A year without caffeine, part 2

(continued from part 1)

Diagnosis and prescription

The family doctor stared at me sternly, then issued his diagnosis and prescription.  He explained that my guts were mostly like in a bad state of ulceration, and my diet was the most probable cause.  The ulcers were about to start bleeding into my abdomen, which would be a very bad thing, and which was why hospitalization was one treatment option.

Empty plate.The other option (the doctor continued, with mordant glee) was to radically change my diet.  No more caffeine in any form: coffee, black tea, caffeinated soda, chocolate.  No alcohol.  No hot spices.  No acids – i.e., no tomatoes, no oranges.  No gradual tapering off; cold turkey was the only way, commencing at once.  Everything which injured, aggravated, or maimed my guts had to cease immediately.

(The food part was an extra dose of melancholy.  I’d have to stop my refreshing morning glass of orange juice.  No more would I proudly dare Indian restaurants to make me lamb curries “hotter than Indian hot”.  Out with my battery of hot sauces, the Tabasco flotilla. Gone were hot wings, Buffalo flavor anything, spicy pizzas – heck, pizza at all.  Gone too would be any Italian, tomato-based sauces.)

(And no alcohol?  I hadn’t been a regular drinker since my college days, but still adored Guinness, and appreciated fine whiskey.  My Russian DNA gave me a genetic predisposition in favor of vodka, as well.  All gone.)

In a show of mercy, the clinician prescribed a heavy-duty painkiller, Percocet.  He anticipated so much pain that a narcotic was called for.

Passing Mount Horrid.

Passing Mount Horrid.

I left the appointment feeling numb.  We drove home through the Champlain Valley of western Vermont, my wife, Ceredwyn, at the wheel, as I was in a form of shock. We talked things over in detail.  I was going to be in a bad way for a while, maybe a week.  I would tell my employer that I was going to be under the weather for a few days.  I would plan on not doing much work at home, including housework, child-minding, and homestead tasks.

Ceredwyn disliked the prescription, finding it too harsh, and wanted me to get a second opinion.  I agreed, and decided to follow the doc’s advice, while hunting down a specialist.

The days that followed were, as you might suppose, terrible.  It was like having a bad flu: random shots of muscle and joint pain, a bitter mood, a sense that the world had darkened around me.  The fatigue was oceanic, sweeping across my body in tides, whelming me into near-sleep at any time of day.  Christmas was a vague blur.

The headaches were fierce, savage, migraine attacks.  If you haven’t experienced this, it sometimes feels like someone has stabbed you in the skull with an ice pick, then left it there, lodged in the bone, throbbing and oscillating, grinding from side to side.  At other moments my entire head felt caught in a huge vise, which someone else was winding down, each turn crushing my skull a little further.  Lights would flash, occasionally, as if the sun had broken through clouds, or interior floodlights suddenly switched on, followed by the descent of murk.

Feeling the pain.

Feeling the pain.

I tried to relax by reading and watching movies, but my body kept betraying my mind, sapping concentration.  My foul mood spoiled stories and aesthetic effect.

I poured water into my body ruthlessly, always having a bottle or mug to hand.  As Ward notes, dehydration* is a vicious thing, and I needed to hydrate extensively.

Sleep claimed me, deeply.

I never took the Percocet.  I wanted to tough it out.

My family avoided me.  The dog and cats, worried, comforted me.

On the second day of detox a new coffeemaker arrived, a present my wife had ordered before the diagnosis.  I used it to make her coffee.  The first two or three times it was awful, the heady scent of ground beans causing me to literally salivate.  My hands shook as I carried her the steaming mug.

Medical tests followed, as we located a specialist.  He ordered blood tests, a physical exam, and an endoscopy.  As I headed into what turned out to be the first of several endoscopies, my brain quickly fogging closed with drugs, the doctor assured me that he probably wouldn’t find much.  He was (and is) a jolly man, genuinely disarming and funny.  But when I came to, he looked spooked, and described the results soberly.

Three (3) ulcers were at work in my stomach.  Acid reflux was in full bloom, riotously shooting acid up my gullet.  My esophagus had, well, mutated in a bad way, heading towards a condition called “Barret’s Esophagus“.  The doc also used the phrase “potentially precancerous”, twice.  H. Pylori was not a factor, which is unusual these days.  He prescribed a stack of medication, continuing the bland, decaffeinated diet, and more tests.

I went home with my wife.  I continued working (back at full+ time), took the meds, avoided caffeine and all of those tasty, spicy, acidic foods.  I started a food diary to check for additional offenders in my shrunken diet. Things seemed grim, eroded.

And then… I got used to it.

The new normal

Ripton's natural water fountain.

The Lucky 7 Fountain, a natural spring about three miles from our homestead.

