At the end of March I started a challenge to reduce my daily sugar intake. I wasn’t setting out to remove sugar entirely from my diet, but to reduce the cakes, lollies, ice-cream and hot chocolates.
When I quit drinking coffee, I didn’t get withdrawal symptoms but missed the habit of having a coffee. When I started reducing my sugar intake, I missed the habit again but I really missed the sugary treats. Thankfully, that initial wave of withdrawal symptoms subsided after a week, not gone but that voice had been quietened substantially.
Across April, I was successful in eating a lot less sweet sugary items. I didn’t have any hot chocolates (they were a recent addition to replace a cafe mocha when I quit coffee) and I have mostly removed the cakes, lollies and ice-cream where I might have had them three or four times over the month.
I started the challenge at 97kg, I finished the month at 95kg.
I’m going to continue with my reduced sugar intake and maybe look to refine some other areas such as having a ‘normal’ sized bowl of cereal and replacing a glass of orange juice with a glass of water in the morning.
I wrote recently about sustainable weight loss, I commented that through removing some really poor diet choices like Coke and moving every day that it had helped me lose 15kg and go from 108kg down to a low of 93kg.
I try to exercise most days of the week by going for a run or ride for 45-60min and on the weekend I’ll do something longer that is normally 2 hours plus. I’m pretty consistent with it, Strava tells me that I averaged 25-35 hours of aerobic exercise per month last year. To lose additional weight, the answer can’t be to add more exercise – I need to adjust my diet.
The recommended intake for an average adult is 2000cal/8000Kj per day.
As I mentioned in the post linked above, my diet is far from ideal and I could definitely clean it up by removing/reducing additional unneeded sugary foods:
Hot Chocolate – While I’m not drinking coffee at work, I am drinking hot chocolate. I did some quick searches in Google and they contain ~200-250cal. Most days I have one, some days I’ll have two.
Ice Cream – Most nights after dinner I’ll have a small bowl of ice cream. I weighed it last week and while it isn’t a lot by volume/weight, it is rich and comes in at 150-175cal. The timing on this is also not great, your metabolism slows down in the afternoon, so taking in unnecessary food at night isn’t ideal.
Cake – I discovered something called a Pound Cake, it is a vanilla sponge type cake. When I’m working from home, I’ll usually have a piece of that at morning tea.
Lollies / Chocolate – I often have a variety of different lollies or chocolate in the house. Not an every day item, but it is frequent and could be reduced.
My goal is to reduce or remove items like those above from my diet over the next month. I’ll make a point of weighing myself at least once a week to see if it is having an impact or not. As of this morning, I am 97kg and ultimately I want to be under 90kg. I don’t expect to lose 7kg in a month, but I’d be happy if these small changes re-starts my weight loss trend as I look to find a new sustainable normal.
I’m going to stop drinking coffee, which will give me a new baseline for what ‘tired’ feels like. I’ll start going to bed earlier to help my body recover better and maybe my blood pressure will come down. Even if the latter doesn’t happen, getting more sleep is a good thing and maybe I’ll feel more alert, clearer in mind, better able to tackle the day.
I’m happy to report that going without coffee or caffeine was remarkably easy and I didn’t notice any significant withdrawal symptoms despite the high levels of coffee I drink. While I didn’t miss the caffeine especially, I absolutely missed the ritual and habit of having a coffee. Throughout the day, there are so many points where I always have a coffee and suddenly not having one felt weird.
Another good habit of not drinking coffee, I’m naturally drinking a lot more water. While I do drink water across an average day, I’d generally get most of my liquid intake through coffee so this was a heathy improvement.
I had hoped that I could find some objective measure that quitting coffee had an impact. Coincidentally, I have a Garmin Fenix 6 running watch and it measures a lot of different aspects of your health on an ongoing basis.
Heart Rate Variability
According to Garmin, a HRV between 60-80ms is a normal range. While I have periods where it is in the normal/green zone, I am often orange (slightly below) or even red (significantly below). As soon as I stopped drinking coffee, my Heart Rate Variability started to improve and has remained consistently in the normal range.
One of the goals of this challenge was to go to bed earlier and get more overall sleep. My total sleep time has increased slightly, but I haven’t been very successful on this goal yet.
However, while I’m not getting a lot more sleep, my sleep quality has improved significantly. In the lefthand side of the chart below, my sleep quality is lower overall and also quite variable. After quitting coffee, it has improved on average and varies a lot less.
While drinking coffee, I could get to sleep easily but I’d often wake up throughout the night – sometimes one or twice and on a restless night maybe up to five times. Over the last month, on average I’m not waking up at all and my Garmin watch is measuring single digits of ‘awake’ time. Caffeine is a diuretic, which causes you to need to urinate more often and during the night I am not getting up for any bathroom breaks either which is great.
Stress can be caused by a lot of different factors such as physical, emotional and many more. I don’t think caffeine on its own is responsible but it might contribute to it since it is a stimulant. Regardless, my stress levels have trended down and are more stable than beforehand. This might in part be due to getting better quality sleep and being more rested/recovered each day.
I haven’t taken my blood pressure many times over the last month, but it has been in the correct range which is good. If I can adjust my schedule and increase my total sleep time, I’ll definitely start checking it more often to see if there is any change or if I feel the low blood pressure by getting dizzy or light headed with certain activities.
I’m going to continue with my no coffee effort & report back if anything changes once I adjust my sleep schedule.
I’m going cold turkey on coffee for 30 days to see what happens!
Over the years, I’ve been a regular and high volume consumer of coffee. On an average day, I think I’d probably have 6-8 cups which is a mix of espresso and instant coffee. Despite the daily coffee intake, I can drink a coffee at 11pm and still get to sleep in just a couple minutes.
