Caffeine Clean: Four months without coffee

By Melissa Urban, who doesn’t do “moderation” very well at all

Just over four months ago, I gave up caffeine for good.  It wasn’t the first time I’d done without – periodically through the last two years, usually when our coffee habits had quietly and sneakily grown past the point of healthy, we’d do a week or two of no caffeine, and then reset our consumption to a more reasonable level.  I’d get to the 14 day mark, figure I was as good as cleansed and then happily make my first cup of coffee, promising myself that I’d go back to consuming “in moderation”.  In under a month, however, my consumption was usually right back to where I left off. I’d make every excuse in the book for my 3-4 cups a day – I needed a boost while traveling, a small coffee mid-workshop made the day a little easier, coffee pre-workout was an ergogenic aid. I knew I was kidding myself – and my adrenals knew it too. (News flash: the folks who counsel you on nutrition and health are human, too.)

The last time we gave up coffee for a few weeks was in August 2010, as we were moving from New England to Salt Lake City.  I went my usual two weeks without, but when I went back to my beloved Misha’s Route 66, something was different.

Sometimes, awareness sucks

As many of you have experienced with our Whole30 program, the more “cycles” you complete of (a) going without a particular food, and (b) reintroducing it, the more acutely aware you are of the effect that food is having on you.  It was the same with my periodic coffee cleanses.  Each time I went back to drinking coffee, I noticed just a little bit more how it was negatively affecting my mood, my sleep, my energy levels – even on just one or two cups a day.  In August, however, the caffeine straight-up kicked me in the crotch with its nasty effects.  These are the things I noticed after only two weeks away, and returning back to just two small cups of coffee a day:

  • Caffeine gives me crazypants.  Literally.  I get anxious.  It makes me irritable.  I pick fights, I snap at people, my fuse is abnormally short.  In general, I’m an unpleasant person to be around sometime around cup one-and-a-half.  Sorry, Dallas.
  • I become maniacal about my work.  I would mindlessly, slowly sip my two cups while typing up blog posts or responding to emails and find myself in this unhealthy place where I’d refuse to break for the gym, to answer a personal phone call or even to pee (for real) because I was firmly entrenched in “work mode”.
  • I didn’t eat a full meal until noon.  Ever.  Caffeine is a powerful appetite suppressant, and despite our rule to eat before our first cup of coffee, I just wasn’t hungry.  Though I’d force myself to eat something, two hard-boiled eggs was hardly enough to see me through until lunch.

Stating the obvious

Dallas was the first to say the idea out loud – carefully, mind you.  “Maybe you should, um, I don’t know, it’s just an idea, but maybe you should just… give up coffee?”  I’d been thinking the very same thing for quite some time, to be honest – at that point, it was easy to see the caffeine wasn’t doing me any favors.  I just wasn’t sure I was ready to pull the trigger.  It’s a daunting proposition, to give up coffee forever.  But on October 24th, surrounded by witnesses, I swore off caffeine… again.

This time, however, was different.  While I still went through the same withdrawal symptoms –headaches, lethargy, crankiness – the mental cravings disappeared virtually immediately. The difference this time was that  I was giving it up for good.  There was no 30 day period, no end point in sight, no “I’ll give myself a longer break and see how it goes.”  I decided right then and there that, given the way caffeine affected me, there was no reason for me to keep it in my life.  And the finality of that made everything so much easier.  (I’ve never been good at moderation, anyway.)

