Well, no, I didn’t turn into a clown.
But first of all, you’re probably going, “What? How is this in any way interesting? I drink coffee every day, and nothing “happens.” Secondly, this isn’t a post dinging coffee. I have nothing against coffee. I *like* coffee. But what I want to point out is that it has the potential to contribute to nagging issues that can prevent you from feeling and looking your best.
Here’s my coffee story.
It started in college. The first time I ever drank coffee was at the Waffle House, when I stayed up all night cramming for an art history exam. I was CRACKED the F out. Not only did I not sleep a WINK when I tried to lie down at 5am for 3 hours of shut eye before class, but I pretty much had an out of body experience from the caffeine. Aced the exam, though.
I backed off after that. Then I started drinking coffee again when I hit the job force because that’s what people in the office did, and it helped me focus. But really, coffee was just a vehicle for cream (or really probably that nasty Coffeemate “creamer” that I lovvvvved).
Still never really got into it though. Once I went back to school to study nutrition, I was living in San Francisco and working full time too. I was also a vegetarian, and I discovered I had a dairy allergy, so I drank coffee with soy milk every morning. (which didn’t help my hormones)
But then I started to learn about how coffee affects hormones and blood sugar. I also realized I was using it as a crutch because I was tired. Working full time and going to school at night will really take it out of you. I was so burned out once I graduated with my nutrition degree, and I discovered I had stage 3 adrenal exhaustion. My period had stopped, and I was having panic attacks. A wreck pretty much. So I set out to heal and rebalance my hormones.
So what does this have to do with coffee, and more importantly, what does this have to do with me drinking coffee every day for 7 days? I’ll get to that.
I’ve written about coffee before, and the main gist is that it affects everyone differently. If you’re chugging it every morning or all day because you lack energy, you may be masking underlying adrenal fatigue. If you struggle with insomnia or anxiety, coffee ain’t gonna help.
Back to my story: So I realized coffee wasn’t serving me well. It was an artificial energy boost that contributed to my adrenal fatigue and anxiety. So I gave it up and switched to green tea. Everything magically improved! Not really, but kind of! It also took a lot of work on changing my diet, getting more rest, and taking herbs and supplements to rebalance my hormones and fix my blood sugar.
So. For the past 10+ years, I’ve really not been a coffee drinker. And like I said, I love coffee, but I realized it contributed to my anxiety, gave me massive blood sugar swings, contributed to increased appetite and sugar cravings, and made me irritable. I’d still drink it from time to time, but I would do 1/2 caff and 1/2 decaff, and only the organic good stuff (which, in San Francisco, isn’t difficult to find) with almond milk. Yum.
Which brings me to present day. I’m currently at my parents’ house in the South for several weeks, and in this house, coffee exists in great abundance. We have Starbuck’s, Peet’s, some fancy French roast thing, and Columbian something or other from the emo coffee shop in the nearest little town. There’s a nice, strongly brewed fresh pot every morning, so heck, why not? After all, everyone knows coffee makes you poop, and that’s great, right?
I drank coffee for 7 days and this is what happened
DAY 1: tired from travel and slightly hungover from too much family wine n gossip the night before. Coffee sounds like a great idea! I drink a small cup and a half with almond milk. I’m definitely awake, but nothing exciting happens.
DAY 2: it’s there, and everyone else is doing it, and gosh it smells good. I drink a couple small cups with almond milk. I have a great run! Coffee really enhances my workouts. Wheeeee!!!! I get a ton of work done.
DAY 3: sure, why not? I have lots to do. I drink the same amount but get considerably less euphoria than the previous days. Also start craving sugar in the afternoons. Huh. I thought those days were long gone.
DAY 4: I want to go on another run, so I fuel up. It doesn’t work as well, but whatever. Also, I’m really hungry.
DAY 5: OK, is this a tolerance thing? Maybe it’s not working as well. I drink more and get wicked anxiety. Plus, my stomach starts eating itself around 11am. I am STARVING. But I just ate breakfast like 2 hours ago. I eat a huge lunch and crash HARD in the afternoon, then get really bad sugar cravings. Angry. Eat a bunch of chocolate.
DAY 6: just habit at this point. It’s there. I guess this is what we’re doing now.
