February 17, 2013

The Home Stretch!

I think I can, I think I can...
Today marks 29 days without coffee. If you had asked me when I started this 30-day experiment if I honestly thought I could do it, I would have said no. Except for a few weeks of basic training and some other military diversions, I haven’t gone a single day without coffee, let alone 30. Of course, as I mentioned in the last post, I’m not without caffeine, just without coffee*. Baby steps, baby steps. At some point, I’ll probably consider giving up caffeine for a while, but for now, it was enough of a psychological challenge just to give up my beloved brew.

So how have I been doing? Better! I admit, I’ve been drinking a staggering amount of yerba mate every morning, but that’s about it for the day. My first two weeks sans cafĂ©, I was mainlining tea all day just to feel like I had something that would get me through without focusing quite so much on how badly I wanted coffee. Not because I was tired and wanted/needed the caffeine, mind you, but more because I missed the ritual coffee was the center of—getting away from my desk, taking a walk to the coffee shop, and taking those first, glorious sips of my warm, creamy liquid hug. While I started the day with mate—which is high in caffeine and other natural stimulants like theobromine—if I had tea at almost any other time of day, it was usually herbal. So the perceived need for a pick-me-up later in the day passed relatively quickly. This is not to say I never wished I could have some coffee, but knowing it wasn’t an option made it easier.

Say what?

Yes, knowing coffee simply was not an option actually made it easier to abstain. I didn’t spend a lot of time wishing that I could have some, or thinking about how good it would taste and how incredibly much I prefer it to tea. That would have been psychological torture. Pointless. I think this is a strategy and a perspective  that will help me with whatever I try to remove next from my diet. Over the years, I’ve found—for me, at least—that it’s much easier to have none of something than to just have a little. Because there are some foods that I can’t “just have a little” of. Once I get a taste of whatever it is, one teeny, tiny bite, all bets are off. As soon as that taste sensation hits my mouth, it’s like someone flips a switch in my brain and I’m uncontrollable. So while it’s difficult to abstain completely, I’ve found it’s easier to do that than it is to tell myself I’ll have one piece or one serving. Because once I have that one piece, I’ll typically want five more, and then I have to spend the next few minutes—or hours, sometimes—talking myself out of eating the entire package. Sure, it would have been hard not to have had any, but if I’d been able to stick to my guns and have none, I wouldn’t have to fight off the inevitable cravings that that one little taste provoked.

So that’s the long way of saying once something is completely off the menu, it seems to be a little easier to avoid it. If a particular food (or beverage, since we’re talking about coffee here) is straight up off limits, I don’t think about all the reasons why I shouldn’t have it. Because I can’t have it. End of story. I’m not perfect, but I’m no fraud. If I tell people I’m not drinking coffee for 30 days, then I don’t drink coffee for 30 days. And this experiment has taught me that the black-and-white nature of a decision like this makes it easier, not harder.

Have I wanted coffee at times? YOU BETCHA!! There were a couple of days when things got stressful at work and my normal reaction would have been to head for the coffee shop and buy myself a cup of comfort. At home in the mornings, there were two days when I would have given anything for a cup of Teechino, but like I said in the last post, I felt like that would have been cheating. So I just muscled on without.

Doesn't he look so lonely? You can
almost hear him calling out to me...
Two days until I can have a morning coffee. I’m not afraid to tell you I am looking forward to it. Like, massively looking forward to it. Just thinking about it makes me smile. Is that a sign of how addicted I still am to it? Probably. But maybe when I set the pot to brewing and take that first, glorious sip, I’ll find it’s not as wonderful as I was expecting. (Set the pot to brewing? Yes. Keurig coffee is fine when you’re in a hurry, but if you think I’m gonna break my coffee-fast with anything less than good quality beans, freshly ground, think again. I have nothing against Keurig machines, but I’d rather my first foray back into bliss not be tainted with what I’ve found to be a slightly stale and plasticky taste.)

I assume I’ll drink less coffee than I have in the past, but I certainly never planned to give it up entirely. The whole point of eliminating foods from our diet for a period of time is to see how we do without them. And I haven’t found I feel (or look) any better without coffee. This could very (very) well be due to the fact that I’m still consuming caffeine, but overall, I’m not convinced coffee is entirely bad for everyone across the board. At least not a cup or two a day. Three ventis, loaded with sugar or flavored syrups? Yeah, that might not exactly be conducive to good health. But my coffee habit was pretty far from that.

There are other foods I’d like to take out of my diet for a while and see how I do. And that—how we feel, look, and perform when we add or remove things from our diets—should guide us, not what we read in magazines or the latest fads advertised in tabloids at the supermarket checkout line. (I shamelessly stole “feel, look, and perform” from this guy, except he usually says “look, feel, and perform.” I put feel first only because I happen to think how we feel should carry more weight than how we look. And by “perform,” he’s not talking about getting on stage with your trumpet and giving a concert. He’s talking about physical performance, whether that’s organized sports or just your usual workout.)

So what’ll be next? Gluten? All grains? The sugar I’ve let creep back into my diet in way too high amounts? I’m not sure. But if I can go a month without coffee, I can do anything.

*Note: Any caffeine I’ve been consuming has come from yerba mate, tea, or dark chocolate. I do not drink Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster, or any of the other “energy drinks”. Not even 5-hour energy, which is mostly just B-vitamins. 

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