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40 Days and Nights, Coffee-Free

A COM sophomore’s sacrifice for Lent

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Chocolate, ice cream, reality television, pizza, swearing, candy, and instant messaging. All things I have given up for Lent — unsuccessfully.

My sacrifice of choice this year? The ultimate college kick-start: coffee.

My personal relationship with coffee began at a young age. My dad always had a fresh pot percolating. His half-finished coffee mugs littered our kitchen, annoyed my mom, and stunk up his Honda.

I guess genes got the best of me. By high school I was hooked. I drank it any way I could — hot, iced, for here, to go, dripped, pressed, steamed, frothed, sweetened with syrup, garnished with whipped cream. And getting coffee was easy. Barista-ing at a local coffee shop through high school was like having an inside track.

Considering ditching coffee for Lent made me cringe. But in the past few years, Lent has become a sort of personal marathon for me, a test of my willpower. So on February 25, I drank my last cup.

The first three days were the hardest. The initial symptoms were debilitating, the headaches chronic. Could my friends please refrain from going to Espresso Royale before class? You can tell anyone who goes into that place from a mile away. Such reminders made it difficult to abstain.

Other side effects took longer to notice.

I’m almost 20. Along with the moniker “teenager,” I’ve been looking forward to shedding another remnant of my adolescence: acne. I’ve tried every remedy possible, from masks and peels to creams and pills — even a homemade green-tea steam stunt my older sister concocted. As all these attempts had failed, I was shocked and amazed when my skin seemed to clear up soon after I cut out coffee.

Curious, I asked my dermatologist about this recent breakthrough — a lack of breakouts. She told me caffeine is the only thing we ingest that is definitively linked to bad skin. She swore off it years ago. According to the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, caffeine intake elevates hormonal release levels. This leads to higher concentrations of hormones such as cortisol, which can stimulate oil glands and lead to acne breakouts.

The solution to my problem was in my breakfast mug the whole time.

Another physical change was less welcome. Since giving up coffee, I’ve put on a few extra pounds. According to Joan Salge-Blake (SAR’84), an associate clinical professor at Sargent College, my weight gain probably occurred because I “displaced that coffee with snack items that are calorie-rich.”

Take Stacy’s Pita Chips, for example: one serving has 140 calories. Plowing through three servings a sitting, I was consuming more than 500 calories. My usual cup of coffee, with cream and sugar, was about 110 calories. On a daily basis, that difference is enough to gain a pound a week, Salge-Blake says. Spread over the course of six weeks, gaining five pounds wasn’t too difficult.

My sacrifice also helped in the pocketbook. I didn’t realize it, but coffee had turned into a money drain — $3 a drink, four times a week. That adds up.

I’m most surprised by how little my energy level changed. Abstaining from coffee, I expected to be fighting all day to stay awake. Surprisingly, I feel the same after a late night of studying as I did when coffee was part of my diet. This got me thinking.

Was my perceived energy because of my morning caffeine fix or was it psychological? I surely should have felt more sluggish without my so-called pick-me-up. I’ve experienced my version of the placebo effect firsthand.

I gave up coffee because I like it so much — the whole point of Lent is to make a substantial sacrifice. Now I realize the only vice involved was caffeine, not the brew itself.

So on Easter Sunday, the culmination of Lent, I sat in a Beacon Hill Starbucks waiting for a friend. We were going out to Easter brunch. There was no Easter basket this year, no chocolate bunnies. Instead, I hovered over a warm mug filled to the brim. Dark and rich, with a bitter bite and acidic aftertaste.

Grande. Pike Place Roast.

Decaf.

Brendan Gauthier can be reached at btgauth@bu.edu.

8 Comments

8 Comments on 40 Days and Nights, Coffee-Free

  • Anonymous on 04.14.2009 at 8:57 am

    It’s nice to know that giving up caffeine had a few positive impacts on you, and made you reflect. Nice article.

  • Anonymous on 04.14.2009 at 9:24 am

    Watching my friends give up something for Lent has always made me curious to think what I would give up, even though I am not Christian. One of my roommates gave up coffee as well and I saw her go through the first few weeks when she had to make do with teas and hot chocolates from Espresso Royale. I think next year I will finally join in the camaraderie that is evident in my friends during Lent. Now to only figure out what I would give up…

  • Anonymous on 04.14.2009 at 9:59 am

    THIS was awesome. What a good story and SO well written! This describes my life and I think I’m going to try cutting it out too!

  • DJ Capobianco on 04.14.2009 at 2:35 pm

    Nice article

    Great work—a fun, entertaining and enlightening read. Nice integration of BU experts, too.

  • Anonymous on 04.14.2009 at 5:24 pm

    I’ll give up my coffee when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

  • Anonymous on 04.14.2009 at 11:08 pm

    That’s awesome and congrats on doing your Lenten sacrifice successfully. It turned out being a good thing, which is generally the case with Lent. My friend decided to run everyday and sometimes people decide to pray more, both things that start out difficult but end up being very good.

  • Anonymous on 04.15.2009 at 12:08 pm

    Much props to you. I attempted to give up coffee for lent as well, and didn’t make it past spring break. Life is just so much better with coffee…
    Great article though!

  • Anonymous on 04.18.2009 at 7:30 pm

    Great article! This has inspired me to give up coffee myself. I’ve got a nasty headache at the moment, but I know it’s for the best! Thank you!

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