Food Network Staffer Diary: I Broke Up with Coffee for 4 Days

The result? She became a zombie troll. Find out more here.
By: Julia Caroline Smith
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Photo by: Robert Ingelhart ©Robert Ingelhart

Robert Ingelhart, Robert Ingelhart

Coffee lovers everywhere, I did a very dumb thing: I decided to cut out coffee from my life. It was time to be an independent woman who didn’t need no caffeine. And boy — was I wrong.

As some of you may know, caffeine is a stimulant (i.e., it enhances alertness, increases heart rate and increases blood pressure) and can cause a mild physical dependence if you drink more than two cups of coffee a day (me). Concerned that I may become a little too dependent on coffee, I decided to cut it out completely for as long as possible and see if I could be just as productive — if not more — without the liquid gold. After all, I really cannot afford to buy $5 lattes every single day as a recent college grad, so maybe cutting this out could be economical.

So, here are the rules: One shall not consume coffee in any form, and one shall not eat or drink anything that has caffeine (chocolate, tea, the list goes on).

That’s it — pretty simple. To give you a sample of my regular daily caffeine intake, I usually start my day with one cup of coffee. I have a second when I get to the office, and at about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., I have my third. You could say I’m a frequent user, and I’ll deny it.

Let’s get to the good stuff.

Day 1
8:13 a.m.:

I was expecting to wake up as a zombie, but I'm not feeling too terrible (considering it is a Monday, after all). I head to the kitchen and fumble around, realizing I have conditioned myself unconsciously to grab a coffee mug. I have to resist the urge. Messing up a morning routine is strike No. 1 for me. I drink cold water and eat a banana with PB to get my day started.

11:19 a.m.:

I picked the worst day to start this cleanse; we are on an all-day shoot at the mecca, the Holy Grail, Starbucks. The smell of coffee beans roasting and espresso shots being pulled is enough to make me tear up.

11:51 p.m.:

The barista felt badly for me, so she made me my own apple spice sans coffee. She is an angel. I rejoice, but in the back of my mind I know there is no magic elixir in the mug.

1:51 p.m.:

I've been on my feet all day running around, so my lack of caffeine hasn't even hit me yet. Maybe I won't even notice the sans-coffee lifestyle?

5:31 p.m.:

I do some research on my addiction and find out it usually takes a full 24 hours for the withdrawal symptoms to kick in. My eyes widen and internally I’m weeping, realizing the worst is yet to come.

Day 2
7:48 a.m.:

I have a layer of grogginess stuck on me and want just one little cup of coffee to strip it away. I think my first day without coffee was a dupe and now it's actually hitting me.

9:54 a.m.:

Heading to work, I realize there's an overall lack of energy and bitterness in my soul. I'm afraid I may attack someone without coffee.

10:12 a.m.:

It’s official. I'm a troll because I am so mean without coffee. My patience is thinner than ever, and my eyes are glazed over. I do some more research on my addiction and read on WebMD.com that symptoms include “headache, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and murder.” OK, the last one is a lie. But I swear if someone says the wrong thing at the wrong time ...

12:42 p.m.:

I have snapped at two people already, and I have no desire to do anything. I'm seriously tempted to sneak some coffee.

2:20 p.m.:

I head to the company coffee maker and eye the coffee pod. I could roast just a little bit, chug it and no one would know. But there are too many opportunities for someone to pop in and catch me. I resort to hot chocolate, knowing that chocolate does have a little caffeine in it, but I decide I’ll let it slide.

6:00 p.m.:

I can't open the door to my apartment and turn into a puddle; my roommate has to scoop me off the floor. I am on an emotional roller coaster like no other.

7:30 p.m.:

My roommates and I go to the gym, and my entire body aches. My legs feel like thick lead and running feels like a chore. Confused as to how I can feel so achy, I search Google for answers and read on Smithsonian.com, “Your muscles are fatigued, even when you haven’t done anything strenuous, and you suspect that you’re more irritable than usual.” I knew it! I spite the coffee gods and trudge on in my pathetic run.

10:40 p.m.:

I usually go to bed after midnight, but I’m emotionally exhausted and pass out two hours early.

Day 3
8:00 a.m.:

Even though I'm well-rested, I still feel out of sorts without my morning coffee. One cannot simply rise and grind without coffee.

10:34 a.m.:

Work is feeling incredibly stressful, and all I want is to add some energy to my day so I can get out of this fog.

12:05 p.m.:

Welp. A headache is coming on now — this is just wonderful. The caffeine withdrawal is hitting hard. My brain is throbbing and telling me to give in. But I ignore my brain.

5:28 p.m.:

I cannot stop yawning. If I had just a quick afternoon pick-me-up, like an espresso shot, I'd be alive and ready. This day feels like an eternity, and I have no way to snap out of it. I try drinking frigid water, thinking maybe it will alert me the same way an ice-cold shower would, with little to no luck.

7:30 p.m.:

Giving in to my tired bones, I cuddle up on my couch and let myself pass out early.

Day 4
7:54 a.m.:

It’s my last day on this terrible cleanse! I pretend that knowing this is enough to get me through this last day, but I know I’ll need more than that to trudge on.

9:50 a.m.:

I get to the office and decide I can’t put up with anyone. I plug in my headphones and hide from the world.

11:45 a.m.:

I slowly crumble away at my desk, wondering if any of this was worth it. My co-workers are all so joyous and alert and happy — like most normal human beings. I practically scowl at them all and realize my face has been in a permanent frown.

3:20 p.m.:

Nope. Nope. This was not my brightest idea. I hate every part of this no-coffee plan. I just want to be normal again.

Day 5
8:19 a.m.:

GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS! Well, one, it’s Friday. But two, it’s the day I get to be normal again. I pop out of bed and race to the coffee maker. Baby, how did I ever leave you? I apologize to my coffee beans for ever thinking I’d break up with them and brew a cup of black coffee. No sugar needed for this one; I need all of this to go straight to my veins. I wonder for a second if I can get an IV of this and then shake my head to the idea.

10:03 a.m.:

My co-worker asks if I want to go on a coffee run and I practically jump out of my chair in excitement. YES. YES. I will go get coffee anywhere, anytime today.

Findings:

After four days of a caffeine cleanse, I’ve realized just how potent caffeine can be and the power it can have over me. The fact that caffeine can alter my brain chemistry on such a level that I could experience mild withdrawal symptoms was eye-opening and a learning experience I would never ask anyone to try for themselves. After a little more research on caffeine addiction, I found that the withdrawal symptoms are relatively short-term, and within seven to 12 days all of the terrible headaches and fog generally fade away, so if you truly wanted to kick the caffeine addiction, it wouldn’t be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. However, I do recommend you lock yourself away from any social interaction, or at least give everyone around you a fair warning, because you will be running on a short fuse.

Photo: iStock
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