I’m Quitting Coffee, For the Reasons No One Told You About (Part 1)

So, here’s the thing. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about fifteen years old. Back then, going to the coffee shop was a social event and the drinks were in blended form, covered in whipped cream and chocolate syrup, but they were still coffee. Today, seventeen years later, I drink coffee as I write this. I drink it every morning when I wake up at four or five AM to read, and meditate and start my day. Now it’s a delicious french roast from one of our favorite coffee makers, brewed at home, with some sugar-free, vegan Nutpods brand creamer added – Now it’s “healthier” coffee.

Sidebar:

Shout out to the Big Blue Bear Cafe in my home town of Kernville, CA. That place has been turning out delicious coffee under the same woman owner since before I was in high school. No Starbucks necessary. And they had soy milk before it was cool.

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My high school boyfriend was three years older than me and he loved “coffee.” I credit him for introducing me to fancy, sugary, blended concoctions that pass as coffee and that weren’t my parent’s Folgers. I remember my mom actively pushing against my new found addiction. Of course, at the time I thought she was unreasonable. I was a straight-A student with a history of nothing bad. Let me have my coffee. Only now do I realize how problematic it is to market caffeine to kids, by making it into a dessert you become addicted to for essentially your entire life. Oh, and it’s expensive. We’d take refuge from the triple-digit heat and visit whatever friend of ours was working that day while drinking the equivalent of venti Frapaccinos with two, four, and even six shots of espresso. I shudder to think of the amount of sugar in something like that (but that’s another discussion).

In college I finally lived in a town with a Starbucks, but went there rarely. My schedule didn’t allow for many trips outside of campus and work, so I would start my day with a sixteen ounce something (like a caramel or vanilla latte) from one of the coffee shops on campus. I’d have another sixteen ounce something with lunch, and then another sixteen or even twenty ounce regular coffee with half and half from the food court in the mall on my way into work. Some nights when I had to work past ten or eleven, I’d make sure to grab another gigantic coffee from the food court before they closed so I could microwave it around midnight. I drank coffee constantly throughout my day as a way to stay alert in class, to study in the middle of the night, and to work long hours.

Once I graduated and started working full time, coffee just became a ritual, social and otherwise. I worked with an amazing group of women and we’d get coffee every day before work or on a break at the local shop down the street. Our boss would constantly bring us Starbucks. It was the height of Starbucks becoming a cultural phenomenon in my world and I fully embraced it. At this point I was drinking sugar-free, dairy-free lattes, more out of concern for my weight than actual health. My dad bought me a coffee maker for my apartment. Like a very early, archaic version of what the Keurig would eventually end up being one day. So sometimes I would even make my own coffees at home. And that’s how it went during most of my early to mid twenties.

Then I met my husband. The first time I drank coffee at his apartment I think I almost had a heart attack. It was so strong. He ground his own whole-bean coffee and brewed it in a regular coffee pot like my parents had. I remember just wondering: Why? The first time we went through the Starbucks drive through together, I asked him what he wanted and he said: “Regular.” I’ve never forgotten that one.

He is five years older than me, but I would introduce him to his first peppermint mocha, pumpkin spice latte, and frapuccino. Mocha Frapuccinos are his favorite now.

Between being married to Kanan and being a business owner, my coffee habit has completely changed and evolved into what it is now. We brew coffee at home, in a regular twelve-cup coffee pot. We have three different places we prefer to purchase coffee from, and I only use sugar-free, dairy-free creamer. Also, I do want to clarify, when I say “sugar-free” that means no sugar, no sugar-substitute chemicals either. Simple and delicious. I drink exactly two cups per day, and make sure not to drink any after 9am. On a special or rare occasion we will go to Starbucks and Kanan will either get a tea with no sweetener added (which is what I get) or he’ll be in a mood and go all in with his venti mocha Frapuccino. Between cutting refined sugar and dairy and not wanting to spend the money when we have delicious coffee at home, I rarely drink coffee elsewhere. And I thought I was being pretty dang healthy about it.

Then I was taking an online webinar (not at all about coffee) and the woman hosting it mentioned in a passing comment that drinking coffee (or consuming large quantities of caffeine through any method) completely disrupts the female cycle and hormone levels.

FULL STOP.

I had never, until that very moment heard a truly compelling reason for me to quit drinking coffee. I actually did quit drinking coffee for about a six month period of time in college, just to see what would happen. I didn’t notice much of a difference in my health or quality of life, so I promptly added the habit back in. Looking back on it now, I’m sure all the college food, booze, and sugar I was consuming would have made it impossible to notice how much better I felt without the coffee in my diet, but at the time I thought it was pointless not to drink it, and it helped me maintain my lifestyle of not sleeping for four years.