Emerging from my caffeine coma

It took a full month before things (sleep, energy, my over-worked adrenals) started to come back around – that quick fix I was hoping for was nowhere to be found, in fact.  Things actually got worse before they got better, which I wasn’t expecting.  And even four months later, I’m still noticing slow and gradual improvements in areas I never expected.  Sure, I was aware of the mood swings, the irritability, the lack of appetite.  What I hadn’t noticed was how caffeine was affecting other areas of my life – until, of course, I gave it up.  (And Whole30 principles come around again, right?)  These are the things I’ve noticed in the last four months of “caffeine-free”:

  • After a full month, I was sleeping so much better.  This was a tough battle – the first month, my system was all kinds of confused, and my sleep patterns were all over the charts.  I had trouble falling asleep at first, and then I’d fall asleep okay but wake up at 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM as my hormonal balance continued to shift.  After a solid month without caffeine, I started to fall asleep easy, sleep straight through the night and wake up refreshed without an alarm.  (I thought I was doing this already.  Comparatively, my sleep quality sucked compared to where it is now.)
  • After two months, I started to wake up hungry.  Not ravenous, but genuinely, normally, happily hungry.  Good lord,  I haven’t woken up hungry since 1994.  This is an amazing phenomenon in which my body is actually sending me valid signals (hunger) when it’s actually supposed to (after fasting overnight).  Amazing… but only after only eight full weeks of being caffeine-free.  (Interestingly, feeding yourself a healthy meal within an hour of waking is very helpful in recovering from adrenal fatigue – certainly, waking up hungry makes that a whole lot easier.)
  • After three months, my emotional volatility in a certain one week period each month has greatly dissipated.  This is the most surprising change – I had no idea my caffeine consumption was connected to such a serious case of “hormone poisoning” during that week.  Makes sense in hindsight, but I’m grateful that I no longer ride the hormonal roller coaster every 28 days.  (I’m not the only one happy about that.)
  • After four months, I noticed my general awareness of stress – and its negative effects – has dramatically improved.  For those who know me well, I’ve always thrived on being in a constant state of stress.  Work, training, day-to-day activities were all conducted at a maniacal pace, not because they had to be.  I just thought I liked it that way.  Now, after several months of sleeping well, eating more, and generally allowing my adrenals to recover, I can feel that stress-state creeping on… and I no longer like it.  Now, it just feels, well… stressed.  (Because in most day-to-day life situations – say it with me – “Stress is bad, m’kay?”)  While I’m not great at nipping it the bud every time it pops up, and it’s usually work stuff that sets me off the fastest, I’m much better at recognizing it early and taking measures to ensure my periods of stress are less frequent, and shorter in duration.  Progress.  And you’re welcome, adrenals.

The road to recovery

I’m hopeful that things will continue to progress and improvements will continue to appear over the next few months – I fully expect it will take at least a year to reap the full physical and mental benefits of a caffeine-free lifestyle.  I’ve decided not to mess around with a good thing, and will avoid all caffeinated products for the time being.  Turns out I don’t miss black coffee enough to justify a decaf, and I’ve been told by a few smart people that even decaffeinated beverages are too much for the extra-sensitive.

Now, if you think this entire post is just propaganda on the evils of coffee, think again (and re-read our Coffee Manifesto).  We’re not trying to tell you what to do – coffee isn’t all good, nor is it all evil.  But if you’ve noticed, as I did, that your caffeine consumption takes more than it gives, maybe it’s time to take a good, hard look at your habit, too. The rewards may surprise you.


  1. David Shinn says

    Hi Melissa,

    Well done for giving up and for writing such an eloquent article about your experience.

    I was drinking far too much coffee, and gave up totally about three months ago. Certainly I can say I am sleeping better (by which I mean much better quality sleep; I feel wonderful when I wake up, whereas before I was just as tired as when I went to bed). Also, my concentration and focus has improved.

    I am now wondering whether I should give up tea, or at least change to a decaf blend. I am in the UK, and as you might know, we are a nation of tea drinkers. If giving up tea would improve my feeling of well being as much as giving up coffee, I think I would try it.

    Just to confirm what you say in your article, and various comments above, the benefits are not immediate, but build gradually, the longer you are caffeine free.

    Good luck to you, and thank you again for this article.


  2. Timothy Campbell says

    Also, for those of you who need motivation to let go of caffeine… it causes insulin resistance and weight gain – look up this issue online…

  3. Eric says

    Thank you! What an inspirational story! I am weaning off caffeine from 150 mg to 0-25mg per day at a rate of 25mg less per week. I noticed that I started to drink a lot more water and I could almost feel my kidneys thank me!

