Going cold turkey on the bean brew.
May 9, 2008 5:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm anxious to give up the Java, or switch to decaf. For health reasons. Give me hints on how to do this effectively.

For me, caffeine is a migraine trigger. I've successfully given up daily cups of tea and coffee, switching to a morning cup of hot water and lemon. But on occasion--during long drives, on vacations, or when passing a local cafe with its bean roaster dialed to 11--the devil strikes, and I give into temptation.

I've tried switching to decaf, but I can't get enough of that jolt that comes with a shot of freshly brewed espresso. Just thinking about the energy spike makes me jones.

I've tried alternative eye-openers, such as daily 5-mile runs or weightlifting at the gym. With modest success. But what I'm looking for is a way to jump-start my nervous system, so that I'll be comfortable with decaf and not desperate for the real thing.

Are there any techniques, exercises, herbal supplements, et cetera, that approximate the caffeine high? Or any comes-from-experience advice on making a permanent departure from caffeine?
posted by Gordion Knott to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure that caffeine is the migraine trigger?

I've also had to give up on coffee because of its migraine-inducing properties, but have been able to drink tea. Also, it's not all coffee that brings on the pain. For me, I have to avoid drip coffee, but good espresso can be enjoyed without the pain. There are a number of coffee joints that I know will cause pain whatever coffee drink of theirs I try, including espresso. But it's easier to just avoid coffee altogether than risk a migraine just to find out if a cafe's coffee is safe for me. (I also have to avoid certain types of tea, but it's stuff like rooibos and not generic Lipton's or jasmine tea that gives me headaches, so I haven't had to give up on tea altogether)

I drink ginseng tea when I need the type of high you speak of. Ginseng also has caffeine, but it seems to provide a more moderate high, one that doesn't have the sharp high and then crash I experience with coffee.
posted by needled at 5:40 AM on May 9, 2008

Have you tried yerba mate? It also contains caffeine, but many people say that they have fewer adverse reactions when drinking it.
posted by helios at 5:41 AM on May 9, 2008

Also questioning if you're certain that caffeine is the trigger. Some years ago I tried to kick coffee, and my migraines got worse. My doc told me that caffeine is actually a migraine reliever for some people - guess I happen to be one of them - which is why it's in a lot of drugs given to migraineurs (such as caffergot).

Do you use sweetener in your coffee? Turned out in my case, the biggest migraine trigger I had was sugar, because of the wild blood-sugar rollercoaster it creates. When I was diagnosed as prediabetic and had to give up sweets altogether, my migraine frequency went from weekly to maybe once or twice a year.
posted by chez shoes at 6:15 AM on May 9, 2008

Are you sure your nervous system needs a "jolt" as opposed to allowing it to heal itself naturally and gain back your true energy reserves as opposed to the false energy that caffeine gives you?
I know that once I quit caffeine (not even decaf), allowed my nervous system to calm down and my adrenal glands to heal, I had a lot more natural energy.
I would also include a healthy diet in there somewhere.
posted by willmize at 6:23 AM on May 9, 2008

Dang it! I forgot to include perhaps a morning yoga session to get your energy levels up.
posted by willmize at 6:23 AM on May 9, 2008

I've found that Yerba Mate (pronounce ma-tay) provides stimulation effects similar to coffee, but without the jitters and "crack-out".


If you decide to get some, definitely get a mate straw. They're like 10 bucks and totally necessary...
posted by Glendale at 7:16 AM on May 9, 2008

This is never a popular answer, but for myself, I needed to do this cold turkey. I realized that caffeine was messing up with my health in other ways (insomnia issues), and as long as I kept playing around with it, I'd never give it up. It sucks for awhile, but once you are through it, there's no more playing around with it. My last caffeine item was July 4th, 2006.

I will say though that before I gave it up for good, I did over a period of time start cutting back the time of the day that I was willing to drink it. First, it was no caffeine after five, then after noon. Then I gave it up entirely, once I was seeing the benefits on my sleep.

One thing that helped me big time was to find a good decaf. Much of it tastes pretty bad. In doing so I realized that a lot of my addiction was psychological, for example needing something hot in the morning that tastes like coffee (the comfort factor). Tea didn't quite do it for me, probably because of my history with coffee.

Best wishes. I don't regret for a minute giving it up, although in the beginning, it does feel as if you are giving up your right arm.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2008

Nthing Yerba Mate. It's not exactly the same 'jolt', but it is similar enough to sooth your jones, I'll bet. The loose stuff tastes better (IMHO) than the tea bags too, BTW. Worth checking out.
posted by Pecinpah at 7:28 AM on May 9, 2008

I'm not doing it regularly at the moment, but a cold shower can be powerfully stimulating, especially if you haven't done it in a while. Playing colorful, high intensity video games like Geometry Wars also wakes me up. I think maybe what you need is a range of stimulating activities to choose from, because if you always rely on just one, you'll get habituated to it fairly quickly and it'll lose effectiveness. The same is true of coffee, of course.
posted by tomcooke at 7:32 AM on May 9, 2008

Are you sure that you need that jolt?

One key thing that causes people to want that jolt is sleep deprivation -- and a shockingly high percentage of americans are sleep deprived and don't even know it.

You might consider reading the book "The Promise of Sleep" by William Dement... and see if it might apply to you. It's a tremendously interesting book (and one that I wish motivated me to improve my sleep habits, but I'm still not there...) and might just open your eyes....

Or you might be getting 8 hours of sleep a night and my reply might be meaningless.. :-)
posted by twiggy at 7:34 AM on May 9, 2008

I realized that I didn't answer your question very well. Sorry about that.

In terms of a new energy source, I do remember that while going through withdrawal, it's hard to get a boost from other places. Your body wants the caffeine and doesn't always find natural alternatives an adequate replacement.

My suggestion is to maybe give it a bit more time, after going cold turkey. I suspect that you'll find that you'll naturally have more energy in the mornings when you get up, and from other sources, when your body isn't jonesing for it any more.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:35 AM on May 9, 2008

I've pimped it here before - Heal Your Headache, by David Buchholz. Awesome book, even if you don't follow his plan. Changed my life, despite the fact I'm one of the few people whose headaches are caused my a freak medical issue and not the usual assortment of triggers (although they certainly don't help).

That being said, you may find that either you're right, and that caffeine is a show-stopper migraine trigger for you. Or, alternatively, you may find other things in your life are also contributing to the headaches. If you can eliminate these other triggers, then there's a good chance you'll be able to tolerate some caffeine. It's a matter of give and take, knowing what your triggers are, and what you can handle before crossing the migraine threshold. Unfortunately however, finding out what your triggers are is going to involve going cold turkey for a while with just about everything, including caffeine.
posted by cgg at 7:41 AM on May 9, 2008

Going running in the morning? After running, coffee feels like a negative influence, not uplifting or energizing. (Though I still usually drink it, what can I say?)

Also, in the nebulous "any other advice" category, I cut down on coffee by brewing coffee alongside tea for a few weeks. Then, there's no sense of deprivation, just a gradual realization that tea makes me feel better. (I never totally quit, but I've never really decided I need to -- I just usually need to cut back some.)
posted by salvia at 9:12 AM on May 9, 2008

Don't do it!

Seriously, I have to ask, as others have -- do you know for sure that coffee is the migraine trigger? Coffee (black of course) has many documented health benefits and there is absolutely no reason to give it up.

And I am NOT biased.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:17 AM on May 9, 2008

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