Whether it's for your physical health, your mental health or fasting reasons, giving up caffeine or reducing caffeine in the diet without experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms can be a serious challenge. However, like many challenges, it's easier with a little preparation and know-how. These tips on how to quit a caffeine habit won't make kicking the caffeine habit easy, but they will make it a lot easier than it would otherwise be!
Identifying Sources of Caffeine
The first step to reducing caffeine from your diet (or eliminating caffeine altogether) is identifying how you consume caffeine. The following foods are common sources of caffeine:
- Tea (except for naturally caffeine-free tisanes)
- Colas with added caffeine, including root beer (You may also want to reduce/eliminate drinks with other stimulants, such as guarine)
- Yerba mate
Keep in mind that 'decaf' coffees and teas are lower in caffeine than their regular counterparts, but they still contain some caffeine.
You may also want to learn more about the caffeine levels of coffee, tea and chocolate to better understand how much caffeine is in each source of caffeine, and to read up on factors influencing caffeine levels in coffee, caffeine levels in Starbucks coffee, factors influencing caffeine levels in tea, caffeine in green tea and caffeine in leaf tea vs. teabags.
Once you have identified which caffeine-laden substances you consume, identify what drives you to consume them. For example, do you drink coffee because you like the taste, because it's a vehicle for sugar and milk, or because you are tired?
Once you have made a list of your reasons for consuming sources of caffeine, you're ready to find low-caffeine or no-caffeine substitutes for these cravings.
Think about your craving and (resisting the urge to cave in!) brainstorm on alternatives that can meet some (or all) of the needs you have met by the substance you're avoiding. For example, if you love the milk and sugar in your latte, try a caffeine-free rooibos latte instead. If you like the roasty flavor of coffee, try low-caf Houjicha roasted tea or caffeine-free chicory. This collection of recipes for special dietary needs includes more caffeine-free recipes.
Wean Yourself off Caffeine
This step is the hardest. Gradually wean yourself off caffeine to avoid caffeine withdrawal, and follow my tips on reducing caffeine withdrawal symptoms if you are experiencing caffeine headaches or other discomforts. (While the 'cold turkey' approach works for some, it's rare. To use an old expression, slow and steady wins the race.)
Keep a Record
Keep a record of what you're consuming and what you think of it. Is that rooibos latte not hitting the spot? Find another substitute! Don't be afraid to ask you local specialty food/beverage supplier for recommendations. As a former tea sommelier, I can tell you that it's a very common question!
Now that you're kicking the caffeine habit (right?), figure out what you like (or even love!) about potential substitutes.
Give Tea a Try
There's a famous story in the tea world about noted tea author James Norwood Pratt. He was a wine writer until he had to give up alcohol or face an early grave. He picked up tea as a substitute, fell in love with it and is now one of the most famous tea writers in the world! Find your 'tea,' and explore the flavors, aromas and physical/mental effects it's capable of.
Invest in Your Healthier Habit
Finally, don't be afraid to invest a little in your new found (and hopefully healthier) habit. Find a substitute you adore? Spend a few extra bucks if you have to. The more you treat it as a temporary solution, the more temporary it will be!