  4. S. says

    I’ve been caffeine-free for 8 days now and coffee-free for two or three days more. On the first night I was off coffee, I had amazingly deep sleep that included the most vivid dreaming that I can remember in some time. During the daytime, I feel much more relaxed, I’m more able to keep still, and my general judgment has improved dramatically- I’m better able to think about the “big picture” and make daily decisions.

    I had headaches for the first four days or so, even when I was weaning myself off coffee via tea and chocolate. I was able to take care of these with two or three maximum dosages of aspirin per day. At present, I still feel tired during the day, but it’s not the sort of tiredness that demands I take a nap; it’s more like a warm blanket that smothers any nervousness I might have.

    The decreased anxiety, less “jerky” body movements, better sense of my life’s priorities, and improved sleep that I’ve experienced have made the effort and pain worth it.

  5. Abraham says

    Wow. Coffee…has been a part of my life for so long, at least two decades. I remember how bad it tasted when I started mimicking my Mom who drank a lot of it. I was in high school. But I kept drinking it for the caffeine and suddenly found myself head over heals in love-with coffee. Fast forward to the not so distant past. My stress level has been off the charts these past few years. I feel like I’ve tried everything, but nothing seemed to help. Then a few weeks ago I decided not to make coffee in the morning. I’ve had one cup of coffee in the past two weeks and I can’t believe how much better I feel. My stress is reduced, I am more in tune with how I feel at work and at home and I can relate to others in a way I never thought possible. Don’t get me wrong, I miss coffee-a lot. But now that I’ve put some distance between us I feel like that I had been living just to drink coffee. I see now how drinking coffee was the source of so much the discomfort I have felt over the years. I don’t know if I will give it up for good, I just know that I can’t let coffee rule me the way I have. Thanks for the excellent blog post. You’re right on the money.

  6. Rachel says

    Thank you for posting this! I started realizing the last couple weeks that I was drinking a lot of coffee, especially in the afternoon to continue to function. I never feel/felt fully awake. The worst part is I don’t even really like the taste of coffee. So yesterday I decided to give it up for a while. Who knows? I may give it up forever too. Thankfully I had yesterday off, I slept most of the day and slept 12 hours last night. I still fill a little tired today, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I even made a cup of coffee (just in case) and decided not to drink it. Looking forward to the positive effects on my mood and brain.

  7. Fran g says

    Have always loved the focus coffee can give me, but realized how adctive it was when I had to give it up in basic training when I joined the army (not enough time to drink with the busy schedule). A dr gave me a medical”profile” that allowed me to get up an hour early and make & consume a few cups before “wake-up” as a remedy for constipation. That improved my regularity immediately!

    Years later, after trying to get pregnant and giving up, for no real reason, I decided to only put healthy food in my body. I got pregnant in 4 months & and had a healthy son. Started drinking again as soon as I finished nursing.

    Not having made the connection, and again trying for child #2.for 5 years…and giving up, I gave up coffee because it was ruling me and I didn’t like it…and, glory be, I got pregnant again!
    It was while I was pregnant that I heard a documenterary on the radio that associated caffein and sensitive people with spontaneous miscarriage that I made the connection. My only 2 pregnancy a in 11years happened when I was “clean”.

    Mind you, I don’t advocate coffee as a form of birth control, but if you are trying to make babies, it’s worth eleminating.

    Still love the zoom, but only on special occasions these days.

  8. Mandaj says

    OMG thank you for posting. I have been caffeine free for 2 weeks and 2 days and yes still counting. I am aiming to be caffeine free for life (!) bc I am also an extremist and feel like it gets out of control easily. I am glad you admit to feeling the effects after a month because everything I read says you will feel great after 3 days….. not in my case!!! I am a tea drinker and feel like it gives me a smooth energy and sharpness that whereas coffee always made me jittery and crazy so never drank that. But I miss my tea!!! I feel vey dull mentally and tired a lot. I feel like I am eating more in general to keep myself going and veering towards chocolate which makes sense but I feel like I will gain weight this way and am not getting things I need to accomplished. Any helpful advice is appreciated!!!

