lifestyle

Cutting Back on Caffeine and Sugar

Bah! Guys! I’m cutting back on caffeine and sugar, and it is hard. I decided to do this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been okay with it. Some days are better than others for sure.

I decided to cut out caffeine and sugar because I was having too much of both. I would say I had crossed over into the “addicted” territory. Here’s how it’s working for me.

Caffeine

I’ve had this photo that Carter took stored on my hard drive for over seven months, just waiting for the perfect post to use it for ha!

CAFFEINE // I’m reluctantly cutting back on drinking coffee. To be honest, I hate the way I feel after drinking too much caffeine, and it certainly can bring out the worst of my anxiety. That said, I love the taste of coffee. But, in this little experiment of mine, I found out that my real issue was that I was hooked on the ritual of coffee.

I look forward to making my morning cup of coffee as early as the night before, and I’m definitely thinking about the first sip while I’m walking the dogs. Then, I start to “hit the wall” around 4 pm when I need an afternoon pick me up. This is in part a necessity for an energy boost and in part an excuse to get away from my desk for a few minutes. I hop in the car and make the four-minute drive to Starbucks for a cappuccino. Finally, the real problem: I would like to enjoy a little cup of coffee before bed. (I got my mom hooked on this nightly ritual by the way, and she still hates me for it.)

To make this work for me, I had to start figuring out how to break the habit. The first to go was the nightly cup. This was pretty easy as I just swapped in a “sleepytime” tea instead. Doesn’t quite taste the same as my beloved coffee, but it gets the job done. The ritual of making tea (i.e. boiling water, steeping the tea, smelling the aroma) helps fill the void too.

I still enjoy my morning cup of coffee as I never end up drinking the full cup anyway. (I measured and I only drink about four ounces.) It’s just enough to keep me going until lunch without making me jittery. Another thing that has helped me is my mindfulness journey. Instead of just putting the cup of coffee next to me while I work and sipping nonchalantly, I the first few sips. With my eyes closed, I let the flavor sit on my tongue, and I breathe in the scent. It sounds a little ~woo woo~, I know, but it really does work. I swear those first few mindful sips have more power than a full energy drink.

The one I’m working on the most is my afternoon craving. I’ve been treating myself to an afternoon coffee only twice a week. On the days when I don’t go, I try to do something else that gives me energy and gets me away from my desk. That might be an extra long walk, a trip to the grocery store (oddly works wonders and is another thing to cross off the to-do list), or enjoying a sparkling water while reading a few pages of a book. It’s not a fool proof solution, but it’s making a difference for sure.

SUGAR // Oooooh boy. If I thought cutting back on caffeine was going to be hard. The sugar addiction is REAL.

I want to be very clear here: I still eat sugar. I’m just cutting back.

The number one thing that helped me a) make this choice and b) stick with it is that I’ve been working hard at the gym. I’m doing such good work there and noticing a major difference in my strength that I don’t want to backtrack due to a few cookies. There’s no motivation quite like momentum in the right direction.

I still enjoy ice cream (oh, do I enjoy ice cream) and I even drove through the Donut Delight drive-through for a chocolate doughnut the other day. But I’m not overindulging. The mindfulness trick works even better for sugar than it does for the caffeine. Instead of seeing the pint of ice cream as a suggested serving size (lol, don’t judge me!), I savor every bite of the ice cream until my craving is satisfied. I used to mindlessly devour sweets while I was doing another task, like working or watching television. Now after about four bites, I’ve gotten my fix, and I walk away with both a happy sweet tooth and state of mind.

Another choice that helped was to try to limit my sugar intake to dessert only. Kind of sounds counterintuitive, but I just mean that I’d rather have a cookie after dinner than waste my sugar for the day first thing in the morning with a huge stack of pancakes. The better I eat throughout the day, the better I want to eat at night too. If that makes sense.

//

This is certainly a journey and I’m sure there will be bumps along the road. But, I’m feeling more energized and my mood is a whole lot brighter.

Do you guys have tips that you follow?!

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85 Comments

Paulina

Have you tried matcha? It gives you a boost just as coffee does but without the crash later on and a matcha latte is really tasty 🙂

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carly

I have been trying it! I have all the little tools and the tea, but I’m not 100% on board yet. I’m going to keep trying it every week or so to get used to the flavor!

