Breaking my final addiction

Until fifteen years ago, I was a soda addict. I liked the sugar and the caffeine. But my stomach eventually said “Enough!” and wouldn’t let me jog without feeling nauseous. My doctor told me to stop drinking soda, my problems vanished, and I haven’t had a soda since.

I’ve saved a ton of money. Let’s estimate $5/day * 365 days/year * 15 years = $27,375!!! Wow!

I’ve probably saved my teeth from great agony and dentist bills. As a child, I frequently got cavities and required fillings. I haven’t had another cavity or filling since quitting soda.

And my health is presumably much better because my blood vessels haven’t been swimming in sugar and acid for the past decade and a half. Perhaps I’d be a diabetic today if I hadn’t stopped. Who knows?

(My 3-year-old son is now telling me about his friends and teachers who drink soda and asking why we don’t. The school he’ll begin attending in September emphasizes healthy snacks, so I’m hoping he won’t be surrounded by soda drinkers there.)

Well, quitting soda eliminated the sugar and the acid. But I wasn’t ready to give up caffeine. So I switched to tea and coffee. I’ve read many optimistic reports about purported health benefits of both over the years. At worst, it seemed, drinking tea and coffee weren’t bad for you. And that still generally seems to be the consensus. They might even help protect against certain cancers.

Of course, coffee’s not free, and making a pot of coffee and cleaning out the coffee maker takes me about 15 minutes a day (because I’m too lazy to clean it out after I use it, so I have to manually dry all the pieces). But, I figured, it’s worth it because I enjoy coffee and it helps me focus on my work.

But then I read last week’s caffeine news, “Study Suggests the ‘Alert’ Feeling From Drinking Coffee May Not Be Real”:

The medium/high caffeine consumers who had the placebo caffeine reported a decrease in alertness and an increase in headache, neither of which were reported by those who received caffeine.

However, their post-caffeine levels of alertness were no higher than the non/low consumers who received a placebo, suggesting caffeine only brings coffee drinkers back up to “normal.”

…The study shows that frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to both the anxiety-producing effects of caffeine that can put you on edge and the stimulating ones.

Heavy coffee drinkers may feel they are made alert by coffee, but the evidence suggests that this is just the reversal of the effects of acute caffeine withdrawal, which cause fatigue.

The researchers say that given the increased risk of anxiety and raised blood pressure brought on by caffeine, there is no net benefit to be gained.

Well, that changes my calculation! I’m not gaining any alertness benefit but am suffering withdrawal symptoms when I can’t find my coffee — like when I was in Paris and had to pay $5 for a thimble-full or when driving along the highway and don’t want to stop to feed my addiction. And it’s costing me money and time. It no longer seems worth it.

If I can free up the 15 minutes a day I spend making coffee, I’ll have an extra 91 hours a week to engage in more pleasant/productive activities. And when you’ve got two young kids who soak up all your formerly free time, 91 hours is huge!

So I began weaning myself from caffeine this week. I first switched from coffee to iced tea. And I’m trying to drink a bit less each day. So far, so good. Another benefit: My kids will no longer crave the “not for kids” forbidden fruit they see daddy drinking.

An update on my other recent lifestyle change: I’m not standing up constantly while working, but I do stand up quite a bit. It does feel better to spend part of my work day standing up and part sitting down. I do think it is a healthy change. In fact, I’m now intrigued by office treadmill desks. They sound crazy, but they’re the “obvious” next step from working while standing up.

I’ve long believed I best absorb Chinese flashcards and audio recordings while walking or running. Others who have tried these work treadmills seem to agree that working while exercising improves concentration:

To the uninitiated, work-walking sounds like a recipe for distraction. But devotees say the treadmill desks increase not only their activity but also their concentration.

“I thought it was ridiculous until I tried it,” said Ms. Krivosha, 49, a partner in the law firm of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand.

Ms. Krivosha said it is tempting to become distracted during conference calls, but when she is exercising, she listens more intently.

Posted by James on Wednesday, June 09, 2010