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Caffeine addicts anonymous: a 12 step program

 It’s official. I’ve been off of both Diet Coke and coffee for an   entire year.

This feels like an achievement right up there with giving birth.

And every time I tell someone, “Oh, I’ve given up coffee. And Diet Coke,” they gasp, “WHY?”

Every morning when I see the coffeepot sitting forlornly on the counter, I kind of wonder the same thing. Our freezer smells of coffee, and sometimes in the afternoon, I’ll open a bag of Fresh Market ground beans just to inhale the aroma of the forbidden.

When I see a can of Diet Coke, I salivate. A year later, and the beautiful sound of a can opening makes me drool like Pavlov’s dog. Even if that can contains beer, I imagine the blessed taste of dark, cool Diet Coke. We watched The Thomas Crown Affair the other day, and the scene that made me pant was not the sex scene on the stairs and in the study. It was the scene in which René Russo gets a Diet Coke from the vending machine and downs the whole thing in two gulps.

In coffee shops I now order tea, but while I’m in the blessed sphere of caffeine, I savor the coffee scent so much that I almost hyperventilate in my attempt to obtain a contact coffee-high. I’d kill for a dark, rich espresso. Or a cup of Fresh Market Christmas Blend.

So why did I give them up?

Migraines and general health. This time last year I was having an average of 23 migraines a month. That’s not a life. It’s a living hell. And while caffeine can help a migraine in the acute phase, daily caffeine consumption can cause migraines when you don’t get your fix.

So I quit.

My neurologist and I have worked on a plan that’s gotten me down to an average of a blessed 9 migraines a month. It’s heaven compared to last year. (Still not fun, but it’s all relative.) Since stopping, I’ve made a lot of other dietary changes as well, but I feel like I should mention that I’ve lost (and kept off) 20 pounds. My skin is clearer than it’s ever been. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars that I would have spent on lattés.

Quitting both coffee and Diet Coke, however, is not as simple as saying, “I quit.” I’m convinced that Diet Coke still contains some form of actual coke. It’s that addictive. And coffee? Just as bad. When I’m around an aluminum can or a coffeepot, I feel like an alcoholic in a bar.

(Sidebar: all joking aside, I am absolutely NOT likening either of these to having to deal with the horrors that are alcoholism or substance abuse. Having cut two simple substances out of my life, I have more respect now than I’ve ever had for people who have gotten sober.)

In the grand tradition of addiction breaking, I offer you my personal 12-step program for quitting both coffee and Diet Coke.

  1. Do not go cold turkey on either drink. You are likely to feel like death and harm someone.
  2. Enlist your spouse’s help. This is going to be hard enough to do, but will be practically impossible if your honey is brewing up giant cups of joe in the morning or lugging home soda by the case when it’s on sale. Try to do this together, at least on the coffee front. If he’s not with you, then ask that he buy his coffee on the way to work, at least until you’re over the hump.
  3. Start by adulterating your coffee. Week by week, replace some of the regular with decaf, until you have a pot full of decaf.
  4. Give yourself time – time, as in a few months to do this, especially if you’re a several cups per morning type of person. Your body has been reliant on this stuff for a long time.
  5. When you hit full decaf, replace your coffee with something like Teeccino herbal coffee. It’s caffeine free, available in hazelnut, and actually tastes and smells like coffee. (You can find it at Trader Joe’s.)
  6. During the coffee drop-down, start turning down the volume on your Diet Coke. This all depends on how many you drink in a day. I was the kind of person who grabbed one each time I walked out the door, so I began limiting myself to one per day.
  7. After a while on the Teeccino, you may want to start adding in some herbal teas, or even some black teas.
  8. If you add in black tea, remember that it has caffeine (though considerably less than coffee). Try to limit it to a cup or so per day, or you’ll find yourself addicted to tea instead of coffee.
  9. Start upping your water intake, big time. Get a Camelbak or other water bottle and take it with you everywhere. You won’t believe how much water your body really wants. Soda and coffee do not hydrate. Your body is parched.
  10. Got your water bottle? Time to ditch that last Diet Coke. Drink your last one, and don’t buy any more. You can’t drink them if they’re not in the house.
  11. When you’re out, order water instead of soda. You’ll save a ton of money. And no, don’t drink rum and Coke. That counts. Try a vodka tonic or a martini or a beer instead.
  12. Stand back and watch your body thank you. If you’re anything like me, your headaches will improve. You may lose weight. Your skin may look clearer than it ever has.

