Caffeine: Friend or Foe?

There’s plenty of information available on the positive and negative effects of caffeine so we won’t be giving you a list of those here. What we are going to explore a little is why we discuss caffeine intake with our Personal Training clients and indeed why we may recommend a period of abstinence.

Caffeine has been classed as a drug, not on the same scale as illegal and highly addictive substances, but a drug non-the-less, and it’s the habitual aspect of getting a daily fix we like to explore.

How would you feel if you were asked to stop drinking coffee, tea and all drinks containing caffeine?  Whatever the food or drink, if you can’t possibly imagine going a day, a week or even a month without it, then is your relationship with it a healthy one?

If you consistently consume high levels of caffeine you might not realise that you are on a merry-go-round of highs and lows. Perhaps you wake feeling sluggish so you pour a coffee. It perks you up and you assume it’s doing a good thing. The high from the caffeine comes from it stimulating the central nervous system, giving you that ‘perked up’ feeling. It also boosts your cortisol levels – the fight or flight hormone.

Cortisol is good when in balance and working correctly – it helps to convert proteins and fats in the body into energy sources. Plus it’s there to help you adapt to stressful situations, which is a good thing if you are actually having to use your natural coping mechanism. However, if you are constantly using caffeine to ‘wake you up’ then you are likely to have chronically high levels of cortisol streaming around your body and your adrenal glands will be working overtime. Not a good thing.

It is this that we are concerned with because your body is never being allowed to rebalance hormonally, and consistent high levels of cortisol can trigger anxiety, stress and excess fat storage, which that can only lead to weight gain. The vicious circle ensues, because for whatever reason you are gaining weight that is often accompanied by lowered self-esteem, depression, craving sweet and sugary foods and increase in appetite, thus all contributing to additional weight gain.

As well as the potential link with weight gain (or difficulty losing weight) increased cortisol can have a negative impact on anxiety disorders, depression and lowered mood.

While there is a lack of clinical evidence giving us clarity on caffeine intake leading to obesity, the link between caffeine raising cortisol levels is well discussed, and that in turn could contribute to weight gain. So despite your best efforts with extra exercise and eating healthily, you might be finding it difficult to shift the excess weight. Could caffeine be doing you a dis-service?

Ask yourself this….do you still get that ‘hit’ when you have your morning coffee? If not, chances are you’ve become more tolerant of the level of caffeine you consume, so the boost in energy and kick-start you are looking for just isn’t there any more. Yet, you reach out again and again because your body ‘needs it’. You have developed a habit – a certain time of day equals time for coffee. But does your body need it? Is your habit contributing negatively on your well-being?

If you’re up for the challenge then pick a date and commit to a minimum period of two weeks (four is better) when you will cut out caffeine. Some people recommend a gradual reduction to limit the impact of ‘withdrawal’ headaches. Be prepared for a few days feeling rough, especially if your caffeine intake is high. However, the benefits you could experience are:

  • increased energy levels consistently throughout the day
  • reduced anxiety and stress levels
  • less irritability and mood swings
  • better concentration and short-term memory
  • rebalance hormones
  • reduced blood pressure
  • improved sleep and reduced insomnia
  • greater feeling of calm
  • improved skin quality (especially if you increase water intake)
  • cost savings if you regularly buy your brew at your local cafe

Tips if you plan to quit:

  • Tell those around you what you are doing – get the support of your family, friends and work colleagues.
  • Decide if you are going to stop overnight or phase out caffeine.
  • Pick a date and stick to it. Write it in your diary and set a reminder.
  • Find your alternative drink beforehand – a slice of lemon in hot water is wonderfully refreshing in a morning, and fresh mint leaves are great for cleansing and digestion as well as tasting super smooth.

A final point, we don’t advocate a lifestyle where anything is excluded long-term or permanently. We don’t think excess intake or complete abstinence is healthy in any way, for any food or drink. We seek balance in our nutrition.

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