“Hello, I’m Lauryn. I am a Crystal Light-aholic.”
However, had you met me about 4 or 5 years ago, this is probably something I would have said.
We all have our ‘vices.’
Little did I know, how much my vice was harming my health—and yet, at the time, I could not (and did not want to) stop.
A pitcher-full at lunch (anywhere from 36-48 ounces) and another pitcher around dinner…was a lot.
The signs and symptoms spoke for themselves:
- Headaches and light-headedness
- Blurry vision
- Insatiable cravings for my Crystal Light should I miss it—for whatever reason
- Bloating and constipation
However, the crazy thing is, I never correlated these ‘symptoms’ with my diet—the excessive Crystal Light I was consuming (and needed to consume) daily.
Instead, these were just my ‘norm’ way of feeling.
How did I get over the hump?
When I discovered the ‘crazy’ philosophy of eating real food, I was challenged by a friend to stop consuming artificial sweeteners.
I initially thought: NEVER. And vowed to eat real food and do everything else, except give up the sweetened water drink.
However, one day, following lunch, I remember, for whatever reason, my usual drink hit me especially hard that day…severe stomach pain that lingered throughout the rest of the day, and left me on the floor, doubled over in pain.
I still didn’t correlate it necessarily with the Crystal Light, but decided—for the rest of the day…to give it a break.
Come dinner, no Crystal Light in sight, I ate whatever I could stomach, along with some water, and knew the next day would be a new day…without Crystal Light.
“Ahhhhhh”—it’s as if the angels were singing in a choir. I felt ahhhhh-mazing…no stomach pain; no fuzzy feeling in my head; no blurred vision that day; no bloating or constipation.
Weird, I thought.
I never looked back. Quit it cold turkey. And today, I have no cravings whatsoever for that artificially flavored drink.
The reason I write this today is to address a hot topic that continues to be the cry of countless clients and people I talk to on a daily basis….
I NEEEEEEEEEED COFFEE!!!!!
“I need coffee to…”
- “Wake up in the morning”
- “Keep alert”
- “Keep going”
- “Calm me down” (yes, that was a new one to me…this guy drank so much coffee that it actually had the reverse effect on him)
It’s an epidemic.
Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE the coffee shop scene as much as the next person; Coffee is not inherently a ‘bad thing’; and Starbucks is not the ‘devil’—BUT…something has gone awry in the way our society functions to neeeeeeeed coffee (and LOTS of it), as if it were a nutrient vital to one’s existence (news flash: it is not).
- Shots of espresso
- A whole pot of coffee within the first hour or two of waking
- 3 to 4 cups throughout the day (to upwards of 10-12 cups—yes, have met that person as well)
This my friends, like my Crystal Light addiction at one time, is not normal…nor is it how your body is innately wired, or meant to function.
In fact, did you know that being addicted to coffee may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency?
What nutritional deficiency?, you may ask (after all, coffee doesn’t necessarily supply nutrients anyhow).
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).
In addition, being addicted to coffee (or ‘needing’ coffee) may also be a sign of adrenal insufficiency (i.e. your body is stressed), as well as imbalances in your hormones and chemical processes.
According to Julia Ross, author of the “Mood Cure”, people who are addicted to caffeine tend to be low in catecholamines.
Catecholamines are the brain chemicals that provide energy and alertness.
When caffeine surges through our bloodstream, it stimulates the release of the catecholamines: adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and noradrenaline (involved in the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response of your hormones). If you are suffering from some adrenal insufficiency (and your hormones are not regulating well), your body becomes dependent on needing such chemicals in order to ‘fight’ through the stress and fatigue its under—and makes even less of these naturally.
Studies in humans have shown that caffeine increases both cortisol and epinephrine, even at rest, and that levels of cortisol after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during an acute stress (i.e. running from a bear, working out, anxious, injury, emotional upset, etc.).
The bottom line?
The body gets super confused and stressed when it has to deal with caffeine, such as that in coffee.
Like a diabetic who’s body cannot regulate his or her own glucose levels (super high, and super lows), your body may have become that way with caffeine.
An ‘addiction’ to needing coffee can easily become both physiological and psychological, and…that is not normal.
While coffee is not a BAD thing, in and of itself (think one cup a day, or on occasion), when we become dependent on anything to ‘function’ (aside from a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients from proteins, veggies, fats, some fresh fruits, little starch and lots of water)…we get out of sorts.
And although coffee (caffeine) seemingly helps you in the short term, copious amounts, or needing it to function, is hurting you in the long run (low baseline energy, hormonal and chemical imbalance, nutritionally deficient).
So what are you to do?
Giving it up or quitting cold turkey is NOT an option?
Here are a few ways to conquer your addiction:
1. Supplement with Amino Acids. 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.
2. Drink up. Water, water, water. Chances are…if you’ve been drinking lots of coffee…you’ve been drinking less water. While it is technically a myth that “Caffeine is a natural culprit of dehydration—stripping your body dry”, consumption of any fluid, aside from water is not going to fully hydrate your body, and give your kidneys a lot more work in order to dilute and utilize the fluids you do give it. Recently a client handed me a food log containing: 2 cups of coffee in the morning, a 16 oz. Diet Coke at lunch, another cup of coffee in the afternoon, and a few sips of water at night. May day, may day! No wonder she was feeling lethargic, constipated, fatigued (without her caffeine!)…her body was dehydrated from her not drinking water in lieu of other drinks. Part of the reason you feel drab without coffee? Your body is more than likely THIRSTY! Half your body weight in ounces of water (ex. 60 oz. for a 120 lbs. person is the baseline for daily function, more with exercise, sweat and exertion).