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Emma

I tried really hard to like matcha but I just can’t get behind the taste. I’ve started putting in my morning smoothie, I can’t taste it and I still get the energy boost!

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Helen

It’s so interesting to learn more about how you’ve managed to cut back on caffeine and sugar. I’ve definitely been doing a cup of tea at night instead of coffee, which helps me sleep better. Sugar is also a challenge for me, so I’ll have to try your method of only having it in dessert.

-Helen
http://www.sweethelengrace.com

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Hayleigh Shobar | Young Cosmopolite

I freeze fruit (watermelon is the bestttttttt) and eat that as “dessert” — frozen fruit takes so long to eat, and the natural sugars are more satisfying. Also, LOVE the feature photo for this — your eyes match the coffee haha!

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Teal

Yes! My boyfriend and I LOVE freezing bananas and eating that as “nice cream” 🙂

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Rachel

I often avoid coffee because of how it affects my anxiety, too! I find that choosing decaf often still fulfills the need for the taste with lots less caffeine.

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Aoife

Totally agree, I was going to suggest the same! (Decaf doesn’t taste AS good, but at least it’s more similar than tea.) I’ve pretty much eliminated caffeine, and I’ve seen a huge improvement in my anxiety! (Which is pretty amazing – it’s really such a small change.)

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Niken

Omg, I can totally relate. I’m practically living on caffeine. I used to drink like glasses and glasses of coffee on daily basis. But I’ve been cutting my coffee take for 5 months now, down to 3 cups a day.

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Ashley

Caffeine makes my heart race! So I always have avoided it, but I really don’t need it in the day.. I have so much energy! (I follow the Paleo/ whole foods lifestyle)! I drink decaf coffee because I absolutely love the taste.
And I totally undestand the power of sugar. I had the biggest addiction (that I didn’t even know about!) until I quit eating it… amazing how your body is so used to something and it totally freaks out when you take even the smallest portion away! Good luck! I know you can do it Carls 🙂

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Taylor

I am cutting back on caffeine and sugar right now too so this post came at such a fitting time. It has been hard and I use some of the same tricks as you to help me get through. As for sugar I also try to “plan ahead” that way I will have a treat to look forward to and it keeps me motivated to be healthy until that small treat. Good luck with your goal 🙂

Taylor | http://www.livingtaylored.com

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Emily

I recently cut down on sugar in a big way because I’ve been going to the gym more and more and seeing great results. During the first week I cut way back on sugar, and for the next week I tried cutting it out entirely. Even though I’m allowing myself to add it back in here and there, I find now that even though I can have it, I more often don’t want/need it. Eating berries, fresh or frozen in a smoothie, has been a great sweet treat substitute!

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Grace

Totally unrelated (I’m hopelessly addicted, though, and should probably do something about that…) but I never realized how STUNNING your eyes are! wow. Not sure if it’s the light or the color of your sweater or the tones in the overall photo that bring them out, but oof – gorgeous!

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Taylor M

This is such an important post! Love that you explained more so the habit of the routine of coffee rather than the coffee itself. I get to my office very early (7 AM). I started switching my morning coffee for black tea more than a year ago and it’s amazing. I was hating that crazy jittery feeling after having not even half of my cup of coffee in the morning and it would throw off my entire day. I love taking time to appreciate my cup of tea in the morning before I really get into work (and read your new posts!)

That being said, I still adore coffee and I think the tea switch helped me appreciate good coffee more. I have a Nespresso machine at home and love to make a latte or cup of coffee on the weekends.

The sugar fix for me is an entirely different beast, I love chocolate way too much and I get crazy cravings for it. However, I love your tips and definitely am going to try and work on them!

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Stephanie

Hi Carly! Have you tried decaf coffee at all? I LOVE coffee, but if I drink it after 2/3pm it interferes with my sleep so I usually have an iced decaf americano or something like that instead. Hope you have a great day!

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Chelsey

You comments about mindfulness really mirror was Melissa Hartwig (Whole 30 co-founder) talks about with her “one bite rule”. She says instead of eating the whole donut, cookie, pint of ice cream, savor the experience until it is no longer worth it and then stop eating. The hard part is that a lot of us feel guilty when we think of “wasting” the rest of the food, but in reality if we eat until it stops being worth it we have really gotten everything out of that item that we need to and there is no waste.
She has really interesting viewpoints on food and our relationship with it. I find that the tips she shares on Instagram are super helpful, even if you don’t want to do the Whole 30 you should check it out!

