Coffee is an interesting and divisive beverage. In its basic state, it's often bitter, difficult to stomach, and harsh on the digestive system. The caffeine content can be strong enough to give you jitters or leave you crashing in the middle of the day.
On the other hand, when brewed properly, it can be a rich and flavorful beverage. It can give you long-lasting energy throughout the day, enough to wake you up and get you moving, while helping you suppress your appetite. It can even be used as part of a cleanse.
Some people claim that coffee can help you lose weight. Caffeine is thermogenic, it can suppress your appetite, it can cleanse your system, and it can replace beverages that are much worse for you, like soda. On the other hand, many people have tried a coffee diet in order to lose weight and found the opposite happened instead.
So, what's going on? Why is coffee so fickle, and why is it causing you to gain weight?
1. Sugar Content
One of the most difficult parts of building a coffee habit, or using coffee as a weight loss device, is that it's hard to handle. See, when you want to use coffee to lose weight, you need specifically black coffee. Adding sugar to it as a sweetener immediately kicks it up from a zero-calorie beverage to something that rivals a soda.
The biggest problem we see, time and again, is that people fail to draw the distinction between coffee, the beverage, and coffee drinks, which simply have some coffee in them. If your coffee drink comes from Starbucks and is full of sugar, syrups, and topped with whipped cream, guess what? That's giving you hundreds of calories. If you drink two or three of those in a day, that's nearly half of your total caloric allotment for the day. It's a lot!
We get it, we really do. Strong black coffee is very difficult to stomach. It's strong, bitter, and harsh. You can adulterate it with a little cream or sugar, but that already tips the scales away from the health benefits you want to get from the habit.
The best way to lighten the coffee is to invest in higher-quality coffee. A lot of the bitterness of coffee comes from poor quality beans, heavily roasted, and pre-ground. Poor quality beans don't have as much flavor and have more bitterness. Heavy, dark roasts are more bitter than light, flavorful roasts, but smooth over imperfections and lead to a more consistent flavor (which is ideal for pre-packaged coffee.) Pre-ground coffee allows the aromatics and oils in the beans to dissipate long before it ever reaches your coffee machine, leaving you with just the bitterness.
There is a wide range of coffee trends, including the French Press and AeroPress, which will brew a delicious cup of coffee. The only hard part is, they tend to take longer to brew. That said, adding something of a morning ritual to your coffee brewing routine can be good for stress levels as well.
2. Milk or Creamer
Sugar isn't the only thing people adulterate their coffee with; the biggest offender is actually your milk or creamer. A quarter of a cup of milk added to coffee adds a lot of calories to a single cup. Milk is full of proteins, as well as lactose, a natural sugar. Different kinds of milk and creamers have different caloric content, but they're all high for a single cup.
Skim Milk: A quarter cup of skim milk has 22 calories in it.
Whole Milk: A quarter cup of whole milk has 38 calories in it.
Creamer: Common creamers have 114 calories in a quarter cup.
Of course, you might add more, or you might add less. Most of us don't measure out how much we add unless we're trained baristas, and we might not pay attention to how much of what is in our casual orders from the café on the corner.
Now, it might not sound like 22 calories is a lot, but that adds up. Remember, your average number of calories you should be consuming to lose weight each day is around 1,500 for women and 2,100 for men. One cup of coffee per day might not add a whole lot of calories, but many people drink five or more cups every day.
Remember, too, that the numbers above reflect just the creamer. If you add milk AND sugar AND a syrup to your coffee beverage, you're compounding the number of calories involved. Many Starbucks coffee drinks range from 150 to 300 calories each.
If you're thinking "the caffeine gives me energy, which helps me lose weight passively," remember that caffeine alone doesn't do much. Scientific studies indicate that caffeine consumption with no other factors (like diet or exercise) increases your resting caloric burn by 7 calories per day. It's really not much! It's definitely not enough to offset drinking a sugar-laden beverage several times per day.
Coffee is, to put it bluntly, addictive. Sugar is addictive, caffeine is addictive, and habits are addictive. Building the habit of a sedate morning routine where you brew a cup of black coffee over a healthy breakfast is perfectly fine.
Building a habit of frantically rushing out of the door, picking up a McGriddle and a Starbucks frappe on the way to work, choking it down before having to sit in an office job for 8 hours? That's a much, much worse habit to have.
Even worse is when you're consuming several of these beverages per day. Even if a single beverage only has 100 calories in it, you can only drink a few of them before they rival the caloric intake of a full meal. Worse, since they're liquid (and since the caffeine and sugar give you energy) they don't stick in your digestive system for long. They leave you energetic, restless, and hungry. You're more likely to snack when you have a regular sugary coffee habit, and that further pushes you away from your goal of weight loss.
