Thursday, 24 March 2011

Is it worth resisting temptation?

I love coffee. What I like best is an extra hot latte made with full fat milk, one brown sugar and a shake of cocoa powder. I particularly like to have one first thing in the morning on the days I’m working, when I’m out very early. Or in the summer when I'm in Italy, at my favourite cafe, sitting in the sun overlooking the lovely little port of Villanova.
There’s just one small hitch. I’ve been doing lots of reading about how to manage the symptoms of the menopause (most of which I seem to be experiencing, most of the time!). One of the suggestions to reduce hot flushes among other thing seems to be: cut down on caffeine. I also have an added problem with coffee, which I have always had as far as I know. If I have one cup from time to time I’m fine and if I have one every day, I’m fine. But, if I have a latte three days in a row and then I stop for a few days, I get the most unbelievably painful headache (for a whole day) which nothing but caffeine will get rid of. No amount of paracetamol or other painkillers does the trick. It’s a kind of withdrawal I think and it’s pretty drastic. So, the sensible thing might be not to have coffee. Or to limit myself to one from time to time. Problem is these days I tend to rebel when I think I have to be 'sensible' and I don’t like limiting myself. Over the past year I’ve dabbled with various options. I have had a go at only having coffee when I’m in Italy (which is where I love it best) but recently I’ve been spending more and more time there, so I've been having coffee more and more. I’ve experimented with cutting it out - but just end up feeling deprived and I’ve noticed that when I really fancy one and I don’t have it, I find myself wanting something sweet and I have chocolate or a cake… neither of which I particularly want at the time and so never feel terribly satisfied. I have experimented with having one a week but it feels like some kind of diet - I then have an ongoing battle every morning “I want one, can’t have one until next Thursday, damn, maybe just today?, no, wait til next week, you now it makes sense...” and on and on. I came up with a 1 Minute Mantra to support myself - but it was fake I realised! When I heard myself saying “I’m taking care of my health” I just wanted to have a mega tantrum and I didn’t believe it anyway. How do I know I'm taking care of my health? Where is the evidence? I haven't experienced any benefit first hand! Despite my rebellious retorts to myself, it did work at some level - I did stop drinking coffee so often but I felt a constant, niggling deprivation. Using the 1 Minute Mantra to stop myself having something I want, when I’m hungry for it just wasn’t working in the full and real sense. Not for the long term, which is what I'm after. It works a treat when I’m on the brink of overeating, when I want to have something I'm not hungry for. I believe my mantra then because all my experience tells me that I know how to manage without food and I'll always feel better when I have chosen not to overeat. Always. But I doesn't work when I’m depriving myself in the true sense of the word, without any real benefit or reason. Not with coffee anyway.
So, last week I decided that the only way to manage this effectively would be to allow myself to have a latte whenever I want one. To stop messing around with resistance or control. To tune in and ask myself if it’s what I really want, to taste it and enjoy it (or not!) and to give myself a chance to notice how it impacts hot flushes, my skin, my mood and make a decision about whether or not to have it day by day. It feels important to add here that I see a latte as a food, not just a drink. It contains almost two thirds of a pint of milk - which I find both nourishing and filling. I have always had the latte as my breakfast, not with my breakfast, because I find it fills me up, I’m not generally hungry when I’ve drunk the best part of one (I usually leave little bit because I only like it when it’s piping hot and by the time I get to three quarters of the way down it’s gone luke warm!).
Anyway, I’ve had one every morning for a week. My hot flushes have been pretty bad and I’m going to keep monitoring them and see if they are any different when I don’t have coffee. I might even experiment at some point, when I feel ready, and have coffee every day for a couple of weeks and then not at all for a couple of weeks and see if I notice a difference. But I’m not ready for that kind of experiment yet. And maybe I won’t need to… Yesterday morning, very early, on the way to see my first client, I stopped off for a latte. I sat down in the cafe and had a sip, and then another. I enjoyed the hot, sweet. bitter falvours. I fancied a few almonds so I had a few of those too. I’d had about eight sips when I realised I’d had enough. That actually that’s all I wanted. I wasn’t hungry and I felt perfectly satisfied. And pretty much the same happened today. That’s always been my experience with my relationship with food. When I can unhook myself from the ‘all or nothing’ diet thinking, when I let go of the “I should do this and I shouldn’t do that” mentality, when I tune in, when I allow myself what I want instead of trying hard to resist, when I sit down and taste what I’m having and experience it rather than eating without awareness… magic happens. It’s early days yet but I know something has changed between me and coffee… watch this space!


