Coffee. How much is too much?

Coffee. How much is too much?

Waking up with a cup of coffee or tea is part of most people’s morning ritual. But how can you gauge if the amount of caffeine you’re having is okay for you, or is creating more harm than good?

Firstly yes, I drink coffee. Mostly one cup a day, sometimes none, occasionally two. I love coffee. It’s a beautiful morning routine I have with my partner. We get up, cook breakfast and walk to our local cafe and plan the day ahead over a cup of joe. The smell, the ritual, the taste, the mouthfeel. It’s not just about the caffeine pep. It’s a sensual experience that indulges my inner hedonist.

Sometimes I’ll have a break, choose tea and deal with the withdrawal effects for a few days. It really depends on what’s going on in my life.

What about you? How can you gauge if the amount of caffeine you’re having is okay for you, or is creating more harm than good?

Let’s ponder…

How much caffeine are you drinking each day?

none – this article probably isn’t relevant.
1-2 cups of tea/coffee – keep reading
3-4 cups of tea/coffee – keep reading
more than 4 cups of tea/coffee – definitely keep reading

Do you experience any of the following?

Anxiety, irritability, difficulty coping with stressful situations (especially the little stuff), a ‘short-fuse’, heart palpitations, jitteriness, nervousness, excess sweating, restlessness, sleep problems/insomnia, a ‘wired mind’, muscle twitching, or sensitive digestion?

If you experience any of the above and you also drink caffeine – coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks or other caffeinated beverage, there’s a very good chance the caffeine is sending you over the edge and worsening your already hyped-up state.

How much caffeine are we talking about?

Caffeine is a stimulant. It stimulates the nervous system and release of cortisol via our adrenal glands. We all know it makes us feel more alert and hyped up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying caffeine is the root of all evil. What I am saying is it would be a no-brainer to cut back or ditch it altogether and give your nervous system a break while you sort out what’s triggering your stress in the first place. This small step could be life-changing for you. I know it has for many of my clients. You may even be thinking “I know, I know, my body has been telling me to cut back for some time now.”

Coffee contains the most caffeine, closely followed by black tea. Keep in mind, the longer you brew tea (including green tea) the higher the caffeine content. In addition – pay attention to how your barista makes your espresso. If you live in Melbourne like me, it is probably a double shot and therefore each cup is equivalent to 2 cups. And also, if you’re getting your caffeine hit from cola or energy drinks then caffeine is the least of your worries. That stuff is nasty for a bunch of other reasons and should be avoided altogether.

So how much is too much?

I approach this case by case. But as a blanket rule I think 1 cup of coffee/strong tea per day isn’t a problem unless you’re dealing with anxiety, panic, intense unresolved emotions or other serious health issues. Please note once you start adding sugar, milk and/or flavourings to the coffee this changes my rule, but that’s another subject altogether…

Those that are fairly chilled out and don’t have any digestive, hormonal or inflammatory conditions and are drinking a few cups of coffee per day – no massive problem here either although this is individual. 3 or more is questionable; if you’re having this much coffee I’d suggest asking yourself why. Is it an addictive tendency to being stimulated? Are you experiencing adrenal exhaustion and need the ‘false pick-me-up’ (a vicious cycle)? Is it boredom or comfort, or just a long-term habit that doesn’t really serve you anymore?

What’s the alternative?

If you like your coffee but know that you need to reduce it, perhaps try cutting it back by half of what you already drink, or choose tea instead. If you’re a black tea drinker, 1-2 per day probably isn’t a massive issue although you could be really sensitive to caffeine – perhaps try green tea or rooibos tea. If you like hot chocolate I recommend making your own using cacao powder, nut milk and a little sweetener such as rice malt syrup.

Also, it is possible to get good quality decaf coffee. Just make sure to get the ‘swisse water process’ not the chemical process. For those in Melbourne – there are some coffee roasteries that make their own decaf beans. You may need to get over the angst of being ‘that’ person and order an almond milk decaf flat white.

What about the withdrawal effects?

Yep, I won’t sugar coat it. You’ll likely have some. But you won’t die.

You have to call the shots. How bad is your anxiety, stress or the symptoms I mentioned above? How much do you want relief from this? It’s your choice to see if a little short-term withdrawal symptom is worth the potential calm and clarity that comes from reducing caffeine.

What happens? How bad is it?

At first you may feel tired or foggy-headed and some people experience mild to moderate headaches. This is the withdrawal process that can last from one to three days depending on the person. I personally get a headache for a few days which is annoying but not debilitating. Caffeine has the potential to remain in our system for up to 14 hours. This is also one of the reasons you wake up in the morning ‘needing’ that hit, because your body has started the withdrawal process. Our body responds to caffeine like a drug so you need to give your brain and body time to reduce or clear it from your system so that it learns to function without it. Good news though, when you get past this point, things really do start looking and feeling a lot more calm and clear.

You won’t know until you try. But it could be a fantastic start to create a calmer nervous system and heal those overused adrenals. It doesn’t mean that you can never have the original quantity of tea or coffee ever again but instead get to choose consciously rather than choose out of desperation.

And if you don’t think that caffeine is an issue for you but would like a little more energy in your life, read my tips in How to bounce out of bed each morning.

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