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Vulnavia

I have cut out all sugar except for in fruit. I try eat the fruit with the least amount of sugar like apples, orange, grapefruit, & strawberries. With caffeine, I drink one cup of black coffee in the morning & that’s it. People think that’s weird but it gives me the boost I need. Plus, a bunch of studies are now saying one cup it good for you as long as you don’t add all the sugar & creamer.

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carly

Grapefruit is one of my go-tos when I want something sweet because it hits the spot without making me crave more!

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Katie

I totally understand the caffeine thing, I work for a coffee roaster, so having 24/7 access to all the coffee made me go a little crazy! I started drinking a ton more decaf (only decaf after noon!), it allows you to go through the ritual of having coffee without having to endure the caffeine crash after. There are some coffee roasters that are really paying attention to their decaf coffees and don’t taste like you would thing decaf does (swingscoffee.com has some, but I’m biased ;).) I’ve been working on the sugar for a while now but it’s such a struggle!!

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Marcella

I’m not a coffee drinker, my mom never let me have caffeine growing up so I just never drank it! It makes me feel too jittery. But sugar on the other hand…my boyfriend tells me I’m going to get diabetes and that I have a problem whenever I eat an entire box of Dots or Swedish Fish in front of him! It’s so hard to cut back since I’ve read that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. You’ve inspired me though!

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Kristin

At the beginning of the year I went cold-turkey no more sugar in my coffee that really has helped. Now I really don’t even like those sugary coffee drinks I’m totally fine with going to getting a good old fashioned basic cup of coffee . However it’s cutting sugar elsewhere that I’m struggling with. I try to follow Whole30 as often as possible but its still pretty tough.

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Natasha Pereira

I gave up coffee cold turkey at the beginning of the year, but they picked the habit back up when I was in Italy for a few months. Now that I’ve been home 3 months I’m realizing that I want to go back to no-coffee.

My go to trick is to ask myself 2 questions.
1) Am I bored? If so, I need to find something else to do than make a coffee.
2) Am I thirsty? Usually a glass of nice cold water helps get me back on track.

Good luck with your journey Carly! And remember, is a process, don’t beat yourself up for not being 100% on the ball.

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Tori

Reading this as I drink my morning cup of coffee! I definitely feel the need to cut back on caffeine, but with a new work commute and new work hours, I’m not quite ready to make the leap (I currently leave my apartment at 11am and get home at 10pm). Can’t wait to try being more mindful! As far as sugar, if I could talk up whole30 every day I would. Cutting out processed foods and added sugars changed the game for me. After I did it almost for 60 days instead of 30 since I was really focusing on working out at the time, bananas and other fruit became so sweet and cakes and cookies just tasted wrong ( I was kinda disappointed haha) but now that I’ve adjusted I definitely will enjoy a few treats here and there but whole30 completely changed my relationship with food and my taste buds!

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PB

Another plug for Whole30! It helped me kick coffee permanently (tea only since January!) and, like Tori said, really helped me rethink how I thought about sugar. I love to bake, so cutting out dessert completely is hard for me. Instead, I focus a lot on the added sugar in other foods and try to eliminate that as much as possible. You’d be amazed to see how much added sugar is in seemingly benign things — like salad dressing and chicken broth! Mindfully savoring desserts, like you talked about in your post, also REALLY helps!

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Veronica

You should read “Better than Before” by Gretchen Rubin (the author of the Happiness Project). It’s all about habits–how we form them, how we break them, how ‘identity’ plays into our habit making choices… etc. It’s helped me soooo much in eating better!

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Amy

I cut back on caffeine and sugar this year, too! The gym is the best for keeping me on track with reducing my sweets (I feel SO sluggish and lousy during my workouts if I indulge like I used to). If you stick with it, I promise you will get to the point where you don’t even want/enjoy sweets as much as you used to (Ben & Jerry’s half pints last me over a week now! Who knew that was possible!).

For the coffee thing – I really enjoyed the morning ritual of having a cup, so I switched to decaf as a placeholder. I read somewhere that water with a lemon wedge or two increased energy throughout the day. Now I don’t know if that acted as a placebo for me, but when I got into the habit of consistently adding lemons to my water (the taste takes getting used to), I definitely felt like I had a more healthy energy boost that was consistent throughout the day. Might be worth a try if you feel you need an extra pick me up!

