On Cleansing and Quitting Coffee

Perhaps this is too much information to start the year off with, but alas we are all human

New Year Wishes at Naumkeag

I began the New Year 2019 with a mini winter reset. I figured it would be a good way to detox after indulging over the holidays, and I really wanted to start the year off on the right foot. I had picked up some surprisingly bad habits over December along with a whole lot of heaviness, phlegm, and fatigue. I had been eating too much, especially at night, and I even stopped exercising in the morning because I was having a hard time waking up early. As a person who really enjoys their morning routine, this was surprising. I suddenly felt like my desire to get out of bed was gone, and I even gained four pounds. So on January 2nd I began a winter reset alongside 30 days of Yoga with the intention of doing the reset for just 3 days. To prepare for this, on December 30th, I had my last cup of coffee and suffered through the headache of withdrawal on December 31st. It has been 8 days.

I have to admit something: I had never done a cleanse of any kind before. That in itself isn’t such a big deal, but the reason that I have avoided detoxes, cleanses, and the like, reveals one of my greatest weaknesses: I was totally addicted to coffee and was afraid to quit drinking it. My husband and I worked in coffee for a long time. We connect over coffee. It is part of our daily ritual. We hand grind our carefully weighed beans down to the perfect consistency and hand pour our cooked water over the digital scale. Right temperature, right ratio of grounds to water, and right timing of the pour makes for the perfect cup. Oh, and we don’t forget to consider the roast too. Different measurements for darker and lighter roasts (who am I kidding, we don’t bring dark roast anywhere near this house)… As you can probably tell, we are total nerds about the stuff. But the real reason that I was afraid to quit is withdrawal (this blog post by Last Psychiatrist on the hell that is caffeine withdrawal is particularly validating/horrifying). I’ll explain briefly, but when my son was born I went through an unintentional caffeine detox that was absolutely terrible. Because it hadn’t occurred to me or to my doctors that I hadn’t had coffee in a few days (I mean, I had a half cup a day while pregnant, so why would going without for a few days be a such a big problem?), they had assumed that something terrible happened during my son’s delivery to cause the unbelievable headache and nausea that I had. Just before the doctors were about to check to see if spinal fluid was leaking into my brain, my mother arrived with a gift basket that happened to have a can of Japanese green tea in it. I drank it and all of my symptoms went away immediately. As you can probably tell, it was slightly traumatic. So instead of learning my lesson and quitting caffeine altogether, I decided to never ever quit caffeine. But then I started this cleanse…

I took the cleanse pretty seriously. I would wake up before 5 AM every morning and do the usual routine: scrape my tongue, brush my teeth, drink hot water, about 30 minutes of yoga, neti pot for the sinuses, oil (body, nose, mouth), rose water for the eyes, shower, dress, and eat a mono diet of kitchari: breakfast at 7 AM; Lunch at 12 PM; Dinner by 5:30 PM. In addition to the kitchari, I decided to allow myself 1-2 cups of caffeinated tea per day to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay.

For day 1, the kitchari was simple, just moong dal and basmati with a warming spice mix. I started the day with 50 minutes of meditation/yoga and I felt fantastic. I was hungry when I was supposed to be hungry and I didn’t go through the day feeling as if I was carrying around extra weight. My digestive fire was strong and consistent for the first time in over a month. I didn’t drink coffee, but I had a cup of black tea in the morning and some yerba mate at lunchtime. For someone who drank three or more cups of coffee every morning, it felt like a step in the right direction, and I felt great.

Day 2 was another story. I woke up and did my morning routine as usual. I added yams and fresh fennel to the kitchari on this day because I felt a little hungry toward the end of the day on day 1. All was well until around 2pm when I started experiencing some dizziness. I had a bit of a headache, was feeling weak, and was having trouble focusing. I chocked it up to the coffee withdrawal mixed with the cleanse, and decided that I would end the cleanse after day 2 and would do it again when the symptoms of coffee withdrawal were gone completely.

It turned out that the flu went through my house. I experienced a very mild form of it with a low-grade fever, but my son got it full force. As terrible as the flu was, I was relieved to know that it wasn’t the caffeine withdrawal or the detox that was causing me so much trouble. I took it easy on day 3 by waking up and doing lighter yoga without the body oil (which isn’t good to do when you have the flu), eating lightly as if I was doing the cleanse (but not just kitchari) and drinking plenty of fluids. The symptoms passed after day 4.

Even though the cleanse didn’t work out the way that I had intended, I definitely learned a lot from the experience. I am glad that it gave me a reason to quit drinking coffee. I had been holding on to this habit out of fear for so long, and it was causing some serious problems for my digestion. I would have sharp digestion immediately after drinking coffee, and slow digestion if I did not drink any. And sometimes, with the sharp digestion, I would feel the need to move my bowels, but nothing would happen. It was as if my stomach was on fire, but I couldn’t let the fire out. This is a lot of information about my bowel movements, but I have to say that I learned something about the nature of fear, and how it has the ability to trump rationale. So I’ll be on the lookout for fear so that I can understand what else it is ruining and ruling in my life.

I also came away from the experience feeling reconnected to food. I was eating mechanically before, with the clock and not with my body. My digestion feels balanced, and I am eating and eliminating when I should, as much as I should. I will continue to stay away from coffee for a while, and I hope to be able to maintain better eating habits. I am glad to know that the solution is often just a mini reset away. Two days wasn’t so bad, and I definitely see the value in doing these resets seasonally.

I won’t quit drinking coffee forever, because in Ayurveda there is a right time, right quality, and right quantity that allows us to enjoy all things. I will just have to wait until the time is right for me.

Happy digestion. Um, I mean, Happy New Year.