3. The Replacements. Herbal tea is a GREAT replacement if you like the ritual of a warm cup of Joe. Even Green Tea, which has some caffeine in it, can be a good Segway into going caffeine free. You can even make your own caffeine-free “coffee” with this awesome, cleansing recipe made from dandelion root from the Elana’s Pantry blog. In addition, a friend recently pointed me to check out two new coffee “substitutes” on the market, much healthier for your goals for kicking caffeine: Crio Bru—a cocoa based drink with a warming feel and trace levels of caffeine, and Teeccino, a new tea that tastes like coffee (available at Whole Foods and Amazon).
4. Cure social anxiety. Like alcohol, coffee has become a social drink this day in age (especially in cool cities like Austin with hundreds of local coffee shops-seriously, 1254 listed on Yelp alone). So what are you to do if the coffe shop scene is part of your social calendar? Browse the menu. Tea is plentiful as well and a great replacement if you need a drink in hand. Otherwise, enjoy the sights, the sounds, the conversations, the atmosphere…there’s far more to the experience than just drinking coffee.
5. Kick the headache. If you’ve been pounding the caffeine, chances are, as your body learns to re-regulate itself, your head may not be too happy with you. Where do headaches come from if you don’t drink caffeine? According to researchers from the University of Vermont College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, quitting your daily caffeine consumption produces changes in cerebral blood flow velocity and brain activity that in turn, may cause classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms of headache, drowsiness and decreased alertness. More specifically, sudden caffeine abstinence increases brain blood flow, an effect that may account for commonly reported withdrawal headaches. Acute caffeine abstinence also produces changes in EEG (brain activity) that has been linked to the common withdrawal symptom of fatigue. How do you avoid these symptoms of your new healthy habit? Set up a timeline, and gradually replace coffee and other caffeinated products with caffeine-free selections.
6. Include plenty of protein and fat at breakfast and lunch. Often times, when we consume more carbs, than an equal balance of protein and carbs with our meals, sugar rushes, followed by sugar crashes happen. Slow starter in the morning? Reaching for the breakfast bar or muffin in the morning, paired with your coffee (or cups of coffee) will only further contribute to that issue—as you experience a spike in blood sugar, followed by a quick drop. Mid-afternoon slump hits you every time? Consider what you had for lunch (Sandwich and chips? Green salad? Frozen pasta Lean Cuisine?). Protein and fat are longer lasting sources of fuel that won’t just give you a jolt of energy, with a crash an hour or so later. They are meant to stick with you. Make it a habit of eating protein and fat at your main meals to prevent the ‘tired’ or lethargic feeling you get after eating a more carb-rich or caffeine-dominant (i.e. coffee) ‘meal.’
7. Nap it out. A 10-20 minute nap (versus a pseudo ‘spike’ in energy with some coffee) may be exactly what you need. Even a ‘car nap’, if home or a couch are not near. Park in a shady spot, lean your chair back, throw some shades on, and set your phone alarm for 10-20 minutes. Then snap back to reality.
8. Is it really a sugar addiction? Some people find it isn’t coffee they are addicted to…it’s sugar. These are the people you propose to drinking a regular cup of coffee (black), and they turn their noses up. Unless it has cream, sugar, syrup and/or whipped cream, they won’t have it. Frappucinos, lattes, mochas—“fluffy” drinks. This more than likely is a sugar addiction, and that is another topic for another day.
Additionally, perhaps you can drink coffee without all the fluff…but you still neeeeed it. This may very well be a sugar addiction as well. Caffeine causes your body to release sugar into your bloodstream, which then causes the pancreas to release insulin—initially spiking your blood sugar, than crashing not long after (especially on an empty stomach if you drink coffee before a meal). Coincidentally… ‘sugar’ (or caffeine) cravings physiologically occur. If and when your reserves run out of caffeine (the stimulant that spikes your blood sugar), your body wants MORE in order to get out of a low. Lastly, caffeine in coffee may also suppress your appetite, causing you to go longer without feeling hungry, and coincidentally, setting you up for future instances of low blood sugar, followed by more coffee and sugar cravings (i.e. out of whack!).
9. Decaf Coffee…or Not? By law, decaf coffee must remove 97% of its caffeine; and no decaffeination method is able to remove 100% of the caffeine. According to Teecino, “a 12 oz cup of decaf contains anywhere from 10-17 milligrams of caffeine. A 16 oz Starbucks® Grande contains 12-23 milligrams and a 20 oz Venti contains up to 28 milligrams. Additionally, if you order a cup of decaf coffee at a coffee bar or restaurant, independent studies have shown a great variance in the amount of caffeine in the cup even on the same day from the very same place. So there is no ‘safety’ in knowing how much caffeine you may get from a cup of decaf coffee.”
10. One quality cup of Joe. If you are going to do it, so be it. Leave it at one and call it a day. After all, in order to ‘master’ something, you’ve got to control it—not let it control you. If you are not a ‘coffee addict’, then giving your body a much needed breather, and backing it down to that one quality cup you savor is totally worth it and doable. Remember: you don’t NEED coffee to function, and you can have your cake and eat it too here. Sip away with some good quality beans, and potentially even some unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk, almond or vanilla extract, and/or MCT oil and grassfed butter (a la Bulletproof coffee)—and leave that cup at 6-8 oz.
Phew. Ok that’s a lot of information.
The moral of the story?
You don’t neeeeeeed caffeine to function—and if you think you do, consider what taking it out of your body can actually make you feel.
Like my Crystal Light addiction…I never knew how good it felt to feel good, until I gave it a shot…and you may not either.