Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tristi's Take on Caffeine

With all the press the Mormons have been getting lately, and the recent television shows and documentaries, the question was raised about the restriction on caffeine in the faith. To clear up any misconceptions, the LDS Church made a statement - the Church does not have an official stance against caffeine.

This has led to a lot of spin-off articles all over the Internet, such as this one.

I've also heard people make the comment, "Hey, we can have caffeine after all!"

I'd like to share my story. It's a little bit long, but I promise, it does have a point. Get comfy - it will be worth it.

I was raised, like many Mormons, to believe that caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom. I never drank it growing up. I never had it at all until I was in my late teens.

Around that time, I started getting really, really bad headaches. We're talking, the kind that made me feel like my brain was having a charlie horse. I tried every kind of pain reliever out there. The only one that really worked was Aleve, but it left me feeling really weak. Someone suggested that I drink a Coke or Pepsi with my painkiller, and presto! The solution was reached!  Two ibuprofen and a can of Coke, and the pain went away. Later I would learn that the headaches were caused by corn. Funny that Coke helped, because Coke has corn in it, but I digress.

A few years ago, I started a job that required a lot of hours and dealing with a lot of stress.  My adrenals were shot. I've never had very strong ones, but whenever you undergo stress, your adrenals suffer, so I was doubly in trouble. I noticed that when I drank Coke for my headaches, I had energy and could focus, so I started drinking Coke to get myself going. It became my adrenaline replacement, and for a long time, I was functional again.

My Coke of choice was Cherry Coke, and it wasn't long before I'd drink some as soon as I woke up so I could wake up, I'd drink it all day so I could stay awake, and then I'd drink it at night so I could finish up my work. I was drinking about 3 liters a day.

It got to the point where I'd be thinking about Coke as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning. I'd even ask my husband to bring me some before I got out of bed just so I could get out of bed. My body had shut down to the point where I could not function without it.

This whole time, I was a little concerned. I don't like the idea of being dependent on something, but I couldn't function without the Coke. I'd go off it for a day and be absolutely worthless - couldn't think, couldn't work, couldn't do anything. I had come to the point where I thought I would never be able to exist without it.

Then I had an experience that scared the tar out of me.

I was doing book signings at Costco. This was actually a year ago - almost to the day, for that matter. I had my Coke cup there with me, as always, and I was doing my thing - talking to people, handing out bookmarks, etc.

I started getting sweaty, although my face was cold. My heart was racing a million miles an hour, I was getting lightheaded, I started to tremble - I felt like crap, for lack of a more refined word. I called my husband, and he came over to the store. I told him how I felt, and he informed me that he was taking me home. I didn't want to go - I had an obligation to the store - but he talked to the manager and we left. Then we went in to the doctor, where I was informed that I was on the brink of a heart attack.

At thirty-five years old.

My doctor was able to pull me out of it, but as he told me later, if he hadn't been able to, my next step would have been the emergency room.

And we had a very serious talk about caffeine.

I have a mild heart condition that I didn't know about. I've learned since then that many people have similar heart weaknesses that they don't know about until it causes a major problem. But my heart condition + overconsumption of caffeine = Tristi almost had a heart attack at age thirty-five.

I have not had any caffeine since. It was hard for me to give up my Cherry Coke. I still crave it sometimes. My headaches have mostly stopped because I've cleaned up my diet and I learned that was causing many of my problems. I still struggle with having enough energy, and when I feel that lag coming on, I really want my Coke. But this month marks my one-year anniversary since I went off, and I feel really good about that.

So, is caffeine included in the Word of Wisdom? Maybe not officially, but here's my take.

The Word of Wisdom is a code for health. The Lord wants to bless us by helping us have the most healthy bodies possible, and so He tells us how to achieve that. I've learned for myself that caffeine has some pretty negative side affects. It can make the consumer edgy, snappish, feel paranoia - among other things. It makes the prostate swell. (I've never experienced that for myself.) In my case, it set off a heart condition I didn't know I had. It's obvious that caffeine isn't good for the body, and definitely not for me personally. You can Google for lists upon lists of other negative side effects - there are quite a number of them. Caffeine might not be specifically banned by the Church, but if we want to be healthy and to be free of substances that control us and affect our behavior, we should avoid caffeine. Believe me - I felt controlled and my behavior was affected.

In addition, I believe that we each have what I call "our own personal Word of Wisdom." This is an addendum we should each add to the commandment for ourselves. The goal is to eat those things that are best for us and avoid those things that cause harm, right? Well, cabbage and corn give me really bad headaches, and so I include those on my own personal Word of Wisdom in the "things not to eat" category. If you're deathly allergic to walnuts, you shouldn't eat them, right? That becomes part of your own Word of Wisdom - if you're wise, you'll lay off the walnuts. Sure, it's not part of the official commandment, but we've been told that we shouldn't have to be commanded in all things - if we are, we're lazy and slothful servants. (D&C 58:42) If I have to wait for the prophet to tell me not to eat cabbage and corn before I'll stop eating them, well, that's just really sad.

To summarize - we don't have to wait for something to be officially included in the Word of Wisdom to come to an understanding that it's not good for us and to refrain from partaking of it. Whether or not caffeine is or is not included, it makes no difference to me. It hurts me, and so I'm not going to drink it anymore. I've been down that road, I've seen what it does to my body, my heart in particular, to my emotions, to my temper, to my outlook on life.

Some people have taken this statement by the Church as permission to drink it. That's a choice each person needs to make for themselves. It's not my place to tell you what you should do. All I know is that for myself, if I want to be healthy, I need to stay away from it as faithfully as if it were included in the Word of Wisdom, right along with corn and cabbage, right along with alcohol and cigarettes. It's not only called the Word of Wisdom because the Lord was sharing wise advice with us - we're expected to use some wisdom of our own as well.


Taffy said...

I think that's funny that members have decided it's okay to drink caffeine i.e. Coke/Pepsi products. The church has never come out against those drinks or caffeine (at least not that I can find. One of our cultural myths, I guess.
I personally don't like soda. Carbonation hurts my throat and doesn't quench my thirst at all. BUT! I adore a good steak and the Word of Wisdom says only eat meat in season. :)
The Word of Wisdom is more than just a list of have/have nots. And like you said, it's personal.
Good post, Tristi!

Melanie Montgomery said...

I too was addicted to Coke, well Mountain Dew really, which I think is worse. I didn't have a heart attack but I did have kidney stones and the pain from that was enough for me to kick that habit straight out the door. Thanks for posting this!

Robyn Stafford said...

Thank you, for sharing your personal experience and your testimony concerning the Word of Wisdom. You are very wise at your young age. I've never heard the debate about caffinated sodas expressed more understandably.
The comment you made about not liking to be under the control of something is a very valid point in and of itself. This is what I've tried to teach my children and, for the most part, they've learned it well.
Thank you, Tristi, for continually sharing your talents and testimony thru your writings. I'm sure the Lord is well please in how you've used your gift for so much good. May he bless you always.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you found out! I have the same sort of trouble - only mine is Panic Disorder. Too much caffiene can make the panic attacks much worse and more frequent. So here I'm taking meds every day to not have panic attacks, only to find out that I'm undoing what the meds do every time I drink caffiene. Which is really, really sad, since I'm a Pepsi-ite, and they haven't come out with a decaf version like Coke has!

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