On the Abstention from Caffeine


(TEA Time) Off with the beans; in with the leaves. (Photo taken by Lyka Gonzalez.)

(TEA Time) Off with the beans; in with the leaves. (Photo taken by Lyka Gonzalez.)

It took an effort of will, but I managed to stay away from coffee today.

I’ve excluded a lot of things from my diet over the last two years (though when I say exclude, what I really mean is “avoid 80 to 90 percent of the time”). I’ve stopped consuming artificial sweeteners, carbonated beverages, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and so on and so forth. Because these abstentions roughly coincided with (and were likely supported by) intensifications in my mindfulness practices, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to notice how my food addictions are driven mostly by mental rather than physical cravings.

(For instance, I always used to want a Coke when I went to the cinema. It didn’t matter whether I was thirsty or not. It didn’t even matter that I’d reached the point where I didn’t even like the taste of Coke. If I was at the movies, I had to get a Coke. You can’t get more mental than that.)

At any rate, coffee is one of my last remaining mentally-driven food cravings. The shot of caffeine doesn’t do anything for me anymore. It doesn’t wake me up and it doesn’t stimulate my body or my mind. But I drink it because it’s sweet, because it’s comforting, and because it’s the nutritional equivalent of giving myself a hug.

Except, I think I’ve reached the point where I’d rather give myself a hug than rely on food and drink to mediate my self-affection. I’m not sure where exactly the compulsion is coming from. (It’s certainly not coming from necessity; if anything, my nutritionist blatantly told me to “consume more.”) I suspect though that it has do with the gradual whittling down that tends to accompany years of practicing yoga and meditation. Things that don’t serve you just slowly drop away—without drama (and also without premeditation). Of course, I’m far from being a renunciate, but the culinary orgies and calorie fests have become fewer and farther in between, and certainly smaller in scale and narrower in scope.

The upside to all this austerity though is a heightened appreciation for sensation of any kind. For some strange reason, food tastes much better in minute amounts. It’s not so much about finding joy in small things, but about finding joy in smaller things. Scarcity, like absence, makes the heart grow fonder.

Or, at the very least, the palate keener.

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