Three years without caffeine: a surprising lack of agony and terror, plus a caveat

coffee with a boosterThree years ago this week I gave up caffeine.  I used to drink more than any human should, and stopped it dead, cold turkey.  You can read about how and why it happened in these posts: 1, 2.  You can even read my two years after post. Go on, I’ll wait for you.

Welcome back.

Three years in and I’m still off the caffeine bus.  I haven’t climbed back on once.  But do read this post to the end.

Honestly, I haven’t been temped, except for one small thing.  My body and mind are thoroughly conditioned to associate caffeine with gut-boiling agony, so the scent of Turkish coffee no longer makes me desire it.  Tea shops honestly make me a bit nervous now. Sodas (Mountain Dew was my preference) are less appalling in that BF Skinner way, but their extra dental damage keeps me safely away.

That small thing?  Chocolate.  White chocolate I can do, which is fine.  But I do miss dark chocolate.  It’s not the caffeine boost, but the taste. I am tempted to nibble when I see people chomping on the glorious stuff, but I make myself remember the threat of digestive horror, which helps keep me away.

coffee beans, by Quinn DombrowskiMy routines have successfully changed.  I’m writing this with my now customary morning drink, a mug full of very hot water. Making and drinking it is part of my wakeup routine.  I turn to hot water at different times of the day, some of which were when I used to drink coffee or black tea: after dinner, coming in from cold weather, during a mid afternoon bout of yawning.  With meals I drink simple glasses of water, maybe with ice, which is fine, and helps me focus on the food a bit more.

I still make morning coffee for my wife every day, and happily brew coffee or tea for visitors.  Being good to my wife – well, that doesn’t need explanation.  Being hospitable to guests is something I enjoy, the more so as I get older.  Those positive feelings easily override any disgust I experience over making something which could maim my guts.

My energy levels are good.  I wake up well.  A little physical activity, like some neck or torso stretches or a quick pull-up, brings me fully alert.  The only times I feel tired enough to yawn (for reasons other than bad presentations) are when I’ve had very little sleep (<4 hours) the night before, which makes sense; I bull through those times by force of will, or a spot of exercise (walking, chopping wood, kettle bell routine, etc).

Overall, I have not lost productivity due to going off caffeine.  Like I wrote last year, I work 60 hour weeks at a minimum, which can involve extensive global travel and running a small business.  Not to mention parenting two children, being a husband, working a homestead, and so on.

I still don’t feel an evangelical desire to help people get off of caffeine.  My own habits were pretty extreme, and I suspect the biological effects were unusual.  But I do support people when they come to me and ask for help because they’ve decided to decaffeinate for whatever reasons of their own.

So far so good!  There is life after caffeine, a life as fine as the one before, but with better breath and cheaper drinks.

However, a fly has appeared in the decaffeinated ointment.  Please feel free to stop reading if a) you don’t want this picture spoiled, and/or b) you don’t like personal health details; TMI.

Starting this summer my gut pains returned.  Not so horrendous as before, but noticeable and regular: pain and/or nausea every morning, like clockwork.  Changes in waking hours, diet, sleeping habits, location, time of year had no impact.

So I went to the family general practitioner, who changed up medication: no effect.  Then it was back to our excellent digestive specialist.  More pharmaceutical modifications: no dice.  Plenty of blood work: nothing appeared that could cause these effects.  An endoscopy had a spectacular, accidental impact, but revealed nothing that could be causing pains and nausea.

We’re stymied.  It may be that my body simply prefers to experience gut pain in the morning. It might be time to try some radical diet and/or lifestyle changes.

If folks are curious, I’ll blog further.

(coffee bean photo by Quinn Dombrowski)

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18 Responses to Three years without caffeine: a surprising lack of agony and terror, plus a caveat

  1. linda says:

    have you tried hot water with lemon in the morning? I am also taking a probiotic. This may help with the stomach. I have been learning much about how our guts influences our body and brain.


    • You know, Linda, I resisted lemon in water for years, until this fall. A nasty, persistent cold socked me in, and I took to guzzling lemon juice in hot water. After doing that for a while, the lemon just made sense. Thank you for the reminder.

      Probiotics: did that for two years. Discontinued a few months back, on doc’s orders.

    • lindaleea says:

      After having breast cancer twice and various other surgeries plus working in many hospitals I am not sure that you should believe only one doctor on the probiotics. My father got C. diff and no one in the hospital told me (nor him). I was cleaning up after him, and could of gotten it myself. I also witness a top doctor gastroenterology at Duke tying to get fellows to use a medicine that cost $1000, yet not willing to discuss fecal transplants. I hope the fellows did their own research. Apparently I knew more on C. diff than the doctor.

  2. I don’t know a lot about ulcers but my recollection is that they are long-lasting (perhaps to the point of being permanent). So that’s my first thought about the cause.

    But what I know about medicine wouldn’t even fill a small textbook. So I have utterly nothing useful to say, no sdvice, not even a shared experience to offer. Except that I do still love coffee (though not caffeine per se – I tried Wake-Ups a few times in university but it didn’t stick — I’m way too high-strung to be on a caffeine high).

