When the wonderful Heather Mason of The Minded Institute posted this article about orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, I felt slightly uncomfortable. As an advocate of healthy eating (and it’s synergy with a yoga practice) and indeed as someone who has not only participated in juice ‘feasts’ but encouraged others to do so, I needed to ask myself…
I’m trying to make sense of why I have gone off coffee. Is there a physiological reason for my current aversion to the stuff or do psychological or even socio cultural factors provide a better explanation.?
Coffee = adulthood
My initiation to coffee was as a milky drink made with Birds instant powder. It tasted bitter, sickly and disgusting – but so grown up. I persevered with the taste given it’s associated promise of participation in adult chat and confidences.
Coffee continued to play an important part in growing up. In college rooms at university, fellow students entertained each other with coffee and chat. Despite all the innuendo, inviting someone to my room for coffee usually meant just that. Maybe I missed out on any other activity because the coffee in my room was pretty good – I had graduated from instant to the real thing. Filtered through a plastic filter contraption and filter papers into a large jug. The coffee beans ground each week in Durham’s tiny, very traditional coffee shop.
Coffee: part of identity
In my 20s, coffee was part of being a francophile and foodie. On trips to France we (I was a we by this stage) discovered espresso made in funny shaped stove top contraptions in gites and swanky machines in cafes and bars. A single espresso taken at the bar in a Parisian brasserie was, to me,the height of sophistication.
With small children, life changed and the role of coffee within it. There was toddler group coffee which came with a bit of adult company among the mayhem of tantrums and toys and the late night caffeine seeking cups to keep alert in those days of juggling a business and motherhood. Coffee as comfort and a prop.
Coffee also provided a channel for expression of political views and, if I’m honest, snobbery. What was acceptable in terms of provenance and brand. The importance of fair trade, small producers and avoidance of American owned High St chains in favour of small independents.
So coffee drinking has been more than a drink, it’s socially embedded ,part of my identity it’s bricolage, an expression of values, vanities and foibles and loaded with memory and myth.
But over the past year or so I have gone off coffee. It has become more and more bitter, no matter which preparation method, blend or brand. I’ve moved from flat whites to watered down Americanos and single shot lattes. From not sensing or acknowledging any caffeine effect I now have coffee jitters: coffee makes me feel uncomfortable and unsettled with a racing mind and a sense that I am about to suffer a migraine.
It’s not the first time. I went off coffee almost before I knew I was pregnant. For both pregnancies it tasted poisonous for the nine months – but most intensively in the first trimester. Apparently, this is common and well reported in research. Coffee aversion is associated with pregnancy hormone levels and healthy pregnancies whereas high levels of consumption have been associated with spontaneus abortion and fetal abnormality .
So is there an equally physiological reason this time. Is the dreaded menopause to blame? I haven’t found anything to particularly support this. There’s research that suggests coffee might intensify menopausal sympoms and various pieces which talk about both negative and positive affects of caffeine in older age. But I’ve not found much about aversion other than a web forum which discussed increased sensitivy to smell in the menopause.
Going off the idea of coffee
Perhaps more relevantly, I think I now look at coffee differently. When I took part in my first ‘juice feast’ and suffered from withdrawal headaches, coffee became something to be wary of – a friend with a nasty side. And in becoming more aware of nutritional advice to seek out alkali inducing, foods, coffee stood out as a ‘baddie’ acid creator.
And lets face it, while coffee is still cool. I’m not. My foodie francophile version of coffee cool has been replaced by the hipster offering. Bearded young men fervently making very small cups of not quite hot enough beverage from highly polished espresso machines in premises that are ever so slightly grungy. Not the natural habitat of middle aged women, even those with yoga mats,
My aversion to coffee then? Partly greater sensitivity to the taste and smell through eating cleaner nowadays or perhaps partly because of hormonal change? But also because it’s fallen off its pedestal: those neural pathways forged in my teens between adult aspiration and a bitter drink are no longer needed. It’s just not me anymore.
Lemongrass and ginger tea please.