While coffee and tea boast some legit health benefits, too much of a good thing is an easy cycle to slip into— and a tough one to escape. Individual caffeine tolerance can vary. Factors like smoking and use of certain medications such as oral contraceptives can influence the way the body metabolizes caffeine, as can some medical conditions. Most healthy adults can safely consume 300-400 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to 3-4 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee, though a lot of us exceed that without realizing it. Many brands contain more than that. A grande (16-ounce) brewed coffee from Starbucks, has 330 milligrams—about all you need for the day.
If you suspect you’re in over your head or dealing with some of the nasty caffeine addiction symptoms, like disrupted sleep cycle and withdrawal when you don’t get your fix, there’s hope. Here are some ways to get a handle on your caffeine intake without losing your mind.
ID Your End Goal
Decide how much caffeine you want to ideally consume (could be 400 milligrams, could be zero—you’re the expert on you) and decide whether a timeframe will be helpful. Being specific will help you be more successful than if you just vow to “cut back.”
For example, if your six-month goal is to cut back from six cups of coffee a day to one, then start with decreasing it to five for a few weeks and gradually scale back. Small changes add up to lasting changes, and these measurable goals give you opportunities to appreciate and build on your success.
Give Yourself Guidelines
You know yourself best—will a cold turkey approach work for you, or will you be more likely to stick with it if you gradually cut back? Be honest about your barriers. Is it the morning jolt you crave, or is it about the afternoon coffee run to escape the office for a few minutes? Come up with a plan for those occasions. If you’re used to one large cup first thing in the morning, try breaking it up into two smaller doses to start. If it’s more about the change of scenery or social time you crave, know that decaf or even a glass of water still counts.
Setting a caffeine curfew based on your bedtime will give your body a chance to process caffeine so it’s not still in your system when you’re ready to hit the hay.
Be Prepared For The Hard Part
They’re unpleasant, but withdrawal symptoms like headache, fogginess, and irritability are part of the process. Know that they’re temporary and you will get through it! If possible, take advantage of times of day you have more energy to tackle tasks that require focus and schedule in a few breaks during the day.
Endorphins released during exercise will help you feel more upbeat and energetic. Schedule workouts into your week. Even a brisk walk around the block if you’re too wiped to hit the gym will help.
Get into A Sleep Routine
This is a great time to get a handle on your sleep routine. Aim to wake up and go to bed around the same time every day—even on weekends. Giving yourself an hour to “power down” at night can help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Look for Easy Swaps
Consider switching to espresso, which provides about 75 milligrams in a shot. A grande Americano, which contains two shots, will give you only 150 milligrams for the same strong coffee taste. Also keep in mind that it takes the same amount of time for you to order a medium instead of a large. Practice or set a reminder on your phone if you need. If you’re brewing a pot at home, simply make one less cup than usual.
Eat Balanced Meals
Sugar cravings and a sudden taste for energy-dense, fatty foods tend to sneak up when you’re tired from caffeine withdrawal. Acknowledge those cravings for what they are and fuel yourself with well-balanced meals and snacks that provide a balance of protein, complex carbohydrate, and healthy fats to quiet the noise and keep your energy up.
Drink extra water, as even mild dehydration can make us feel more fatigued.
If you’re really struggling, talk with a doctor or registered dietitians to come up with an individualized plan so you can meet your goal and maintain your success.
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and writer. In addition to providing counseling for clients with a variety of nutritional needs, she writes for numerous print and online publications and works with food and healthcare companies. She blogs at Jessica Cording Nutrition.
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