp, which I honestly would not have made it through without caffeine. Went to bed, woke up at 2 a.m., and couldn’t get back to bed for about an hour. Blast.

Baby's first golden milk! Photo by Me

Day Six: Dec. 29, 2018

Slept in until 10:30 a.m. (oops). Drank an In-N-Out milkshake with dinner, and couldn’t sleep until, like, 3 a.m. At least my sleeping hours are... consistent?

Day Seven: Dec. 30, 2018

Woke up late again, but went for a long walk and cooked all day to distract myself, and it kinda worked? Noticeably no headache or foul mood (not more than usual, at least). Is this what caffeine-free people feel like all the time?

Day Eight: Dec. 31, 2018

Attempted a rather virtuous eighth day, to make up for my bouts of cheating. Unsurprisingly, very non-virtuously cheated again, but only the itsiest bit (a few sips of sea salt–jasmine tea from my all-time favorite bakery, 85°C Bakery Café. I regret nothing.). I GET TO DRINK (sanctioned) COFFEE TOMORROW!


So, I barely made it through the week. But while plumbing the depths of (seemingly never-ending) despair, I arrived at some important takeaways:

The Good

  • I got a ton of extra sleep (hours-wise).
  • I drank a lot more water.
  • I realized I’m kind of into golden milk.
  • I switched up my routine and (sort of) put a hard-reset on my boring day-to-day; not sure what this did exactly, but I like it in concept.
  • I discovered how sensitive my body is to any sugar, caffeine, or alcohol.

The Not-So-Good

  • I virtually always had a headache.
  • I was super grumpy the whole time.
  • I was consistently exhausted and low-energy, despite the extra sleep; maybe this was psychosomatic, but either way, not a fan.
  • I mostly felt pretty terrible when running/exercising.
  • My sleep schedule was completely thrown off: nights went on way too late, and mornings started sluggish and off-kilter.
  • I really, really missed the taste of coffee and the peaceful ritual of making it.

Overall, I’ll give myself a C+ for this challenge. It was definitely not easy (and would’ve been even less easy if I’d kept myself honest the whole time). But it forced me to sleep more, and drink more water, and those are good and important things that I’ll try to continue outside of this week-long experiment. It also made me realize that I follow my morning routine for a reason—it’s something small and stable I look forward to each day—and I don’t really want or need to give that up again. If anything, I’ll drop my second cup of the morning, because I am so sensitive to caffeine. But then again, maybe I won’t. And that seems OK, too.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“For a long time I was the decaf queen. Then I turned 50, and needed a morning jolt of coffee or tea to function. But I try to go decaf every weekend. So, a few pointers. Quit when you don't have to socialize or function. The holidays when you have to deal with people isn't it. If I don't have anything to do on a weekend, then I sleep in on Saturday, and even get in a nap on Saturday afternoon. Then again, it's just me and my cat, so that works out really well, especially for the cat. Try tea, the caffeine spreads throughout the day, instead of jolt and crash. Go half-caff or decaf, which at least has a little caffeine. Just a few things to keep in mind if you decide to try again, or at least cut back. I admire you for trying.”
— Jean P.
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Have you ever given up caffeine? Let me know how it went for you in the comments!

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • RMH
    RMH
  • Ali
    Ali
  • Matt Hermenau
    Matt Hermenau
  • Juan Velez
    Juan Velez
  • Claudia Conway
    Claudia Conway
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Brinda is the Books & Special Projects Editor at Food52, where she edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants.

27 Comments

RMH January 13, 2019
I didn't HAVE to give up caffeine. My doctor said "switch to half & half coffee (half caffeine and have decaf blend). I thought "why bother doing something halfway?" So I went cold turkey. After 1 day, I woke up feeling as if someone had slammed an ax into the top of my head--and the ax stayed there for at least a week. But when the ax went away, I no longer needed caffeine. Pretty good for someone who formerly drank 2 pots of coffee per day and consumed 1179 mg. of caffeine in the process. Now, I sometimes go for days without any coffee. My only source of caffeine now is chocolate, and not much of that.
When my doctor found out how much coffee I drank, she said "No wonder you don't sleep!" So now I still only mange 4-6 hours of sleep a night. Must not have been the coffee.
 
Ali January 13, 2019
I had to give up caffeine for health reasons about 9 months ago and I think in all fairness this is a really hard 7 day challenge. You would have to stick with it longer to stop feeling awful and really tell if it works for you. And starting on Christmas Eve is awfully hard too. Things that helped me were teeccino, rooibos chai, and maca powder. Also, decaf coffee does still have caffeine.
 
Matt H. January 11, 2019
Have you tried talking to a doctor? This isn't normal behaviour. You think you're addicted to caffeine, but you might have an undiagnosed sleep disorder.
 
Juan V. January 9, 2019
LOL! It happened to me as well. I had to drop coffee for 2 weeks and almost died! And I work with Pueblo57 so our office is always fill with the most spectacular aroma of fresh roasted coffee.... the closest I have been to a near death experience. I had several enemies those two weeks but did not have the energy to go after them. Garfield all the way. LOL
We have ginger in the farm and honey from the coffee plantations so that help to take my mind off it . Great challenge!
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
A honey-ginger drink sounds SO good, Juan! Thanks for reading, sharing your experience, and suggesting that alternative.
 
Claudia C. January 9, 2019
Dang guys.. don't you know coffee is actually good for you. Very familiar with caffeine withdrawal headaches.. during fasts ( wanna die). But never give up the good brew.. You think sharper, actually good for your liver... SIGH It is one of life's true pleasures... For those of us who tolerate it :) well. Look up the health benefits of JAVA...:)
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Right?! I'm totally with you, Claudia. As a wise man sang, "Never gonna give you up..."
 