Positive reinforcement was the crucial step.  After a week my stomach pains lessened.  By the new year my daily morning nausea ceased.  As Mimi comments, the absence of pain is awfully sweet.  My body associated no-caffeine with the sensation of no-guts-on-fire, and liked it very much.  Conditioning can be a wonderful thing.

One survival technique I discovered was continued hydration.  I tried to have water near me at all times.  This didn’t boost my energy at all, but kept me healthy, and simply feels good.  I gradually trained my body to expect water, not coffee or Mountain Dew.

Another useful trick was more physical activity.  I’ve lifted weights since high school, but haven’t been doing so frequently of late.  I added workout routines throughout 2012. Now I have a kettlebell workout every morning, which means up to 30 minutes of painful (but productive) exercise.  I added a treadmill to my home office standing desk, and run 45 minutes to 2 hours each day while doing all work that doesn’t involve much typing.  During snowy weather I strap on showshoes and stomp across drifts for up to an hour.  When I’m traveling, which is frequent, I do pushups and situps as soon as possible, after waking up. Then it’s time for a workout center, if there is one.

Tactic #3: sleeping a little bit more.  During my caffeine years I routinely slept 4-6 hours per night, and did the occasional all-nighter.  I flew frequently (up to six trips per month), and took sleep-destroying redeyes whenever possible.  Now I force – no, allow myself to sleep 6-7 hours, 8 on weekends.  The body demands it.  In return, the quality of sleep is better.

Mid-afternoon sleepiness sometimes hits me.  It used to, back when I was massively dosing myself with caffeine.  I don’t nap, since naps don’t work for me (they leave me feeling dazed and more tired), so I used to medicate this with caffeine.  Now the sleepies are weaker things, and I just bull through them, yawning and forcing myself to remain attentive.

Tactic the fourth: weight loss.  That jolly specialist and his staff recommended I lose weight, so I did.  I cut every meal’s portion in half, which is a bit harsh, but I was in no mood for delicacy.  No food passed my lips after 7 pm.  I started using the treadmill, mentioned earlier.  After a month I dropped 20, then 35 pounds.  There’s nothing like hearing a trusted medical professional use the phrase “potentially precancerous” to motivate lifestyle changes.

So how do I feel now, one year after I shut down the caffeine pump?  How do I get things done?


I hesitate to describe my situation in glowing, post-conversion terms.  A friend mockingly accused me of going straight-edge (no caffeine, no alcohol, no drugs, but lots of punk rock!), and I am leery of sounding evangelical.  Exercise culture has always appalled me.  But I do feel… well, well.  My abdomen is no longer a hellish engine of pain.  My breath is no longer coffee-flavored.  I don’t experience the plunging abysses of fatigue I used to.  I wouldn’t describe myself as relaxed or less active; instead, as cheesy as it is to write, I’m more aware of my body’s reserves of energy.  I pay more attention to the body, rather than hurling caffeine by the gallon into it.

I get as much work done as I used to.  That includes writing – my first book, The New Digital Storytelling, came out last year.  I keep churning out articles, essays, reviews, and chapters (see the “Writing” tab up top), and just returned to blogging right here.  For NITLE I consult, work with colleagues, give speeches, publish a monthly futures analysis, teach classes, and run a Web-based game. This includes a lot of travel, between two and six trips each month.

Some trips for winter 2013.

Some trips for winter 2013.

At home I help my family homestead, our project to live sustainably and getting off the grid.  So a lack of caffeine doesn’t prevent me from cutting down trees, hauling wood, building stone walls, planting and harvesting crops, and dealing with animals.

A couple of our woodpiles.

A couple of our woodpiles.

That family includes two teenagers.  I think I keep up with them, although my son still destroys me in Halo 4 multiplayer.

My son, grinning.

My son, grinning.

My diet is simpler, smaller than it used to be.  Most of what I drink is water, either cold or very hot, the latter largely for warmth, as Vermont winters can be long and cold.  My eating habits are restrained.  Gone are large portions, hot sauces, and morning orange juice.  Instead I eat a nearly paleo diet: fruits, nuts, veggies, eggs, meat, plus rice and granola.  Some of that we raise ourselves – that’s part of the homesteading deal.

I miss chocolate, and console myself with white chocolate.  I remember the morning ritual of creating coffee to banish sleep, but don’t recall it often.  I still miss the delight in a huge meal.

I love making food for other people, and happily feed them what I cannot eat or drink; their pleasure, and the rich delight of cooking, is what I enjoy.  Every morning I make coffee and bring it to Ceredwyn in bed, my hands no longer shaking.  My children are a source of inspiration, as each has successfully coped with their own harsh dietary issues (celiac for one, milk intolerance for the other).

Greetings from hiking Vermont's Long Trail.