Weight loss is, and will always be a numbers game. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you're consuming. It doesn't matter if you do that through exercise or through dieting or both, but those numbers need to result in a caloric deficit. If they don't, you won't lose weight, no matter how hard you try.
This is, incidentally, why "cheat days" are so bad, and why that extra protein snack after a workout is ruining your progress.
That's right; the caffeine content in coffee might be causing you to gain weight.
Alright, so this one's a bit of a scare. Caffeine can be bad for you, but only in specific situations. If you're using a bit of caffeine to wake you up in the morning, that's fine. If you're drinking coffee throughout the day, though, there's a decent chance that you're going to end up having issues with your sleep.
How many among you get a full 8 hours of sleep every night? We would venture to guess the number is very small. Feel free to let us know in the comments if you do or don't, though. We'd like to tally it up.
One of the hard truths about our society is that it isn't designed with health in mind. A long workday, a long commute, time spent running errands, time spent with family; it all takes away from sleep. You're more and more likely to not get enough sleep the more bad habits you have, and drinking sugary, caffeine-filled beverages in the afternoon can be devastating.
One of the problems with caffeine is that it takes a while to fully work out of your system. You'll stop feeling the effects rather quickly, but enough of it is still in your body to be affecting your hormones, including the melatonin that regulates your sleep cycle.
It has been scientifically proven that lack of sleep leads to weight gain. The less sleep you get, the less restful your evenings, and the less your body can adapt and heal. It's all part of the body's reaction to stress. This, coincidentally, leads us to our next point in the list.
Stress builds up, and it releases the hormone called cortisol in your system. Cortisol has a wide range of negative effects on the body, including increasing blood sugar. It also reduces the immune system, hinders digestion, hurts the reproductive system, and can stall the growth process. It can also damage your mood. Stress is bad!
Coffee tends to hamper your stress response, by preventing you from relaxing. The caffeine increases your heart rate and puts more stress on your body. More importantly, caffeine has been shown to elevate the levels of cortisol in your body, which leads to all of the effects of stress without having a stressful event in the first place.
6. Drinking on an Empty Stomach
Every negative facet of coffee is exacerbated by drinking it on an empty stomach. Sugar in coffee hits your bloodstream faster and harder. It passes through your system quickly but is more fully absorbed. You're more likely to get cravings and get hungry, leading to snacking, drinking more coffee, or eating larger meals. All of this contributes to stress as well.
How to Drink Coffee Properly
Coffee can be healthy! There are studies out there that prove coffee habits have tangible health benefits. Coffee can give you energy and help you lose weight. You just have to drink it right.
Drink it in moderation. Moderation is the key to all things in life. Too much of anything, even a good thing, can be bad for you. Your body needs water to live, but too much water can kill you. Your body needs sugar for energy, but too much sugar can kill you. See what we mean? Limit yourself to a couple of small cups of coffee each day.
Take a break. One of the biggest downsides to coffee is that caffeine tolerance builds up very quickly. Over time, you'll discover that coffee gives you less and less energy, and you'll be tempted to drink more and more of it to compensate. It's better to take a break from drinking coffee for a while, to let your tolerance reset, and pick it back up later. Luckily, it doesn't take too long for tolerance to dissipate either.
Drink it with food. You absolutely need to drink coffee alongside a small meal. You need something in your stomach to avoid the harsh effects that coffee can have on your system. A small breakfast is really all you need – even just a bagel is probably enough – but you'll want to find your own balance. Drink coffee with meals, not on its own.
Avoid sugary additives. Sugar, creamer, syrup; anything you add to coffee needs to be as low-calorie as possible. Keep in mind that many milk and sugar alternatives are not actually low-calorie, so look at the nutritional info for anything you want to add.
Mix it with green tea. If the flavor is your biggest reason for not wanting to drink plain coffee, why not consider changing the flavor with a different additive? Green tea is a unique flavor of its own, and mixed with coffee, creates a unique and delicious beverage. We covered this in greater detail here.
Drink a more robust coffee beverage. Coffee can be augmented with ingredients that bolster its health effects without dumping loads of calories on you. For example, our coffee comes in convenient individual packets you can bring to work. It's loaded with additional ingredients to supplement your weight loss efforts, including ginseng, l-carnitine, Garcinia Cambogia, and low-calorie sweeteners and creamers. It's a great alternative, and we swear by it.
At the end of the day, the main thing you should take away from this post is that coffee isn't a miracle cure, but neither is it a deadly scourge. It can be fine, in the right preparation, and in moderation. Just drink it properly and work out, and you'll shed the pounds.