Saturday, February 02, 2013

Seven Observations After My Month-Long Caffeine Fast

Yesterday marked the accomplishment of my goal to fast from caffeine for a month. As I said in my post five weeks ago, the effect that caffeine has on me, especially in the area of metabolism, is something I've wondered about for a long time. So I think it's now a good time to look back at some of my observations. Naturally they're extremely anecdotal.  

Also, for the numerically observant among you, my fast was actually just shy of a month, since I spent the first three days trying to gradually ween myself off it. That didn't really work at all, and it leads me to my first observation:

1. It doesn't really matter how much caffeine I have, at least as far as how I feel is concerned. I spent the first three days scaling back, and even though on the third day all I had was a cup of green tea, I didn't get any withdrawal symptoms at all (headache, fatigue, depression, etc), leading me incorrectly to believe that it would be an easy transition. Then the next day I skipped even the green tea, and by two that afternoon, I was feeling about three feet below the floor. So, as far as my "dependency" went, I don't think it mattered whether I had 40mg, or 400, just as long as I had something. Now, I also know if I drink far too much caffeine, it will have other, non-mood related effects like not letting me sleep, which brings me to my second observation:

2. Sleeping was slightly easier. I know that one seems obvious, but it's also true. We're not talking a huge difference or anything, but there was one. I normally (as in when I've had caffeine) can't ever take naps. While this was still difficult, and I still felt as terrible as usual when waking up from them, without caffeine, it was a least possible. That in a less obvious way connects to my third observation:

3. Fasting from caffeine made me feel less "in control." One of the best things about caffeine is obviously that it gives you some direct, immediate action you can take when you feel tired and don't want to be. Without caffeine, if you get tired, it's just like: "Well, this sucks." On the other hand though, this being able to do something is completely contingent on your actual ability obtain caffeine, which leads me to my paradoxical forth observation:

4. Fasting from caffeine made me feel more "in control." I can think of many, terrible times back when I was a caffeine dependent when I'd end up in situations where it wasn't immediately possible to get caffeine. Just try going on a road trip with one of those rare people who doesn't share or understand your need for stopping somewhere that makes decent coffee. It's really terrible, because you feel the normal fatigue coming on, and then there's withdrawal on top of it. For the past month, I've never had to worry about those situations. That was definitely at least a small load off the back of my mind––which kind of segues into my next observation:

5. I think I was slightly calmer and able to focus better. I normally have a very hard time watching TV or reading for more than a few minutes at a time (which is why bookmarks and DVR are very important to me). Without caffeine, I feel like it was slightly easier though. That was surprising to me as I used to think the opposite was true. I'd often even drink a large cup of coffee before going into an all-day exam. I'm sure that was for the more pressing reason of making sure I stayed awake and didn't go into withdrawal while I was in the middle of some gosh-awful essay question, but looking back now, I wonder if it was a wise strategy. Though it's harder to put a finger on, I also feel like I was slightly more relaxed, or dare I say, peaceful, which is interesting in light of the next observation:

6. Looking back on this past month, I think it was easier for me to become more depressed, and at times when I wasn't expecting it. I won't go too deep into this one (mostly because it's ground that I'm probably not qualified to tread on) but if you've read much of this blog, you know I've tended to struggle with depression many times in my life. I've never taken any kind of medication for it––at least not one that's been prescribed, that is. I also know that it's a problem, and probably one that isn't best solved through some kind of chemical intervention. At the same time though, I've always felt that there were some things that helped, and caffeine was one of them. That was one big reason I was so apprehensive to embark on a fast from it till now. Now when I said more depressed, I don't mean I was depressed more often than I usually am, and I would definitely not say that just not having caffeine in any way caused me to become depressed. But there were a few times this month when bad or disappointing things happened that would normally tempt me to depression, and I feel like I plunged a lot deeper a lot faster than I can really remember before––and not in the same order of events that I've come to be used to. Now, actually, I had some pretty serious disappointments this month, so it's entirely possible that the correlation I'm mentioning is really just a product of coincidence, or more likely, me wanting to make this post more interesting. But it seemed like it was there, so I thought I'd mention it before coming to my final observation––and ironically, the only thing that I really set out to observe:

7. Fasting from caffeine did nothing to help me gain weight. On January 4, I weighed 133 pounds. After five weeks of protein shakes, bench presses, stuffing myself with obscenely gluttonous amounts of food, doing no aerobic exercise, and consuming no caffeine save what I may have ingested through chocolate or the odd mixed drink, it was February 1st yesterday, and I still weighed 133 pounds. 

So yesterday, when I headed out of the office to move my car before I got ticketed, I swung by my favorite coffee shop, Soulful Cup and picked up a small, black, regular coffee. I was honestly a little curious to see what would happen. I've read that after two weeks of fasting, your nervous system reverts to a state of "caffeine-naivity" and I was well past that. I drank about half of it, and then went back to the directory I'd been working on.

I didn't go crazy, as an old friend I'd met at the coffee shop suggested might happen, but I did have one very interesting experience. I've often felt that getting caffeine––or anything that your body really wants––causes something to happen in your eyes. And I've talked to and watched interviews with other people who have confirmed this. Almost like an "opening up at the back of your eyes" as someone put it. Like everything looks slightly brighter.

Well, between fifteen and twenty minutes after drinking the coffee, I looked up from my computer and stared at the light, neutral toned wall of the cubicle I was sitting in, and in a fraction of a second––I'm talking like one or two frames in a 29.97fps video––it suddenly got lighter. To try and put it in quantitative terms, it was like setting a DSLR display to live view and then jogging the aperture from f.8 to f.5.4 without making any compensation to the shutter speed or ISO. Everything literally got brighter.

And he lived happily ever after, to the end of his days.



Lindsay Eryn said...

I'm a social drinker, though I live with a couple of addicts. Glad you have your caffeine back. :)

Scout said...

I think I can have or not have coffee without anything happening - I haven't given it up for a long period of time recently, but I have before, just because I didn't want it.
Anyway, I generally want coffee most when people talk about it. So, now that I've read your post, I think I'm going to go indulge in a cup of joe.
Also, I'm impressed that you lasted so long!

Andrew said...

I agree with both of you. The hardest part of this was actually being friends/family with people who drink so much coffee!

Kelly said...

I've been on a fast too, but more due to circumstance than anything - from living with the girls in college who slurp coffee down like water to living with Colton, who doesn't like coffee. I went from about four or five cups a day to none... I wish I had paid attention to the effects!

This was very interesting to read. I wish we lived closer, Andrew. I really think we'd make great friends and neighbors :)

Anonymous said...

I had to give up caffeine for about 6 weeks and experienced some of the same things that you did. I made the mistake of starting up again.