Greetings from hiking Vermont’s Long Trail.

I cannot tell how energetic I appear to others in meetings, or when I keynote a conference.  I think it’s the same level of energy.  And if it lessens, how can I separate decaffeination from the erosion of age?  I turn 46 in a month, and feel… calmer, more in control.

One more survival technique is the use of social media.  Friends, colleagues, and total strangers gave me advice, courage, and comfort over Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  I appreciated them very much.  I turned to blogging to share this story in the same spirit, and am thankful to every person who commented here, or posted on Twitter, HackerNews, G+, and Facebook.

*I may tell the story of how I once dehydrated, for those medically curious.

(photos by Conway L., otherwise by myself)

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124 Responses to A year without caffeine, part 2

    • gid tanner says:

      Your story was interesting but I was puzzled as to why you could not have tapered your coffee intake until weaned rather than go through such harsh withdrawal. Also, if not a coffee taper, couldn’t you have tapered using pharmaceutical caffeine tablets, such as over the counter MIDOL? Your degree of suffering seems to have been more severe than necessary, though good blog fodder. I hope that you continue to enjoy your new good health.

  1. lindaleea says:

    Have you looked into probiotics. There is much research coming out on how we have screwed out gut microbes with processed foods. There maybe links to weight gain, our immune system and our brain and our gut microbes. It is amazing what we do to our bodies and still seem to have a good life and are productive to a point. Then all of a sudden it catches up to us, and getting older helps. I am looking forward to the new Bryan.. and one that will be around for his family for a long time.

  2. Alex H. says:

    This was a very useful post, particularly this time of year when I am trying to make some healthier choices. (Treadmill under the desk: check. Food diary: check. Kettlebell is staring at me from the floor as I type.) The caffeine is another thing, and I don’t know what to do with it.

    Mainly by accident, I have drastically cut back my caffeine intake this week. I mostly drank tea, probably a couple gallons of it or more every day. Now I am drinking almost exclusively water. But I had been considering mega-dosing on caffeine, not to keep me awake, but to keep me focused. I’ve also considered trying one of the two main ADD medications, one of which, of course, is an amphetamine.

    For now, I’m holding off. I have a cold–I feel anything but healthy. But I’m going to give it a month of relatively clean living and see how things go. And get a check of my TSH levels, which might explain my more-than-usual lack of attentiveness. And try meditating again. And turn off the social media more often :).

  3. Mia says:

    Having seen your updates in the past year it was very enlightening to hear the full story. Thank you, Bryan! I hope you will continue to get better. Take care!

  4. Walter says:

    Have you considered a new doctor? My understanding was that the diet-ulcer connection was discovered to be a myth in the late 90s, and that it’s generally an infection best treated with antibiotics.

    • Great question, Walter. My wife pounced on that right away, correctly, as the doc didn’t even bother looking for that connection.
      Blood tests showed, alas, I was in the minority not affected by that sweet antibiotic treatment.

  5. Peter says:

    Will your stomach ever get better? Won’t it heal after a while?

  6. SAFD says:

    yah, love the red bull ad at the end of the article.

  7. Briget P says:

    I agree with Mia, the full story has been enlightening and inspiring. It was easier putting more activity in my day when I lived in Colorado, compared with the new Boston lifestyle. That’s no excuse, so I will buckle down again and give more activity a try of my own.

  8. J Ehmann says:

    interesting post. I went cold turkey on caffeine for five months while I was in rehab for a serious accident that left me in a wheelchair. Perhaps I confused my withdrawal symptoms for some of the accident related ills.

    I unfortunately cannot say no to painkillers, otherwise I could not function with the what I call “constant reminder” pain.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  9. Matt F says:

    Bryan–keep it up. As a 25 year old that, in fact, has been diagnosed with GERD and Barrett’s (from chronic untreated acid), it sucks but life gets better when the pain goes away. Green tea is a godsend 🙂 If you go down the path of needing some good meds for the acid suppression, ProTonix (or its generic) has proven to be the best for me. One other trick is to put some bricks under the front of your bed so you are always laying at an angle.

  10. daed lanth says:

    I’m 39. The biggest change that I haved made is getting away from high fructose corn syrup. I like to drink a lot of hard liquor, which is not good, but the corn syrup is a definite killer IMO.


  11. fine work, huge lifestyle changes are often the hardest thing to do, you do one thing all your life and then phase it out quickly. not everyone has the fortitude to do that, you are a fine man!

  12. James Farmer says:

    Loved both of these posts Bryan, fantastic to read (and see and hear) that you aree doing so well.

    Slightly jealous too 🙂

  13. Lucius says:

    Inspiring story!
    Off topic: I’m really interested in how you take care of your hair. I have grown mine but it is voluminous, messy and tangled. How do you keep yours so straight?

