1 - It ignites your stress response
People often use coffee as a means of powering through – perhaps first thing in the morning or in preparation for a business meeting – but why? Well, it fires up your stress response, that’s why, but how does this affect our weight?
As caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, it makes sugar more readily available in your bloodstream. Initially this can make you more alert and energised which is good for that early morning meeting, however, longer-term, the effects of circulating stress hormones aren’t so good, and you may notice you start to store more fat around your middle or struggle to shift excess weight (not to mention the effects on your mood, anxiety levels, overall energy levels and ability to sleep!).
Believe it or not, this is actually a protective mechanism. Years ago when stress was physical, meaning we’d need energy, we’d have to have a store of available energy close to the liver where it could be utilised quickly in times of need. Unfortunately for us, this ‘energy store’ comes in the form of fat cells, and of course, we aren’t quite using it up the way we would have in the past. As a result of modern-day, sedentary stress we’re more likely to keep those stores around our tummy, rather than put them to good use.
2 – It could contribute to cravings and affects your appetite
When it comes to caffeine its effects on blood sugar shouldn’t be ignored. So, initially caffeine may dull your appetite (stress responses and eating don’t really go hand in hand) which you may think is great but actually, give it some time, and there could be adverse effects to come. Although sugar is freed initially, storming your system in a desperate bid to act as an available energy source, once the supposed stressor is gone (or in reality, as the effects of your latest cuppa wear off), your blood sugar levels can drop, and with it, hunger pangs are inevitable.
Now, as well as stimulating the release of adrenaline and cortisol, your primary stress hormones, coffee is also thought to have a significant impact on some other chemical messengers. Caffeine is also thought to influence a naturally-occurring chemical called adenosine, which in turns influences a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine is primarily responsible for feelings of reward. Therefore, after your first coffee of the day you may initially feel on top of the world, but once that crash hits you, you may well find yourself desperately craving that next cuppa, or worse – sweet treats! This effect on these neurotransmitters is why coffee habits are thought to become additive over time.
Research has also shown that an unexpected side effect of caffeine stimulating our adenosine receptors, is that your ability to taste sweetness decreases1. This, in turn, could leave you wanting more.
3 – And disturbing your sleep...
Although many of us are aware that caffeine could disrupt our sleep, we might not quite realise the extent of it! Research suggests that caffeine could have effects for up to 6 hours after drinking it, therefore having caffeinated drinks in the evening, or even as early as late afternoon, could be problematic2.
Also, if your sleep becomes disrupted, your weight can really take a hit too. See, a lack of sleep can affect your blood sugar levels and, as above, wobbly blood sugar can make it much more likely that you’ll experience cravings and your diet plans might just go out the window the next day.
4 – Don’t forget the added extras that come with it
As well as the caffeine content of coffee and similar drinks, we can’t forget all the added extras that come with it. For many of us that habitual cup of tea or coffee comes with added milk, sugar or sweeteners. The calories can soon ramp up and don’t assume you can get round this completely with low-calorie sweeteners. Whilst people assume sweeteners may be the safer option, research suggests otherwise. It seems your body, understandably, may struggle to notice the difference between sugar and the replica which science has thrived so hard to create - sweeteners!
Read more on my blog to find out more about the potentially detrimental effects of sweeteners – from gut health to weight management.
5 – And the bad habits associated with it
As well as what’s in the coffee itself, it’s the habits we associate with our tea breaks that can also prove problematic. Sweet treats, be it a biscuit or some chocolate, often aren’t far from the coffee jar as we begin to associate them with making our morning brew. These bad habits can be difficult to break, especially if they come in combination with the tricky effects on appetite as mentioned above!
Another point worth mentioning is that if we’re in the habit of having warm, caffeinated drinks, this could be replacing our all-important water intake. I advise that everyone should be drinking at least 1.5l of water daily, but actually, this needs to be separate from any teas or coffee you’re consuming. Water helps our bowel move and, contrary to popular belief, can help protect against water retention too – both of which are key factors when it comes to successful weight management.
6– It may affect your metabolism
The jury may still be out on whether or not caffeine can have positive or negative effects on your metabolism – this is how quickly you burn fat from your cells. However, after looking at some of the research out there, here’s my verdict.
It seems in small doses caffeine may be protective of a smaller waistline, and this makes sense as some of the healthiest communities in the world include a moderate consumption of good quality coffee as part of their daily routines. However, unsurprisingly, if it becomes more of a habit, as well as affecting your diet, appetite, sleep or stress responses, it seems larger quantities of caffeine could also affect the way your cells store fat.
Once your cells become swollen with excess adipose tissue, we know this can affect the way they work, and problems like insulin resistance can soon crop up too.
7 – Not to mention your digestion
When it comes to the digestive effects of caffeine, many of you may have noticed a more direct effect – see caffeine acts as an irritant and it could send you running to the loo, initially in a bit of a hurry. However, behind the scenes, could there also be something else going on too?
Coffee can act as a pro-reactive element of your diet, especially if you already have a sensitive gut. See, your immune cells are particularly concentrated in the gut and are keen to react to anything they don’t like the look of and unfortunately, coffee, as it comes from a grain (much like gluten), doesn’t seem to slip by unnoticed in many cases. More minor than an allergy or sensitivity, this response can instead add to sub-clinical inflammation – something that isn’t often picked up on until later stages. Unfortunately, inflammatory processes are thought to be another key underlying factor when it comes to problems with weight gain, and much of this is thought to link back to the state of your gut.
How to approach the coffee dilemma
Too much of anything isn’t good so review your coffee intake and aim to reduce it if it seems excessive – it may just surprise you if you have a go at tracking your intake for a day or two!
Try not to get into the habit of relying on coffee, if you do want a cuppa try to drink it with food to help dampen the effects on your digestive and blood sugar responses, and preferably before midday so you won’t risk affecting your sleep.
Then, if you’ll happily admit you probably drink a bit too much and would like to try a change, why not try switching to coffee alternative such as Bambu? It tastes delicious but will be much gentler on your system – enjoy!