Breaking up with Caffeine

I will never forget listening to a lecture on #functionalmedicine and the speaker asked us, “what is one food or food-like item that you absolutely cannot give up? Think about the emotions associated with your resistance to giving it up. And give it up.”

From that moment, my morning pre-workout that I used “just to feel alive,” and not actually to workout, had a big, ugly, dark cloud over it. At 20 years old, I started a job that had me working around a lot of sports supplements and was introduced to a product called OxyElite Pro. It was a fat burner, and it had a compound that has since been banned because it can lead to cardiac arrest. Using that pill every day throughout my college years made me feel leaner, smarter, wittier, like a “living out loud” version of myself that was 10 million times better than regular ol’ non-stimulated Jenna.


Eventually, the product got pulled off the shelves, and I had to compensate. I played with pre-workout, sugar free energy drinks, other fat burners, bulletproof coffee, and beyond to suppress my appetite, make me feel like I had lasers shooting out of my eyes, and be the first in the room to make the funniest comment. This went on through graduate school because the stakes were much higher, the content MUCH more intellectually demanding, and the petty competition amongst students totally sucked me in.


This obsession with human optimization, and just achievement and performance in general created a paradox like no other— I had accomplished rewarding feats, but if I was relying on a recreational chemical to get me to the finish line, and the very thought of quitting made me feel anxious, was the accomplishment really mine? Now I could write a whoooole different blog on imposter syndrome, low self esteem, and the reliance on stimulants to feed a Type A personality, but I haven’t even got to the best part yet.


For 2019, I attempted, as I have coined it, a “gentle January.” I went cold turkey after 6+ years of consistent caffeine & stimulant use. I made it 2 weeks, and accidentally had caffeinated coffee because I misread the label. (face palm). But I resumed the decaf life for another week and a half, and today as I write you, I have resumed a more reasonable dose of caffeine, and only from sources that are considered healthful— organic coffee and green tea.


Why did I resume caffeine? Don’t I clearly have some kind of underlying energy or mitochondrial problem because I cannot live without it? The reality is, my creativity has struggled, which directly affects my social media content, and when I’m not “on caffeine” the priorities shift. Caffeine when overdone, can result in neuroticism, irritability, insomnia, and becoming easily overwhelmed. However, in modest amounts, can help with exercise endurance, alertness (which, as a doctor would be A LITTLE important, don't ya think?) and creativity-- all things I call on if not on a daily basis, pretty darn frequently.


The purpose of my process was not to stop caffeine forever, but to prove to myself that I could 1) stop at all and 2) still respect & love who I am without it. The research is still undecided if caffeine, coffee, and the like are even all that damaging— with the scales tipped toward beneficial, as a matter of fact. My energy levels were actually fine without caffeine, what I missed most was the taste, the routine of preparing something warm and satisfying in the cold winter morning, and sitting in reflection while I drink it—which NONE of those things have to be done with regular caffeinated coffee!

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