  14. wow
    thank-you so much for this

  15. Pingback: A year without caffeine, part 1 | Bryan Alexander

  16. my love affair with espresso lasted almost a decade. Last summer, I awoke with the most horrific pain of my life that made child birth seem like a pinch. I had developed kidney stones. Long story short I have halted the all day coffee fest and have one cup per day. I am wondering now, however, if even that is wise, considering my father almost died from esophageal cancer and I do have a small ulcer. Thank you for sharing your story!

  17. Josh says:

    Loved it. Very inspiring and there seems to be a connection between taking good care of the body and taking good care of the environment by using natural resources or living in harmony with nature (I refer to your paleo diet and homesteading here).

    Ten years ago, I made radical changes to my diet after researching it extensively on my own. This year, I feel well, comforted in the notion that my decisions bore fruits, but I also want to improve even more for the next decade.

    Have you head of aquaponics? It’s a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Look for aquaponics and arduino on Youtube for an inspiring and fascinating clip of a Kenyan doing this in an urban area.

    All the best for 2013 and thank you for sharing so graciously.

  18. Seeing the intelligent focus and discipline you applied in response to your illness does not surprise me. It only deepens my admiration. Thanks for sharing your story in such an informative and entertaining (if grimly so) fashion.

  19. Meg says:

    I can imagine that yes, you’re still the energetic presence you always were. That always seemed to me like just who you were – the caffiene was just one way to fuel it. (And I way to fuel yourself while sleeping less – though it didn’t always succeed… I recall being on ICQ with you one late night when you suddenly stopped responding – and then responded quite a bit later appologizing for falling asleep at the keyboard!)

    I do hope you can get back to being able to eat spicy foods someday!

    I can’t nap either, btw, for the same reason – I usually spend the rest of the day feeling even groggier than I normally do when I’ve just woken up, and feeling a bit nauseated too. Sometimes napping works if I make sure I nap for less than an hour. Occasionally it works if I’m sleep deprived in the didn’t sleep at all sense and actually go down for what counts as a short night’s sleep and am just then on an even more shifted from the norm sleep-wake schedule. But mostly? No. Naps bad.

    • Meg says:

      On the matter of spices – what about those spices and herbs that are generally *soothing* to the stomach? Do you eat things like ginger?

      • Thank you for those thoughts, Meg, including that ICQ story.
        On spices: few seem to have an actively soothing role. I liked ginger when things were bad, but haven’t done much with it now. These days I eat green spices: tarragon, etc.

  20. Hal says:

    About a year or two ago I developed digestive problems and eventually throat problems. I consumed lots of processed food, spicy food, thick coffee and rich beer. After doing some research and self-diagnosis, I came to the obvious (and dreadful) conclusion that I had acid reflux. It was almost as if my bodies dependency on caffeine was causing me to ignore the obvious symptoms of acid reflux. My diet would have to be rebuilt, promoting alkaline foods over acid ones in order to balance out my gut’s pH. The DASH diet and pH food charts are good resources for refactoring your diet; pretty much anything leafy and green is alkaline. Initially, I had to neutralize the excess stomach-acid with baking soda water (avoid tums, they will only make things worse). I also started taking digestive enzymes / probiotics and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). A year later, I can eat food without chocking on stomach acid, my throat isn’t constantly dry/horse and I can even enjoy beer/spicy foods in moderation. Coffee is still off the table as I now mentally associate it with instant acid reflux. I will also continue reducing my beer intake and increasing my exercise regiment to avoid Hyper Tension (common amongst information workers).

  21. gandos says:

    great story. i have experienced this kind of problem two years ago. i was like struck by lightning when my doctor told me that my condition was potentially precancerous after he did some endoscopy and colonoscopy to my body. since that day, i have been following the routine like you do. no caffeine, no cigarette, no hot spicy, no alcohol. eat less more often. thanks god, my condition got better. and i lost some weigh which is good that it made me have an ideal weigh. so i can say i know the pain man. especially in the first few weeks of the routine 🙂

  22. Paul Wenzel says:

    Thanks for the writeup, Bryan. I very had a similar experience this summer. One day, I woke up and couldn’t eat anything, and I felt like I had the flu. This went on for a few days until I went to the hospital to have my terrible abdominal pain checked out. The doctors performed some tests and said there was nothing wrong with me.

    Our family homeopath provided me a remedy and suggested I try decaf coffee. Since then I took a family vacation in Lake Tahoe, quit coffee (except for occasional decaf), and cut back on excessive work weeks. I turn off the computer and phone on evenings and weekends.

    Overall, I feel a lot better, and cutting caffeine provided the snowball effect.

