Why I gave up coffee even though it was ridiculously hard.

coffee up with coffee beansI don’t drink.  I eat a primarily raw, plant-based diet.  I workout every day.  Let’s just say I take my health seriously and consider my lifestyle choices carefully as to how it will affect my body.

But when it came to coffee, all bets were off.  I have a hard time remembering a time when I didn’t drink coffee.  I started when i was a teenager, drinking out of cheap brown, chipped coffee mugs with my Dad at the local Perkins.  College continued the coffee obsession, using it to fuel late night study sessions and early class schedules.

From there it was a habit, with an adulthood of gradually increasing coffee consumption.  I even upgraded to a home espresso maker and would often drink shots of espresso well into the evening hours without any effect on my sleep.  Caffeine was not only a daily ritual, but a real requirement for proper functioning and performance of my daily adult activities.

I never thought to give up coffee.  After all, it was everywhere and everyone drank it.  Starbucks pioneered the qualify coffee craze and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  A 16 ounce Americano!  I would shout at the barista, in an attempt to be heard over the steaming and spitting espresso machine.  Coffee was my jam and it couldn’t have been more socially acceptable.

But a few months ago I began to think about coffee and caffeine.  I felt like a bit of a fraud.  I shouted from the treetops or to anyone that would listen about how great a mostly raw vegan diet was, how it gave me so much energy.  So if that were true, why did I need upwards of 4 cups of coffee a day in order to keep myself from nodding off in the middle of the day?  Why did I wake up groggy every morning and immediately head for the kitchen and the coffee maker like an actor in some zombie apocalypse movie?  If I wanted to be this great advocate for the benefits of a raw vegan diet, I couldn’t exactly be extolling the virtues and simultaneously ingesting enough caffeine to single-handedly support a Starbucks location.

A part of me also didn’t feel great about the fact that I ingested a drug several times a day.  Despite my uber-healthy lifestyle, I wondered about the long term health implications of caffeine.  It didn’t help that mainstream media kept telling me how coffee consumption has no negative effects and that we should all just continue drinking it and never you mind about any of the pesky side effects.  It’s practically a health food!  Drink up!  The more I heard that the more I began to wonder.

So I quit.  One day, out of the blue, with nary a plan or even any direct health issues arising from my consumption, I boldly walked out of the relationship. I dropped the mic.  No decaf, no tea, no gradual weaning off of my favorite beverage of all time that I had consumed for the last 25 years of my life.

By mid morning on the first day, a blinding headache nestled behind my eyes and stayed for the next 3 weeks.  I had all the classic withdrawal signs, sleeplessness, headaches, trouble concentrating and a general disdain for anyone and everything in my general vicinity.  Oh, plus, I wanted to die.

I picked up the book Caffeine Blues: Wake up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug in an attempt to reinforce my decision and put some science to it.  I learned how even “healthy” amounts of caffeine are really not so healthy (surprise!) at all and that caffeine acts like a jackhammer on your adrenals.  It’s also correlated to certain types of cancer and raises blood pressure levels.  Oh, I also learned that quitting caffeine cold turkey as I had done is not recommended.  At all. Oops.

So what happened?  After 3 weeks of blinding headaches and sleeplessness, the skies cleared, the clouds moved out and life went on.  I suddenly had no cravings and no desire for coffee.  I still enjoyed the smell but it didn’t make me want to drink any.  It was as if I had never drank a cup of coffee in my life.

I even felt my energy level amp up a little more.  Mornings were welcomed with a large glass of H20 instead of a steaming mug of coffee.  I found sleep much more restful and rejuvenating.  The afternoon lull and some of the early evening listlessness I usually experienced went away completely, replaced with a much more consistent and optimal level of energy.

Oh, and I have to say I like saving a bucket load of money.  With fancy pants organic, shade-grown coffee and espresso a thing of the past, as well as the occasional high end coffee shop visit, my coffee coffers are overflowing.  I don’t drink decaffeinated coffee or even tea now.  Just water.  Plain old water.  And you know what? It tastes pretty darn good.

To weigh or not to weigh?

As a runner and overall fitness and nutrition enthusiast, I’m no stranger to the scale.  It sits next to the shower, mocking me on a daily basis.  It dares me to step on it every time I walk into the bathroom.  Mine will tell me not only my weight but my body fat percentage.  Though I question the accuracy of the body fat calculation, it still stares up at me in black letters, right underneath body weight.  So I have two standards with which to disappoint myself.  Yikes!

For some reason, I’ve been avoiding the scale of late.  I mean really avoiding.  Like for over a year now.  Possibly two.  Not since the days of training for an Ironman have I stepped on my scale.  That’s when it used to be fun.  Like after running for 3 hours or riding my bike for 100 miles.  That’s when getting on the scale was fun. Oh look, I dropped another 4 lbs today. Yay!

I’m not sure why I’m saying “for some reason.”  The reason is obvious, to me and to all of you reading.  I’ve been avoiding the scale for the same reason everyone avoids the scale.  I’m getting too skinny.  Ha!  I wish. I’m avoiding that shiny silver square of technology because I’m deathly afraid it will tell me exactly what I know.  I’ve gained weight.  And I don’t want that stupid silver square telling me in stark black letters exactly what I know to be true: I’m headed down the slippery slope of gradually gaining weight as I age.  I’m losing sight of my ideal weight more every day.

So my day of reckoning arrived 3 weeks ago when I weighed in for a contest at a local gym.  The trainer, Leah, moved the heavy clunker weight over for the big number and then just kept moving the small weight to the right, and moving it and moving it, until it mercifully balanced right above 32, for a total of 132.

