I don’t remember my last cup of tea. I didn’t know it would be the last. It wasn’t thought out or planned. If it had been, perhaps I would have given it a bit more ceremony, taken a little longer to savour that familiar biscuity taste and the warmth of it running down my throat.
Hell, I might even have paired it with a biscuit, rather than forgetting about it and letting it go cold.
What I do recall is the subsequent three days of blistering headaches: Ibuprofen wouldn’t touch them. In a past life, I wouldn’t have considered myself a caffeine addict – three cups of tea a day (the NHS says four is fine) and coffee once in a blue moon – but my body had a different story to tell.
That was 12 weeks ago. I have not touched a drop of caffeine since, a possibly unexpected decision given that I started my fast without agenda or reason. But deep down, I’d been thinking for a while about my relationship with caffeine: how it helped wake me up but also had a tendency to send me back to sleep again mid-afternoon; how it might be exacerbating my monthly hormonal skin problems; the role it was playing in draining my bank account.
For a long time these issues were easy to dismiss – especially as we live in a culture where the day is defined by hot drinks and relationships cemented by the act of sharing a cuppa. But after that first day of caffeine withdrawal symptoms (cravings, headaches, exhaustion, hating the world and everyone in it) I became convinced I had to follow through.
On the second and third days, the temple-throbbing headaches had not relented. To add to my frustration, I found myself exhausted without the surge of caffeine in my bloodstream. When a well-meaning colleague included me in the tea round, planting a perfectly brewed mug on my desk, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to drink it.
But, I reasoned, if my body was suffering such debilitating side effects for something I didn’t consider a problem, perhaps I best stick to cold turkey.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about having a sneaky tea..."”
On the fourth day the headaches had largely gone, but I was now finding myself missing the ritual of it all. Popping the kettle on when I walked through the front door. Lazy Saturday mornings spent chain-drinking in bed. Making tea for other people is one of those imperceptible but meaningful acts of love we participate in as a society – and I was getting fed up of having to secretly pour cups away because people were just being trying to be nice.
But by the end of the first week I noticed I was no longer getting energy dips throughout the day – presumably my body had started to run on its own supplies rather than waiting for back up. I was also not experiencing bloating after eating, my headaches were gone, and my skin did (annoyingly) look much better.
That is not to say that everyone will experience the same results or should ditch caffeine. Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, says some adults are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine (a fact confirmed in numerous studies). A moderate intake – four to five cups a day – should not be detrimental to the health of most people.
But there are other people, however, who have lower caffeine tolerance, says dietician Charlotte Stirling-Reed. Those who experience a faster heart rate, anxiety, or any feeling of being unwell or just not quite right after drinking coffee might want to look at cutting back.
Stirling-Reed says: “There is a lot of research on the positive and negative effects of caffeine and it’s difficult to always come to a firm conclusion as it’s so variable dependent on an individual’s response. Ultimately, the best advice is to consume caffeine in moderation and to know your own limits.”
I think I found mine. Having begun to see positive side-effects from ditching caffeine, I renewed my commitment to the cause – and finally decided it was time to scope out caffeine-free tea bags. For me, PG Tips ‘Tasty Decaf’ and Yorkshire Tea decaf are the best of the bunch and have helped me to the three-month-mark without caving.
So have I given up for good? Who knows. I am yet to tackle a mega wedding-sized hangover with only a camomile tea for comfort, so perhaps that will be the final test of my resolve. But for now, my caffeine-free experiment is holding firm.