  23. Fred Seltzer says:

    1. Afternoon naps and overweight make me guess you might have sleep apnea. It can be easily tested.

    2. Congratulations on your recovery.

  24. Winslow Colwell says:

    Bryan = my hero

  25. brianblanton says:

    I went vegan because of a similar scenario. Well done, and keep it up.

  26. Bryan says:

    Good for you! I once went cold turkey on the caffeine . It was hellish. And again this year i am going to try to go without it. but its been a bit harder. Im glad you have been able to stay on the healthy diet for so long! should be all down hill from here.

  27. Dave Baird says:

    Thanks for sharing this experience, Bryan, and hearty congratulations for taking control of your health. Beneficiaries obviously include your wife and children, but also the rest of us who value your friendship and expertise on an ever-increasing array of subjects. All the best in 2013,

  28. Aden Nichols says:

    Thanks for sharing your odyssey, Bryan. I can’t imagine what could be tougher than shaking the monkey trifecta of caffeine, spicy food, and Guinness cold turkey and *all at the same time*–I stand in awe of a true Warrior! And as if that wasn’t enough, your productivity is downright astonishing. This will shame me into redoubling my efforts on all counts.

    I intend to save, re-read, and repeat as necessary. Life Is Good!

  29. tljohnso says:

    I finally got through both parts…Excellent posts, Bryan. I gave up caffeine last year as part of a month-long “purge.” I couldn’t believe the headaches…so much so that I decided I wouldn’t go back to caffeine. My husband has both reflux and allergies…aggrevated by acid and spicy foods as well as coffee, alcohol and dairy. Sorry you had to give up spicy foods and Guinness (my two favs), but there is nothing like feeling “well.”

  30. shev says:

    I am curious, particularly given the title, how much caffeine is really to blame. It sounds like you have made wholesale dietary changes, of which caffeine is just one element.

    Did you receive any advice as to why you should specifically stop caffeine? Can you take caffeine in a pill or is it the host drink/product that causes the problem?

    • shev, it was both caffeine itself and the delivery mechanisms. The latter added various oils which worsened the gut.

      When I started the decaffeination process I did not anticipate the other dietary changes, including cutting portions for weight loss. In retrospect they were, well, huge.

  31. Lori says:

    Bryan, I went off caffeine cold turkey whilst in grad school because of a different medical condition and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. (The other medical issue was resolved after a year or so and I happily went back to my 2-3 cuppa-a-day habit [tea, not coffee] ). I salute your resilience, determination, and reinvention of your life.

    All good things to you and yours in 2013!

  32. Really enjoyed reading this series; the writing was superb and reading about your resolve was fascinating. Cheers to health.

  33. Drew says:

    I saw your link on hackernews. I’ve been hoping to relieve myself of a (1 super strong cup of coffee)/day addiction—very minor by comparison. My previous attempts have ended due to low energy through the day and the inability concentrate at work. Your story has motivated me to try again and power through it! Cheers!

  34. James Colne says:

    Great blog. Thank you.

    I was clean of caffeine for 10 months and alcohol for 7, and fell back into both over this Christmas (triggered largely by the pressure of complex and intense social interaction which I find stressful).

    I had a few days last year when I was genuinely happy to be alive, all day, for maybe the first time in my life. And my wife would doubtless say I was less angry, aggressive etc.. But they were low stress days. And for much of the drug-free time was the happiness thin and reedy; not a huge high? And was I less punchy in my work? I felt weak, less alive.

    Maybe I was ‘weak but strong’, i.e. felt un-strong but achieved a lot, whereas now I am ‘strong but weak’; i.e. I feel strong but don’t achieve much.

    I feel more alive now; I feel the highs (huge!), up, down, twisted, deceitful, with those times in the day when I have the incoming drugs to hide behind. In other words a typical addicts life.

    When the stress comes on, which for me seems to be most of the time, isn’t it less bad to be caffeinated, to get through somehow?

    Maybe somehow you’re seeing the bigger picture than I am right now. I need to bridge back to that semi-old life.

    If it were not for your gut etc health issues, would you still be on caffeine?

    What is your wife saying about old vs new you?

  35. jcjc777 says:

    Bottom line – have you lost your punch? and does it matter if you have?

  36. dearbalak says:

    my deepest sympathies. I too have gone through a similar situation last winter though my doctor was a little more gentle about the dietary restriction. For me alcohol was the most difficult to cut though i still drink some red wine…

  37. sallymathrick says:

    Love your story and well done for committing!

