Winning the Caffeine Battle

The big battle of caffeine, which in my case comes in daily doses of coffee, is heading into a standoff this year.  I don’t like to get my day started without coffee. I like a cup before my shower, and a travel mug with me out the door.  And sometimes, in the afternoon, I’ll make another cup in the office or pick up a latté.  Three to four cups of coffee. A regular 8 oz of coffee holds 95 mg of caffeine.  But you know “how” I like my coffee cups? Big 12 oz mug in the morning. With a 16 oz travel mug for the commute.  And at least 8 oz of coffee – probably 12-16 oz – in the afternoon on some days.  34 oz of homemade coffee might add up to somewhere around 400mg of caffeine. And, oh, I forgot to add in the iced coffee I make from the leftovers from the morning coffee when I get home.  I could easily consume 40+ oz of coffee on some days, or more than 470mg of caffeine.

Here’s a couple of caffeine charts, for reference: Center for Science in the Public Interest The Mayo Clinic 

What’s wrong with that, I could easily ask.  The Mayo Clinic says that 400mg is “safe” for an adult  My 300-500mg doesn’t really seem to raise eyebrows. And what’s the danger of going beyond what is safe? Jitters? A headache? Any results of overusing caffeine seem mild compared to results from overusing other substances we consume, like alcohol, which could be alcoholism or DUI’s, or like food, which could be obesity or heart disease.

What’s wrong with a little too much caffeine?

  • Insomnia.
  • Nervousness.
  • Restlessness.
  • Irritability.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Muscle tremors.

Ok, I mean, I’ve experienced most of those, honestly, but those seem hard to quantify, right? What do you say, “I’m 15% more nervous today because I had too much caffeine?”  And overuse of caffeine doesn’t end up in effects like DUI’s or obesity, which might affect your lifestyle or quality of life.  Again, what’s the big deal?

Again, one of my favorite quotes is “I don’t know what I think, until I read what I wrote” – and I’m literally thinking this through as I write this blog post.  And it’s tough.  It’s easier to just keep the coffee coming.  Remember my blog post about my weight? How I used to start the day with a triple venti mocha? That’s about 235mg of caffeine plus the extra shots of 150mg. And when I wrote that I’d have a venti mocha frappucino in the afternoon? That’s another 140mg of caffeine. Well, in addition to those calories I was ingesting, those drinks were adding 525 mg of caffeine to my diet.  As I was literally ignorant of my calorie consumption, I was ignorant of my caffeine consumption.  One pattern that I’m observing is that awareness can lead to moderation, while ignorance leads to excess.  Seems obvious, maybe?

So, back to “what’s the big deal?” about consuming “too much” caffeine, whatever that is.  This depends on your goals, of course.

One goal of mine is to not be addicted to caffeine.

I’ve tried to manage it before or eliminate it and I was not successful.  That bothers me a little.  I don’t mind if it’s something like oxygen that I can’t go without, but just a chemical that stimulates the body’s central nervous system? Hmmmm.  I find that troubling.

Another goal of mine is to find a balance in my life where I can incorporate exercise on a daily basis, and use an active lifestyle to bring fulfillment and happiness to me and my family.

One of the oddities about caffeine and its consumption in my life is that it’s my habit to have my coffee in the morning, typically before work.  This doesn’t fit with two of the known functions of caffeine: 1) to prevent drowsiness, and 2) to enhance performance. If I’m aligning my consumption of coffee with the effects of caffeine, it makes more sense that I should shift my consumption of coffee to mid-afternoon, when my energy typically wanes.  Then, do I have another cup of coffee to help boost me for a workout after work, in the evening? What about any risks with consuming coffee later in the day and facing insomnia?  It seems that the cultural patterns for consuming coffee in the morning don’t support the function of caffeine: if I just got up, why would I need to prevent “drowsiness” and if I’m not about to workout, why would I need to “enhance performance” first thing in the morning? Again, I’m just developing awareness. I don’t have all the answers. I know coffee tastes good to me – though the smell inside a Starbucks used to make my stomach turn when I would go in a store with friends. I know coffee – a warm cup in the morning – is comforting.

I haven’t figured out my relationship to caffeine. But I do know my relationship to changing habits; it requires a plan.

I don’t drink soda, and I maybe eat chocolate once every one to two weeks, so that’s not how I get my caffeine. It’s a coffee thing, for me. So, my relationship to caffeine is regulated by my relationship to coffee.

In order to win the battle with caffeine, I need a plan for the times when I drink coffee.  So this is what I’m doing, to achieve goals 1 and 2: I switched to mushroom coffee.

I picked up the tip from Tim Ferris’ podcast where he mentions Four Sigma Foods’ Mushroom Coffee product. He raved about its ability to keep you going without tons of caffeine, and its other benefits, as advertised on their website: “No jitters, no crashes…..with wild-harvested chaga and lion’s mane fruiting bodies, this drink enhances coffee’s brain-boosting effects.”

A series of benefits came from this switch:

  • Zero creamer. I stopped using creamer (thus eliminating a source of sugar first thing in the morning) because I wanted to experience the mushroom coffee more fully – like “what does it really taste like?”
  • Less coffee. I have one cup and I’m done. I mix one packet in one 8 oz cup of hot water. That’s it.
  • And multiply one cup of coffee times the first bullet point – right? Every cup of coffee used to have creamer – and yes, sugar – in it, for me. That’s gone.
  • Ah, impatience! The mushroom coffee is ready in 1 minute, 45 seconds, after hot water is microwaved. It’s only a few minutes, but I’m not waiting for a whole pot of coffee to brew.  I’m less likely to get on the computer or lay down on the couch for a quick 10-15 minute catnap while the coffee brews. This helps simplify my morning routine, which is helping me rethink how I use my time in the morning (coming up, a blog post on my five-minute morning journal routine).

Instead of consuming 300-400mg of caffeine throughout the day, with multiple tablespoons of creamer (150+ calories for 3-4 cups of coffee, or almost 8% of the calories on a 2,000 calorie/day diet) throughout the day, I’m consuming:

  • 45 mg of caffeine
  • 0 calories

And the result: I feel great. I don’t miss the extra cups of coffee, oddly. Unbelievably, oddly.  I don’t miss the sugar.  The sensation is so weird, it’s like going out on a Southern California freeway and finding there is not a single car out there with you. So far, so good.  It’s been ten days on mushroom coffee so far, and it feels like a dream.  Of course, I’m also on winter break, and who knows what will change when I resume my regular work schedule? I will keep you posted.

I’m starting to work on a blog post about my experience with non-traditional or alternative medicine, which is also Chinese medicine. It’s funny because Chinese medicine is traditional in China, isn’t it? And it’s not alternative medicine in China, is it? What’s interesting to me is some of the roots of the word medicine or medical, like miduir from the Irish, or the proto-Indo-European root med which indicates “to measure, limit, consider, advise, take appropriate measures” or the Latin meditari which means “think or reflect on” all seem to point to the importance of developing awareness.