Good luck! 🙂
It’s hard to cut those habits, but SO worth it!!!

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Alicia Mae

I don’t drink coffee, so caffeine isn’t as much of an issue for me, although I do have a personal rule of no caffeine after 2pm. (I just can’t fall asleep easily if I have any caffeine later than 2!) But sugar. Oh my goodness it is hard cutting back on sugar. I’ll have to try the mindfulness trick you suggested, it’s brilliant!!

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Lizzy

I did a no-sugar January this year after hitting rock-bottom with a sugar addiction (sounds melodramatic but I got tired of the feeling that I “had” to have chocolate at night the same way I have coffee in the morning.) It definitely helped me reset my palate and become more sensitive to hidden sweeteners and added sugars in other foods. Reading about the chemical effects of sugar helped me feel good about what I was doing – we should really be treating it like a controlled substance! The one month cleanse really changed how I approach sugar in my diet. Once I had it all out of my system, I was more acutely aware of how my appetite and body changed when I incorporated it back in. Now I eat sugar even more sparingly than I drink alcohol. This is in part because I think sugar is actually worse for your body and overall health – having a drink on Saturday won’t make me want to have one on Sunday, but the same can’t be said for eating a brownie! Eating sugar always begets more sugar cravings, in my experience. I’ve always had a huge sweet tooth and never thought I’d be one to hop on the no-sugar train, but it really is best for my mind and body.

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Rachel Farmer

I found matcha to be my cure, the flavor takes getting used to but I’ve found you don’t really taste it when it’s added to smoothies or the fruity Starbucks drinks!

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carly

I have been trying to adjust to the matcha taste! I go to one place for matcha but they LOAD it with sugar hahaha no wonder it tastes so good.

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Kayla

Baking is a relaxing hobby of mine but a couple years ago I switched to mostly baking things that can be frozen or only if things will be shared. If I make a batch of cookies or muffins and throw them in the freezer, I can take one out when I want a sweet treat but I don’t eat more than one. I also try to avoid baking with refined sugar so I cut the overall sugar in a recipe and use smaller amounts of lower glycemic sugars instead.

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Elizabeth W

Hi Carly! I can really relate to this post. I used to be a big coffee drinker, around 3-4 cups a day since High School (I’m now 26). I gave up coffee cold turkey in April. It was really hard to do at first (as you mentioned so much of coffee is routine) but I feel so much better today. After giving it up I’ve had less anxiety (also suffer from bad anxiety), less stomach problems, and less afternoon crashes. My favorite part is that now I wake up with a smile on my face, where as before I would immediately want coffee in my hand and would be grumpy until that happened. I do allow myself to drink tea, and still miss the taste of coffee (coffee ice cream helps haha) but I’m glad I did it. Props to you and I wish you luck!

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Jenny

I’ve been adding liquid chlorophyll to my water 1-2 times per day. One of the many benefits is a reduction in sugar cravings, but I’ve also found that I’m no longer craving coffee. I used to be a 4+ cup per day gal, and now I’m finding that I’m only having one (which I don’t even finish!)

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Tiffany

I struggle with both of these and have been forced to cut back now that I’m pregnant. Pro tip: cut back now before you start trying to have kids! Have you tried starting your day with room temperature lemon water before your coffee? A nutritionist blogger that I really enjoy has a great post on the benefits of lemon water: http://www.weeknightbite.com/sweet-home/warm-lemon-water-the-simplest-way-to-boost-your-health. (She also has good recipes for breakfast smoothies and matcha lattes, which I have been trying to make more often instead of coffee.) I have been drinking room temp lemon water when I first wake up for about three months now. It definitely helps to cut back my caffeine cravings.

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Ashley

I’ve been trying to cut coffee and (some) sugar out too and it is just so hard- so brava! I work remotely about half the time and usually that means in some sort of coffee shop. I’ve been trying to switch to iced tea while I perch there but the sound of the machines is usually too tempting. I like your idea of treating yourself sometimes, and not completely cutting it out… maybe I can enjoy it just at the coffee shop and not at home…

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carly

I’ve been at it since coming back from Paris and even more seriously since coming back from Nantucket… It’s been SO hard but I’d say overall worth it

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Ruth

I can SO relate to both of these problems! I read this post with coffee in my hand…
One thing that I’ve found that helps is substuting sugary snacks with better foods. I keep carrots in my fridge at all times so when I want a quick sweet treat or snack, I grab the carrots instead, get a healthy snack in, and cease the hunger with real food!