    I wanted to recommend a herb which is remarkable in many ways- the rishis called it the incomparable one because it has so many healing qualities. I find it remarkable for energy boosts, in a gentle stable way. It s called tulsi, or holy basil. Organic India is the brand I recommend, available in USA. They are doing good things too.
    Well wishes

    • Trevor says:

      While we are on the subject of herbs, i have to name a few that are superb for energy and overall health and vitality, make sure the source is high quality as there are alot of bunk herb stores out there, some of the best suppliers are Ageless Herbs, Mountainroseherbs, Plantcures.com, and Lotusbloomingherbs:

      1) Fo-ti (He Shou Wu)
      2) Rhodiola
      3) Shilajit (Lotusbloomingherbs brand only, it’s the only guaranteed authentic shilajit in the US)
      4) Schizandra
      5) Goji berries

      Those are simply the top 5 wonder substances for physical and mental health! I take all of them and wouldn’t have been able to or want to stop caffeine without them honestly. The energy they give is the life force building variety and the mental clarity and physical boost they provide is otherworldly, don’t consider those 5 lightly, they are the best.

  38. Pingback: Final Step in Building Your Best Physical Energy……. « fitbodybyjess

  39. Trevor says:

    Inspiring story, and I truly admire your willpower on going cold turkey, and most of all brewing coffee for your wife! I’m on day 3 of no caffeine but my symptoms are nothing to the pain you went through!

  40. Thank you, Trevor. Good luck with your own withdrawal; how goes it now?

  41. Jesse says:

    I love you. I will began my life’s transformation for a more energentic person.

  42. Bryan thank you so much for sharing this with me. I also shared it with several friends.. near 200.

  43. JHill says:

    Very much enjoyed reading your blog, Mr Alexander. I too am a big, big fan of caffeine in all its forms, however my body isnt tolerating it any more. Now, as soon as I have caffeinated tea ( I loved black tea), coffee, or chocolate, the acid ingestion starts and doesnt quit for hours.

    Im going to get checked out by my doctor, as I think I too may have some esophagus damage.
    Its very, discouraging as caffeine was my main and most preferred vice. But we must do what we must do in life.

    Reading your blog certainly helped, as you show there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    thanks again and take care. You are an inspiration.

  44. I’m sorry to hear that, JHill. Good luck with the appointment; I hope the way forward is as painless as possible. Keep us posted.

  45. Michael Deolloz says:


    I just found your blog today after googling “two weeks without coffee”…. So far, all I can say is that I feel much ‘cleaner’ than I used to. I am thinking of cutting out caffeine completely, maybe that will help me feel even better?

    Anyway, I dunno how long I’ll be able to go without coffee but I’m proud of making it this far. Combing this with lots of fresh and local foods (even Juicing) has probably also helped me feel better physically.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Congratulations at those two weeks. What’s your motivation for doing this, Michael?

      • michael deolloz says:


        The main goals are to improve my health and energy. I’d also like to see if I can’t improve my hair and skin along the way. Going off coffee has been part if a few small changes ive mad recently, including going off all prescriptions except one. Also, I’ve developed a much healthier digestion and eating patterns.

        I’ve noticed too that now when I first wake up in the morning, I have a very “clean” like feeling. Kinda hard to describe but its nice. I always do a yoga in the morning too. Now, I follow that up with Fresh juice instead of coffee! I even turned down some coke the other day BC they dent have any that was caffeine free!!

        I’m pretty sure I wont be drinking any coffee in the foreseeable future. If it feels thisngood then why stop?

  46. That sounds like a fine plan, Michael, with immediately positive results. Keep on with it, and good luck.

  47. I read this with great dread. I’m headed to the gastro next month after suffering severe heartburn (I thought I was having a heart attack, now THAT was a fun weekend.) But see, I love coffee. I love the smell, the taste. I’m a connoisseur, the way some people are with wine. I’ve had blue mountain coffee in Jamaica. I’ve ordered beans from a place in San Francisco that shipped next day for freshness. I make my own cold-brew. I don’t drink more than one espresso drink every other day and really strong expensive coffee in a French press on the weekends. I don’t want to give it up! I already gave up meat, most dairy, carbs, and sugar. Seriously I have no food joys left. Bah. Woe.

    I gave up caffeine once in 2004 after being diagnosed with a minor heart issue during grad school – no coffee, chocolate, black tea. My personality changed. I felt boring. This is my only drug! Woe.

    Still, I appreciate knowing your journey. I might need some moral support if I’m given another ultimatum. (Woe.)

    • My dear Jenny, you are one ferociously strong person. Jack London strength!
      To give up sugar is extraordinarily difficult. My hat’s off to you. Carbs, meat, dairy: not easy, either.

      Count on my moral support. And remember that your guts need to function.

  48. Pingback: 2012 In Review ← Bc

  49. Lisa says:

    I’m glad I found this site. Today is day three for me coffee-free. It was love/hate for the last 6 years. I finally turned the corner. I managed to cut back quit a bit over a couple of months, with October 31 as my final day. Two years ago, same date, I quit cigarettes. My advice: just prepare yourself, and know it is in you, in any one of us, to accomplish this for our well-being. I know a lot of the whole coffee thing for me was the sugar that went with it, so that’s out too, and the horrible addictive Coffee Mate. Thanks for the encouragement.

