5 Ways to Kick the Coffee Habit

Quitting—even if you drink just one small cup of coffee per day—can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include headache, depression, nausea, and muscle pain. Follow these smart strategies to soften the pain.

Why quit coffee? "Coffee can make reflux or heartburn symptoms worse, and can alter bowel habits," says John E. Pandolfino, MD, Gastoenterologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

On the other hand, he says, that morning cup of joe may help, ahem, move things along. Beyond keeping you regular, coffee has been shown to have positive effects on health, including a decreased risk of heart disease, improved memory, and better exercise endurance. Before giving up on coffee (especially if you really enjoy your morning cuppa), Pandolfino suggests you first try a low-acid coffee—a blend that uses steam or high pressure instead of roasting to help reduce the amount of substances that may stimulate stomach acid. Or, experiment with the amount you drink to find out how much you can tolerate.

If you can't tolerate coffee anymore, here's how to easily jettison the java:

Wean Off Caffeine

Pandolfino says the first thing you should do is reduce the overall amount of coffee you consume. Do it slowly to prevent withdrawal symptoms—go from a large to a small cup, then go from a small cup of your usual brew to a small cup of a milder brew. If you're making the coffee at home, you can increase the amount of water you use while brewing.

You shouldn't think that you can never drink coffee again, says Pandolfino. "While weaning yourself off coffee, try to find that sweet spot where your GI symptoms are better but you're still able to get some enjoyment from that cup of coffee."

Counter Caffeine Headache

To sidestep the pain, Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fair Winds), offers up his go-to strategy for sidestepping headaches: make a steaming hot, strong cup of instant coffee, like Folgers® or NESCAFÉ Taster's Choice®. Then take just one tablespoon an hour. Bowden swears this trick helps eliminate the headache that results from reducing your coffee intake while kicking the habit.

Go Half-Caf or Decaf

Caffeine is a stimulant so decaf may make a difference, but it depends on the person. "People's bodies act differently to different stimuli—that's the difficult thing about treating the GI tract," says Pandolfino. Again, trial and error will help determine tolerable levels of coffee.

Replace Your Morning Cup

If you can still tolerate caffeine, Bowden suggests you shift to black or green tea. Even if you're sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, tea (especially green tea) may be less likely to give you the jitters. That's because green tea contains theanine, a substance that has a calming effect on the brain. Experts believe that effect may help counter the caffeine in the tea.

For a caffeine-free swap, try herbal tea or a cup of hot water with lemon. It's a bit acidic, but if you relied on coffee to get your digestion system moving along, it may do the trick.

Stay Hydrated

Sip plenty of water. Good advice for anyone, but Bowden says staying hydrated as you reduce or remove caffeine from your diet can help boost mental clarity and physical performance—two benefits of caffeine that you may now find lacking.



John E. Pandolfino, MD, Gastoenterologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., nutritionist and author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fair Winds)