Caffeine bomb

Friday, 31 January 2014

Do you ever think about how much caffeine you drink? I dare you to add up what you consume in a day and I guarantee you, you will struggle to comprehend exactly what you are guzzling in the form of teas, coffees and carbonated drinks. So let me tell you a little story; the story of the time that I accidentally tried to give up coffee. A story that remains so vivid not just because it only happened to me this week but also because the impression it left is one that has intrigued me ever since. After all, we all know that caffeine is the most widely consumed drug out there, but do we really feel that we are ever addicted to it?

My advice is to never underestimate exactly how caffeine affects you after years of consumption. Just imagine all the years of build up of tolerance: all the cups of tea your mum made you in your youth to go hand in hand with your morning breakfast. All the coffee dates you have had with girl (or boy) friends at the weekend, sinking one large latte after the other. All the 10am brews you've had at work to ready you for that huge workload. Daily, weekly, monthly; all that routine. The habits you cannot break. And beyond all the social reasons and the feeling that you cannot start the day without it, remember that we are still living in a land of double recession and £2.40 for a cappuccino is a small price to pay for something that just makes us feel a little bit better.

And that's before I even think about being different to most people; as in, I actually work in the coffee business! Most days I drink coffee for free as part of my living, how about that. It's my duty of good customer service to taste test the coffee I serve every morning to ensure that it's of good quality and standardised to my brand. As part of my job, I must drink that coffee or else I am doing a great disservice.

So why did I try to give up caffeine? Well I did mention before that it was accidentally. My poison of choice every morning is a regular americano with cold skimmed milk and a shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup (trust me, when you work for a coffee shop, you end up with drinks like that) - except on Tuesday morning, I just didn't fancy it. All because a friend of mine happened to mention to me the immortal words 'hot chocolate'... and from that moment on, it was all I could taste on the tip of my tongue. I got to work, I made my hot chocolate, I was satisfied. It was only when I got to 10am did I realise, 'Wow, I haven't had a coffee yet this morning and I feel fine!' I then decided that I would make it to the end of the day without an ounce of caffeine passing my lips.

It was all an illusion. By midday I had a headache, I felt sluggish, I couldn't remember basic orders and I just wanted to climb into bed. By the time I got home at 3:30pm my headache was borderline migraine, I had the sweats and shakes and felt horrifically nauseous. I started to read up on how caffeine detoxing affects your body and pretty much fell asleep on my phone. I thought a little nap might help it. Little? I ended up 'sleeping' for 15 hours. Apart from the fact that I woke up every 3 hours in a panic from a twisted nightmare but with no energy to actually get up and do anything.

So when it rolled around to 8am the next morning - after I'd shaken off the fact that I'd missed a cancelled bowling night out, then a round of drinks at the pub, plus lunch AND dinner - with an awful fogginess that I could only relate to both too much sleep and a lack of my body's favourite drug, I decided I couldn't do it anymore. I know, I may be weak but I completely underestimated what the world says about coming down from caffeine. The first day is the hardest, and the second and the third are not that much better. But it has come from many personal accounts that by the time you get to the forth or fifth day completely caffeine free, that you come back with more natural energy than ever. I believe it was the thought of that, that made me so persistent in getting to the end of the first day. I commended myself for enduring a day of excruciating head pain - and then I had a coffee.

All of that for nothing? I don't believe so - for it has taught me a lot about my body that I guess I was too blind to realise. Ten years of heavily drinking coffee and tea and living off of Diet Coke and yes, I have racked up somewhat of a caffeine addiction. In my mind I don't believe I need it to get through the day but my nervous system believes otherwise. And yes, admittedly it is scary to discover the hard way that you are addicted to something without ever realising. But I truly love coffee, for all the reasons that I have made clear above - those cups of tea from my Mum when I walk through her front door; the meet-ups with friends that are perfect for nowhere else but coffee shops; and the joy I get from my job coupled with the involvement I have in giving people their £2.40 cup feel-good.

I believe that I've already done the best thing that I possibly could, in realising exactly what I put into my body. It has encouraged me not to give up something that I love, but instead manage it and cut down. Since Wednesday I have only been drinking caffeine in the form of one coffee in the per day, preferably before 3pm. Apart from that I stick to decaf options, or herbal teas. I also haven't touched Coke since (and to be honest since ever reading this I've been needing even more of an excuse to give it up). I can honestly say that I feel better already. I'm beginning to find a better sleeping pattern and actually feeling tired in the evening, something that I never really have done previously. Also my skin looks a little bit better even after less than a week and I'm sure other bodily changes are to follow. Will this be forever? I'd like to think it is a permanent lifestyle change but let's be realistic, possibly not. Circumstances always change and as humans sometimes we are not strong enough to give into temptation - or that second flat white. However, I know one thing for certain: that I will always remember this lesson that I inadvertently taught myself, and that maybe I can pass forward the horrible lesson I learned to others. All from a little accident!

P.S. one americano, two single espressos, an iced coffee, a can of coke & two or three cups of tea. Th-th-that's all folks.

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