And just think of what you can do with all that money you’ve been spending at Starbucks.

What do you think? Will you try to kick coffee to the curb? How about Diet Coke?

Sharing. It's not just for toddlers.

{ 37 comments… add one }

  • traci zeller August 7, 2012, 9:46 pm

    Sigh. Up until the last month or so of being pregnant with the boys, I had been off all caffeine for maybe 2 years? But I went to the dark side with the sleep deprivation … and I just don’t know that I’m willing to give up my daily Coke! And oh yes, I drink the “fully leaded” version. I don’t remember my skin being clearer when I was off the caffeine, but maybe, just maybe I’ll think about quitting again once kindergarten starts. TBD!

    • Angie August 8, 2012, 8:29 am

      Well, let me know if you give it a try! Sleep deprivation will lead you stumbling back to coffee in a heartbeat. I’ve had to drag my mind away from coffee on many mornings.

      Next up on my to do list: go to bed earlier, get up earlier. Seems impossible!

  • Amy August 7, 2012, 10:03 pm

    I gave up Diet coke cold turkey six years ago. It was painful. But I was having heartburn so bad most days I could hardly sleep.

    I’ve now gone 2 days without coffee as a part of a cleanse. It’s way harder than I thought. I yell cried at one of my employees yesterday! I’m hoping it gets easier.

    • Angie August 8, 2012, 8:31 am

      Cold turkey? You have more willpower than I do, girl!

      For me, the key to letting go of coffee really was doing it gradually, and then eventually replacing it with tea so I’d still have a cup of something hot in the morning.

      Good luck!

  • Cameron August 8, 2012, 8:29 am

    I have up “drinking my calories” a few years back, with the exception of a drink or two on weekend nights. Replacing every beverage with water or unsweetened black coffee or tea helped me lose weight for sure, and my skin was better, too.

    I fell off that wagon, but I’m wondering if I should get back on.

    So many wagons to be on. Gets tricky balancing them.

    I’m glad for you that your migraine threshold is lower (and I sincerely hope you and your neurologist can banish them for good and all!). They are an ungodly misery, and I thank whatever freaky biological miracle occurred when I got pregnant with Felix, (Pardon while I knock on three wooden surfaces.) because while I get stress, sinus, and bad body chemistry headaches, those debilitating, nausea and hide in the dark until the Imitrex kicked in migraines have gone away.

    • Angie August 8, 2012, 8:35 am

      Yes, many, many wagons. I’ve banished artificial sweeteners, too, and that’s been awful.

      I’m so happy for you that pregnancy with Felix cured your migraines. Many people have told me the same thing happened for them. Not so for me; if anything, they got worse. Thank you for the good wishes for the banishment of all future migraines…but my neurologist and 20+ years of experience with them have both taught me that they will be a constant in my life and the goal is management, not banishment. Though I’d take banishment in a second if I could get it!!!

  • angela August 8, 2012, 11:16 am

    I still drink coffee but quit diet Coke last November. I’m frustrated with it, in a way, because I didn’t notice a single difference in terms of how I felt/looked/etc. (and I drank a lot of it!) Sigh :) I’m proud of you; they’re two hard things to give up.

  • Guerrina August 10, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Congratulations on your achievements, Angie! It’s not easy to give any addiction up for sure…I still battle nicotine. I decaff’ed 20+ years ago and went from 2+ pots/day to 1 mug decaf/morning. Yes, they called me “Electric Lady” at the Psych Dept. I worked at. I finally gave up my diet CF Pepsi, too and switched it for water and G2. If I am craving-Pepsi-to-the-point-of-death, I’ll buy one little bottle…my body prefers G2. The addiction to the Pepsi obviously wasn’t to the caffeine or sugar, so what else is in it?!

    I applaud your determination & success! Way to go!

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  • Chap January 2, 2014, 2:56 pm

    You’re still drinking tea. Caffeine is caffeine. Back to counting days.

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