Help me cut down on coffee/caffeine
May 9, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

What methods have you successfully used to cut down or quit taking caffeine?

I drink a lot of coffee, usually 2-3 cups five-six days a week, sometimes as many as 3-4 on certain days. It's possibly screwing with my sleep (can't sleep all the way through the night) and making me too jittery doing the day. So I'd like to cut down and maybe quit, but cutting back just leaves me with massive headaches and incredibly tired.

What strategies did you use that were successful in helping you cut down your caffeine intake to say, one cup of coffee a day? Does it hep to switch to soda and then gradually cut down on that? Was there a specific amount of cutting back you found helpful, say cutting back by 1/2 cup or 1 cup a day?

Also, what's a good and specific substitute for coffee in the morning? Don't say decaf, tried that, it tastes like warm piss.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I've "quit" cold-turkey by replacing coffee with green tea. A lot of green tea.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit cold turkey. I did it at a time when I didn't have to be at work or do anything important for about a week, and I drank a lot of water and took aspirin and napped and white-knuckled through it.
posted by decathecting at 12:50 PM on May 9, 2011

I just gave up all caffeine sources at once, suffered through the headaches, and took up extra-tasty-dark-hot-chocolate for a mild sugar buzz. But I am an all or nothing kind of guy though.
posted by nomisxid at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've done it both by going cold turkey and by gradually reducing the ratio of caffeinated to decaf coffee in my cup. Have you tried good decaf? The better decaf can be quite good. I've also just switched out coffee for hot water with lemon and that seemed to go okay. In any case having done both the gradual and the cold turkey approach, I'd go with cold turkey. In both cases you get bad headaches but at least with cold turkey it's over in a couple days.
posted by Mrs Roy G Biv at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2011

I switched from coffee to tea. Earl Grey for me. And it was just one a day and not several.
posted by hellojed at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2011

I started drinking a crapload of water instead. That worked very, very well.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Chocolate has caffeine in it too!
posted by mareli at 12:56 PM on May 9, 2011

I switched to tea. 2 or 3 days of headaches and I was fine. I immediately started sleeping much better too.
posted by COD at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2011

I'm a little bit of a coffee snob, and was going on a trip where I wouldn't have access to decent coffee for a month. I quit cold turkey. No ill effects.

Admittedly, I was throwing a lot of weird stuff at my body during that time (different hours, different level of exercise, different diet), so lack of caffeine was probably the least of its concerns.

When I was done, that monkey got right back on my back.
posted by adamrice at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2011

I started putting off my first caffeine of the day a little later (fifteen minutes, half an hour, 45 minutes, etc.) and pulling my last caffeine of the day back a little earlier, until they met in the middle and I quit. Or until they meet in the middle and you're down to one cup or whatever.

(Also, yes, caffeine strength can vary considerably by brewing method for coffee and tea; you get a more consistent "dose" with soda or whatever.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:04 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I cut down, slowly, to 1/2c a day. I'd attempted cold turkey before but the headaches were horrible. When I cut down to one cup, then 1/2, I had no headaches when I stopped drinking it completely. And then I switched to decaf, of which I now drink up to 2c/day. I've always liked herbal tea, but that doesn't replace the coffee in my experience. Decaf at least tastes the same.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got pregnant and then it made me vomit and suddenly I was less interested.

I suspect that might not work for you, so I will say that when my vomity-ness went away, I started simply filling up my cup halfway instead of all the way. Because getting coffee is a bit of a pain in the ass for me, it worked to reduce my intake significantly.

I also quit putting sugar in it, which made me like the taste less.

You could also try only making half a pot if you're at home. Essentially, make it less pleasurable and convenient.

I have to say that there are good decaf coffees out there and that's probably what I'd do if I needed to cut caffeine entirely.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2011

I stopped coffee cold turkey in India once. It was awful. Splitting headaches and falling asleep in the middle of day. I usually drink two espresso based coffees a day - probably about six shots. But I find it easy to get down to one. In that case I sometimes drink lemon and ginger in water. You might also try yerba mate.

