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How to Quit Caffeine and Sugar for Good

In this blog post, I’m going to touch on the importance of knowing the mind as part of an overall health rebuilding program. I’ll get to how this relates to caffeine and sugar shortly, but let me start with the disclaimer that I am not trained as a psychotherapist. I am, however, Heartmath trained and have deeply studied the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza on neuroplasticity. I have also read a lot of books on this topic, practice these methods myself, and continue to do my own work with practitioners that specialize in brain re-wiring.

In my work with women struggling with autoimmune and gut health issues, I find there are a lot of hidden maladaptive thoughts and/or coping mechanisms for undesirable feelings that drive addictions. Because health and wellbeing derive from both physical and mental wellbeing, and you really can’t separate the two out, it is more common than not that a physically unwell person is also struggling with mental health imbalances.

I don’t think it’s as simple as someone “thinking” themselves sick, or mental health imbalances or trauma entirely causing physical health problems. But, the psychology and mental landscape set during early childhood are like the microbiome in the gut. Breakdown via poor attachment to caregivers or early life trauma - in the case of mental health, or via antibiotics and formula feeding (vs. breastmilk) - in the case of the microbiome, will create cracks in the foundation that is meant to support healthy life. If we have a solid, resilient start to life from a mental/emotional health perspective, and from a microbiome perspective, this will be more protective of our physical health than someone who does not have this start.

When I speak of addictions, I mean behaviors or habits that do not promote health, such as setting a lengthy to-do list in attempting to feel a sense of self-worth through accomplishment, or playing the role of martyr to counteract deep feelings of inadequacy. The addictions also commonly show up in the form of dependency on sugar, caffeine, or alcohol to anesthetize the feelings we don’t want to feel.

While I can offer some tools for self-reflection when it comes to maladaptive habits and patterns of behavior, I usually refer my clients over to a more qualified professional to help support the work we are doing if we really hit a roadblock. However, when the addictions show up to consumable substances and food that are driving GI or autoimmune issues, they land squarely in my realm.

I’ve come to realize that the secret to quitting sugar and caffeine particularly is identifying the unmet feelings and needs that keep us addicted to these substances in the first place. This may also include evaluating and dealing with high levels of stress as well. Often though, the stress we feel in our lives is a direct result of what we do or do not allow to manifest as part of our daily life experience. This gets us back to the mind, how we think, and how we process life.

I run a 3-6 month program called Tame Your Gut and Become Yourself Again aimed at helping women diagnosed with IBS-D and colitis slowly untangle the barriers getting the way of establishing health naturally. In functional medicine, we believe the body knows how to get back to homeostasis, and can do so, once all of the stressors to health are identified and removed and the right support is provided. The process back to health includes dietary, lifestyle, and mindset support and intervention. In my course, I have a module dedicated to the importance of greatly reducing sugar and a module for eliminating caffeine.

It is common for both caffeine and sugar consumption to drive the symptoms of poor gut health and autoimmune disease. Caffeine is a strong push to the nervous system and disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is an important set of glands that work together to coordinate hormone secretion throughout the body to help regulate the nervous and endocrine systems. When the HPA axis becomes dysregulated, the gut eventually becomes dysregulated and then the immune system becomes dysregulated. We want to remove any artificial disrupters to the HPA axis in order to coax it back into balance, and this often means, eliminating caffeine from the diet. Caffeine can also be problematic directly to the GI system itself, and many people find caffeine disrupts their motility and alters their bowel movements.

When it comes to sugar, we have a perfect substrate for feeding the bad bacteria living in the gut of someone with a disrupted microbiome (which is always the case with gut health conditions or autoimmune conditions). Bacteria, in general, love feeding off simple sugars (and also carbohydrates). So, when looking at ways to support the gut by encouraging growth of more beneficial, health-promoting strains of bacteria to crowd out the bad strains, we want to minimize or eliminate sugar. Sugar also taxes the pancreas by causing it to output higher levels of insulin to deal with rising blood sugar levels. This process in and of itself is inflammatory and, left unchecked, can lead to the autoimmune condition of type II diabetes.

Despite understanding the problems around caffeine and sugar when it comes to disease, eliminating these two substances is probably one of the hardest recommendations for clients to implement. And that’s because, in order to be successful, it forces them to face the inner workings of their mind first.

This is probably not the easy solution to the question “how do I quit caffeine and sugar for good” that you were expecting. And, I get it. But, I can say that if you are determined to persevere and truly restore your health, optimizing your brain function, rewiring more adaptive neural pathways, and recalibrating your stress is about the closest thing I’ve found to a silver bullet to this question.

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