How I overcame my coffee addiction
I was the standard-bearer for the slogan “I need coffee to get my coffee,” at least until a month ago. The first thing I did after waking up was to turn on my electric water kettle. It takes the kettle precisely 2 minutes and 30 seconds to heat a liter of water to a scorching 120 degrees. It was precisely the amount of time I could spare for my morning brushing routine, as that’s the only function I thought I could complete before my morning cup of Joy. I loved the pleasant bubbling sound of the boiling water, which beckoned me to my favorite wake-up drink. I loved drinking coffee in my 10 oz coffee mug, featuring a beautiful picture of the man’s best friend. The Java cup with words: “I love my Golden Doodle.” And all of this was my morning routine, starting with my Taster’s Choice, House Blend instant coffee. My recipe is always the same — 2 tablespoons of coffee + 9 oz of water + 1 oz of Coffeemate French Vanilla creamer. My standard order was so well known to the Starbucks and Dunkin’s near me that I was sure some of them would start making my drink as soon as my Silver Mazda SUV with a brown man pulled up to the drive-through. On a routine day, I would end up drinking between twelve to fifteen cups of coffee. I used to drink coffee on my way to work every day, without an exception. My daily habit was to stop by the closest Dunkin’ on my route back home. I had coffee makers and electric kettles at my home and office to keep the engine running round the clock. I convinced myself that I was addicted to coffee. I tried to break this habit on rare occasions. Every time I tried to reduce the intake, I ended up with severe migraines. These headaches confirmed the suspicion of my addiction to Java. My affliction (and addiction) were so severe that it showed on my yellow teeth, and everyone with minimal knowledge of me knew of this condition. It was especially apparent on my birthdays and holidays, the only sure gift for me during the holidays was a Starbucks gift card or a coffee mug, or a combination of both. My employees, friends, and my kids knew how much was hooked to my cup of Joe.
It was late April 2021 and a day before the beginning of Ramadan season. I was on the phone with my friend who is a Muslim by birth. During a routine conversation, she brought up how she was considering fasting this year. She explained she has never done this before and she wanted to fast this year. Her intent was to use this fasting process and break out of some of the patterns she was wrestling with over the years. As she explained her rationale, I was somewhat enamored with the concept of fasting. I have practiced fasting in various formats over the years in my pursuits of self-control. Over the years, I practiced skipping breakfast, ignoring lunches, and occasionally replaced dinners with soups. However, I never practiced the fasting routine for an extended period. Muslims practice fasting for the entire month of Ramadan and only eat before sunrise and after sunset. They do not even drink a sip of water during the fasting period. The more I read up on Ramadan fasting, the more interested I became in the process. The discipline of fasting during the auspicious month of Ramadan inspired me. From my research online, the act of fasting is meant to remind us of the less fortunate and to reinforce the need to be thankful.
I have been considering intermittent fasting for a while now. After reviewing fasting rituals by philosophers and theologians through the years, I decided to take up this challenge. I was born a Hindu and performed many experiments with my faith over the past decade. At one point, I joined a very conservative “society” that believed in a strict vegetarian diet (sans garlic and onion), cleanliness, celibacy, and biweekly fasting mandates. After personally experiencing these rituals, reading doctrines, and performing internal meditations, I eventually ended up renouncing my faith. The rationale for this transformation is probably an essay in itself, but I finally settled on calling myself a religious naturalist. As a practicing non-confirming naturalist, I do not believe in the theistic anthropomorphic version of god anymore. Regardless of my religious proclivities (or lack thereof), intermittent fasting enthralled me. I enjoyed testing myself and evaluating the level of control my mind has over my body. However, I did consider one exception, in my classic nonconformist way. I concluded that I couldn’t stop drinking coffee during the day. However, I wanted to test out this hypothesis by limiting the intake of caffeine.
During the first week, I wanted to test out my coffee addiction. I tweaked the standard intermittent fasting to allow for my habits of sleeping late. I decided to start my day with a coffee and some water and not eat solid food until 6 pm every day. The first day was hard as I felt hunger pangs and tried to substitute food with drinking water. Lack of enough caffeine gave me headaches as I expected. After some trials and tribulations over the first week, I decided to start my day by drinking a lot of water.
As I was looking for the biggest water bottle, I found the Blue Nalgene, 1.5 L (48 oz) bottle that accompanied me during my backpacking trip in the Grand Canyons. I have many fond memories of this bottle — it accompanied me on the trip that practically changed my life. I went to the Grand Canyon in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 to substitute for my canceled Mont Blanc hike. However, backpacking in the Grand Canyon was exactly what I needed to truly engage with myself and understand my priorities in life. A big part of the adventure was thirst, hunger, and my supposed caffeine addiction. I remember writing my desire for more than 4 cups of coffee in my special requests when signing up for the trip. My charming guide, Brian Nelson, assured me that I will at least get one cup of coffee and promised me that I will be fine, with a wink. I fondly remembered how this Blue Nalgene bottle helped me stay hydrated, and I never had headaches while I hiked from the North Rim to the South Rim. I filled up the bottle on the third day of fasting and drank up as much water as I can to start off the day. In less than 10 minutes, I drank 3L (96 oz) of water. I felt no need for caffeine throughout the day, just like I felt during the backpacking trip in Grand Canyon.
In full disclosure, I have not been able to maintain my intermittent fasting regimen during the weekends. It was easier to keep away from food during weekdays as I started working from the office. It was an entirely different story during the weekends, as there was food everywhere at home. I tried to snack in moderation during the weekends just to address my cravings. However, I did keep up with my 3L water intake and 2 cups of coffee regimen.
Even after the end of my targeted 30-day fasting routine, I am still going strong with less than two cups of coffee per day. I did not conduct extensive scientific research on this during my fasting. However, based on the limited research for this article, I concluded that the reason for my initial caffeine intake was dehydration caused by coffee. Prior to this intermittent fasting schedule, I was starting off my day with coffee instead of water and kept confusing my thirst with the need for more Joe. The more Java I drank, the more dehydrated I became. In cyclical self-induced dehydration, I craved more water and unwittingly substituted water for coffee. This level of coffee intake made me jittery, kept me from losing weight, and made me stay up late in the night for no reason.
For all my fellow coffee addicts out there, please see if you can start your day with a big gulp of water. I hope it will cure you of your coffee addiction. These days, I wake up to the slogan “I need water before I can get to my coffee.” Drinking more water has also increased my energy levels significantly as well. I was active before, but I worked out more frequently in the last 30 days, learned to swim, played golf more, rode my bike more often, and played outdoors more regularly than any other 30 days before in the last 20 years.
There is another significant side effect of not making a dozen trips to your barista, other than the apparent cost savings; the reduced-calorie and sugar intake will eliminate crashes and can result in weight loss. I lost 4 lbs. in the last month due to my daily workout regimen, intermittent fasting, and reduced Java intake.
Please note that drinking more water has its own negative effects. I had to make more trips to the bathroom. But those trips were totally worth it. On a more serious note, I recently found out that drinking too much water can result in water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, causing the inside of cells to flood due to abnormally low sodium levels in your bloodstream. In severe cases, water intoxication can lead to debilitating health problems such as seizures, coma, and even death.
Links for further research