  50. Wow – cutting coffee *and* cigs!

  51. ggevalt says:

    As I sit here, Red Bull on my left, I am overcome by a sense of “Gosh, this could be ME!”
    Were you psychic, Bryan? Did you send me this link because you saw me clutching my coffee on Saturday? Did my eyes look hollow up on stage? Had you somehow mind melded into my house Saturday night as I literally collapsed? Were you in a secret camera as I was hunting around for a pot of coffee Sunday morning?

    Thanks. A wonderful reminder to me that a) I need to shift my priorities a bit and b) that it CAN be done. And a wonderful piece of writing, too.

    And here’s the real bonus. I FOLLOWED THE AMAZON LINK and am buying your DS book.

  52. Max says:

    great read. Refreshing to read about such healthy (physically and psychologically) lifestyle changes. Your caffeine intake and dependency is interesting especially for somebody who isn’t an alcoholic/addict. Good writing, entertaining read.

  53. maxblack1616 says:

    p.s. im drinking a kickstart right now lol. and killer beard

  54. Justin says:

    I gave up drinking caffeine when I was 18, over 12 years ago, just to prove to myself I could stop. It wasn’t coffee or energy drinks but soda that I was hooked on. I would consume anywhere from 80 up to 200 ounces of Cherry Coke, Surge and/or Classic Coke a day. The first few weeks to couple months were by far the hardest. I don’t recall craving it really after the first year and now I only vaguely remember what any of those drinks along with sweet tea even taste like. I also have not had a headache in around 5 or 6 years, which I am sure very few people can say. I do feel that my ability to concentrate or focus isn’t as good as it used to be which of course could be related to becoming older or numerous other things. As most things in life, with time it becomes easier. I wish you luck in your journey.

  55. Congratulations on your transformation, Justin. Giving up soda is harder than losing coffee, since you also drop that sweet sugar intake. Bravo, and thanks.

  56. Dan says:

    Just came across your page while searching about the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, Im now on day 3 of cold turkey from both caffeine and anti-depressants, and my body is punishing me greatly! 2 nights of cold sweats and stomach cramps, and I’m assuming more fun to come, but good to know that the end result should be worth the discomfort!

  57. It’ll get better soon, Dan. Make sure to drink lots of water.
    Why are you doing this?
    And good luck!

  58. Dan says:

    I don’t know if you’re still replying to comments here, Bryan, but I thought I’d leave one anyway. First, awesome story; thanks for posting! Second, I’m on day 7 of no caffeine (quit because of migraines and frustration with energy crashes), and am still feeling incredibly lethargic and foggy-headed. Everything I’ve read suggest 3-9 days for withdrawal symptoms, so I’m worried this is my new norm. I know you had other complications you were dealing with, but how long did it take for you to feel like you could function at least somewhat like a normal person again?

    • Belated greetings, Dan. I admire your willpower.
      It took me a couple of weeks to get back to baseline energy.
      A few tips:
      -drink lots of water.
      -drink hot water. That reminds my body of some of the coffee experience.
      -drink non-caffeinated tea. This doesn’t work for me, but others swear by it.
      -first thing in the morning, get in some sun. Open the window, stick your head outside, go for a walk, whatever you can do. This sounds cheesy, but is remarkably effective.
      -do some physical exertion. Walk a little, do an exercise, something to get the blood flowing.

      And good luck!

  59. Jackie says:

    Wow Brian I am impressed at your will and motivation. How are you doing now one year forward?

  60. Jackie says:

    Thanks! I actually am coffee now too, chocolate which I desperately miss, alcohol, but I cheat sometimes. The main thing is to retrain our bodies and start a healthier life!

  61. Aaron Shaver says:

    Thanks for this blog post. Your story mirrors my own. I used to consume caffeine, spicy food, alcohol and had the stomach issues, anxiety, and irritability to go along with it. Now my diet’s low glycemic (which overlaps with paleo quite a bit) with only small amounts of spicy food, no alcohol, and only small amounts of chocolate (which I’m thinking of giving up). I’m much more calm, sleep better, have more even energy levels, and have lost a lot of weight.

  62. howitzer28 says:

    Good article to help people out. I’m an athlete and software developer and don’t need or do caffeine. It’s a plant poison afterall. I make sure I’m always hydrated and ‘carbed’ up so I have the natural energy I need.

  63. Pingback: Two years without caffeine | Bryan Alexander

  64. Nicole Lascurain says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I thought you might find this interesting. Healthline has compiled a list of the Effects of Caffeine on the Body in a visual graphic and I thought you and your readers would be interested in seeing the information.

