caffeine and cankles - the missing link ?
Some women have breast envy. Others are struck down with a case of the green-eyed fashionista at the sight of a size zero waist. Not me. I lust after dainty ankles.
For anyone cursed with the sudden appearance of cankles—where the ankles swell to merge with the calf—you’ll understand my pain. Strappy shoes, for example, are a complete no-no. The moment my dance partner at a wedding looked down at my feet bulging over a pair of stunning sandals and announced, “My God, they look like razor wire!”, it was enough to end any desire for delicate footwear.
That day, I gained a new appreciation for the ugly sisters in Cinderella. You'd be grumpy too if you had a bad case of cankles and this dainty twit was twirling around with your ideal man. Bound to make anyone cranky.
But the most frustrating thing was not having a clue when it was going to happen or why. I’d wake up with perfectly normal feet and for some mysterious reason, by midday they would expand to balloon-like proportions. Now, common advice is to raise your feet over your head. But for any normal person aka individual-with-a-desk-job, this isn’t really an option until you get home. Which can be tricky if you’re going to an event straight after work. When an attack of the cankles strikes, it’s not easy to cram your swollen tootsies into a pair of heels.
After several years of this, I went to the doctor (well, several actually) in search for a cure. I might as well have tattooed ‘don't bother taking me seriously’ across my forehead. All ummed and ahhed, checked my heart, then clearly wrote me off as a hysterical female and gave me a prescription for diuretics. The strong ones that make you pee five times in 10 minutes. Problem solved, but now everyone thought I was pregnant.
Years ticked by and one day I decided to have my teeth whitened. An ex-smoker and a daily coffee habit of six-plus cups a day meant I had teeth that were less than pearly white. My dentist sternly told me no coffee or tea for six weeks. Grumbling, I did as he asked.
At the end of this caffeine-free purgatory, I realised something extraordinary. My cankles had disappeared. It was like magic. I instantly bought the strappiest and generally most uncomfortable but gorgeous shoes I could find. My trainers were relegated to the back of the wardrobe.
"I was astounded. Had my own fairy godmother finally made an appearance and granted my wish? But no, it was something more mundane. My cups of caffeine filled deliciousness had a secret price."
See, I did some research. Drinks that contain caffeine can make water retention much worse. For me, it had caused water retention in my feet and ankles. This is just one of the many documented side effects such as anxiety, restlessness, raised blood pressure, and insomnia. Too much caffeine can also cause withdrawal symptoms. With more than 24 billion cups of coffee consumed every day worldwide, it seems to be one of the last socially acceptable, mind-altering substances available for legal consumption.
Google “caffeine side effects” and the results are disturbing. Reports say caffeine can increase heart attacks in young adults. Those who drank excessive amounts of caffeine were also likely to smoke and have poor fitness. Now, this could simply be a case of people having a lot of bad habits. The health conscious ones are unlikely to drink too much coffee or smoke. But it reminds me of a book I read by the late and great Allan Carr. He was a phenomena in the 90s. An ex-heavy smoker, who simply stopped one day after decades of puffing away, he wrote a book telling people how to quit. He claimed a 98% success rate and gave you your money back, no questions asked, if you continued to smoke after reading his book. Very few did. He quickly became a cult success.
I, and three other loved ones, quit by reading his book. And one thing stayed with me. He said that alcoholics were often heavy smokers. His theory was that eventually smoking didn’t give you the buzz you needed. So you would go on to find that buzz elsewhere, like alcohol. This makes me wonder—when I quit smoking, did I just start right in with another drug? Was caffeine my substitute? And if so, just how bloody strong is this stuff we gulp down each day?
Who knows! Perhaps we’ll look back at this time and be horrified at the way coffee was freely available, in the same way we watch Mad Men and exclaim, “They’re actually smoking! INDOORS.” We’ll shake our heads in disapproval at the memory of how we all slurped down multiple cups of coffee.
For me, this innocent looking comfort was causing my body to react in a highly visible way. I stopped drinking caffeine and to this day, the cankles have never returned in their full, swollen glory.
I do miss my morning cuppa, but I prefer the freedom of being able to wear outrageously uncomfortable shoes that any ugly sister would be proud of.
- Helen Easson
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Helen Easson is a self-confessed beauty addict, with a particular weakness for beautiful perfumes. An international freelance writer and author; Helen lives in Auckland, New Zealand.