Do I Really Have To Give Up Caffeine?

I am generally a big believer in doing any lowcarb plan exactly as directed for the first 2-4 weeks, really all the way through and of course continuing forever through maintenance unless/until there is some reason (usually hitting a weight loss stall wall) a long way from goal, to take a closer look and consider tweaking.  I do, however, have a problem with the lowcarb plans that order folks people remove caffeine from their diets as an essential part of beginning the programs.  Often people come onto online lowcarb forums heavy coffee drinkers, asking if they could have maybe one cup of regular coffee and would that be okay, would that be wise?

Honestly, I wouldn’t even cut it that much—at first.  If there is one facet of Atkins’ particular version of lowcarbing that I have come to disagree strongly with, it is the requirement to quit caffeine cold-turkey as part of induction.

Caffeine withdrawal alone is a potent challenge—trying to combine that with extreme carb withdrawal, in my opinion, sets up an additional, unrelated obstacle, one which often ends up unnecessarily thwarting beginners.  My recommendation for people in this position is to cut their caffeine intake by half for the first few weeks or months.  If down the road you begin to suspect that caffeine is thwarting your progress, you can always decide to reduce it more.

In more than 17 years of participating and observing lowcarbers on numerous online forums, and endless tinkering with my own personal science project (which included giving up caffeine 3 or 4 times—once for 9 months straight), I have yet to see a single case where caffeine intake, especially moderate caffeine intake turned out to be the problem that was blocking successful weight loss.  I have seen caffeine intake have an impact on blood sugars, moods, and cravings in some people, and in those cases cutting back or quitting caffeine does seem to have a positive effect, not on weight loss per se, but on those individuals’ ability to be more content and centered with following the WOE, which in turn, makes the weight loss more manageable.  That’s not the same thing as a direct effect on weight loss.

Generally it’s what people insisted on putting in their coffee or tea that turned out to be (or became over time) problematic.  Artificial sweeteners, especially the powdered ones that contain dextrose additives, as well as cream or half-and-half and of course “non-dairy creamers” (which are chemical-crap cuisine made almost entirely from processed forms of sugar), much more often turn out to be culprits hindering weight-loss progress.

Here’s how I slowly conquered my own situation with coffee—well more truthfully it was the withdrawal from the cream which I really believed I could never live without.  In the summer of 1998, I set a rule for myself that in my first cup of coffee could have 1 tablespoon of cream and that was the only dairy I’d consume (yup, that was a bargain—in this case though, I turned out to be a babystep).  Any additional cups had to be black, or no more coffee for me.  Luckily I am a 2-cup per morning person, and I forced myself to choke down that awful second cup of black coffee.  I didn’t like it, but somehow over the next two months, I became accustomed to having coffee black, even if it wasn’t my favorite.  Well, that summer turned beastly hot in August and I decided that an iced coffee would really be great at the end of a long day of that, so I began “saving” the cream for that “treat” and drank both morning cups black.  Well…I got into the habit of saving the cream for the afternoon, then…well the weather cooled off and I forgot about the afternoon iced coffee.  And what the heck??—I was able to drink black coffee in the morning.

I’d like to tell you that was all it took, and that I was happy and “cured” of loving (and requiring) cream in my coffee.  It wasn’t.  But the experience of knowing I could do it, plus the very strong desire to see if going totally dairy free wouldn’t make a difference in my almost two-year-long inability to lose ~30 pounds to get to a good weight for me, kept me choosing no cream for all but my most weak, self-indulgent moments.  (I still can remember once attempting to assuage a particularly nasty, crampy menstrual period one cold midwinter Saturday morning with a cup of coffee with cream, it was probably one of my last.)  I remember I kept cream in the refrigerator for a few months, just in case I ever “needed” it.

I did an intense amount of diet experimenting during the winter of 1998-99, which resulted in me finally unlocking what had been blocking my successful weight loss.  As part of that experimentation I eliminated coffee entirely, even black, for 9 months.

But eventually, when I tried adding it back in sometime during the spring of 1999, I had been dairy-free for a long time and I was clear that everything in my body worked better without it.  So, when I re-introduced coffee I was “over” the dairy and just pleasantly surprised to find that coffee, in moderate amounts, worked just fine for me.  I was in a completely new place of finding the thought of (greasy!) cream in my coffee exactly the way I used to think about black coffee—YUCK!  Go figure?

And yet another example of how in many situations we can find that changing our actions will lead our feelings to change completely.

I strongly believe in babysteps on this WOE, and induction + total caffeine withdrawal is too much like jumping off a cliff for most folks. You really can, in fact I say most of us have to get to the beautiful valley at the bottom of the hill without jumping.  We gotta ride down slowly and be willing to learn and grow from every twist, turn, pothole and bolder we encounter on that bumpy road to what life in the healthy, normal weight lane is all about.