I used to be a big coffee lover. The smell, the caffeine hit and the ritual were all what led me to become obsessed with coffee. My parents are big coffee drinkers, my Dad has had a proper espresso machine for over 30 years before they were mainstream and at about 13 or 14 I started to have a little cappuccino with my parents occasionally on weekends. As I got older, a few girlfriends and I thought it was ‘cool’ to get a takeaway coffee on the way to school, and when I started my first full time job it became another daily ritual where I would get to my desk, check my emails and then I would go out to get a coffee so I could get my head in a ‘proper frame of mind to start the day’. Then, in my mid-twenties I met my now husband who was as in love with coffee as I was. And all of a sudden instead of it being a once a day mid-morning snack/ pick-me-up addiction, I started having it first in the morning too! This lovely man used to bring me a coffee in bed…wow he was definitely a keeper! His coffees were also really good. The crema was incredible and he had a coffee machine that would rival many baristas in Melbourne’s lane-way cafes. I was hooked. (on coffee and on him!). So then I would get on with my day like any other, have another coffee mid-morning and sometimes I’d have one in the afternoon if I hit a 3pm slump. Occasionally I would have an Affogato at home with him at night after dinner (A shot of espresso over a scoop of beautiful vanilla ice-cream). So, as you can read my coffee consumption was occasionally at 4 coffees a day. And I knew this was madness! I tried to cut back to only 2 a day, and I did a good job most of the time. But as soon as I was a bit tired or had a few big days it was all that would help me get through. Clearly a system not working to its full potential!
I then went and saw Dr Libby (drlibby.co.nz) in Auckland after hearing about a few people who were doing a 4-week detox (which varied person to person based on your personal health concerns). Libby must have so many clients like me, as when she told me that I needed to cut out coffee for a month, I nearly cried. I said that I would try but that it would be extremely challenging and compromised with her by saying “how about I cut back to just one per day?”. As I look back and remember, I am embarrassed to even write this! It was just coffee!
So, I did the 4 week detox, firstly starting my day with lemon in hot water, and I cut back to only one coffee daily which I would have about mid-morning, then over the course of the month I cut back to just a couple a week. I also eliminated dairy and had my coffee with either soy or almond milk. My coffee experience wasn’t quite the same, but got me over my headache at 10am and I got through the 4 week mark. I was having teas as well as they have a lower amount of caffeine, and suffice to say my husband was not that happy with me as he had lost his coffee partner! But then when the detox was over, life was busy again and the increasing coffee consumption slowly crept back into my life… “it’s Saturday and this barista is so good” I’d tell myself (I live in Melbourne after all!) and gradually I was back having coffee most days. I told myself -ignorantly- that it was better to have a skim-milk coffee than it was to have any food at that time and that the coffee would help get me through to lunch. How wrong I was!!!
Anyway, that was about 3 years ago and as my health journey continued, this year in February I did a real detox. No alcohol, coffee, dairy, red meat, infrared saunas and I tried my first colonic. I tried to wean my coffee habit in the weeks leading up to the month so I didn’t have to deal with everything at once, replacing my caffeine requirement with organic green tea. But then the strangest thing happened. At the end of the month, when I was ‘allowed’ coffee again…my body was literally my temple and it no longer could digest or cope with coffee. The first coffee I had made me feel dizzy, headachy and it went through me while feeling like I had had about 6 shots of coffee. I thought it may have been the milk so I cut out the dairy and tried soy…same thing only it didn’t go through me but I felt jittery for hours. “So it is the coffee” I declared, and again much disappointment ensured from my husband.
I have pretty much stayed off the coffee since then – it is now November – coming up a total of 10 months and I have never felt better. My diet has been pretty good for a while. I stay away from numbers, I have eliminated most glutens, I don’t eat much sugar and as I have mentioned I have also cut out dairy. But, all this is still true and without changing much else in my diet, since the coffee has been cut from my diet I have lost weight around my tummy and changed shape. I have more energy and I am actually less tired and sluggish than when I drank my so-called ‘pick-me-up’.
Then when I attended a Health Seminar in September this year I properly learnt about the many fallacies I assumed to be true and I am going to share a couple of these with you here. (Credit here to Dr Libby in her book “Accidentally Overweight”, you can buy it through Allen & Unwin in Australia if you want to read more):
Caffeine acts on your adrenal glands by stimulating the production of adrenaline. Historically we made adrenaline when our life was threatened. A lion may have chased us, or a member of another tribe may have come running after us. In that moment your body makes adrenaline to get out of danger and this is what we refer to the ‘fight or flight’ response. There are a number of biochemical changes that go on in your body at this time so that you can actively get yourself out of danger. A few of the bodies responses include; an increase in your blood sugar to provide more energy, your blood pressure and pulse rate rise to provide more oxygen to the muscles and your muscles tense providing readiness for ensuing action. Your pupils dilate to see more in less light, your immune system function is not firing as the bodies perception is that fighting infection is not essential and is unsafe at this point in time, blood is diverted away from digestion and reproductive function to deal with present ‘danger’- and your stress hormones are telling your body that life is in danger and that there is no more food left in the world so it should hold on to existing fat stores. As we know, our genetic makeup is around approximately 150,000 years old and for most of this time our bodies have dealt with pure adrenaline requiring situations such as running away from a tiger. Today these situations are much less frequent. We may get stressed at work, miss a bus for a meeting, have pressure put on us which causes our adrenaline to go up so we can deal with this, and in some instances caffeine can still have a place such in our diets (such as when you are about to go for a big run and so the adrenaline response wouldn’t be an issue as you would burn off the insulin). But most of us drink a coffee while we are sitting at our desks or out at a cafe reading the paper. Whether your adrenaline production is the result of real or perceived stress or simply the result of your caffeine intake this can lead to fat storage. The adrenaline surge will make you hold on to existing fat stores because of elevated blood sugar and subsequent insulin production. More simply, because the body perceives you are in ‘danger’ and that you need to store fat in case you have to deal with ‘famine’ you could possibly put on weight from drinking coffee. And I know it sounds mad but I am living proof. (Do read Libby’s book for a better explanation, this really is just a skim view).
I have also done a lot of reading about the acid-alkaline balance of the body and why it is important to our overall health. Simply put, coffee is acidic and the body can only burn fat when it is in an alkaline state. Cancer can also not grow in a body that is alkaline- but more on this later.
However, this morning I clearly didn’t remember my earlier lessons. I felt exhausted, sluggish and tired even after a dynamic pilates workout and a shower. Today is 33 degrees and there is a strong northerly wind, I’ve had a couple of late nights this week and I often find my mood is worse on days like today. Anyway, I’m also smart enough to know that a coffee every now and then isn’t the ‘end of the world’ and the machine was looking at me and so I made myself one with coconut milk. I don’t eat dairy and I have just read Sarah Wilson’s eBook “I quit Sugar” http://www.sarahwilson.com.au so I have been supplementing coconut milk into my diet in some forms.
But what a mistake that coffee was. 3 hours later I am still feeling jittery. The taste was delicious, but the adrenaline hit in my body is still going around and around. I have been to the toilet 3 times – clearly my digestion is not equipped to deal with this anymore! I have been doing some deep diaphragmatic breathing to try to help calm my stress hormones but it makes me wonder what kind of toxic state my body was in 3 years ago when I was having up to 4 coffees a day?!
What’s your coffee story? Does the information I told you scare you or make a whole lot of sense?