In addition to Xanax and a shot of vodka with a Red Bull chaser, we need more than a few cups of coffee to get through the day. So when we heard about a book that said the caffeine in coffee makes us fat, it was like getting splashed in the face with a piping hot espresso. Are those love handles really caused by our Venti Pike Place Roast, rather than all the Heineken and chicken wings we consumed while watching the Giants destroy the Panthers on Sunday? To find out, we had our writer Alex Rush check in with Eugene Wells, the Brighton Beach-based writer of “The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making You Fat?” to find out.
Alex Rush: Who the hell are you to tell me that I need to stop drinking coffee or else I’ll get fat? I need that coffee. Why are you trying to destroy my way of life?
Eugene Wells: I’m not saying you should stop drinking coffee, because I still drink it from time to time, too. I’m just pointing out that we should have it in moderation because there are a number of different ways that coffee and caffeine intake can contribute to a slower metabolism and overeating. For instance, caffeine consumption can increase your levels of cortisol, which are hormones released in response to stress. Stress and those hormones cause an increase in appetite, which of course causes overeating. Caffeine can also cause muscles to break down.
AR: But you’re a lawyer with no background in scientific research. Where are you getting your information from?
EW: I noticed that I gained a lot of weight really fast after drinking coffee regularly.
AR: Yeah, I noticed that the book had no jacket picture.
EW: Nice once. Anyway, I have a lanky frame, yet I put on 35 pounds in six months, all in my belly. So I did some research and as it turned out, a lot of people had the same problem. And they were also making the connection between coffee and weight gain. In the book, I cite a ton of scientific studies to support this.
AR: But there are thousands of other studies show that coffee has many health benefits beyond making journalists’ copy zing. I’ve seen reports that coffee helps prevent cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and even Alzheimer’s. Wouldn’t you gain a few pounds to keep your sanity and your liver?
EW: But those studies look at the compounds in caffeine-containing beverages in isolation. They don’t really examine how coffee can negatively affect people who need to keep their cortisol and insulin levels down. And none of them really acknowledge the link between coffee and overeating, which is what I try to focus on. And there are other ways to prevent those illnesses, such as by eating healthy and exercising.
AR: Eating healthy and exercising?! Are you a Communist? And besides, coffee has anti-oxidants. Aren’t those good for me?
EW: Well, anti-oxidants are in a lot of other drinks, like herb tea, and even in fruits and dairy products.
AR: Look, I can see you’re a reasonable man, so I’ll try again: Coffee is amazing. It can even boost athletic performance! That’s why the Olympic Committee requires athletes to limit their coffee intake — it can stimulate the brain to help them run faster and even improve muscle contraction! Care to comment, or is this interview over?
EW: Coffee does give us an energy boost. But increased cortisol levels definitely contribute to muscle breakdown.
AR: Look, we’re not getting anywhere with this. Bottom line: How can I continue to drink an obscene amount of coffee without putting on the pounds?
EW: Like I said, the main reason that people gain weight from coffee is because it increases the body’s stress response, which leads to over-eating. So you should drink coffee when your level of stress is lower, like when you’re not in a bad mood and when things aren’t hectic at work.
AR: But I don’t need coffee when I’m not in a bad mood or things aren’t hectic.
EW: OK, fine. But you definitely shouldn’t drink coffee along with a meal that’s high in carbohydrates, which also cause an increase in glucose and insulin. Properly timed coffee-drinking can minimize caffeine’s negative effects.
AR: So coffee for energy and coffee with a muffin are out?
EW: Yes, I’m afraid.
AR: We’re done here.