Don’t Worry If You’re a Coffee Addict

Jill, a patient of mine, felt a true physiological need for caffeine, similar to how a diabetic needs insulin. She couldn’t imagine life without coffee. The thought of removing it from her daily routine almost caused her to miss out on one of the most important decisions of her life, which was doing The Hormone Reset Diet. In retrospect, she was glad that she didn’t run screaming from my office when I suggested she remove caffeine for twenty-one days. Instead, she dove in and emerged detoxified, caffeine free, and slimmer.

Believe me, I understand. I’ve been looking high and low for medical reasons to stay addicted to caffeine. But when I put my doctor hat on, I simply have to conclude from the science and the observations in my medical practice that there are strong links between caffeine and weight gain, anxiety, insomnia, and maybe even breast cancer. Over the past decade working with women, and in my own life, I have become a believer in the periodic reset of cortisol with the complete removal of caffeine. I see the proof in my own flat belly and thousands of other flat bellies from the twenty- one- day Hormone Reset Diet. As a recovering caffeine addict, I know your first instinct might be to plead for mercy regarding caffeine and insist on being the exception to the rule. If you stand up to that voice, believe me: you’ll be happier, well rested, and thinner!

Never fear. I will make this caffeine free process painless, even fun. You’ll see the positive results almost immediately, which will give you motivation to keep going. Let’s get started!

Advice for the Caffeine Addict

If you are wigging out about how you can possibly survive without caffeine, I understand. I have an addictive personality. If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. When a friend texted me about her favorite new dry shampoo, I found myself applying so much I ran through an entire bottle in one week. When I learned from my friend Dave Asprey that his mycotoxin- free coffee, Bulletproof, was being studied by researchers at Stanford for its effect on cognitive performance, I immediately ordered twenty pounds.

I get it. You need energy, and when there is a strong- smelling, delicious- tasting habit widely available every morning, it’s hard to resist. Let me help you with my simple, top-secret strategy to employ in the days leading up to the Big Wean. Ideally, you’ll start weaning off caffeine the day you start your Hormone Reset.

Days 1–3: Say goodbye to your last cup of coffee. Drop your caffeine intake in half.

Days 3–5: Greet the day with a mug of black tea, no more than two cups.

Days 6–8: Switch to green or white tea, no more than two cups on days 6 and 7. By day 8, one cup only.

Day 10: It’s herbal tea from now on, baby—for the rest of your Hormone Reset. You’ve got this! When you are getting off coffee while living in a coffee- obsessed culture, I urge you to keep your eyes on the prize and on how to create greater ease with weight loss via normalized cortisol. You may be wondering if you can just switch to decaffeinated coffee. The answer: no. Even though decaf coffee contains smaller amounts of caffeine, like regular coffee it also contains acids that affect blood sugar and cortisol levels, and it has similar effects on cholesterol. Decaf coffee also raises blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity.[1]

Women, Stress, Overeating, and Coffee

According to the annual stress survey by the American Psychological Association, women report higher stress than men, are more likely to feel their stress is on the rise, and experience more extreme stress: 25 percent of women state their stress is at an 8 or higher (on a 10- point scale) versus 16 percent of men. Many studies now document what I’ve seen in my medical office: women are more likely to overeat in response to stress compared with men.[2]

Overeating can elevate cortisol, glucose, and insulin levels; fan the fire of persistent inflammation and oxidative stress (which is like the industrial waste of your body and makes you feel prematurely old and toxic); and ultimately, cause weight gain.[3]

Growing evidence suggests that these biological factors work together to accelerate cellular aging by shutting down the telomere care system (the caps on your chromosomes that are an indicator of how fast you are aging).6 In fact, excess cortisol can shrink the hippocampus by killing brain cells (your hippocampus is where you store memories and regulate emotions). Keep in mind that you’re already producing more cortisol as you age. Let’s not hasten the process by downing a cup of coffee to rev up.

In my practice, many women have stress stuck in the “redline” position, and stress eating is a typical response, which leads to weight gain. Even worse, chronic stress changes food preferences. Studies show that when you are under stress, you are more likely to eat foods high in sugar or fat, or both. High- fat and sugary foods temporarily comfort your stressed- out brain, and that’s why you crave them. But the effects last only while eating, and in the long term, you are left with extra weight and continued cravings.