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Kelsey

Oh, you have to give what I do a try! Heat up a sliced banana in the microwave for 15 seconds, drizzle with honey and cinnamon. It’s just the right “sweet” treat for the evening! Good luck on your journey, cutting back on sugar is tough. xoxo Kelsey \\ maybetomorrow.blog

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Claire W

A weird trick I learned from my mom who can’t drink caffeine at all anymore- plain old hot water! Sounds a bit strange but it’s great especially if you’re just used to having a hot drink in the afternoon or before bed. Throwing a lemon wedge in helps mimic some of the coffee bitterness too. At one point I was drinking almost 5 cups of coffee a day because I had replaced snacks with black coffee at the office. I switched from coffee to hot water and now I rarely crave anything in the afternoons. (I still go for a cup of decaf after dinner if I’m out and about though)

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Maria Bonefacio

I have anxiety and miss caffeine of tea of all things . I’m using decaf and splurge on weekends.

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Maria Bonefacio

I’m sorry I didn’t write properly. Tea is my choice. I weaned off sugar in my tea gradually a bit at a time. Now I don’t use any sugar at all. I still need my brownies though. Teavana has Javana Mate which tastes like coffee and chocolate.

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Evelina

I’m going to be doing The 30 Clean program again this fall to reset before the holidays. Its a great program because of the support of the Facebook group you are in that keeps you accountable! (https://the30clean.com). It also helps to have a great coach on the journey – if you want to give it a try, my favorite coach is Chris Beer (Beer Buddies is her group). I think you can still use the discount code “BEERME” for $10 off. Maybe I’ll see you in the group!

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Emily

Good for you!! I’ve been working on these 2 things also but it can be SO hard sometimes. As far as sugar, there are a few great subs that are much better for you & still taste sweet! The first is pure stevia. A few drops bring a lot of sweetness to tea, oatmeal, or anything else you want to sweeten! Another great option is coconut sugar, which has a much lower glycemic index than regular sugar. I often use it for baking. Pure maple syrup is another one of my favorites. It’s still sugary, but I love adding it to drinks/desserts every once in a while! I try to sub these sweeteners in dessert recipes so that I can still enjoy a treat but avoid eating crazy amounts of sugar. Food blogs like Chocolate Covered Katie are great because they give low sugar options like this!! Hope these subs help make the transition easier!

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Lilly

Thanks for this, Carly! I really have a problem with caffeine (way too much iced tea haha) and sugar, so I’m excited to try out your tricks! The mindfulness one seems really helpful😊

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Elise

Hi Carly,
I’m wondering how you can eat sugar and donuts and stay a size 0!!?? And please don’t say fast metabolism! Do you just eat salad the rest of the day if you splurge? Would you mind doing a “what I eat in a day” blog post??
Thanks, love your blog!!

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carly

It’s 100% genetics… I weigh the same as I did when I graduated high school despite varying exercise levels and diets. I wish I had a more helpful answer haha

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Alex

Caffeine makes me so anxious so when I’m craving it (like you, I crave the ritual of it), I try to switch to decaf! As for sugar, I know that if it is in my apartment, it will be eaten almost right away, so I try to never buy any treats unless I am rewarding myself for a rough week or something!

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Alex C.

I’m in the same boat– I LOVE the taste of coffee and look forward to my morning cup + afternoon pick-me-up, but I know it makes me feel anxious. I’m trying to swap over to black tea in the afternoon because it feels almost like coffee but has a lot less caffeine.
Alex // preppybeancounter.blogspot.com

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Jans

Oh my… the only two things that I can’t resist most! I started drink my coffee “sugar-free” for almost a year. But these days I love my everyday Vietnam Coffee that have condensed milk in every cup, which we all know, condensed milk is full of sugaaaaa (but it makes the coffee more creamy and yummy).

I don’t have any useful tips, but I try to subtitute my sugar intake with something sweet in natural, such as fruits. I hope we all can go through this!