I officially weigh a solid 10 lbs more than I did 3 years ago, and 18 lbs over my ideal weight for a person of my height (using Dr Fuhrmann’s numbers).  Though my body fat percentage of 16.6% is a little less deflating, I was still shocked at the weight reading.

The contest is 10 weeks and is intended to help the contestants monitor their weight over the trifecta of holiday weight gain challenges, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  No added sugars and no alcohol, and a minimum of 5 workouts a week.

Seeing as how I don’t drink, eat candy or added sugars of any kind, and I already workout 7 days a week, I figure it’s in the bag.  But, after the shock of my weight being measured right in front of me, I decided to also add losing 2 lbs a week to the challenge.  Yep, that’s a total of 20 lbs.

You might be wondering the very same thing I did as I contemplated my weight gain hundreds of times in the last 3 weeks.  How can she gain so much weight if she eats fruits and vegetables?  The very same way most people gain weight.  It’s the stuff I was eating that isn’t fruits and vegetables.

Sure, 90% of the time my diet is healthy, and free of added fat, oils, salt or sugar.  But as often happens, the 10% bulges out to 15%, then suddenly it’s 19%, and the next thing you know you’re staring at a scale that says you’re 18 lbs over your ideal weight.  It happens fast, it happens slow, but it happens.  Though I never stray from the vegan lifestyle, it’s just as easy to overindulge in vegan fare as it is for others to overindulge on the standard american diet.  Perhaps even easier.  Because all vegan food is healthy, right?

So the lesson, dear readers,  is pretty obvious.  Don’t shy away from that shiny silver square on your bathroom floor near the shower.  Don’t be afraid to assess where you’re at in relation to your ideal bodyweight.  Don’t put off knowing something even though it may startle the hell out of you and leave you contemplating how it all went wrong.

After the initial shock wears off (still waiting for that to happen, btw), I’m sure I’ll be glad that I know.  Joining the contest at the gym provides some serious public motivation, as well as writing this post on eatplantslivewell.  I’m a big fan of publicly stating your goals as a way to stay motivated.

I will provide updates along the way.  I’m already 3 weeks in and let’s just say I have some serious work to do in the next 7 weeks in order to reach my goal.  Wish me luck!  And go get on that scale.

The pain of discipline or the pain of regret?

Mention discipline in a roomful of people and you’re practically guaranteed a negative reaction.  Scrunchy faces and furrowed brows all around.  Suddenly whatever anyone else is talking about is more interesting than talking about discipline.

Discipline, it seems, is out of favor with society.  I mention discipline whenever the topic of my diet comes up and people ask me how I do it.  How I go without eating candy at Halloween, drinking beer or wine on the weekend, eating a whole, unprocessed plant-based diet and even how I possibly gave up coffee completely six months ago.  It’s discipline.  And discipline can feel good.  It can change your life.

To most people, discipline is hard.  It’s a constant struggle in a world where everyone wants their every need fulfilled asap.  Discipline is trying to shovel while it’s still snowing.  It’s fruitless, often painful.  Sometime it seems impossible. They would rather give in and continue to eat and drink what they shouldn’t, or push the snooze button one more time instead of hauling themselves out of bed for that boot camp workout they know will kick their butt.

I disagree. I think regret is hard.  I think the pain of wishing you’d stuck with that diet or lifestyle change is far, far worse than the pain of discipline.  See because you have either one or the other.  For every change you wish to make in your life, there are consequences to doing it and consequences for not doing it.  You just have to decide which one is more painful.  For me, regret trumps discipline nearly every single time as the most painful of the two.  By a mile.  Like the last mile of a marathon.

The process of adopting a diet of plant-based whole, unprocessed foods hasn’t exactly been without challenges.  Though I love the way I eat and the way it makes me feel, there were certainly hurdles along the way that made me question whether or not it was worth it. Heck, there are still temptations to eat unhealthy foods every day.  Though I’m never tempted to jump off the vegan train (since part of my motivation is animal welfare), I certainly see the appeal of all the highly processed yummy vegan foods available now.

But I also understand that while those foods would undoubtedly taste great for the few minutes it would take to eat them, the regret of not sticking to my lifestyle choices would be felt long after that.  Not to mention the pain of trying to digest that unhealthy food.  In essence, the punishment wouldn’t fit the crime.  It never does.  No matter how great something tastes that I don’t generally indulge in, the disappointment far outweighs it.

So when people hear about my diet and say ” I don’t know how you do it,” I generally nod and acknowledge how much suffering they think I endure.  In reality though, I often wonder if I suffer as much as they think, or even as much as people that wish to change their diet but don’t.  We’re both suffering.  As one should when trying to change a habit or improve some area of their life.  But I wonder if they realize that the pain of my discipline might actually be less then the pain of their regret?

It seems to me so many people fail at discipline because they’re afraid.  They’re afraid to fail.  They’re afraid to suffer.  Yet no one mentions how painful it can be to have a habit they wish to change that never happens.  They want to lose weight.  They want to switch to a plant based diet. They want to give up an expensive and health compromising addiction to alcohol or caffeine.  Day after day and year after year they continue without accomplishing these goals.  Clothes get tighter.  Cholesterol levels skyrocket.  Regret is a constant companion.

So try discipline.  Try making changes, even sudden and drastic changes to see what you can accomplish.  Hold out for 30 days of quitting caffeine or eating animal products.  It won’t be easy.  You might find it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done.  But it will surely be easier than not doing it.  Than waiting.  Than regretting.