  1. It's good that you've learned this about coffee. I discovered a small band of women in our local church who only drink plain hot water when we have coffee after church sometimes, so I followed their example and it's actually very nice! Very refreshing. Nothing in it, no lemon or herb tea bags or anything, just a dash of cold water to tone down the heat, for me, as I can't drink piping hot water, but other than that, I'll ask myself in the morning what I want to drink and usually it's water. Either hot or cold, depending on the weather.

    I find I now can't drink coffee on a day when there's school the day after because it disrupts my sleep that night and I wake up groggy the next morning and it takes me a while to get going without it, so restrict it to Fridays and Saturdays.

    I sleep better at night without coffee, I wake up more refreshed without it too, so much as I love it's taste, I don't love it's after-effects.

    Thanks for the warning about the hot flushes. I'm going into the menopause and while at the moment I'm just missing periods, I'm trying to avoid anything which might cause any of the uncomfortable symptoms, so I'll be wary of coffee for this reason, too.

    Sharon x

  2. Hello Sophie,
    Thanks for sharing that!
    I stopped drinking coffee because it makes me feel jittery and then groggy. It's effect is too sudden, unlike tea.
    If the main reason to give it up would be the effect of caffeine, have you considered trying decaffeinated coffee? You could try brewing it yourself at home, gradually cutting down on the amount of caffeinated coffee and adding more decaf until all you are brewing is decaffeinated coffee.

  3. I also LOVE machine coffee. Its just so much nicer than anything I can make at home. I also really like the company I feel in, when I go and sit in the coffee shop. Problem (or is it a problem?) is that I would like to go every morning before work. But I cant help but feel its a waste of money and the coffee everyday does make me "rush"-y from the caffeine. Ive tried not going, or limiting myself, but like you said Sophie, it makes me rebel BIG time.
    Thanks for your advice. No more guilt approach. Im going to relax about it now like you said and really try to only go if I want the coffee (and not just the company (which can happen) Excellent article!

  4. Hmm, tricky one and I'm glad you are getting to a solution - deprivation never works, whatever the reason for it - experimentation and observation is the way forward! Hope you can continue to enjoy your lattes for years to come.

  5. Such an interesting post, and what you say covers an issue that I am face with as a BC trained nutritional therapist – the situation with really enjoying something that’s not great for your health. With clients, I would usually point out that if a food or drink is making them feel unwell in any way (eg. headaches), then this is a sign that we need to look into the relationship with this food further. And I agree that experimentation is then the way forward. It sounds like you’ve come up with a solution though, and I’ll be interested to hear how that goes.

  6. I have problems sleeping, plus eczema, and have long suspected my caffeine habit is the culprit! I tried to give up and swap to herbal/fruit tea, but didn't enjoy them and felt like I was 'missing out' all the time. I now allow myself to enjoy coffee, but I switch to decaff from the afternoon onwards. Coffee isn't all bad ;)

  7. Brilliant post sophie, very interesting.
    I think in this situation I would still go down the control, all or nothing route but I am not sure it works, I think like you there is a sense of deprivation or rebellion lurking when i do this.
    GR talks about seeing that we have a choice between being deprived of something we enjoy and being deprived of feeling well.
    True, but at the end of the day as you say its really about trusting the body to know what it needs and that involves tuning in.
    Good luck and please can we have an update in a while?
    Denise x


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