Not sure why anyone's suggesting tea. It's got 1/3 - 1/2 the caffeine and is easier to consume in vast quantities. I guess you could have very weak green tea.
posted by rhymer at 1:10 PM on May 9, 2011

Oh, and espresso has less caffeine than coffee per serving, meaning that one serving of espresso has less caffeine than one serving of coffee. An americano made with one shot of espresso might be a good replacement, or a latte, or whatever else tickles your fancy.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: You just have to wait until you have 3 days off work and tough it out. After the first couple of days it's not so bad, but you only get fully up to speed after a few weeks. For me personally reducing it or drinking tea etc is a waste of time.
posted by Not Supplied at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Switch to orange juice or something equally sharp-tasting as coffee.
posted by rhizome at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2011

I took a very systematic approach to break the physical addiction to caffeine without giving up coffee. The first step was to switch from cups of coffee to cups of coffee and decaf mixed half-and-half. After a week of that, I went to 3/4 decaf and 1/4 regular coffee. After another week, the mixture was 7/8 decaf and 1/8 regular coffee. After another week, I called myself a wimp for clinging to my one daily sip of caffeine and gave up the regular coffee altogether. No headaches or other withdrawal symptoms.
posted by DrGail at 1:19 PM on May 9, 2011

I switched from 3-4 cups a day to 1. I started out with replacing my afternoon coffees to tea or Vitamin Water, then switched from those to water. It took me a couple weeks to stop having the afternoon lack of caffeine fog, but it was amazing once I got through it.
posted by Zophi at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2011

I cut down by getting a small Chemex coffeemaker and fancy expensive coffee, and making the preparation of one strong cup every morning a calm, deliberate ritual. Instead of brewing six cups in an automatic coffeemaker and gulping down all of them. It helped some. And you're drinking better coffee.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chocolate has caffeine in it too!

133mg / Cup of Coffee vs 9mg / Cup of Cocoa
posted by nomisxid at 1:24 PM on May 9, 2011

I meant to mention that it may not be the coffee that's screwing with your sleep. Alcohol can do it too. If I drink too much wine in the evening I wake at four and can't sleep for an hour.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2011

I drink less coffee at home now that I've switched to using an Aeropress. The Aeropress makes small cups of coffee individually, so you don't have a big pot of coffee sitting around looking delicious.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cut down by making chai at home instead. It has about 1/3rd the caffeine and it has the sharpness/bitterness of coffee (unlike that wussy Earl Grey crap).
posted by desjardins at 1:30 PM on May 9, 2011

I've had success both with the cold turkey method, and cutting down slowly over a week or two.

For me, cold turkey requires 2-3 days to take painkillers and hibernate.

For cutting down slowly, work out how much caffeine you have in a day. Divide that into 5-10 convenient units (I tend to use cans of diet coke), and cut out one a day.

Either way it'll take a few weeks after the caffeine is out of your system before you'll feel normal-ish.
posted by curious_yellow at 1:30 PM on May 9, 2011

I've always gone cold turkey. The first three days are close to intolerable, but after that it levels off. After 10 days or so you won't miss it at all.

The only thing I found that works for caffeine withdrawal headaches is vigorous cardio.
posted by something something at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2011

I quit cold turkey, by accident. I wound up on a trail-building team in a national forest for a week...with no coffee. I was a thermos-a-day caffeine fiend and thought I was going to perish without coffee.

I think that the intense physical exertion and unbelievable physical pain that I endured during that week made the caffeine withdrawal headaches bearable. By the time I returned home and slept for 18 hours straight, I was off the bean for good. Haven't turned back, although I do still enjoy black tea every now and then.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:41 PM on May 9, 2011

I decided that all my coffee drinking was making me a pill. I cut back by doing bascailly two things.

1. Cutting my morning coffee in half. Basically making it all at once and that was all I got. Add more milk if you want, but there's not going to be any more coffee in it.

2. Going half-caf in the afternoon and not having any coffee at all after 5 pm. So I'd make another mini-pot with half decaf and again, no more bla bla. If I want a late night drink it's always caffeine free tea, no soda, nothing.

