Why stimulants are not your friends

Rose Costello looks at stimulants in this week’s Lazy Guide to Getting Healthy

 

Stimulants can be such fun.

They make you feel high, excited and full of the joys of life – and that’s just the legal ones. Don’t be fooled though, they are not your friend. Coffee, tea, sugar and energy drinks are frenemies: they push you and push until you are exhausted. Then they push you some more. You don’t need them. They just make you feel bad.

If you feel you need coffee or tea in the morning to face the day, that’s a pretty good sign you have some level of addiction. According to a report from Johns Hopkins University, “Much of the positive mood effect experienced with consumption of caffeine in the morning . . . is due to the suppression of low-grade withdrawal symptoms.”

Stimulants are believed to increase the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. A report from Brown University says caffeine causes increased neuron firing in the brain, which is perceived as an emergency causing the release of adrenaline.

This upsets your blood sugar balance so you go from high to low, from a burst of energy to a slump. And the more you have, the more you feel you need it.

Imagine if I said you cannot have any coffee, tea or sugar for a day. Nothing. Would you be happy? Or does that sound like a mild form of torture?

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, in other words it works on your mind. Too much, which can be just four cups a day, can lead to insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, headaches and heart palpitations, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Worse still, when coffee is combined with a sugary snack such as a croissant, your blood sugar gets an extra kick, followed by a sharper fall. This leaves you feeling low, hungry and craving another boost.

Business coach and actor John Lovett says that understanding the effect helped him to change. “Knowing why it was important to cut down helped me to break the coffee habit. I used to have at least four cups a day and with sugar. Now I have no more than two.”

He feels the benefit: “I’ve got more energy and it’s stopped my sugar craving.”

So what’s the lazy way to get off the merry-go-round without ending up dizzy? For a week, jot down each day any bad stuff you have: coffee, chocolate, cake, energy drinks.

Then cut down slowly. Otherwise you will get withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, irritability and lethargy.

Wean yourself off by drinking more water and making clever substitutions. Have decaffeinated tea or coffee. Try redbush herbal tea instead of standard tea. (Most supermarkets and health food shops stock it.) The object is to get down to one or two cups of tea or coffee a day.

Caffeine is found not just in coffee, but also in tea, energy drinks, some soft drinks and some medications. There’s even a little in chocolate, but you won’t find that on the label. And it all adds up.

Have . . . instead of

Decaffeinated tea/coffee . . . real tea/coffee

Redbush tea . . . real tea

Peppermint tea . . . coffee

Sparkling water . . . energy drinks

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).

First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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