The challenge – to give up caffeine and sugar for a five whole days. The problem – I am a complete coffee fiend with a daily penchant for Haribo and mid-morning sweet treats. From the outset, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy!
So why bother? Well, as the recent Future of Work Institute’s whitepaper found, employee well-being is vital for productivity and innovation in the workplace. Research has shown that caffeine and sugar lead to short-term highs followed by drastic lows that make it difficult for us to concentrate at work. This challenge gave me the perfect opportunity to embrace the Rested Worker research and kick-start a health kick of my own. So how did I get on?
A few years ago I tried to give up caffeine and lasted only two days. The subsequent headaches and lethargy proved too hard to handle and I quickly resorted back to my mid-morning Americano. This time round proved just as difficult. The weather was awful, I felt cold and tired and wanted nothing more than a big cup of tea and bar of chocolate. Encouraged by my colleagues I pushed through these initial withdrawal symptoms and successfully made it to the end of the week.
Committing to the challenge felt like a bit of a burden and isn’t something I would readily sign up for again. Saying that, once the headaches passed I definitely did feel more energised and focused on my workload. Caffeine and sugar create a vicious cycle of temporary energy boosts followed by subsequent crashes. You feel like you need a nap in the middle of the day, yet struggle to nod off at night. I missed coffee and chocolate but my concentration levels were more balanced and I was better able to tackle my afternoon tasks.
Urban Dictionary’s definition of ‘hangry’ – ‘When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both’. Over-consumption of sugar triggers the production of ghrelin and those ‘hangry’ feelings come 3pm. After a few days of eating whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding the office vending machine, I had less cravings and did feel a bit more energised. It was also nice discovering new snacks like peanut butter and apple slices, quinoa crisps and protein balls.
The main perk for me was financial – avoiding pricey lattes and indulgent lunches meant that I saved about €20 over the course of the week. My heavier wallet made me think – how much could I be saving if I did this all the time? Cutting down on these daily expenses allowed me to enjoy a guilt-free dinner at the weekend without feeling the financial burn.
I wouldn’t advise going completely cold turkey on caffeine and sugar – I reverted back to my old habits the moment the challenge ended. Studies show that you longer you cut out the bad stuff, the better you’ll feel. Why not gradually reduce your caffeine and sugar intake to see the long-term effects on your productivity and energy levels? I’ll still indulge in coffee and chocolate, no doubt, but will think twice about relying on these to get me through the working day. With Lent starting tomorrow, it’s the perfect time to take up the challenge and see if you feel differently too!