The only reason for potentially quitting that had peaked my interest in recent years was the notion that caffeine was making my anxiety worse. However, I rarely feel anxious immediately after or during my coffee drinking time, so almost three years ago I quit drinking alcohol and about two years ago I quit refined sugars, two things that I absolutely knew were contributing to my anxiety. That helped with my energy levels and mood tremendously (and basically changed my entire life), and I will continue that lifestyle for what I assume will be forever. But lately, I’ve been tracking my mood and physical symptoms, in relation to my cycle all month long, every month, and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

I’ve written about it in the past, but just in case you’re not all caught up on my cycle and the ailments that befall me because of my hormones (haha), I still struggle with headaches, occasional (but very intense) cramping, tiredness, hot flashes, and irritability. And I know what you’re thinking if you’re an individual with a period: yeah, duh. But here’s the thing. I am convinced it does not have to be this way, we’ve just been taught and conditioned to believe our cycle is an unfortunate inconvenience at best, and at worst, a curse that woman-kind brought on ourselves from that little misstep in the Garden of Eden. Which is turn causes us to eternally suffer. But hey, either way we’re supposed to suck it up and deal, and do it silently and pleasantly in order to make those around us comfortable.

I’m so over that. After reading Alisa Vitti’s book In the Flo, listening to her on several podcasts, and using her app I started doing my own research and came to the conclusion that our cycle is an advantage if we make it so. However, because we’ve been conditioned to believe our pain is inevitable we rarely try to heal ourselves. And because controlling woman’s bodies and health is currently and has historically been politically valuable to those in power, helping women to understand our health in order to empower ourselves has almost become a niche or alternative movement. The research and information is simply scarce and hard to find. But it’s there, and it’s growing. And I’ve been going down the caffeine (as it pertains to the female body) rabbit hole.

*Note from the editor:

Shortly after this article was published we were informed by Mr. Kanan Wilson that his favorite Starbucks drink is in fact a caramel Frappuccino. In the original article we incorrectly stated that his favorite Starbucks drink was a mocha Frappuccino. We regret this error, and are correcting it for the official record.

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Mentioned:

Coffee Creamer: https://www.nutpods.com

Big Blue Bear Cafe: https://www.bigbluebearcafe.com

In the Flo, Alisa Vitti: https://intheflobook.com

Monthly Resource Collection: April 2021

I haven’t felt creative lately. I’ve had little motivation to write or explore new topics, and my attention span seems to have shrunk substantially. January and February I felt like myself. March and April have been harder to navigate. Creativity and my desire to learn ebb and flow, and I’m trying to remember that. Every time I stray from my routines and rituals I feel like I spiral away from the things that truly ground me, like writing. Like reading and learning – sharing what I’ve found with you.

The good news is that I’m working on it. I think that this world is beautiful, but full of dark things. For those of us that recognize it is in fact our individual responsibility to help make the world a more equitable place for everyone, the task is daunting. But underlying our criticism and incessant desire for change, is hope. The belief that the future can and will be better.

Living my life consciously on this level can be mentally and emotionally draining, and without proper introspection, reflection, and care for myself the fight for what’s better becomes destructive. I start to burnout and become ineffective and unhappy. No one can fight all the time.

How do I practice self care in ways that are genuine and kind? What exactly is self care and how do I redefine it to be inclusive and align with my values? Why has the health and wellness community become so toxic and how can my own practices help to change that? Who has access to self care and who has been systematically or intentionally excluded from the health and wellness conversation? How do we resist while resting? Is it manifestation or is it my privilege?

Currently these are the questions I’m trying to answer. As part of the “self care” and “health and wellness” communities, but also just as a person. I want to identify the inherently problematic nature of the popular self care community and actively construct a practice that is aware and looking to change that. So we can keep doing the work.

Until then, enjoy the few resources I was able to make it through this month. Next month I hope to have more than ever to share as I delve into this big topic.

