Coffee is a staple of many people’s morning routines. Some days, the only thing that gets us out of bed is the thought of a delicious cup of hot coffee waiting for us in the kitchen. It might seem like craving coffee is innocuous, but why we crave coffee is rooted in addiction and psychology.
Before we go into why you’re craving coffee, we should point out that the general consensus is that coffee – in moderation – is not harmful. A long term study concluded that drinking filtered coffee was associated with greater longevity in most populations (you can check out an article about this study here). If you’re concerned about your coffee cravings and are looking to cut back first, take stock of how much coffee you’re consuming on a daily basis. Often cutting back to one or two cups a day is the right move.
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but caffeine can be a highly addictive substance. The word “addictive” is thrown about casually in everyday conversation, but we are using the formal clinical definition in this case. An addiction specifically refers to repeated use of a substance despite the fact that doing so causes damaging side effects. While this can be true for caffeine for some people, most people don’t experience caffeine addiction and instead develop a caffeine dependency.
Dependency is similar to addiction but doesn’t require there to be any harmful side effects. When you become dependent on something – like caffeine – your body starts to require it to function normally. This means that if you stop drinking coffee, for example, after developing a caffeine dependency, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms.
If you’ve ever been in a rush and had to skip your morning cup of coffee, you probably experienced mild caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, irritability, and difficulty focusing your attention are all symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
Craving the Habit
Even if you don’t have a dependency on caffeine, you can still crave coffee. Human beings are very quick to form habits and, once a habit is entrenched, it can be very difficult to break. Habits take two weeks at the bare minimum to form, and for some people, it can take more than two months. If you’ve been drinking coffee every morning for years, then you most likely have ingrained that habit.
Even without the physical dependence, the psychological dependence you have on coffee from your habit can be hard to break. Forming a new habit of not drinking coffee will take at least the two weeks it takes for a new habit to take hold, but replacing a habit generally takes even longer.
If you’re set on giving up coffee, substitute a different activity in your routine where you would normally drink coffee. Taking a brisk walk, doing a crossword, or making your breakfast are all good options. You want to pick something that requires your attention and won’t allow you to think about the coffee you’re not drinking.
How to Reduce Your Coffee Consumption
Even though coffee can have long term benefits on your health and wellness, some people have extenuating circumstances that require them to reduce or even completely remove coffee from their diet. If you’re a longtime coffee drinker, getting the news that you shouldn’t drink it anymore can be devastating. Luckily there are some things you can do to make reducing or eliminating your coffee intake much easier.
Caffeine is the number one culprit responsible for most of the adverse effects of coffee. Some people have to cut caffeine for heart health reasons, and others find that any caffeine even early in the day keeps them awake at night. For these people switching to decaf is the easiest way to avoid caffeine while still drinking coffee.
If caffeine is the problem for you, then you want to cut your intake slowly. If you go from drinking two to four cups of coffee a day to none, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Try reducing your number of cups by one every few days. When you get down to one cup, only drink a half cup the next day. This gradual weaning off process will reduce the severity of your withdrawal if you have developed a caffeine dependency.
SEE ALSO: Try our handy caffeine calculator!
It isn’t always the case that caffeine is the problem. People with intestinal issues might be instructed by a doctor to avoid coffee as well. For these people, it can be trickier to find a suitable replacement. Tannic acid can cause inflammation in people with gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, tannic acid is present in coffee and tea, so you’ll have to get more creative than simply swapping your coffee for tea. Green tea is light on caffeine and tannic acid, so it could be the best option for some. A licensed medical professional is the best resource, so you should consult a doctor if you think coffee might be affecting your health.
If you don’t have a medical reason to avoid coffee it can actually be harder to reduce your daily caffeine consumption since there is no external motivation to force you to do it. It’s usually best for these people to change their routine entirely to include a fun, distracting activity in place of coffee. Swapping coffee for decaf or green tea might work for some but many people find they slip back into their coffee habit since their routine is so similar.
We have found that exercise can be the best distraction in these cases. Replacing your coffee with going for a walk, for example, is a great way to get some exercise in and keep your mind and body occupied.
Should You Decrease Your Coffee Intake?
We’ve already touched on this a bit, but it bears repeating. There is evidence that for otherwise healthy people, coffee is beneficial to their long-term health. Medical diagnoses aside, there is no reason to cut coffee out of your diet unless you suspect it negatively affects you in some way.
Trouble sleeping, nervousness, and anxiety could all be exacerbated by coffee if you drink a lot of it. In this case, cutting back to a few cups a day is probably the best first step. You might find that only drinking one or two cups a day eliminates the side effects you were hoping to avoid.
True caffeine addiction is rare, and although it happens in some cases, it is much more likely that your craving for coffee comes from a combination of caffeine dependence and habit. If you have a physical dependency on caffeine, slowly reducing your coffee consumption can help you avoid the unpleasant withdrawal that comes with breaking that dependence.
A coffee habit can be just as hard to break if you don’t have a rigid plan in place. Replacing your usual coffee with exercise or some engaging activity is the best way to rearrange your brain and permanently reduce the amount of coffee you drink.
Before you decide to cut out coffee from your diet, you should carefully consider whether or not you should. Coffee has been shown to increase longevity, and otherwise healthy people can drink coffee without fear of damaging side effects. If you suspect that you have a medical issue associated with drinking coffee, you should consult a medical professional before making any decisions about your diet.
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