There was a time when coffee and I were inseparable. Friends caricatured me always holding a cup of the brown brew, and stops to a coffee shop were mandatory during any outing. At one point, I was clocking in about five cups a day—all in the name of staying awake during lengthy lectures or late nights finishing up papers. If I could not get coffee, I almost always resorted to chugging down cans of soda. Inevitably this nasty habit caught up with me, resulting in trembling hands, jittery speech, and two seizures that were enough to send me to the emergency room. I soon realized that caffeine—or at least excess amounts of it—was a factor in my seizures. It was time for the coffee and the soda to go.
Now a caveat: Caffeine in small doses can be a good thing. It has been touted as a way to manage some kinds of headaches. Coffee is in itself said to be an antioxidant. However, caffeine in excess is another thing altogether, whether from coffee, soda, or other sources. Also, there is no nutritional benefit in ingesting soda, which is full of additives such as food colors and acids.
So how does one get rid of a caffeine habit? Many people trying to get rid of a caffeine addiction choose to cut back on their caffeine intake, by gradually reducing three cups of coffee a day to two, then one. Another strategy for cutting back is to reduce the size of one’s caffeinated drinks by a fourth to a half of a cup each day. Using low-caffeine substitutes such as ‘herbal coffees’ is also said to help get rid of a caffeine habit, but the use of such caffeine substitutes must be done carefully especially with persons who may have adverse reactions to some herbal preparations.
Other people choose to go ‘cold turkey’, as I did. The first three or four days without a drop of coffee or soda were nothing short of trying. I was cranky and felt as if my eyes were half-closed as I walked through glue. I wanted to just lie down and sleep off the hours, but I had to will myself to stay awake; at that time I was reviewing for a licensure exam and there was much ground to cover. Fortunately, within a week, my body finally found some equilibrium—or I had simply learned to adjust to a less frenetic pace once more.
What was also just as challenging was finding foods, as well as restructuring my habits, to fill up the role that caffeine once played. I had relied on that substance to keep me alert and awake especially during lull hours. Now I had to literally find other ways to keep my eyes open.
One thing I made sure NOT to do was to switch out caffeine for sugar in the form of sweets, pastries, or other quick fixes. I also eschewed other non-caffeinated energy drinks as well as other stimulants. Instead I used these strategies:
-Eating smaller meals a day instead of 3 large ones: This was to prevent that dreaded post-lunchtime sleepiness. Also, breaking down 3 large meals into 5 small ones helps ensure a steadier blood sugar level, preventing ‘crashes’ that may actually be dangerous to one’s health.
-Hydration: I cannot stress this enough. That 8 glasses a day piece of advice is the bare minimum. Drinking more water not only helps keep one awake, but also does wonders for skin, hair, breath, and just overall health.
-Power naps: Instead of forcing myself to stay awake to the point of non-productivity, I learned the benefits of snoozing for just five minutes, in order to relieve eye strain as well as give my brain a break.
It’s been nearly a year since that last cup of coffee. To this day I still miss the taste of a hot, deep and dark brew, but I’ve learned that the health benefits of limiting caffeine far outweigh the jolt and exhilaration. I consider this change as kicking ‘my best friend’, caffeine, to the curb, in favor of taking care of my other best friend: my body. And that is something always worthwhile.