I will freely admit that I’m a morning person. There’s almost nothing I love more than a delicious cup of coffee upon waking. What could be more soothing than the house being quiet as everyone else is asleep, as I head to my comfy spot on the couch with a cozy blanket and sip a delicious cup of Joe.
For many years now, I’ve started my day off with half-caff instead of fully charged coffee; however, there was a time when my love affair with caffeine wasn’t a healthy one. Add to that cortisol levels that weren’t being managed well, and it made for a dangerous mix systemically.
Not only would my energy dip heading into the afternoon and evening, but I became short-tempered and noticed my SHMEC was often out of check. While you may feel that you still need caffeine to help you function properly during the day, I want to remind you that caffeine is a drug.
Before you start to freak out about me recommending you avoid or cut all caffeine, I want to reassure you that I’m not going to do that! This blog post isn’t about demonizing caffeine but rather reminding you that if you have a current love affair with caffeine, it may be time to find a new lover or reevaluate how the relationship is working for you, particularly if you are running on cortisol to start.
Since research has conflicting things to say about the effects of caffeine, it may be helpful to better understand how caffeine impacts your system particularly when you are dealing with constant cortisol surges to start. While you can’t necessarily feel cortisol spikes specifically throughout the day, you can start to feel the effects of caffeine surging through your bloodstream within minutes of ingesting it.
If you don’t already know what cortisol is, it is the major stress hormone. When cortisol spikes abnormally or surges when it isn’t supposed to, it can inhibit proper brain function or cause more foggy thinking, slow down your metabolic rate, inhibit proper muscle protein synthesis, and increase blood pressure.
We all need some cortisol to function, and when it is working properly, it should peak in the morning so we have the energy we need to get out of bed. If you have trouble getting out of bed every morning, you may actually be dealing with low cortisol levels, which isn’t necessarily a good thing either. We won’t get into low cortisol today, but just know that can be an issue, too.
Caffeine can also stay in your system for many hours, though ultimately this depends on how you metabolize and absorb caffeine. This is where the detective process comes into play. While there are hormones such as adrenaline or dopamine that caffeine impacts, there’s no need to understand the hormonal impacts if you are able to pull in your detective skills. Instead, your SHMEC and body shape changes over time will help you to better understand how caffeine helps or hinders you from meeting your wellness goals.
If you ingest high levels of caffeine, you may feel your mood soar and plummet, leaving you craving more caffeine to make it soar again, causing you to lose sleep, suffer health consequences, and feel more stress. ~ Elizabeth Scott, PhD
There are experts in the field of health and wellness who suggest that higher levels of cortisol lead to more intense cravings for fat and carbs, which can subsequently cause the body to store more belly fat. While I see this often when working with clients, I’ve also seen how high stress leads to greater reliance on caffeine-laden beverages (and even foods such as chocolate), causing the body to stay in a more constant state of physiological stress.
There is research indicating that maintaining a higher intake of caffeine can cause cortisol levels to rise, too. If the day-to-day grind is already causing you to live in a constant state of stress, you may think that your extra cup of joe in the afternoon can help you to push that much harder so you can make it to bed on time and crash soon after. But think again.
Your caffeine fix could leave you feeling “wired but tired” and actually interfere with proper sleep, and we all should understand how important a good night of sleep is! If you are already mentally and physically stressed, I’d really challenge you to work on reducing or eliminating caffeine for 2-4 weeks and see how you feel. Notice if those few extra stubborn pounds actually start to come off, or if your unbalanced SHMEC finally starts to come into check.
If your mindset around eliminating caffeine needs a little reinforcement or a more gentle approach, try to cut back on your current caffeine intake by replacing one caffeinated beverage with decaf. Or switch up some of the rituals you have around your caffeine intake such as swapping the mug you typically use for a different one, sitting in a different spot as you sip your delicious drink, or even grabbing a travel mug and heading out for a leisurely walk so you can enjoy your drink while out in nature.
Once you’ve been able to get your stress levels down and feel more in control of your cortisol surges, you can experiment with bringing caffeine back into your day starting with smaller amounts. I’m guessing once you start to run on being well-nourished, properly hydrated, and the energy that comes from moving your body more, you won’t even miss that added cup of coffee as part of your afternoon pick-me-up or late morning rendezvous! Give it a try and let us know what you notice!