I also found that for me the jitters had more to do with the sugar that was in my coffee. Everyone processes it differently but getting up and having only a cup of coffee was fine for me as long as the coffee didn't have sugar in it [milk is okay] and the jitters cut out pretty quickly.

I've also heard people say that eating an apple can wake you up like a cup of coffee, so sometimes when I feel draggy and in need of a cup I'll slice and eat half an apple. Also Fresca is good and has no caffeine but a nice bite to it. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 1:57 PM on May 9, 2011

I did the half-caf thing. This was made easier by the fact that my office has one of those K-cup machines and I usually made a cup of coffee with two K-cups of regular coffee. I switched to making my coffee with one regular and one decaf K-cup. At home, I would make a pot with half regular, half decaf grounds. If I went to Starbucks, I asked for half-caf. I basically stopped having full-caf coffee, and I did that all at once -- I didn't step down my caffeine consumption or anything, I just started drinking half-caf one day.

And to show my bona fides: I used to drink 2-4 cups of caffeinated coffee a day. In the past, when I've tried to quit coffee, or even when I'd just forget or not have time to grab a cup of coffee in the morning, I'd end up with splitting headaches. But with the above method, I didn't really notice any caffeine withdrawal. I don't know why, I'm just grateful.
posted by devinemissk at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2011

I second going to decaf. I'm someone who always wants to be drinking something (so keeping cold water in my fridge is a must), I like to brew a pot of coffee in the morning, and drink 3-4 cups. I started making it half regular and half decaf just to cut down on the caffeine, and occasionally I'll make it only decaf. I don't notice a difference, but then again I realize caffeine affects people differently. I don't get jittery, or feel I "need" it, or get kept up at night, regardless of how much I drink or when I last have it. But I think you should experiment with using decaf, if you enjoy the flavor and experience of drinking coffee.
posted by JenMarie at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2011

Cold turkey -- and sticking to a permanent, total ban -- is the only thing that's ever worked for me.
posted by gerryblog at 2:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit the same way I quit smoking: I got really sick. I had gastroenteritis over Christmas and when I recovered it made a timely New Years resolution. It felt great, until the semester started and I climbed back on the jitter wagon.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:30 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cold turkey worked for me when I quit (I'm drinking again, but not as much as before). However, as a migraine person for whom pain meds are pretty much useless, I wasn't even able to take advantage of aspirin/etc to dull the headaches. It was awful. I'd recommend a LOT of water and whatever pain meds work for you if you get the withdrawal headaches. Tea is good if it's herbal, and if you like the "warm liquid" aspect of your coffee in the morning, it might help. Rooibos tea is what my boyfriend fed me during the initial drawdown -- Adagio has a lot of good ones.
posted by at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2011

Er, that should be "fell off the non-jitter wagon."
posted by hydrophonic at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: I've done it two ways:

First way, I took inventory of all the coffee I would drink in a week. Didn't try to change everything, just wrote down every coffee or caffeinated thing I had in a week for a week. Then next week I allowed myself half of that. The week after, half again. And so on. Lasted a while and soon fell back to as much as 5 cups a day.

Second way, and most recently I did like this: I had a cup of coffee Thursday morning and none for the rest of the day. I slept really well and woke up early. I didn't have any coffee at all Friday, drank as much water as I could. Didn't feel like too much of a piece of crap yet. No coffee on the weekend. Felt terrible the whole weekend. Monday, felt better. Still could have used a cup, but it wasn't so bad. By Wednesday I felt normal, and probably more energetic overall. I feel great now. Three weeks in. Sometimes I'll take ginseng, but most importantly I drink a ton of water. Saves me around $40 a week in coffee and associated purchases.
posted by dobie at 3:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may or may not taste good to you, but I like Cafix (or the similar Inka). It's a powdered coffee substitute that doesn't really taste that much like coffee but is a brown drink that tastes good warm with a bit of milk and maybe a splash of sugar. It's nice because it's not tannic like most teas are and it's not sugar-heavy like hot cocoa.