Books:

Once I Was You: A Memoir of Love and Hate in a Torn America, Maria Hinojosa

As a Mexican / American woman with a journalism degree, I LOVED reading Maria Hinojosa’s memoir. Hinojosa was born in Mexico City and moved to Chicago with her parents in 1962. She is the anchor and executive producer for NPR’s Latino USA, and has does extensive reporting with a focus on Latinx issues for PBS, CNN, and CBS. This wonderfully written account of her life (so far) critically examines what it takes to “succeed” in a media career where Latinx and female-identifying individuals are vastly underrepresented, and where the stories of people from similar backgrounds are also consequently ignored or invisibilized. Her feminist and intersectional approach to journalism and storytelling is refreshing and imminently relevant.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

This book is literally for anyone and everyone who wants to better understand their own brain and body after experiencing any type of trauma, or who wants to better understand the trauma and behavior of others. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. explains the physical, chemical changes the brain undergoes due to trauma and how this translates into behavior and physical ailments. Then gives practical solutions on how to move forward and heal.

Podcasts:

I listed to A TON of Code Switch by NPR this month. I will list the episodes I found particularly relevant and notable below.

On xenophobia, anti-Asian & Asian American hate, and racism:

-Episode 7/26/16 A Letter From Young Asian Americans, To Their Parents About Black Lives Matter https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000373164987

-Episode 3/3/20 When Fear of the Coronavirus Turns into Racism and Xenophobia https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000467407698

-Episode 3/23/21 Screams and Silence https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000514178489

On the disparities Covid-19 has exposed:

Episode 4/6/21 Spit a Verse, Drop Some Knowledge https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000516081462

-Episode 1/26/21 Stepping Out of the Shadow of ‘Killer King” https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000506707487

-Episode 2/23/21 A Shot in the Dark https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510423251

On Reparations:

-Episode 2/2/21 Who’s ‘Black Enough’ For Reparations? https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000507523031

-Episode 2/25/21 Payback’s A B**** https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/code-switch/id1112190608?i=1000510715382

Monthly Resource Collection: February 2021

Books:

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski, PHD, Amelia Nagoski, DMA

Burnout takes a deep dive into the psychology and societal structures that lead to the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that keep women from living their most fulfilling lives, while offering practical solutions to break the cycle. Emily and Amelia Nagoski use science and personal experience to demonstrate that fighting the patriarchy on a daily basis (whether it be through the recognition of systematic inequality or simple, yet daily experiences of sexism, or intersecting isms) is exhausting within itself. But, women become even more exhausted when we speak out about these experiences or refuse to conform and are gaslit by society at large (and many times by actual people in our lives) and told that what we are experiencing isn’t real, that structural inequality is over, and that we are the problem. This leads to burnout, or an inability to process stress, rage, or general discontent as we are expected to run households and businesses while denying our reality.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, Diane Guerrero

In the Country We Love is a beautifully written memoir detailing the experiences of Diane Guerrero, an American born citizen, whose undocumented parents and older brother are taken from their homes, placed in immigration detention centers, and deported to Colombia when she is just fourteen years old. Left with family friends, Guerrero details her life as a young adult making her way in the world amidst family separation, severe emotional trauma, and a childhood complicated and shaped by the inequality of the American immigration system.

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson

In her book Caste, Isabel Wilkerson examines the Indian caste system, the caste system during Nazi Germany, and the current American caste system: race. Using historical context and a wealth of examples Wilkerson explains the striking similarities between the caste systems, and what we can do to break free from these constraints that harm us all.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, Ijeoma Oluo

In my opinion, this entire book is so impactful I cannot synthesize it down to a couple concise sentences. Instead of trying, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

White male identity is in a very dark place. White men have been told that they should be fulfilled, happy, successful, and powerful, and they are not. They are missing something vital – an intrinsic sense of self that is not tied to how much power or success they can hold over others – and that hole is eating away at them. I can only imagine how desolately lonely it must feel to only be able to relate to other human beings through conquer and competition. The love, admiration, belonging, and fulfillment they have been promised will never come – it cannot exist for you when your success is tied to the subjugation of those around you. These white men are filled with anger, sadness, and fear over what they do not have, what they believe has been stolen from them. And they look at where they are now, and they cannot imagine anything different. As miserable as they are, they are convinced that no other option exists for them. It is either this, or death: ours or theirs.”

Ijeoma Oluo, Mediocre

Notable Podcasts Episodes:

Unfuck Your Brain, “Episode 151, Maximalism.” 9/17/20

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/unf-ck-your-brain/id1229434818?i=1000491537148

Must Read Articles:

Goodell, J. (2020, December). How Climate Change Is Ushering in a New Pandemic Era. Rolling Stone, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/climate-change-risks-infectious-diseases-covid-19-ebola-dengue-1098923/amp/

Illustration by Jason Holley for Rolling Stone

“A warming world is expanding the range of deadly diseases and risking an explosion of new zoonotic pathogens from the likes of bats, mosquitos, and ticks.”