I’ve quit a lot of things over the years. At 30, I was a runner like I am now. Just with more vices. If you knew me than, I was a heavy smoker and drinker who consumed cigarettes (my favorite brand was Camel), alcohol, red meat, dairy products and caffeine practically every day of the week. Now? A tee totaling vegan who drinks white tea and Rooibos. Am I a less interesting person now? I don't think so. Sobriety is not a bad state to be in. Clear-headed, never a hangover or gastritis or worse yet, that lingering remembrance of something that should never have been said or done. Plenty of those in my past, many of which I drag around with me whether I like it or not.
So as somewhat of an 'expert' on quitting various vices, I'd say that kicking the nicotine addiction was by far the toughest. I must have quit and started again 30+ times until it finally took. More or less when I realized that being a runner and a smoker did not really add up to leading a balanced lifestyle... I vaguely recall some pain in my wrists and stomach muscles, but nicotine withdrawal for me was always more of a mental than a physical issue. During nicotine withdrawal I would never feel sick. Just lost. The withdrawal symptoms of quitting caffeine were much worse. Giving up alcohol had no withdrawal symptoms at all. No cravings or the DT’s – wouldn’t that have been a bummer. I might have been a lush but I never quite made it to being a full-blown alcoholic.
But back to my old and now former friend coffee. As children in South Africa, we were introduced to coffee quite early on, certainly by our teens. We started on a fairly weak coffee/chicory blend with lots of full cream (aka ‘whole’) milk and sugar. As the years ticked by the milk got lighter, the coffee darker and the sugar disappeared. My end-stage cup of coffee was a dark French roast with barely a tablespoon of skim milk and one Splenda.
I can’t remember exactly why (I thought my adrenal system was out of whack?) but I quit caffeine 'cold turkey' on a Monday morning a couple of years ago. My average daily intake of caffeine had crept up to approximately 960 mg to 1,280 mg per day ( 'grande' size Starbucks French Roast.) I used to buy it at the local Starbucks a couple of blocks away, or brewed it (Starbucks brand on a French press) at work/office. A single 7 ounce serving of coffee has anywhere from 80 to 165 milligrams of caffeine, depending on how the coffee is brewed. So I was consuming the equivalent of about 10 to 12 cups of coffee a day.
I started suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms almost immediately: a dull to fairly severe headache all of Monday, almost as if there were pressure inside my head. Of course when I woke up that Monday morning I was already in the early stages of caffeine withdrawal, just like most heavy coffee drinkers are, every morning. Ordinarily I would fix that little problem quickly with another big jolt of caffeine. Just not that time.
By Tuesday, I experienced mild to severe muscle pain which was mostly felt in the large back muscles. By early Tuesday evening I had to take some Advil to try to reduce the severity of the pain. It was uncomfortable to lie down. I was so sick I did not want to speak to anybody, even on the 'phone. I gained some relief, but not much, by repeatedly getting into a hot bath.
Wednesday and Thursday, more of the same, but with the pain seemingly concentrated in my leg muscles. Again, I had to self-medicate with Advil to keep functioning. Overall, I felt very flat & weak, had trouble concentrating, and could not get anything done. I did not sleep well on any of these nights, waking up repeatedly with leg pain/discomfort. I considered calling my doctor but his advice would likely have been to wean myself from caffeine gradually. Too late for that by then.
By the Friday morning the pain finally abated, just a faint headache and some sleepiness. The worst was behind me! I never did lose my appetite but felt rotten in any other sense. That night we went out for dinner and I did not end the meal with my customary cup of coffee. I have not had coffee since.
For a supposedly benign product, caffeine clearly had a major effect on my body's functioning. I know nothing about physiology but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the caffeine penetrated every cell in my body. Thank you, not again.
Running this week: Zero (still recovering from Achilles injury)
4/23: 30 minutes rowing
40 minutes weights
4/24: 20 minutes rowing
40 minutes core
4/25: 30 minutes flexbands
20 minutes rowing
4/26: 40 minutes weights
20 minutes rowing including 2000m in minutes
4/28: 20 minutes rowing incl. 2000 meters in
40 minutes core
4/29: 20 minutes rowing
30 minutes flexbands
4/30: 40 minutes weights