Sunday, April 06, 2014

Personal - Quitting the Stimulants

"I'm tired".

A few weeks ago I realised that this had become my automatic answer to polite questions like 'how are you?'. Whether at 9 a.m. in the supermarket or mid-afternoon visiting a client, I was always tired and dreaming about bedtime, eyelids heavy.  This is not *little yawns* tired either, but bone-crunching fatigue that had me sitting in the car for five minutes rather than enter the house and deal with four meowing, hungry cats.  I was too tired to make the bed, have a long conversation or open the mail that's been piling up. Tired like that.

I suppose I could have sent myself for a bunch of lab tests, but I don't think I've got nutrient or metabolic problems. My issue is that I don't sleep well. I really don't. It is not uncommon for me to lie awake until 3 a.m. And then, the next day I caffeinate to try and get some energy, which makes it harder to sleep. Like so:

After thinking about that for a while, I realised that the vicious circle is actually a bit more complex and insidious, it's more like this:

I've always been a fan of things that make me buzzy. That's because I do lots. Certainly this year is packed with exciting stuff: growing Sana, consultancy work and running the trial for my thesis.  It sounds ridiculous, but it's actually doable within normal working hours if my energy is good and I can focus.

Unfortunately, I've had neither energy nor focus for quite some time. Apart from the 1.5 hours directly after my morning espresso (and the other morning espresso), I've been sub-productive and very easily distracted from anything requiring actual thinking. I was more awake and wired at 11pm than at any other time of the day. That's not going to get me where I want to go.

Then there was... the mean vegan.  Actually, not mean.  He was quite sweet.  We were talking about our diets, as I tend to do with... nearly everyone, and he noted that I was both yawning and drinking a second espresso.  He further 'noted' (sweetly, and with a hug) that, from his observations, the 'paleo and low-carb people' have a problem. They are addicted to stimulants and can't get by without them: coffee and raw cacao being the drugs of choice. He then 'noted' that among his vegan friends most use these things in extreme moderation, if at all, because these clean living yogi's have abundant natural energy.

We then had a chat about adrenal and liver health, sleep and the ludicrous pace of modern life. I wanted to hate him, but on reflection, his main point was very sound: if my lifestyle supports natural energy, I shouldn't need to crank myself up just to get through the day.

Mean vegan, I thank you.

And so:

On Friday the 21st March, I took a day off work and commenced elimination of all stimulants from my diet. I also set a rule of two glasses of wine a week. For two days before my Friday deadline I cut back to one espresso a day in order to function. That was marginally successful. On Thursday I had to go home at 1.30pm with a slamming headache. I will spare you the painful details of caffeine withdrawal, we've all been there before, more than once, and it was just as ugly this time, except worse because I also nixed all chocolate, green tea and mate.

I want to know what my natural energy level is, on my usual 'high-veg-mostly-paleo' diet, but without the ups and downs of stimulants and alcohol.  There's something else too, which is important to me:

As a nutritionist, I want to walk the talk, not just talk the talk and be shown up by vegans that are walking it, talking it and taking it to the mat.  Can I really counsel people how to be healthy and feel great when really, I don't?  No. I'm also keen to see how caffeine-free and sleeping affects my ITP.
(I'm also doing something new with my diet there, and will blog about that next weekend).

I'm now 17 days caffeine-free and the benefits are noticeable. It's not a miracle, but it is a dramatic improvement.  I have noted down the little things that occur:

- Better sleep. I'll never be a 'as soon as head hits the pillow' person, but I'm sleeping more soundly and..

- Waking up perky. That's new.

- I feel, for want of a better description, 'more present' and less distracted, both when working and socialising. I've managed to get a few big projects done that had been on the 'to-do-when-I-can-be-bothered' list.

- Less easily distracted. Put bluntly, there's more work and less Pinterest going down.

- Getting to 3pm and realising I'm still working productively, instead of zoning out.  I still feel less perky than in the morning, but it's not the same level of 'brain-dead'.

- I'm less worried.  I still have the same amount of 'things going on', but it just feels more manageable and certainly isn't spinning in my mind at night.

- I feel 'smarter'. Like... when casting around in my brain for a word, it seems to come faster. It's probably a matter of focus.

- I 'fired' my counsellor, due to feeling good. I don't think he took it personally, and it's probably not the last he'll see of me, but for now, I'm fine.

- I think I look better. Maybe more hydrated, less tired.  Eyes a bit clearer.

- My breath no longer whiffs of coffee (and boy do I notice it on other people's huff).

On the downside:

- I gained 3kg.. but have lost one. So that's 2kg. :-/  Although not ideal.. it could have been worse. I am hungrier, probably because caffeine suppresses appetite.

My going forward plan is not 100% caffeine-free. I had some G&B 85% chocolate a few days ago and was fine.  I expect a few espresso will happen when I'm in Europe later this year (or maybe not.. at the moment I'm not missing it), and I had two green teas last week. The goal is to relegate these things to 'rarely' and not get addicted again. Hugs, not drugs, right?

As of today, I'm feeling confident and looking forward to seeing how this pans out. I've read that it can take a year to fully get over a serious caffeine dependency, so that's t-minus 348 days to a new level of amazing?  Let's do it.. :D


  1. You are so full of awesome, it's ridiculous. xxx


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