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How to quit drinking coffee

A dietician that quit coffee two years ago shares her best tips for kicking the habit.

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Quitting coffee isn't always easy, but it's possible to do it without feeling terrible. 

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Most people rely on their morning cup of joe to help them kick start their day and wake up. Caffeine is the most-used legal drug in the world -- yes, really. You probably don't think of your morning coffee as a drug, but given that it contains caffeine (which is a stimulant) it technically falls in that category. Whether you love coffee, hate it or fall somewhere in between -- it's a ritual many people look forward to and rely on to get through the day. 

Sometimes the temporary boost you get from coffee is just not worth the negative side effects -- like jitters, anxiety or other issues like the ones listed below. Some people give up coffee due to medical conditions -- dietician Lauren Manacker gave up coffee after suffering from a concussion, for example. "I was having terrible headaches and found that the caffeine was so stimulating for my brain that it was making me feel terrible. My condition improved almost immediately when I gave up caffeine cold turkey," she said. 

But not everyone is able to quit cold turkey, or even give up caffeine altogether. No matter where you consider yourself -- whether that's just curious or committed to quitting coffee, Manacker shares advice below for the best way to quit your coffee habit for good.

Reasons to consider giving up coffee

Coffee is generally considered a safe beverage to consume, especially if you consume under 400mg of caffeine a day (about four cups of coffee, on average) according to Mayo Clinic. That said, caffeine and coffee affects everyone differently. For one person, 200mg of caffeine has no effect, but for someone else it could make them feel terrible. Below are the most common symptoms or concerns that make some people consider quitting it. 

It causes jitters or makes you feel bad 

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine and report feeling jittery, anxious or just plain gross when they drink it. For some people, this is enough to make them want to quit. For others, just cutting back or cutting down on coffee can help.

It causes sleep issues 

Insomnia or difficulty sleeping is another reason why you might consider quitting coffee. Dr. Deidre Conroy, a behavioral sleep expert at the University of Michigan told CNET that caffeine has a lingering effect, meaning you can drink it earlier in the day, but it could still affect your sleep quality much later. 

It makes your anxiety worse

According to Manacker, drinking coffee can make anxiety symptoms worse, since anxiety and caffeine consumption are linked. When you experience anxiety, your nervous system is usually in overdrive, so consuming a stimulating beverage might make you feel even more anxious or stressed. 

You're pregnant

There are a lot of mixed messages (and conflicting medical data) on how safe caffeine is to consume during pregnancy. But the general recommendation, including by the WHO, is to reduce caffeine intake to 200mg and avoid consuming 300mg or more per day. This is due to potential links between high amounts of caffeine consumption and low birth weight, preterm birth, stillbirth or growth restriction in unborn babies. 

You suffer from digestive issues

Coffee can cause digestive distress and acid reflux -- unpleasant issues that make many people avoid the stuff altogether.

How to stop drinking coffee

Depending on how addicted you are to coffee, calling it quits can be tough. If you only drink it occasionally, you may not find it hard to quit. But if you drink it every day, or even multiple times a day you'll want to come up with a strategy that is realistic for you. As someone who's given up coffee in the past, I've found it's best to do it on a weekend or when you don't need to feel as alert since the first few days or week can be rough. Below are a few ways Manaker recommends you can quit coffee. 

Taper it off

Starting slow and tapering off is a good approach if you don't want to quit cold turkey. "Enjoying a half caff can help people slowly taper off," Manaker says. You can try making half-caffeine coffee at home, or slowly decrease the amount of coffee you drink (for example, instead of one cup, go to a half cup). If you drink multiple cups of coffee a day, start with cutting back to one and slowly decrease over time.

Replace with another beverage 

Replacing your coffee with another beverage can be helpful, especially if it's part of your morning routine. When I quit coffee, I replaced it with matcha tea, which still has some caffeine, but not as much. If you want to kick caffeine totally, switch to something decaf like herbal tea. 

Quit cold turkey

Some people do best with quitting cold turkey, like Manaker did. If you want to quit coffee and move on as quick as you can, this method may work for you. For some people, quitting cold turkey is too intense and the withdrawal symptoms might keep you from quitting for good. 

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You may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms like a headache when you first stop drinking coffee. 

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Potential side-effects from caffeine withdrawal

When you quit coffee, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, irritability, headaches or trouble focusing. According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms usually go away within a few days. "Every person will have a different experience with caffeine withdrawal. For me, I struggled for two weeks before I felt OK," says Manaker. 

If you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms, Manaker suggests drinking plenty of water since, "Making sure that a person is hydrated is key to help combat fatigue due to dehydration," she says. She also suggests eating plenty of fruits and veggies to support your body's energy levels while you are getting used to cutting caffeine. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.