  9. Aws says

    Such a cool post. You made me hopeful. I went cold turkey on coffee two days ago. Today is my third day coffee free. I basically spent the last two days in bed with a severe head ache. I took a week off everything to end this addiction. This is the third day and my headache is less severe. Reading your post gave me a 2nd wind. Im following up with this.

  10. ATM says


    A way to quit coffee (caffeine) without withdrawl is to take DLPA supplements. DLPA is used in the brain to produce norepinephrine and dopamine, which are two neurotransmitters that caffeine depletes. Do a search for “DLPA and coffee addiction” for further information. This will also allow you to quit without headaches – again no withdrawal. DLPA can be found in your local health food store or can be ordered online.

  11. says

    AWS, glad to hear it. The worst of the withdrawal effects should be over by the fourth day, so I hope you were able to make it over the hump! Remember, though, for me it took about six months to experience all the benefits of being caffeine-free (and reducing stress at the same time). Sleep was slow to come around, but hang in there! Melissa

  12. Chris says

    I am so glad to hear your story ! I am now on day 25 of being caffeine free. My daily habit was 2- 3 cups of coffee through the day while drinking about 4 tall glasses of iced black tea in between the coffees. I was beginning to feel extremely stressed out all the time and not my self about 6 months ago.. I beleive a combo of lifes stresses and exc essive long term caffeine consumption brought on some anxiety/stress symptoms. I am still having some rough moody days, but overall I think I am sleeping better and I am able to relax sometimes now… When I was drinking caffeine , I found it nearly impossible to sit and relax.. It felt like I was unable to feel any pleasure from life.. For me I think caffeine is fine when life stress is minimal.. but I think it overwhelms my system when life is hectic.. This time I plan on keeping it minimal in my life.. Something I was surprised about is that for the first 3 weeks of cutting caffeine, I would go to bed at 10PM and wake up at 2 or 3 AM everynight. And would be wide awake and unable to fall asleep.. Which was scary for me. I have always been a deep sleeper..
    Good artice.. Thank you.

  13. Chris says

    Like you.. I feel very dull and slow mentally sometimes even after 25 days.. I feel like if I had to take a test on something I would fail miserably.. .. Also, don’t forget that there is caffeine in chocolate.. Thats probably why your craving it…

  14. Tori says

    Hi, I am 19 and I have been drinking coffee for 9 years here is how I am currently quitting coffee. In the morning I make one drink with caffeine, I put in about 1/4 teaspoon of regular coffee into m k-cup maker, make a small cup and then I Put decaf instant coffee in it and add hot water from a kettle to fill the cup. It tastes better than the regular coffee I used to drink and it contains about 10% amount of caffeine I used to consume in the morning.

    I have been doing with for about a week and a half, and noticed that doing this made it so I didn’t experience very strong headaches AT ALL. During the day occassionally I would start to feel this pressure inside my head that I couldn’t really call a headache because compared to the headache I got from quitting caffeine cold turkey months prior it was completely manageable. However I am going to continue this for a few more weeks until I am completely used to drinking only a small amount of coffee (as I gradually decrease the amount every few days as well, ie from 1 tsp to 1/2 etc).

    The main other adjustments to not having a lot of caffeine so far are that I feel tired sometimes throughout the day, but I don’t feel like actually sleeping. Just low on energy tired. Also I night got really tired around 8:30 pm. Aside from that my body has had some aches and pains as well, in the morning I wake up feeling weird. Weird in the sense that I’m tired and would rather lie down in bed and sleep, but the fact is I slept the same amount I would have any other day and not be tired. I think my body just knows it’s gotten enough sleep so I can’t fall asleep easily but I just get up anyway


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