9 Ways to Kick the Coffee Habit
How to cut back on caffeine
There's nothing wrong with coffee, unless you have acid reflux or other reasons to avoid it.
"Caffeine tends to [open] the lower esophageal sphincter," says Robynne Chutkan, MD, assistant professor in gastroenterology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Giving up caffeine helps acid reflux, as well as sleeplessness and anxiety. But it can also make you cranky, tired, and give you headaches. Try these tips to kick the habit.
Gradually cut back
"If you do drink a lot of caffeine, you might want to give it up slowly," says Keri Gans, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and author of The Small Change Diet.
This should help lessen the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms and also give you time to develop new habits to replace the old. "New habits aren't developed overnight," says Gans. But how quickly you taper off and how long it takes depends on how much you're drinking to begin with, she says.
Keep in mind that you can get
caffeine from other sources too, such as chocolate.
Find another go-to drink
One of the first things Gans advises is to replace coffee with other drinks, even decaf coffee.
Decaffeinated coffee still has caffeine (2 to 25 mg per cup, depending on the brand, vs. 100 mg or more in regular coffee), but it's a good replacement beverage and a way to taper off at the same time.
You can also try another hot drink that's caffeine free, such as herbal tea or even hot water. Don't add lemon though, as its acidity can aggravate the reflux.
Take a Tylenol
A throbbing headache, sometimes lasting for days, is the signature withdrawal symptom of caffeine. Temporary use of pain relievers could ease your suffering.
Stay away from aspirin and ibuprofen, though, as they can aggravate acid reflux in the esophagus and irritate your stomach, even leading to ulcers.
"If you're prone to acid reflux, taking a lot of aspirin or ibuprofen can make it worse," says Dr. Chutkan. Tylenol (acetaminophen) would be a better bet, assuming you don't have liver problems.
Drink more water
Consuming more water, whether it's hot or cold, is another great way to detox. It gives your hands and mouth something to do when you've relinquished the coffee mug.
Gans has also heard many die-hard caffeinators say that staying hydrated helped them stay more alert while they were withdrawing. Both low alertness and difficulty concentrating are prime symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, according to one recent study.
"Our bodies are made up mostly of water," Gans says. "Our bodies like water."
Amp up your workouts
Exercise is just as much of a stimulant—maybe more so—as caffeine. So physical activity is a sure-fire way to combat fatigue as well as irritability when withdrawing from coffee.
"Exercise is a natural high. You get energy simply from exercising," says Gans. "Exercise gets the endorphins going." Endorphins are neurotransmitters that blunt our perception of pain.
But avoid bench presses and other types of weight lifting that can push stomach contents, including acid, up into your esophagus.
Eat healthier food
Eating healthy food is a great fatigue-buster as well. The basic rules? Stay away from refined sugar and greasy fast foods.
"Fuel your body with food, but not heavy foods that are high in fat," says Gans. Not only will heavy foods make you sleepy, but they could aggravate your heartburn, defeating the whole purpose of giving up coffee in the first place.
Instead, go for high-fiber carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. "Food is an energy source. You need to be sure you're getting adequate amounts," says Gans.
Make meals consistent
This means making sure you don't let your tank stay empty for longer than four hours at a time, says Gans. This will ward off both fatigue and general crabbiness.
"The hungrier you get, the crankier you get," says Gans. Small meals spaced throughout the day will also keep acid reflux at bay.
Don't skip breakfast. "Start your day with fiber and protein to get yourself out the door," says Gans.
This could be a bowel of oats or high-fiber English muffin with egg whites.
Get more sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans aren't getting the sleep they need and many are coping with it by drinking copious amounts of caffeine.
Given coffee's stimulant properties, it makes sense that you'd be tired when coming off the cup. The world's best anti-fatigue weapon? Sleep.
"You need to look for energy in other ways and first and foremost is a good night's sleep," says Gans. Some ways to make sure that happens: avoid naps, exercise regularly, and go to bed at the same or similar time every night.
Yoga, meditation, massage, and other relaxation techniques can serve several purposes. They'll help with the crankiness and concentration problems associated with caffeine withdrawal and they could serve as a replacement activity.
"If one of the benefits of coffee is you find it relaxing to sit and drink a cup of coffee, look at something else that can relax you," advises Bethany Thayer, RD, director of wellness programs at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
An hour of yoga or even five minutes of quiet sitting could be that "something else."