DAY 7: didn’t sleep well last night, so what the hell. Have 2 strong cups and get JACKED. Go out for a run and feel like I’m on drugs. I have tunnel vision and major paranoia. Am STARVING by 11am again even though I had a typical breakfast. I crash again in the afternoon after lunch (which was meat with turnip greens and sweet potato, nothing unusual for me) and continue to pop chocolate all afternoon. Having TERRIBLE mood swings, major irritability, and I hate everyone in the house (this is not all *that* normal for me).
DAY 8: I actually wake up kind of exhausted. So what the heck is going on? OMG, I’ve picked up a coffee habit the past 7 days, and now I feel like crap. Back to green tea.
A coffee habit has never agreed with me, but I also never really noticed until I started studying why. Caffeine really jacks me, sends my blood sugar soaring, occasionally gives me the heart palps, then I get a bad crash, resulting in cravings, hunger, irritability, fatigue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across clients with the exact same complaints, and when they get the crash, they drink more coffee (sometimes to dull their appetites), then binge at night and have trouble sleeping.
50 percent of us don’t break down caffeine well (slow caffeine metabolizers) and may have adverse effects from coffee. 50 percent. Half. That’s a lot.
Caffeine is metabolized by an enzyme in the liver that is encoded for by the CYP1A2 gene. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of the population has a variant in the CYP1A2 gene that leads to slow processing of caffeine. (source)
For these “slow metabolizers,” drinking coffee:
- Is associated with a higher risk of heart disease
- Is associated with a higher risk of hypertension
- Is associated with impaired fasting glucose
- May not have the protective effects against some cancers that it appears to for “fast metabolizers”
If you enjoy a morning cup of coffee and you have stable energy and don’t struggle with insomnia or anxiety or energy fluctuations throughout the day, you probably metabolize caffeine well. Enjoy your coffee and move along (though you need genetic testing to be 100% certain). My point with this post is that coffee doesn’t work for everyone, yet the majority of us drink it blindly every morning. It’s a drug, and many people are addicted to it, because it masks exhaustion, brain fog, hunger, and other unpleasant symptoms. But symptoms are your body’s way of alerting you to an imbalance, so don’t ignore the signs.
Is This You?
- insomnia, trouble falling or staying asleep
- energy spikes and crashes
- sugar cravings
- prone to nighttime overeating or bingeing
- can’t get out of bed or function in the mornings until you have coffee
- have to drink coffee all day to function
- headaches if you skip one day of coffee
- struggle with your weight
Again, if you’re a coffee drinker and none of these apply to you, move along. On the other hand, if this sounds like you, I’d encourage you to wean yourself off coffee and stay “clean” for a month and see if you feel better. Coffee is a stimulant: it jacks your adrenaline and cortisol, triggering a rise in blood sugar. This can mask hunger, but what goes up must come down, and when your blood sugar crashes, hoo boy, you could be in for major irritability, fatigue, hunger, and sugar cravings. Coffee has a long “half life,” meaning the caffeine isn’t fully broken down and excreted from your system for about 12 hours, so if you’re caffeine sensitive, it can keep you up at night (especially if you drink it in the afternoons, duh).
The people that may not do well with daily coffee are usually the sugar sensitive/hypoglycemic, hangry folks (overweight, sugar cravings, increased appetite), those prone to anxiety, or those with nighttime binge tendencies. These folks may use coffee to decrease appetite during the day, but they’ll get the hunger backlash at night.
What I noticed with my 7 day coffee habit is a lot of what I described above: energy fluctuations, irritability, anxiety, major hunger/sugar cravings. I’m back on the green tea now and feel much better. A daily coffee habit just isn’t for me, and it may be keeping you from feeling your best, too. If this sounds like you, titrate down slowly: start with 3/4 coffee and 1/4 cup decaff or teeccino herbal coffee sub, then do 1/2 and 1/2, then 3/4 teeccino and 1/4 caffeine, then all teeccino (it’s really good, honestly). Or swap it out little by little for green tea, which is what I enjoy. Don’t quit cold turkey– you could be in for major withdrawal.
If you’re feeling crappy in general and want to drop some weight, break your coffee/sugar addiction, and regain your energy, try my 21 day detox to help wean yourself off coffee. If you feel better and more stable, keep the coffee out for a few additional weeks. I’m not saying coffee can’t have a place in your life; even I enjoy it once a week or so, but I’m aware of how it affects me, so I use it sparingly and don’t overdo it (read: no grande or venti or whatever the jumbo sizes are).
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.