How to Quit Caffeine Without Feeling Totally Miserable

Kicking a coffee habit can be tough, but not impossible with these dietitian-approved tips.

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Photo by: juanma hache/Getty Images

juanma hache/Getty Images

Hooked on coffee? You’re not alone. There’s a reason so many “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee” shirts and mugs exist. You may be considering kicking the habit, but stuck on the question: Can I function without it and avoid that awful “I need caffeine” migraine? Here's how to ween yourself off caffeine and avoid the worst of the side effects.

Coffee and caffeine aren't all bad, as both do provide health benefits for cognition and heart health. Coffee also contains antioxidants that help to lower inflammation and can protect against certain disease states including Alzheimers. However, if you’re someone who adds a lot of sugary syrups or high fat creamers to your coffee, then the effects of those less nutritious add-ins may be a reason to cut down on your coffee intake.

Caffeine itself can also become an issue, as too much caffeine can have negative effects on blood pressure, mood, blood sugar control, fertility and pregnancy. It can also cause unwanted symptoms including headaches, insomnia and poor sleep quality, dizziness, heartburn and upset stomach. If any of these symptoms sound like you and you want to ditch the caffeine for good, there’s a way to do it that can ensure you stay living your best caffeine-free life.

What Happens When You Quit Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, resulting in negative side effects about 12 to 24 hours post halting intake. Quitting caffeine cold turkey can leave you feeling miserable, so weaning yourself off caffeine instead is a better approach. You may still experience some withdrawal symptoms, with the severity of symptoms relating to your current level of caffeine intake. Avoid symptoms of irritability, headaches and fatigue by trying these tips below and make your caffeine-quitting journey a little easier.

  • Take stock: Determine how much caffeine you currently consume, then determine an amount you want to begin to decrease (ie. your 3rd cup of the day, 4 oz, 1/2 a cup). From there, start to slowly decrease your intake to avoid being hit with a plethora of withdrawal symptoms at once.
  • Hydrate: Incorporate more water to take the place of coffee and caffeine. Water can also help you stay hydrated during this time, which is important as dehydration exacerbates withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and headaches. It’ll also satisfy the habit of simply needing to drink something.
  • Drink decaf: Gradually begin to reduce your caffeine intake by substituting some of your caffeinated intake with decaf. If you’re a second cup of coffee or soda person, swap that second cup for caffeine free or decaf.
  • Make the swap to tea: Switch to a lower dose caffeine option like tea. Compared to an average 8 oz cup of coffee which contains about 95 mg of caffeine, green tea contains 20-45 mg. This will help to eventually phase out completely without going from 100 to 0 too quickly.
  • Cut it off: Still sipping on coffee at 2 pm? Cut off caffeine intake by a certain time. Start pushing it up by 1 to 2 hours from your current latest caffeine intake time.
  • Boost your energy: Make sure to incorporate other healthy habits that help boost your energy and your mood, such as daily exercise, stress management, starting the day with a balanced breakfast that includes a complex carbohydrate paired with adequate protein and healthy fat, and using healthy snacks to your advantage to keep blood sugar levels steady and prevent mid afternoon crashes.

Vanessa Rissetto received her MS in Marketing at NYU and completed her Dietetic Internship at Mount Sinai Hospital where she worked as a Senior Dietitian for five years. She is the co-founder of Culina Health and is certified in Adult Weight Management (Levels I & II) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the founder of Culina Health. Her work in private practice also includes treatment of GI disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, PCOS, and family nutrition. She loves helping clients take an active role in their health journey, motivating them and ensuring that they always achieve success. Vanessa was named by one of the top 5 black nutritionists that will change the way you think about food by Essence magazine. Vanessa lives in Hoboken NJ with her husband, two kids and their new goldendoodle Freddie. An exercise enthusiast, she is always up for a class as long as it's after she rides her Peloton.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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