    You can check out the information at http://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-effects-on-body We’ve had good feedback about the article and we think it will benefit your readers by giving them med-reviewed information in a visual way.

    If you think this information is a good fit for your audience would you share it on your site, http://bryanalexander.org/2013/01/06/a-year-without-caffeine-part-2/ , or social media?

    Let me know what you think and have a great week.

    All the best,
    Nicole Lascurain • Assistant Marketing Manager
    p: 415-281-3100 | f: 415-281-3199

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107
    http://www.healthline.com | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

  65. Lisa says:

    Great article. I love your style of writing. Congratulations on improving your health!

  66. Frank mcdonnell says:

    Is this called 2 years without a haircut and shave? Lol

  67. Jonathan Roberge says:

    Beautifully written! I know this was written almost 3 years ago, but I want you to know that it still has an enduring impact. I am going on this same journey, and your article gave me strength to continue!

  68. Amanda reta says:

    Bryan! Thank you! I’m suffering a wicked migraine at the moment, courtesy of caffeine. It’s hard to get off the sucker. I don’t know how to motivate without it. Writing, housework– painful without the ritual of caffeine and it’s wonderful energy production. Great tips on how to energize and get through. Fantastic writing!! Side note– we wanna homestead one day too. What a fabulous life you lead.

  69. Pingback: Three years without caffeine: a surprising lack of agony and terror, plus a caveat | Bryan Alexander

  70. Frank mcdonnell says:

    Good you followed the diet and feel better but i cant help thinking a good shave and haircut would make you look 20 years younger bryan.

  71. Russ Wilson says:

    Great article, on the journey myself to managing this reflux crap. Quit smoking three weeks ago and ditched the coffee been two days stomach in withdrawal. I need medical marijuana.

  72. Blake says:

    hello, does it really take a whole year to recover from caffeine addiction? i have read most people recover with a few months, 6 months usually being the most

    • Blake, it took me maybe a week to get back to functioning decently.

      • Blake says:

        what i meant was recovery of the brain/receptors. ive quit before, maybe for 2 months a time, then when i drink some caffeine it brings on withdrawal again. eventually after many months your brain resets back to pre use of caffeine

        • Rob says:

          Hi I’m having an experience like you mentioned, I quit caffeine in March with a huge withdrawal that lasted weeks or more, and in July had one decaf a day for seven days hoping to make things better. Instead, a monumental withdrawal came raging back, first couple days I could barely get out of bed, now Day 8 of the second withdrawal still major fatigue. I’m wondering how this works in terms of brain chemistry, like what is it that has not been rest after 4 months.

      • Ah. That, I do not know, since I didn’t try any caffeine for more than a year afterwards, and didn’t test any other way.

  73. Mark says:

    This was a very interesting story and your work ethic is quite impressive. Currently, I have recently had two panic attacks and plan to remove caffeine from my diet. It is more complicated than I make it seem, as I have anxiety issues and a heart murmur. However, caffeine exacerbates these issues to the point where they become much more apparent and problematic. I am concerned I will not be able to keep up with work demands without it though, but this article was really encouraging, plus it seems extremely necessary at this point. The additional sleep sounds like a good idea, thanks.

    • Mark says:

      As a side note, If I drank the level of caffeine that you claim you have I would probably die. I can drink one large coffee from DD and be up all night with a racing mind.

  74. VP says:

    Wonderful article. I drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day and this week I figured I have Ulcer. I have modified my diet and cut down coffee completely and my head is pounding me. I am looking at tea as an alternative.

  75. Rachel says:

    It’s crazy how casual people treat caffeine addictions. I once did an overnight study and one of the agreements was you had to go without caffeine 48 hours before, and then during the study. One of the young girls became really sick and realized it was probably withdrawals. She didn’t think she drank much and thought the study would be fine, but while puking into a trash can she couldn’t stop craving Starbucks. Right now my problem is painkillers, it takes a lot to deal with my period cramps and migraines which causes similar issues. I’m looking into CBD oil since it’s now legal in my state but I just don’t know if it will be strong enough.

  76. Chris says:

    I’ve been caffiene free a few times and remember those occasions as times with calm and clarity. They also tend to be times without alcohol. Currently a month with no booze and tapering off a massive 2 /3 coffee pot habit. I’m in north east england – though used to live in VT – I went to Green mountain college. I miss Vermont, sooo beautiful and wonderfully different seasons.

  77. crecimiento de barba says:

    Un hombre con barba puede ser cualquier cosa menos ordinario. Él no tiene miedo a ser diferente y sobresalir de los demás. Es decidido y le gusta la espontaneidad y la aventura; ten por seguro que a su lado jamás te aburrirás.

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