Chronic stress not only alters your appetite and the types of foods you crave, but it also leads to your losing sleep, drinking more alcohol, and getting less exercise. When you are sleep deprived and hungover, what do you crave? Coffee! All of these factors contribute to weight gain. It started with stress and coffee, and it escalates to overeating the wrong foods and gaining more weight. So, let’s keep it simple: dump the caffeine.

Obesity results from chronic problems with energy balance in your body, which is definitely caused in part by high stress. Scientists define stress as the behavioral and physiological responses generated in the face of perceived threat. In girlfriend language, you press the “on” button for your sympathetic nervous system (the fight- or- flight half of your nervous system), which tells your adrenal glands to pump out more adrenaline and cortisol. The system works well for most humans, unless you happen to be female and stuck with a prolonged stressor— such as working at a demanding job, raising a family, or just having a lot on your plate, no pun intended. In this case, you may start to see the ravages of stress and high cortisol: sugar cravings, increased fat storage, and ultimately, stress- induced obesity. Get a group of girlfriends together, and I’m sure you’ll hear familiar refrains: Stressed all the time. Can’t lose weight. No time for myself. Can’t live without coffee or wine. It all drives me to drink, but I know better.

You aren’t alone. Chronic stress, overeating, and drinking coffee are extremely common and may lead to the type of metabolic harm that sets you up for rapid fat storage and difficulty losing weight. We’re again in that vicious cycle of caffeine and cortisol.

Let’s summarize: When you get stressed, cortisol rises, you overeat, you drink coffee, cortisol rises higher, and then you get fat. Stress makes most women become hypervigilant and struggle with sleep. Coffee, excess cortisol, and even cortisol resistance are the most common hormonal reasons for slow metabolism in women.

The Science Behind Caffeine Free

We hear all sorts of conflicting information about the benefits and drawbacks of caffeine. You might be wondering just how harmful your cup of coffee is to your health, especially if you’re addicted and feeling skeptical about why you need to cut it out of your food plan. I’m here to set the record straight on caffeine and weight, and settle once and for all why you must give up your beloved caffeine for the next three days and for the remainder of your Hormone Resets.

The problem with caffeine is that most people consume too much, then show signs of toxicity. How much is too much depends on your age, your cortisol levels, your stress resilience, and how you process caffeine. For the average adult, toxicity occurs at 500 to 1,000 milligrams. Lower doses may cause toxicity if you metabolize caffeine slowly. Furthermore, the cascading hormonal effects from caffeine add to stress and sugar cravings. I know that you coffee worshippers may take offense. Let’s start with an objective look at where we are right now with respect to the scientific answer to the question “Cuppa joe— yes or no?” Bottom line? All of us benefit from taking time off from caffeine and seeing what happens— to our sleep, weight, and energy.

Caffeine Free: The Three-Day Reset for Cortisol

It’s time to stop robbing your body’s bank: eliminate caffeine and reset cortisol immediately. Try it for the remainder of the twenty-one days. You might like how you feel so much that you continue, and I strongly urge you to do so.

CAFFEINE FREE RULES: DO THESE EACH DAY

Follow these simple yet powerful rules to reset your stress and cortisol levels, and remember to continue the rules you’ve already implemented from the previous resets:

  1. Eliminate all caffeine. This includes coffee, black tea, green tea, soda, and energy drinks. Caffeine Alternatives List: Hot water with lemon and cayenne, hot water with cardamom, herbal teas, mushroom teas (see Resources).
  2. Continue eating one pound of vegetables per day, along with healthy, plant- based fats and proteins and small servings of low-glycemic fruits.
  3. Keep your net carbs between 20 and 49 grams per day.

To learn more about resetting your hormones for better living, read my book, The Hormone Reset Diet.

 

[1] R. Corti et al., “Coffee Acutely Increases Sympathetic Nerve Activity and Blood Pressure Independently of Caffeine Content: Role of Habitual Versus Nonhabitual Drinking,” Circulation 106, no. 23 (2002): 2935–40.

[2] “Stress by Gender: A Stressful Imbalance,” American Psychological Association, accessed September 9, 2013, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/gender.aspx.

[3] T. C. Adam et al., “Stress, Eating, and the Reward System,” Physiology and Behavior 91, no. 4 (2007): 449–58; and E. S. Epel, “Psychological and Metabolic Stress: A Recipe for Accelerated Cellular Aging?” Hormones (Athens) 8, no. 1 (2009): 7–22.

 

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Sara Gottfried MD About Sara Gottfried MD

Sara Gottfried, MD is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. Her previous New York Times bestsellers are The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.