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Jordana @WhiteCabana

Good for you, Carly! I’m currently on vacation and I’ve opted to do the same thing! I feel like it’s much easier to do it on vacation than when I’m working every day. Keep at it!

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Delaney

I have the same feeling about caffeine it makes me feel so anxious! Glad it’s not just me! I don’t really love the taste of coffee but in college it’s kind of something you “have to do” what I did was whenever friends were getting coffee I would go for an iced or hot tea, chai tea latte or hot chocolate but if I felt like I wanted something with coffee for the flavor I just went for decaf and didn’t run into the same jittery feeling I did notice that caffeinated teas did not have that anxiety inducing effect so if I needed I pick me up I typically went that route. And go you for the sugar part I have tried so often to cut down on sugar and really just can’t kick it! Would love updates about how that goes!

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Ally

I’ve made a real effort to cut back on coffee in the last few months. I was drinking a mug before work, a travel mug size in the morning, and basically a bowl with a handle in the afternoon OR ‘treating’ myself to something from Starbucks (protip: treats seem less treat-like when you have them every day). It was WAY too much for a person with both an anxiety disorder and heart condition (which comes along with a recommendation of cutting way back on caffeine that I have ignored for years… Eep).

In addition to hurting my body, I was having trouble sleeping and suffered MAJOR bouts of irritability when coffee was delayed. After realizing that I was doing some damage, in addition to being a grumpy Gertie without it, I set my intention to drink less coffee and more water.

…And then a few of my friends introduced me to David’s tea.

I fell in love with herbal tea (Just Peachy and Strawberry Colada are my two top flavours) and shifted toward drinking hot/cold herbal tea instead of coffee when I wanted something with a little more pizzaz than water. I’ve also introduced a few black teas into the mix, for a subtle amount of caffeine and that milk/hint of sweetness combo when needed (Cream of Earl Grey and Apple Strudel are standouts). I’ve even ventured into Rooibos teas (Cotton Candy? Yes please).

Now, on the days when I finish about a half a cup of coffee in the morning and most of my travel mug, I don’t really feel the urge to get/make more coffee.

So, tl;dr: Herbal tea, I guess! =D

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Samantha

As someone who works in the specialty coffee industry AND had to quit caffeine due to it exacerbating my anxiety, I can definitely recommend some incredible decaf roasts that taste just as good, and some better, as regular coffee. If you are interested let me know!

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Tess Harkin

Not sure if you like seltzer, but I love drinking flavored seltzers when I’m craving something a little sweet!

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Elizabeth Riddle

I’m trying to cut sugar too! I find it super helpful to just not have those sugary things in the house and then im less likely to eat them but I also do like my sweet treats so I try to go for just a single dessert rather than eating a whole chocolate bar and a bag of sweets
Liz Living

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Elyssa

I started cutting back on *added* sugars about two years ago. You would be surprised how much hidden sugar is in “healthy” foods! I used the same mindset: I rather eat healthy during the day and enjoy my two pieces of dark chocolate at night.

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Elise

I’ve been trying to cut back on sugar too and I’ve been so wanting something sweet! What has helped me though is fruit, I keep eating these super sweet grapes and smoothies which helps so much with sugar cravings! Hope you are doing well on your journey!
Elise ~ http://www.elisebythepiece.com

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Emily V

Check all food labels for sugar. You should only be eating about 30g a day. Shockingly they put sugar in everything from spaghetti sauce to peanut butter – which really don’t need it added. I realized how much sugar I was eating when I was doing research on child nutrition for work – I’m a research analyst. When I got home I looked at my yogurt and was shocked that a single serving was 24g. I immediately switched to Siggi’s yogurt which is about 8g. It took time to adjust, but now others just taste shockingly sweet. I still love to indulge in ice cream though. I’ve tried halo top and it’s just not a replacement for me.

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Erin

Hey Carly! Good luck with cutting back on both caffeine and sugar. It can be really challenging but it sounds like you’ve identified the problem(s) which is half the battle!

My last job was huge on coffee – there was a Dunkin just down the road and my employees would always offer to go get coffee/bring coffee in during shift change. It was so nice of them!

Until I left that job and tried to cut back… I was desperate for my 3:30 coffee!

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Bianca Ferreira

I’m just like you, I have a serious addiction to coffee and sugar! I definitely don’t have more than 1 coffee a day, but if I don’t get my fix, I get a horrible headache!

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