Thursday, May 1, 2008

Quitting my vices

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 (3 to 4 '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 8:00 minutes
4/27: Rest
4/28: 20 minutes rowing incl. 2000 meters in 8:04
40 minutes core
4/29: 20 minutes rowing
30 minutes flexbands
4/30: 40 minutes weights

12 comments:

NYC Project Squad said...

I am day 6 off espresso. I only drank it in the morning two shots. I too am a sober vegan and am always wanting to dig deeper and clarify my body. I found your blog because I was beginning to think there must be something else going on with me other than caffeine withdrawl as my symptoms have been severe and mirror a lot of what you describe here. Thank goodness you wrote about it or I was about to check myself in. Day one was nothing, 2 was the beginning of the headache and fatigue, 3 was massive headache, fatigue with horrible axe in back feeling that kept moving up and down my back, day 4 was less of a headache, less fatigue and intermittent axe in back feeling, day 5 was same as 4 just less, day 6 slight axe in back, slight head throb intermittently and leg pain which was similar to the flu like back pain. I'm sticking with it as I am no longer fatigued and thinking clearly just the like pain is odd. I am also doing a raw food cleanse along with it. Thank you for your valuable blogg!

Thorin said...

Yes, I am going through these withdrawal symptoms now. I was just sitting here, due to being almost incapacitated by the symptoms, and happened to google " leg cramps and caffeine withdrawal", and here you are. Thank you.
I can't even walk today. I think perhaps the muscles are contracting, looking to squeeze out the last bit of caffeine that might be around...not sure. Bit I hope it is over soon. M I was a big espresso drinker...but I realize my adrenal,function has suffered for it. Wow, what powerful withdrawal symptoms...I was so dizzy for two,days!

Biff said...

I'm on day 5 of caffeine withdrawal now and I found your blog through a Google search of my symptoms. I'm amazed at the mild to severe muscle pain in my large back muscles, glutes, hips and legs. It's uncomfortable to lie down and I'm not sleeping because I'm waking up repeatedly with hip/lower back/leg pain/discomfort. Like the other two commenters I'm relieved to see your blog (thanks!) as I was starting to wonder. Doesn't feel like tonight will be much better...day 6 tomorrow :) Also, I was a morning espresso drinker too. I was just doing this out of interest but I'm so surprised by the physical withdrawal effects, it may have to be a longer term thing. What was it doing to my body?? Elizabeth

rhonda hughes said...

Thanks so much for this blog. Good to know why I am having these severe symptoms. I have cut down my coffee consumption, from two pots a day to 3-4 mugs day but pain is so bad during night in legs and back, i can't sleep...so i get up at 3 or 4 to have a fix...it immediately helps. Starting to think i should maybe drink 2 in am, and 2 in pm just so i can rest during night. Any suggestions?

Riz said...

Thanks to everybody for posting comments in the symptoms of muscle and back pains...I thought it may be linked to gym visits but it is no coincidence that the pain kicked in straight after going cold turkey on caffeine. Starting ti feel a little better now...I really didn't appreciate how toxic this substance is!

Daryl Pienta said...

Day 5 for me.. I never suffered form headaches, but the back pain is very much present. It comes and goes. Sometimes I find it hard to stand or sit for long periods.The pain on day 3 was my entire back, but day 4 and 5 it has concentrated at the tail bone>

Lethargy.. I'm dead to the world the last few days after lunch for a few hours, but snap out of it in the evening.

Concentration levels have been low.

Phil Meyer said...

thats a spot on description of what I'm experiencing... the leg pain is no joke! Several hot baths, stretching, and massaging helps but I am ready for this to be over, lol... pop some more advil. I think its important to drink a bunch of fluids too, hopefully my body is happy about this but I felt like I was dying or my adrenals were shot so I quit the brew too. If I remember, people who didn't do a lot of caffeine had the softest muscles in a class I took, I think the caffeine adds to knots and what not... not certain, just a thought. Looking forward to some positive outcomes from this decision... its a tough row to hoe in today's caffeine saturated world. Be strong until its a simple song... no coffee for me, perhaps some tea, but only moderately, lol. G_d bless and thanks for the helpful post!

Bob said...

I searched for "leg cramps" after caffeine withdrawal and found this blog. My left leg has a sharp knot it, directly in the center of my leg on the back of the my upper leg muscle. As I type this, the right leg is starting to have the same pain! I have 6 days so far without any caffeine. I became worried because the rest of my body feels fine. I've never had any pain in my legs and it did start about 3 days after stopping a 20 year coffee addiction cold turkey. I did find that taking a lot of supplements, vitamins and minerals does completely cure chronic fatigue and fix the adrenal glands. I don't need coffee for energy since supplementing. If you are unable to stop coffee, try taking B vitamins, they will make you overly hyper, almost to the point of causing anxiety. Vitamins helped me kick soda and energy drinks, and finally I was able to stop coffee. I couldn't have done it before starting on a heavy multi-vitamin and mineral supplement regimen.

Rick Balarosa said...

How long did the leg cramps last?

Bert Duplessis said...

About 4 to 5 days, probably depends on how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis.

maria said...

Same story here.I quit coffee last week. During the weekend I thought I was going nuts. I felt drained, exhausted. I went to see the dr yesterday and he said I needed antidepressants! I woke up at 3 am with the worse pain in both legs; nothing worked, heat, moving my legs, couldn't get back to sleep. Then my husband, who quit coffee some years ago told me: what you have is caffeine withdrawal syndrome!So I googled it and here you are!!! It all fits!!! So much for drs and antidepressants!! Thanks for posting and for all the comments.

Sue said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I was awakened with the WORST leg cramps last night. It concerned me very much because I've also been dealing with back pain for the last month and I though something awful was happening and that my back issues were worsening. This afternoon it finally occurred to me that the fact that I'm on day 3 of a fast (including no coffee) might be why I was having sever cramping in both of my thighs. I think that's exactly what it is! Thanks again!