Cutting back on caffeine

Giving up caffeine for FebFast? Here’s some expert advice for letting go of your daily brew.

Written by Tim Crowe

Congratulations on taking on the FebFast challenge of 28 days cold turkey from caffeine. Caffeine has been described as the world’s most popular drug and legions of coffee addicts can attest to that.

Caffeine has lots of desirable effects for regular drinkers, especially for its ability to ‘kick-start’ the day. Moderate tea and coffee consumption has been linked to several health benefits including a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease, and even some protection from the risk of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

However, it can be quite addictive and like any drug, tolerance builds up over time. As caffeine consumption goes up, so too does the risk of poor sleep patterns, agitation, anxiety and heart palpitations.

The problem with caffeine today though is just how insidious it is through the food supply. Caffeine has moved out of the domain of coffee, tea and colas and into the controversial domain of energy drinks and even confectionary.

Caffeine content of common food and drinks

  • Espresso coffees: 90 to 200 mg
  • Cola drinks: 35 mg (375 mL can)
  • Black and green tea: 30 to 100 mg
  • Iced-coffee: 30 to 60 mg
  • Instant coffee: 60 to 100 mg
  • Energy or sports drinks: 80 (250 mL can)
  • Dark chocolate bar: 40 to 50 mg per 55 g serve

The real benefits from a caffeine fast may come more from cutting out some of the high-sugar drinks and foods it is found in such as energy drinks, flavoured milks, and chocolate.

Getting the most out of your caffeine FebFast

Instead of treating your caffeine FebFast as just an exercise in willpower, use it as a chance to give your attention to other healthy changes you can make in place of the coffee and energy drinks you are giving up. If you feel your caffeine habit has gotten out of control, FebFast may just be the way to kick-start changes to that habit.

The key to changing a habit is not eliminating it, but replacing it with something else – a healthier habit – and to focus on what you are gaining, not what you are losing. Using these swaps gives you a ‘go to’ when faced with triggers for the habit you’re trying to break.

Here are some tips to help you start out on the right track:

  • If you’ve got a strong caffeine addiction, don’t make February 1 your day to go cold turkey. Start to cut back on your caffeine in the week before so it won’t be as much of a shock to your system.
  • Juicing, smoothie-making, herbal teas, and decaf coffee give you a huge range of replacement options.
  • Put the money you spend on your daily cup (or cups!) of coffee towards something you’ve been wanting – or better yet, donate it to charity.
  • Don’t do it alone. Friendly support and a small dose of competition is a great motivational tonic, so team up with someone else doing FebFast or encourage your friends and family to get involved.
Written by Tim Crowe

Dr Tim Crowe is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and career nutrition research scientist and educator

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