Is caffeine is actually DRAINING your energy?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.


“Where do you get all your energy from Lauryn?”


“I am high on life,” I said with a smile.


And that is the honest truth.


I am often asked by my coffee-drinking (coffee-dependent) friends where my genuine boundless energy comes from.



I am a self-professed bad-sleeper (I sleep hard! But often average between 6-7 hours per night) and do NOT drink coffee.


But for “whatever reason”, I typically have energy—and lots of it—to spare (somehow)…


The secret?


Seriously: a genuine zest for life!


While I do love the smell of coffee—I have never been a fan of the ‘acquired taste’ and coincidentally…in the long run…I believe this is a practice that has spared me a loss of energy in any given day.


What am I talking about?


Your coffee addiction.


Moreover: your body’s (and your cortisol’s) addiction to coffee.



Are you dependent on coffee to ‘feel good’, ‘get going’, ‘boost your energy’ or ‘feel complete’?


If so, chances are…your body (and your hormones) have learned to need (and demand) coffee…and coffee NOW!


Now I am no ‘coffee hater’—like many of you—I see how there are both good and negative aspects to coffee.


Nevertheless, throughout its long history, coffee has endured both praises and opposition.


There is NO doubt that coffee is more popular than ever amongst the majority of our culture (thankyou Starbucks!), only contributing to its contradictory status as to how it affects the human body and investigation into its side effects. Headlines alone are enough to confuse us all as to whether or not coffee ‘does a body good.’


You’ve read them before, from:


“Reasons to drink coffee before your workout” 

“The 7 negative aspects of coffee”

“Coffee and your health: Latest findings”

“This is your body on coffee”

“A scientific-backed reason to reach for that 4th cup of coffee”

“Why bad coffee makes you weak” 


So what do we believe?! While the ‘verdict’ is still “out” (Is coffee good or bad!?), in moderation, coffee poses minimal health risks for most people. And, in some cases, coffee even appears to be protective.


All this being said, the question turns to you:


What does moderation really mean? And are you dependent on coffee or not?


Where it all went awry:


First things first, think back to your first encounters with coffee.


Chances are you weren’t raised drinking a cup of Joe from your baby bottle or sippy cup.



  • Perhaps it was the frequent tastes of your mom’s sweet vanilla lattes or frothy Frappucino treats on after-school occasions.


  • Late all-nighter study sessions in the library during college.


  • Enduring early morning 8 and 9 a.m. classes after going to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. the night before.


  • An afternoon pick-me-up to push through a post-lunch slump—that became a ritual.


  • The routine of drinking from the pot your roomie made every morning and offered you as well.


  • “Becoming an adult” with your first real-girl job; and by default, coffee coincided with your big-girl job outfits (Starbucks cup in tow)


  • Having kids—and pulling all-nighters with baby; or juggling the early morning and boundless energy of your 1, 3, and 5-year-old—somehow, someway


  • Working at a restaurant or coffee shop during highschool or college, and coffee being presented as the ‘water’ of choice


  • Or, working an odd-hour job (late nights or early mornings) and discovering the POWER of coffee to help you PUSH THROUGH the otherwise sleepless nights



Whatever the case, coffee became part of your life. Part of your routine. And, chances are, you came to like it…and not only like it, but if you are like ___ million Americans, you came to neeeeeeed it. (or rather: need caffeine).


Take a peak at a couple food logs I reviewed recently of some individuals, perhaps much like yourself:


Log 1: Working Girl, 32


Breakfast: 2 cups of coffee with unsweetened coconut milk + stevia, Blueberry muffin


Snack: 1 cup of coffee (Short break outside office; walked to Starbucks) + sugar in the raw, Lara Bar


Lunch: Salad with chicken with lowfat raspberry dressing, sips of water


Snack: 1 cup coffee (getting sleepy), granola bar


Dinner: Citrus salmon, quinoa, asparagus


Snack: Low fat ice cream bar



Log 2: Personal Trainer, 28


5 a.m. 2 cups of coffee, black


Breakfast: Bagel and peanut butter, energy drink


Mid-morning: 12 oz. cup of coffee, 2 Splenda packets


Lunch: Chicken, sweet potato, broccoli, sips of water


Mid-afternoon: 1 cup coffee (headache was coming on), protein bar


Dinner: Brisket sandwich with BBQ sauce, coleslaw, unsweet tea


Log 3: College Student, 21


Breakfast: Pot of coffee with Sweet & Low, Quest Bar


Lunch: Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, Baked Lays, apple slices, sips of water


Snack: 2 shots espresso to start studying (getting sleepy), granola bar


Dinner: Lean Cuisine


Snack: 2 Chocolate chip cookies (craving something sweet), 2 cups of coffee (to keep studying)


Log 4: Mom of 3, 44


Breakfast: 2 cups coffee with unsweetened almond milk and Stevia, 2 slices of turkey bacon

Mid-Morning: Starbucks Latte

Lunch: Rice bowl with chicken and veggies, Diet Coke

Snack: Apple + Maple-Almond Butter  [Something sweet (anything!)]