So, why stop drinking coffee? Three words – sleep, cortisol, blood pressure.
I don’t get a lot of sleep each night, I’ve always been a night owl. However, while I don’t get much sleep per night, I also don’t need much sleep either. Looking at my Garmin watch data, on average I get between five and six hours of sleep a night. That of course is at least two hours less than what is recommended and what most people require to function properly.
Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces when it is under any type of stress. It is produced by the adrenal system. Cortisol helps control the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates; suppresses inflammation; regulates blood pressure; increases blood sugar; can also decrease bone formation; and the cortisol hormone also controls the sleep/wake cycle.
As mentioned recently, I’ve been living with high blood pressure since 2015 when I was 35 years old. I never had high blood pressure before then, I don’t know what or why something in my body changed but it did.
It got me thinking though, maybe as I got a little older, my body’s needs changed and my night owl behaviour, general low amounts of sleep were no longer sufficient to allow my body to recover. Maybe I’ve been using coffee as a crutch for a long time to prop me up and keep me going. Maybe I can fall asleep after drinking coffee late at night, not only because I have developed intolerance to its effects but because my body is generally exhausted.
I always find it helpful to look for an extreme or outlier of some sort when doing research. I think a good example for this might be a professional athlete. Professional athletes have an incredible work load, they are up early in the morning, train multiple times per day, pay a lot of attention to post-workout recovery activities, they place a lot of emphasis on food to nourish their body to help it recover and they prioritize sleep aggressively. Why do they prioritize sleep so much, well it is when your body gets to work repairing itself, undoing all of the stress induced over the day.
My 30 day challenge is simple in nature – I’m going to stop drinking coffee, which will give me a new baseline for what ‘tired’ feels like. I’ll start going to bed earlier to help my body recover better and maybe my blood pressure will come down. Even if the latter doesn’t happen, getting more sleep is a good thing and maybe I’ll feel more alert, clearer in mind, better able to tackle the day.
In a previous post I alluded to the fact that I had some other health issues that I needed to deal with separately to addressing my weight, that other issue was my blood pressure.
It’s 1995, I’m 15 years old.
I first took my blood pressure as a teenager because a family friend had a personal electronic blood pressure device which I thought was pretty nifty. Each and every time I took it over the following 5-10 years, it was 120/80 like clockwork.
Fast forward to 2015, I’m 35 years old.
Historically, I’d have been the person that’d say that they’d never had a headache in their life but at this time I started periodically getting really severe headaches. To give you an idea of how severe:
my head would start to literally pound with my heart rate
participating in a conversation was very difficult
I couldn’t concentrate on anything work related
I’d see stars in my vision, which meant focusing on things became hard
I would need to leave work
Panadol didn’t help, it was like I was eating a lolly. The only thing I could find that’d help – laying down and sleeping for an hour or two. I’d wake up with the remnants of a bad headache but not what I now know was a migraine.
By the time I’d had two or three of these migraines, Claire had told me to go to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t do that and I waited for a few more to arrive and then eventually went because I’m an idiot. That doctor visit was interesting to say the least, it went something like this:
Doctor: Hi, how are you, what can I help you with?
Al: I'm getting bad headaches periodically.
Doctor: <starts taking my blood pressure>
// More chat-chat, back and forth questions and answers
Doctor: You have high blood pressure.
Al: Oh really, it is normally 120/80 - what is it now?
Doctor: It's 190/110, if it was any higher I'd call the ambulance.
It just got real.
The doctor was immediately uninterested in my headache and focused on addressing my high blood pressure. He prescribed me a short prescription of Valsartan 100mg. After about a week, it wasn’t having any impact so it was increased to Valsartan 250mg. After several more days, it’d come down a small amount but not enough so it was changed again to a composite drug of Valsartan 100mg/5mg Amlodopine and just like that my blood pressure started to come back down to a normal level. Over those weeks I visited several specialists to have my eyes tested (not for vision but other issues), had heart checks done, kidney checks done, several different blood tests and they all came back clear.
Fast forward to 2020, I’m 40 years old.
I’ve been living in the USA for a few years, my medication has changed from a combination of Valsartan/Amlodopine to Losartan/Amlodipine as the former isn’t available but it’s still working as expected.
In speaking with my doctor, I’d said I wanted to try and reduce or go off the medication as I never used to have high blood pressure. The doctor was amenable to trying since I’m 15kg lighter than when I first moved to the US, fitter than when I was 20, don’t eat any material salt in my diet and my blood tests are clear.
The test was to halve the medication and see how my body responded over the course of a few weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond as I’d hoped and my blood pressure went up to around 135/90 initially but didn’t come back down as my body normalized with the lower drug volume.
systolic: less than 120 mm Hg diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
systolic: 120–129 mm Hg diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
High blood pressure (Hypertension)
systolic: 130 mm Hg or higher diastolic: 80 mm Hg or higher
The above reference is according to The American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults (2017 Guideline) via cdc.gov.
In speaking to my doctor about that, he said it could be hereditary and you’re just out of luck. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear, but I guess you win some, you lose some.
Thankfully, living with high blood pressure has mostly been an inconvenience to be fair. I take medication each night, check my blood pressure pretty regularly to make sure everything is on the straight and narrow then see my doctor a couple times a year.
One piece of advice, check your blood pressure even if you don’t think you need to as you often can’t feel high blood pressure. In my initial doctors interaction above, he asked me how I felt at the time and I felt completely fine when in fact I was far from it. The risks of high blood pressure are real, it can lead to severe complications in brain, eye, heart and kidney organs but for most people it can be easily managed.