Ever wonder how the starlets get so thin? Well, surgery, duh, but even then they have to keep their scalpel-honed figure. A good friend of mine who lives in the LA area told me that the joke there is the “3 C’s” or cocaine, cigarettes and caffeine. Sure they work out like fiends, she said, but they also get a little extra help. I’m not usually one for heresy (I likes me my research!) but I don’t think this is much of a secret. Kate Moss snorts coke. Nicole Kidman smokes. And I think it is more common than not to see a star holding a cup o’ Starbucks these days. In fact, coffee runs seem to be Britney’s new day job.
For most of us cocaine is out and (I hope) you’ve all kicked the cigs by now but what about caffeine? Does it really help you lose weight?
Caffeine and Weight Loss
The weight loss industry sure wants you to think so. The Other White Powder is in everything from gum to energy drinks to weight-loss pills as well as in natural sources like coffee and chocolate. Caffeine is purported to boost metabolism, curb cravings and increase your energy. All of which is actually true… to a point. The Mayo clinic has a very informative and, yes, kill-joy article on the subject. Caffeine will boost your metabolism and supress your appetite… but not long enough to make a significant dent in your weight. But what about the energy? Everyone knows caffeine gives you crazy mad energy, right? That’s why people drink coffee every morning. That’s why bodybuilders cycle Zantrex-3. That’s why soccer moms hit Starbucks on the way to drop-off every day.
Believe me, I understand tired. Just this morning I neatly washed, dried and folded a granola bar wrapper in a fog of sleep deprivation brought on by three of my wee ones having strep throat (and a double ear infection for the baby). But according to a lengthy National Geographic article on the “world’s favorite drug” taking caffeine on a regular basis becomes a vicious cycle.
“The principal reason that caffeine is used around the world is to promote wakefulness,” Czeisler says. “But the principal reason that people need that crutch is inadequate sleep. Think about that: We use caffeine to make up for a sleep deficit that is largely the result of using caffeine.”
In essence, you do get a burst of energy from caffeine. To which your body quickly adapts to over the course of several weeks. After that point, any “extra” energy you get is just to bring you up to your normal pre-caffeine levels.
I do have a few bodybuilder friends that swear by cycling caffeine: abstaining completely (even chocolate! Ah, the pain!!) and then a week or so before a competition, down the stuff in massive amounts before every workout. It seems to work for them (in conjuction with a lot of other crazy practices like only eating chicken breast and vegetables for the month before and then taking massive doses of diuretics to pull the water out of their muscles on the day of. Also – have you seen the fake tanner that bodybuilders use? I’m not judging you if this is what you want to look like but it isn’t my goal.) but unless you are working up to a very brief, intense competition window then I don’t know that it’s worth the elevated heart rate and blood pressure just for your high school reunion.
The Little White Pills
But what about all those weight-loss pills? Their primary ingredient is caffeine in all its many forms: kola nut, yerba mate, green tea, and guarana just to name a few. Sure you like a cup or two of joe in the am or maybe a diet coke with lunch – so how would you like 24 cokes? That’s the amount of caffeine in one daily dose of Zantrex-3. This was just one finding in the Consumer Labs report on weight-loss pills. Since the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, Consumer Labs did a study on the most popular diet pills out there. I won’t go into detail – check the website if you want to see if your favorite pill is on the list – but their findings included a whole lot more caffeine per dose than what was labeled as well as a lack of or only miniscule dose of many of the other ingredients they tout.
After my third child was born, I was so desperate to lose the weight that I decided to do whatever it took, no matter how extreme. (Incidentally, this was also the time period where I had my closest brush with an eating disorder. Not a great time for a new mom.) I bought a Sam’s Club-sized bottle of “energy pills” and ran home to take my first dose. Within hours my heart was palpitating, my hands were shaking and I was peeing urine a color I can only describe as radioactive. It freaked me out.
But not enough to stop taking them. So I cut the dose in half and pushed myself twice as hard in the gym. I made it through about half that bottle before I realized that I wasn’t losing any weight – just my mind. So I quit. The pills made not a speck of difference in my specs.
If you enjoy a cup of coffee for the antioxidants or a Diet Coke for that unique aspartame-y flavor, then fine but don’t expect it to be the miracle cure for your weight loss. What can you expect from caffeine, especially in high doses? Sleep problems, increased peeing (it’s a diuretic), increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and addiction. In my opinion, you’re better off without it.