Rach January 9, 2019
I went through the same thing; tried to quit and was extremely tired with a massive headache for days. So I went back on coffee for a bit and after research on the cafiene content of coffee, decaf, and tea, made a two week schedule for myself to slowly wean myself off of coffee by gradually decreasing the caffeine intake I had each day.
It worked! No crazy tiredness and no headache. I now drink it at most every other day. And since it’s more of a special occasion thing I enjoy it more. And it has more of an effect - the days when I drink it are quite productive (unless I get too much and go twitchy).
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
So smart, Rach—both the gradual decreasing and treating coffee as a more special-occasion thing.
 
calbo January 9, 2019
I recently started to have problems whenever I drink a coffee (espresso in my case). A few years ago I had 4-5 espressos per day, I went down to a couple last year but now I can't drink a single one without having... to go to the bathroom with a certain urgency later in the day.

It's really hard, I'm a night person and I need something to kickstart my morning, otherwise, I feel asleep until the afternoon. I'm trying ginseng but it doesn't seem to work as expected.

If you have any suggestion, please share!
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Calbo, so sorry to hear! I did find that golden milk was rather energizing and simulated the ritual of preparing/drinking a hot beverage. It may work for you, too, but hoping others here have additional suggestions!
 
Leah R. January 9, 2019
I gave up coffee 8 months ago due to the severe reaction I got to it all of a sudden, or maybe I just finally realized how awful caffeine made my body feel. Anyway, I miss the taste of it and still love the smell as I make it for my husband. I just mentally tell myself I can’t fall victim to the devil beans again and continue on my day fighting back the desire to have one last sip. I’m much better off without it though.
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Glad you're feeling better, Leah (and also—the devil beans, ha!).
 
amanda R. January 8, 2019
On behalf of tea, give it a chance. There are so, so many teas out there - some that are more like coffee, some that are nothing like coffee, some have more caffeine, some have less. Having one herbal tea and saying you're not a tea person is kind of like having one salad and saying you don't like salad. But glad you survived the week!
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Very fair point, Amanda! I do drink tea (herbal and otherwise) from time to time, and totally get that there are tons of different varieties, and many are extremely interesting and delicious. In this case, I think I was just grouchy from having to replace coffee with it. Will just try drinking both these days :)
 
foofaraw January 8, 2019
My mom drinks ~2 cups coffee/day. She usually gives up coffee for Lent, I think it takes her around 1-2 weeks to get used to it (aka not having headache and sleepiness). So I'd assume if your caffeine consumption is larger, you'd need longer time to acclimate.
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
That's great to know, foofaraw. Guess I was just shy of getting acclimated...
 
Jean P. January 8, 2019
For a long time I was the decaf queen. Then I turned 50, and needed a morning jolt of coffee or tea to function. But I try to go decaf every weekend. So, a few pointers. Quit when you don't have to socialize or function. The holidays when you have to deal with people isn't it. If I don't have anything to do on a weekend, then I sleep in on Saturday, and even get in a nap on Saturday afternoon. Then again, it's just me and my cat, so that works out really well, especially for the cat. Try tea, the caffeine spreads throughout the day, instead of jolt and crash. Go half-caff or decaf, which at least has a little caffeine. Just a few things to keep in mind if you decide to try again, or at least cut back. I admire you for trying.
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
This is such great advice, Jean. If I ever attempt this again (I say I won't now, but there's always next January...), I'm going to try out all of the above.
 
Ella Q. January 8, 2019
Still SO impressed that you attempted this, Brinda!
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Clearly there was cheating along the way, but I'm still shocked I was able to manage, even somewhat! Thanks, Ella!
 
Emma L. January 8, 2019
Loved reading this so, so much, Brinda. I pretty much quit coffee altogether when I was working as a baker, because it messed with my already–messed up sleep schedule (and, if I drank too much, caused me to feel anxious); I just started drinking a lot of water as soon as I woke up instead. But! I really missed the taste, and the general coziness of it. Now I'm all about that decaf (or half-caf!).
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Thanks, Emma! I totally understand that jittery and anxious feeling—often experience that, too. Still not *totally* thrilled with my sleep cycle or my water intake (I've all but reverted back to my former ways), but it's a work in progress :). Decaf/half-caf is a great idea. The coziness of coffee-drinking is my favorite part.
 
Robert January 8, 2019
Do not stop coffee cold turkey unless you are into headaches and diarrhea. If you are a heavy user, very slowly wean yourself off. Think in terms of coffee and activity, like online. Wait 5 minutes the first week, 10 minutes the second week, etc. before drinking coffee when online or waking up. Slowly switch to decaf. The slowness gives your body time to adjust to less caffeine and more time between activity and that warm cup in your hands.
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Such good advice, Robert! I do think I'll start subbing in decaf every so often. Cold turkey was *clearly* not the best move for me :)
 
FrugalCat January 8, 2019
I am a non-caffeine person. So I am not qualified to give you advice on this challenge. I did see my caffeine addicted mom very gradually quit caffeine before she retired. She had been drinking coffee all day long at the school she taught at. It took months before she was down to a manageable half cup at 10 AM. If you miss the taste and the ritual so much, would decaf coffee be a possibility?
 
Author Comment
Brinda A. January 9, 2019
Thanks so much for sharing, FrugalCat. Decaf seems like a great alternative—perhaps every now and again, to start.