    But I’m sympathetic. And I think it comes with the territory of getting older. I could talk about the gradual degeneration of my eyes (diagnosis – artificial lens in 10 years or so, if I can afford it). Or my bad Achilles tendon. You know the drill.

    None of this makes you feel any better, I’m sure. But hey, I’m an Internet commenter, so that’s not my role (though I would try to make you feel better if I possibly could). So – best of luck with it, and keep us posted.

    • Stephen, your comment actually does make me feel better. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

      Ulcers: the weird thing is the supermajority of them are laughably easy to cure. In our lifetime folks figured out a simple bacterial cause. H pylori is behind something like 80-90% of ulcers, and quickly taken care of. Mine are, alas,in the minority.

      Years of ridiculously cruel diet and exercise took care of the ulcers at last. What causes pain now? It’s still unknown.

  3. Eric LePage says:

    Very impressed with your commitment! Recently, after several months of feeling like I had a rock in middle of my chest, I discovered I had GERD. So I stopped drinking my Zevia (stevia) caffeinated sodas, incorporated more alkaline foods into my diet, and, voila, the pain and acidity are magically gone. I’ve been drinking hot or cold water with either lemon or lime, and it’s been a pretty good substitute. Plus it helps fight off colds. Might be worth a try every now and then to mix things up.

    Hope that pain dissipates for you soon.

  4. I leave medical and nutritional advice to professionals, but have you considered dream incubation specifically requesting healing direction from that older, other you who speaks in images and dreams?

  5. CogDog says:

    As a multiple times visitor to Bryan’s home I can confirm his attention to coffee for visitors.

    I have no suggestions. Maybe reading more scary stories.

  6. Hi Bryan,

    Good luck with the gut stuff, and congrats on the Decaf-i-versary. As a recovering Mt. Dew addict, I know the struggles of which you speak. Insofar as GI issues are concerned, keep pressing on. Eventually a cause will be found and (one hopes) a solution won’t be far behind.

    You and I are around the same age and I’ve noticed a similar trend for many men of our age and generation. As we approach the half-century mark, these bodies we’ve taken on all sorts of wild and crazy trips (around the sun and otherwise) begin to change and while the mind remains sharp and eager to confront the next challenge, the body, well…. the body has its own ideas. The body prefers to move at a slower pace, taking its time to reach its destination, while the mind, the eternal inquisitive child wants to move on, further, faster, better. This is the struggle of middle age. How to find and maintain that balance, a way to live where we satisfy the mind’s intellectual curiosity and craving of new experiences while being mindful of the needs of the body, treating it with a care to which many of us are unaccustomed. I lost hearing in one ear about a year ago and have been dealing with a brand new normal as a result. A Cochlear implant, near-constant vertigo, and a wide array of peculiar symptoms that come along for the ride have taught me a new kind of patience, one which I must practice every day (and all short of quite frequently).

    Best wishes as you search for solutions, and may your next revolution around the sun be your finest one yet.

  7. Hi Bryan,
    H have you heard of the GAPS diet? It may help you. I would start by reading the book. My entire family is starting the diet in just a few days. You mentioned your boys have a few challenges with health so I think your entire family could benefit from the diet as well. Best wishes to you in your journey!

    • I have not, Pattie. What’s the book?
      And thank you.

      • The book is Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia by Natasha Campbell-McBride. This diet has done wonders for many people with digestive issues. When you mentioned that you are taking medications, I wondered if the medications themselves may be throwing your gut out of whack. It’s definitely worth looking into. If nothing else, the book will teach you a lot about how your gut works and how important it is to keep it working properly to avoid disease. And it’s a fairly easy read, so I think you will enjoy it.

  8. Paul says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I can’t say how much of a relief it was to read your story. For a few years now my gut has been getting worse, until recently when I lost my voice from acid reflux and have had to cut out all the fun things in order to see any improvement… The only thing is, despite being alcohol and caffeine free (and getting my voice back, for the most part) things are taking an unbearable amount of time to improve. Juggling that with the fact that life has suddenly shifted down a few gears, and that I’m exhausted a good amount of the time, has been pretty tough. But reading this is encouraging. It can be done. Thanks.

    • I’m sorry it’s been so hard, Paul. Between losing your voice and cutting back – man, that’s tough going.
      Have you seen docs for that exhaustion?

      • Paul says:

        Thanks. To be honest it doesn’t sound half as bad as what you went through!

        I’ve seen a doctor for the various symptoms and am on a PPI to try and keep things at bay while I heal. As far as I can tell I’m just acclimatising to life without caffeine. Everything is a little brighter when on it… without it I’m yet to find those natural energy reserves, to get my brain working the way I want it to. My diet’s always been decent so I suppose it’s just going to take a little while longer until I see improvements. Every now and then I re-read these posts and remind myself that the body just needs a little time to heal.

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