No coffee challenge: What I learned after giving up caffeine for 30 days

Photo courtesy of Work For Your Beer.

A version of this story originally appeared on the Work For Your Beer blogWork For Your Beer is the all-inclusive guide to beer fitness in Charlotte, NC. View their calendar for a complete directory of everywhere you can work out and drink beer in the Queen City.

If you were to ask most coffee-lovers to give up their beloved morning (and afternoon, and sometimes evening) brew, most of them would laugh in your face.

I know this from experience, because it’s basically what I did when Work For Your Beer co-founder Alicia asked me to quit drinking coffee for a month.

It’s no secret that I love a good cup of coffee—any stranger that scrolls through my Instagram feed could tell you that. As I pondered Alicia’s request to drop the habit for 30 days, I thought wistfully about all of the delicious oat milk lattes and pour-over coffees I’d miss out on over a month’s span.

But with a sigh, I reluctantly agreed anyway. Do it for the content, right?

Since I have a “go big or go home” attitude, I decided that instead of giving up just coffee, I’d give up ALL caffeine for the month of June. Ambitious? Yes. Possible? We were about to find out.

Before the Challenge: My Love Affair With Coffee

Let’s be clear: I love coffee. I indulged in it for the first time back in high school, and I have been drinking it daily since college. It’s a staple beverage for me (in addition to water and wine, of course). While I try to stick to one or two cups a day, I often find myself downing closer to four cups by mid-afternoon. Contrary to what some may believe, it’s not because I need more caffeine for energy’s sake — I just genuinely enjoy drinking coffee.

Pour-over, lattes, specialty drinks — it doesn’t matter how it’s made. I don’t discriminate. I love it all.

In addition to the taste, I love the routine that comes with drinking coffee. There’s just something soothing about waking up and preparing that first cup. Smelling the freshly ground beans. Feeling the warm, deliciously-scented steam on your face. Tasting that first bold sip that gives you the courage to make it through another work day. Something about the ritual is calming, and it’s one that I (and many others) look forward to daily.

While I prefer not to go a day without a cup of Joe, I’ve given up coffee before. Usually I only go without it for about a week or two, when I feel myself starting to consume an unhealthy amount of caffeine. It’s a quick way to reset my body before carrying on with my daily routine.

And while part of me was sad about missing out on my usual morning ritual, I was mostly just concerned about actually being able to stick to the challenge for the full month this time. Gulp.

In hindsight, the month passed by in the blink of an eye. But before I got started, it felt like 30 days would be an eternity.

Photo courtesy of Work For Your Beer.

Week 1: Oh, The Headaches

On Day One, I was ready and eager to kick my coffee habit — even if it was only temporarily.

Since I had experience giving up caffeine cold-turkey in the past, I knew what I was getting myself into. Forget fighting the urge to drink coffee; I expected that I’d be fighting fatigue, crankiness, headaches, and the inability to keep my eyes open for about the next week or so.

Annnnnnd I was exactly right.

By 9:30 AM the first day, I had to take a pain reliever to ease my headache. Luckily, I worked from home that day and could (mostly) hide my misery from the world.

Then the weekend came. Usually, Saturday and Sunday mornings are times when I can enjoy my coffee more out of pleasure than out of necessity, as I typically do Monday through Friday — so I was sad to miss out on the joy that comes with taking your time to brew the perfect weekend java.

I (intentionally) kept my days pretty busy, so it wasn’t until mid-afternoon when I’d take a brief break and really start to feel the effects of my new caffeine-free lifestyle. My head was pounding, and I was exhausted… so, naturally, I took the longest naps my schedule would allow.

The fatigue and headaches lasted for a solid week. I had to take some form of pain reliever every day, and I intentionally set aside time for myself to get as much sleep as possible. I found myself in meetings, barely able to keep my eyes open. Luckily, I forewarned my co-workers about the challenge, so they were understanding of disheveled demeanor.

Yes, Week One was as bad as you would imagine it to be. Having done it before, I knew to expect it to be truly awful, and I understood that I just had to trudge through it.

If you think caffeine doesn’t affect you, you’re wrong. You may not feel the subtle impacts is has on your day-to-day, but I guarantee you’ll feel the negative impacts once you stop consuming it regularly for an extended period of time.

What Do You Drink When You Can’t Drink Caffeine?

To try and curb my cravings for something hot throughout this first week, I subbed herbal tea and hot water with lemon into my diet. While they couldn’t do anything to fill my caffeine void, both surprisingly hit the spot when it came to filling my coffee void. Drinking a hot beverage in the morning was enough to trick my body into thinking I wasn’t too far off of my normal routine.

I learned some crucial things that first week. First and foremost: sleep is very important. If you ever plan to give up caffeine, make sure you plan accordingly for the first week. You’ll likely need time to nap, and plenty of time to head to bed early, if you want to make it bearable. Along those lines, water and ibuprofen will be your best friends for the first few days caffeine-free.

I also learned that while some coffees and teas may claim that they’re decaffeinated, they still contain trace amounts of caffeine. So if you’re trying to kick the habit all together, plan to avoid those as well. And note that this means kombucha, too, because it’s made with tea!

Weeks 2 – 4: Fine, It’s Bearable, But I Don’t Like It

​Once I got past the tragedy that was the first week of no coffee or caffeine, the rest of the month went surprisingly well. I was content drinking my herbal tea and hot water with lemon, and I could start to feel the effects on my caffeine-less body.

As much as I hate to admit it, I started feeling different — in a good way. Once I got over the caffeine withdrawal, I was sleeping better and felt more alert. Without sipping on coffee every few hours, I felt less of a crash mid-day. No more afternoon slump for me.

So yes, I definitely reaped some benefits without my daily coffee fix. But I’ll be honest: I still missed it. I knew I’d never be able to give up coffee indefinitely, no matter how good I might feel in the moment.

Post-Challenge: Yes, I’m Caffeinated Again

Some might ask, “Why start drinking coffee again if you know you feel better without it?” I wish I had a good answer, but I don’t. Honestly, I just really enjoy drinking coffee.

I love taking in the beauty of latte art right before your first sip of delicious foam. I love the ritual of making my morning pour-over coffee and smelling those freshly ground beans. I love curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee on a weekend, and I love savoring each sip in the peace and quiet of the early morning, before my day of hustling begins.

Drinking coffee is my happy place. No matter what’s going on in life or where I am in the world, it’s the one constant that I can always turn to and enjoy. I’m in it for the experience.

My First Cup of Coffee After the Challenge

​When my 30 days were up, I knew exactly where I was headed to resume my coffee love affair: Queen City Grounds.

This gorgeous new coffee shop in Uptown Charlotte is my new go-to for all coffee-related needs. Conveniently located on the corner of 10th and Church St., it makes for the perfect stop to grab a coffee on the go. It’s also the ideal place to settle in to get some work done or catch up with a friend.

The first drink I ordered after my coffee-free month was an oat milk latte. I’d been craving one for weeks, and I was so giddy to take my first sip.

It was just as delicious as I remembered.

I really savored that first cup. I wasn’t rushing to guzzle it down on my way to work, or making myself a third cup for the day to keep me awake. I was enjoying it. Every. Single. Sip.

Admittedly, I was pretty jittery after my first cup. But I’m happy to report that coffee is back in my day-to-day life  — just in lower quantities.

​I’ve come to learn that I can enjoy the pleasure that is a good cup of coffee without overindulging. I love that my morning ritual is back to normal, and I don’t plan on kicking the habit again any time soon.


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