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Going a Year Without Coffee

Strategies and goals

coffeeYou should understand that I like coffee–a lot. I may not be one of those people who can tell Sumatra from Ethiopian at a sniff or who grinds it fresh every morning, but I really enjoy the stuff. I used to drink it black–no milk or cream or sugar or whipped cream or cinnamon or Sweet’n’Low. I have long enjoyed the smell, taste, and experience of a cup of coffee–and I haven’t had a drop of the stuff in over a year. For that matter, I’ve also had no caffeinated soda or tea and very close to zero chocolate in a year. It has been a bit of an adjustment.

I’d probably better mention that I don’t think coffee, caffeine, or chocolate are evil: my particular physiology just has a very hard time with caffeine. If I drink coffee, I have to have a specific amount at a specific time every day without fail, or I get headaches. Caffeine also drives up my blood pressure noticeably, makes me itch in cold months, and causes me excruciating pain at any time of year if I’ve been drinking it and then really, really exert myself. For you it might be healthy, but for me even tiny traces of caffeine are very bad. I shouldn’t even drink decaf, because decaffeinated coffee and tea aren’t free of caffeine; they just have less. I may have coffee or chocolate at some point in the future (for instance, if I absolutely have to make a long drive and I’m very tired), but if I do, there will be a price to pay.

So as much as coffee and chocolate appeal to me (especially together), I’m a much happier person not having them–though as you can guess, it hasn’t been easy. How have I kept on the straight and narrow and not even slipped once?

I do have a special advantage in resisting coffee, and that’s that once I finally discovered that it was caffeine that was causing all these problems for me, it was pretty easy to tell when I was experiencing the consequences. The headaches have a special, slightly queasy, all-day quality that is hard to mistake for anything else–even though they don’t come until the second day after a caffeine lapse. So whenever I’ve been tempted to have a cup of coffee, especially when I’m trying to get something important done and feel overtired, dwelling on that consequence and all the others reminds me how important it is to stick with my plan. Perkiness and energy now, sure, but later I get an all-day headache.

What’s interesting is that while this connection is clearer and more specific than most consequences, it’s really not that different from the bad consequences of our other day-to-day bad choices. Spending money we can’t afford now results in not being able to pay for important things later, or getting hounded for months or years by bill collectors. Bingeing on doughnuts for a week makes us carry around a couple of extra pounds day in and day out until we work those calories back off. Giving up on the dishes for a day or two can mean a kitchen that doesn’t get cleaned up until the next time someone stops by.

The encouraging thing is that we can make use of those awful consequences to help our willpower now. Usually when we think of buying something we want or eating doughuts or relaxing instead of doing household chores, the thing in the front of our minds is the short-term pleasure, which makes that bad choice feel good. If we move our attention to the negative consequences instead, then our associations with the bad choice begin to be the pain, discomfort, embarrassment, or tedium we’re buying ourselves in the future. A good motivational approach for almost any situation: when you’re thinking about a good choice, think about the good things it will bring you; when you’re thinking about a bad choice, think about how it will hurt you.

This change of attention isn’t difficult or tiring, it’s just not what we’re used to doing, and this one little habit of focus on the main consequences of a choice can help us do things that might seem next to impossible–like giving up a favorite thing and not even missing it that much. It’s a power well worth having.

Photo by The_Smiths



  1. Oscar - freestyle mind  •  Aug 25, 2009 @4:50 am

    I gave up coffee a few months ago and I have experienced significant benefits: I feel more relaxed, productive and I also need less sleep. Good luck with your experimen.


  2. Kaizan  •  Aug 25, 2009 @7:20 am

    I am someone who has never really embraced the coffee habit (lucky me!), but the point you make about focussing on negative consequences of bad choices is excellent. It’s so easy to think about how tasty that unhealthy meal will be, but it doesn’t seem quite so tasty when you think about the weeks on the treadmill you have to spend to get rid of the fat around your waist!

  3. Luc  •  Aug 25, 2009 @9:15 am

    @Oscar, thanks for the comment. My brother quit all caffeine not too long ago and is experiencing some similar benefits too, especially a more relaxed or even mood. Back when I was drinking coffee, I would often be completely exhausted by the end of the day, unable to do anything productive. These days I may be tired by evening, but I don’t have that experience of being a total zombie.

    @Kaizan, thanks for the comment. The most interesting thing about that experience to me was just what you’re describing, how strong incentives created willpower and how that might be applied elsewhere.

  4. There has been a lot of ‘studies’ claiming that coffee is good for you, but didn’t it seem that all the studies busted out into media when the big coffee shops (Starbucks?) started to advertise?

    Anyway, good luck! I’m sticking with tea!

  5. Luc  •  Aug 26, 2009 @10:33 am

    I guess there are probably good and bad things about caffeine, and that whether or not it’s worth having depends who you are, but like you, I’m much happier without it.

  6. Walter  •  Aug 26, 2009 @8:20 pm

    Breaking a habit, especially of the mind is difficult. No matter how much we like to embrace change, we are our first enemy. Still, we have the power to make a choice and it is a matter of willpower to achieve our goals.

    By the way, I love coffee. 🙂

  7. Eat Smart Age Smart  •  Sep 2, 2009 @2:21 pm


    I haven’t had coffee all summer and had a cup last week and can I tell you how good it was!

    I only drink 1 or 2 cups of latte or machiato or capuccino a week so I don’t drink it much, but I really love the taste of coffee and I surely missed it.

    If you drink large amounts of coffee then a cleanse like you are doing is a good thing.

    I’d love to know how make out with this venture.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

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