Dinner: Chicken thighs, spaghetti squash, salad with fat-free Raspberry vinaigrette

Snack: Fat-free Fro-Yo


Any common themes you notice?


Some that I noticed:


Low water intake. Headaches. Spikes in energy followed by crashes. Sugar cravings. Afternoon sleepiness. Frequent fatigue. Carb and sugar cravings.


In other words: Out of sorts.


Time and time again, no matter the person’s age, gender or lifestyle, my coffee-dependents tend to share similar side effects of health (or their ‘baseline function’), unbeknownst to them that these symptoms don’t have to be part of their daily life, including:



  • Sugar cravings
  • Low energy
  • Low water intake; poor bladder control when they do drink water
  • Sluggishness
  • Heightened stress or anxiety
  • Impaired digestion
  • Heartburn
  • Insomnia
  • Dependency on coffee in order to poop
  • Impaired appetite
  • Not feeling like ‘themselves’ until they have their coffee
  • Mood swings and/or depression
  • Lowered immunity
  • Even issues around their weight and/or metabolic function (the feeling of hitting a ‘wall’ when trying to lose weight or improve their appetite)




Elevated cortisol.


Or in layman’s terms: Out of whack hormones!!!



Cortisol is an underlying trigger for many of these symptoms.





Cortisol is a natural necessary stress hormone, designed to help you wake up in the morning, endure a tough workout, handle the stress of a boss’s negative feedback and cope with in emergencies when in danger.


A spike in cortisol (through any given stressor: from work, to running from a bear, exercise, danger, or COFFEE) triggers the release of amino acids from the muscles, glucose from the liver, and fatty acids into the blood stream so the body can ultimately, access a tremendous amount of energy.


While this process (cortisol release) is a PART of life, AND IT’S GREAT TO HAVE MORE ENERGY (or adrenaline!)…when we have too much cortisol (stress)…our body responds not so favorably.


Our elevated hormones continue to stimulate the release of even more stress hormones, resulting in a host of not-so-great side effects—(see above).


Enter: Coffee—a culprit, or contributor, to this hormone imbalance issue, when consumed in copious amounts (i.e. more than 1 cup…maybe 2 cupson occasion), day in and day out.


Unfortunately, due to our sedentary lifestyle, we are usually drinking that cup of coffee while sitting at a desk, a meal, or in our car. When caffeine triggers a cortisol jolt, our state of stress surges internally (in a day already filled with stressful events) and spikes our cortisol levels up—impacting our hormones


In fact, 200 mg of caffeine (one 12 oz mug of coffee alone) increases blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour! And cortisol can remain elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood (meaning we already put ourselves in a deficit, if we are drinking our first cup of coffee with breakfast, followed by another cup or shot of espresso 3 to 6 hours later).


Moreover, rat studies have shown that caffeine consumption during chronic stress increased cortisol, blood pressure, and other negative hormonal events. Chronically stressed rats who consumed caffeine ended up sicker, and died sooner, than rats experiencing chronic stress without caffeine consumption.




The deeper we dig ourselves into the habit of neeeeeding coffee (or initially thinking we need coffee—and more of it) to wake up in the morning, or get through the day, the more we increase our cortisol levels…


And the more we increase our cortisol levels to a higher ‘baseline’ state (i.e. constantly stressed), the more we increase our dependence on coffee (or caffeine) in order to feel ‘somewhat normal’ (for a short time)…and the more we increase the various side-effects and stress levels in general.


It is a dog, chasing its tail sort of game.



So, back to you one more time.


Coffee dependence… sound familiar?


If so, the quickest way to reduce cortisol production is to eliminate caffeine for a time in order to let your body restore, heal, mend, and regulate itself back to ‘normal.’


Sound impossible!? No way no how? Not happening?


It IS possible. I promise!


However, if the thought of ‘quitting coffee’ altogether is too daunting for you to wrap your head around, here are a few more ideas to help bring your body back to balance (so you can be high on LIFE, not coffee or caffeine!):


Just 21 Days. You can do ANYTHING for 21 days. Give yourself a short time frame to try to the ‘impossible’ and dive in to giving up the cup of Joe for 21 days to let your body (reboot!). See point #3 and #7 for support specifically during this phase. At the end of 21 days, see how you feel…what differences you’ve noticed (and what bad stress you’ve gotten out of your system)…and then consider re-approaching caffeine and coffee in a less dependent state of being.