Also, I discovered that (bulk, not supermarket) decaf coffee is palatable when made in a French press with crushed-up green cardamom pods and whitened with half-and-half instead of milk.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:26 PM on May 9, 2011

I switched to tea, then gradually cut down on that. I still had to go through a headaches-and-tiredness phase, but it didn't last more than a few days and one Advil was enough to take care of the headache.

I still occasionally have a cup of tea or coffee, but just one -- if I have them more than a few days in a row, I get hooked just like that.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:51 PM on May 9, 2011

Teeccino is awesome stuff. All natural, you can brew it up like coffee and has a very coffee-like-beverage experience, but without the caffeine. You can have a cup in the evening before bed and it won't keep you up all night.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2011

Best answer: Drink good tea, and resteep your leaves or tea bags. Each cup will extract less caffeine, but you'll still have something to sip on.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm trying to do the same thing right now by drinking more water and tea, limiting myself to one can of Diet Coke per day, getting up and walking around the office to fight through sluggishness with endorphins, and most importantly, eating whole grains and snacking on fruit and nuts so that I have natural energy to replace the caffeine rush. It's felt pretty great right from the start. I've had no headaches at all and I am very prone to them.
posted by houndsoflove at 4:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're drinking a lot of caffeine - more than 2 or 3 coups a day - I'd say a reasonable (whatever is reasonable to you) tapering method is the best - cold-turkey tends to lead to inexplicable and severe headaches (by inexplicable I mean you will have the worst headache of your life that drugs won't touch, and not attribute it to caffeine withdrawal - but when you remember, a cup of joe will take the headache away). The headaches aren't necessary - just slow your intake of caffeine and when you get down to a reasonable cup or two in the morning, try quitting over a weekend.
After that, avoid all caffeinated beverages.

You may be surprised how much you miss it and find yourself needing a boost through the day - I'd suggest an apple or other fruits - natural sugars. Be aware you'll need to give yourself some time to adjust to staying awake and alert on your own rather than with the caffeine - but this won't be an unpleastant, painful process - just something to deal with.
posted by TravellingDen at 5:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Interesting note: I worked out this morning, it was an intense cardio*, and I can barely finish a single cup of coffee. The desire/addiction just isn't there this morning. Memory says this a similar effect after an intense workout. I'll keep an eye on this while attempting to just cut down by a cup or so a day and see what happens. If that doesn't work, I'll try one of the slower methods. Thanks ya'll!

* The workout was the following, done as fast as possible:

Row 400 meters
9 squat jumps
9 pushups
9 pull-ups

Row 400 meters

Row 400 meters

Row 400 meters

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 AM on May 10, 2011

I quit, well, a bunch of times. But the most recent and so far most successful was by catching a really nasty stomach bug and not being able to consume much other than plain tepid water for a few days. There were headaches and withdrawal symptoms galore -- previously I had been drinking a full pot a day, sometimes more -- but I was sick anyway so what are you gonna do.

After I got better I decided to not start drinking again. My biggest problem is the totally ingrained habit: I can't seem to get any work done unless I have a hot beverage of some kind at my desk. That habit seems to be much harder to shake than the physical addiction was... it's been almost two months and I'm still looking for a substitute -- tea doesn't taste good to me; chocolate is too sweet; I've even resorted to hot water with a bit of honey, but that just feels ridiculous.
posted by ook at 7:09 AM on May 10, 2011

I've done cold turkey but it's a bitch. And supposedly not good for you. But after a few days it's over.
posted by radioamy at 9:41 AM on May 10, 2011

I adore coffee so I'd never quit permanently (plus, it seems not to have the bad effects on me that many people complain about) but I recently had cause to knock the caffeine out of my diet for about three weeks. I was delighted to discover that it is possible to buy pretty reasonable-tasting brands of decaf. But if you struggle with that, wean yourself off the caffeinated by mixing it with decaf and gradually decreasing the proportion.

I also went back on to tea and was similarly surprised to discover that there are decent brands of decaf tea out there. And also green tea, as someone else has mentioned. It has a pleasing but not overly pushy flavour.
posted by Decani at 11:03 AM on May 10, 2011

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