One quality cup. Maybe 21 full days seems like an eternity! If this is the case, I am a big believer in a NOT-ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL approach, and perhaps for you, this means “having your cake and eat it too.” If you are good at moderation and avoiding temptation, consider knocking down whatever amount of coffee you are drinking to ONE QUALITY CUP OF COFFEE per day! No Folgers in your cup here. I am talking a nice, quality robust roast with your add-ins of choosing (preferably: unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk or full-fat organic creamer or coconut cream, grassfed butter, MCT-oil, cinnamon, and possibly stevia—if you must!). This would be a good place for Bulletproof Coffee to come into play if you are a fan.



Take the Teecino “Kick the Caffiene Habit” Challenge: Teecino is a natural herbal tea that…tastes like coffee! Start by mixing your normal coffee 3/4 to 1/4 Teeccino Caffeine-free Herbal Coffee. Gradually reduce the percentage of your coffee over a two to three week period until you are drinking 100% Teeccino. You should be able to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms and also gradually adjust your body to less reliance on stimulants.

Fuel Up with Amino Acids. Did you know that being addicted to coffee may be a sign of an amino acid deficiency. Amino acids are the “building blocks” of neurotransmitters—the “feel-good” chemicals in our brains.When are brains become stripped of these feel-good chemicals, we reach for “drugs” to feel better. And, I’m not necessarily talking about pot. Sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee are all “psychoactive drugs” (i.e. drugs that change our brain chemistry).


How come you may be deficient in amino acids? The body absorbs amino acids from the protein we eat. Unfortunately, many of us have a history of not eating enough protein (even if you ‘eat clean’ now, think back to your youth: packaged bars, cereal, fake foods like white flour and sugar). Many Americans opt for a bagel with cream cheese, banana and orange juice, or granola bar a plate of pancakes and call it breakfast, eat a sandwich on whole grain bread for lunch and eat a whole plate of pasta or bowl of rice, with a little bit of protein in it for dinner. In addition, many of us simply don’t eat enough food. We skip meals and/or diet (all of which wreaks havoc on our brain chemistry). Lastly, while protein may be a staple part of your diet today…are you digesting and assimilating it appropriately? If you have dysbiosis (i.e. poor digestion, presenting in symptoms such as ‘leaky gut’, GERD, constipation, slowed digestion, hypocholrida-low stomach acid), or don’t practice good food hygiene (i.e. chewing your food thoroughly, preparing your own food, mind-body connection while eating, etc.), you are more than likely NOT getting all the amino acids your brain and body need to thrive. Wonder why you’re feeling so tired and cranky, or why you neeeeeed coffee? Take a look at what you’ve been eating (or not eating). If you suspect deficiency may be the culprit, consider boosting your bod (and brain) with amino acids. The most often recommended amino acids to take for caffeine addiction are Tyrosine or DLPA (Phenylalaline). Some do better with one, others do better with the other. Try taking 1,000 mg with breakfast, and another 1,000 mg at lunch as you cut out the coffee.


Drink Water First Thing. For every 8 oz. of coffee, you need 12 oz. of water—just to keep yourself from getting into a dehydration deficit! Caffiene is a natural diuretic (i.e. strips your body of water). First thing in the morning before you drink anything else? Drink 16 oz. of water! Bring life, nourishment and energy to your bod! In addition, if you are prone to get headaches if you don’t have caffeine, it may interest you to know why you get a headache when you skip your morning cup. Caffeine acts as powerful vasoconstrictor in the brain. That is, it constricts blood vessels in the brain and decreases circulation. Oxygen to the brain can be decreased up to 30%! When caffeine is not present, the sudden increased circulation causes major headaches.
Water will help with this process—delivering oxygen TO the brain.


Regulate Your Blood Sugar. A HUGE side effect of caffeine addiction or dependence is a roller-coaster blood sugar (spikes and crashes in energy; cravings for foods, particularly sweets. In order to gain a healthy control over this, aim to eat regular frequent meals throughout the day (3-6), with a balance of protein, fats and veggies as the baseline of most plates. In between meals, reach for a protein and/or fat-based snack to tide you over and keep your blood sugar levels in check. Keep fruits to 1-2 times per day to prevent unnecessary spikes.



Consult with a Nutrition Therapist. There are a host of individualized nutrition recommendations as well as supplements that a nutrition therapist will be able to help point you in the right direction. From adrenal support (the glands responsible for housing and regulating your cortisol in the first place), to melatonin potentially for helping you sleep better, to digestive aids to help you restore GI function and more. For a customized plan to help you quit the dependence on caffeine painlessly and naturally, contact me here.


Ultimately, this post is meant to challenge you to take a deeper look into your use of coffee—and help you define what ‘moderation’ means for you.


That way, you can “be high on life” and regain unshakeable REAL energy (if you’ve been depending on coffee to do the trick now for quite some time)—no matter if you’ve had coffee or not.



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