How I Kicked the Can
My love for diet soda started back in the 70's when my then overweight mother first introduced me to it. We drank Tab until Diet Coke hit the market in the early 80s. We loved this new soda even more, made the switch, and never looked back (well, at least not yet).
Just like the ads said, I initially drank Diet Coke "just for the taste of it." I loved its bubbly bite. The fact that it was calorie-free made drinking it that much more sweet. I drank it as an overweight teen and young adult, and looking back realize that as my intake of the chemical concoction went up, my weight went down. While I can’t in good conscience give too much credit to diet soda for helping me lose (and keep off) more than 30 pounds, (cutting portions and doing more physical activity were certainly bigger contributors), sipping it was definitely something that kept me satisfied, and oftentimes I had it in place of between-meal snacks.
Diet Coke had also become somewhat of a psychological crutch for me. Whether anxious or irritable, I always knew I could count on Diet Coke for a quick pick-me-up. And when I was happy, I'd grab one (or two) to celebrate but my habit also became somewhat of an addiction. Before every ball game at Yankee Stadium, I’d stash an unopened bottle in my purse, knowing they only serve Pepsi products there. I’d even buy a few cans or a case to keep with me when staying at hotels that serve only Pepsi.
My diet soda habit had also increasingly become a source of guilt and shame. As a registered dietitian who has written about the possible perils of diet soda, I had increasingly felt the need to justify my habit. My numbers for cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and body weight had always been healthy, and I've always eaten a pretty healthy diet. I didn't drink alcohol or other caffeinated or artificially sweetened beverages. But while I wasn't convinced diet soda was the devil, I knew that a several-can-a-day habit could turn into a problem down the road. Emerging research suggested a link between diet soda consumption and weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems, erosion of tooth enamel and bone loss.
By the time you read this, it will have been 47 days since I gave up Diet Coke cold turkey. I’m convinced I was addicted, and fortunately most of the symptoms I felt initially—terrible headaches and excessive sleepiness—have since subsided.
While I still miss the ritual of drinking it, I know that doing so (and drinking a lot more water than I used to) has, at least health-wise, been a step in the right direction—one that I hope lasts!
If you plan to kick the can, here are some tips to help make the ride along the way a bit less bumpy:
Determine if you’re addicted
According to the upcoming book, Unhooked: How to Quit Anything by Dr. Frederick Woolverton and Susan Shapiro, the best way to tell if you’re truly addicted to anything is to try to stop the habit by yourself. If you can kick it for one week with no problem, you’re probably not addicted. But if you miss the substance and have bad withdrawal symptoms, that may indicate you’re addicted and that the addiction may get worse. If you can’t successfully quit your habit solo, be sure to seek advice from a qualified addiction therapist.
Try the all-or-some approach
Keep track of how much and when you consume diet soda or other artificially sweetened or caffeinated drinks. If you don’t think you’re addicted, but just drink too much, create specific rules you truly think you can follow to help you gradually taper your intake. Some examples:
- keep it out of the house
- aim for no more than one a day or a few per week
- have two glasses of water for each glass or can of diet soda you drink
If you go cold turkey, have a back up
If you give up caffeinated diet soda but still want a caffeine fix (and want to minimize symptoms of caffeine withdrawal), have healthful replacements like coffee or tea (preferably made without sugar or cream) on hand. Try to consume caffeinated beverages as early in the day as possible so it doesn’t interfere with your sleep. If you want to or need to forego all caffeinated beverages, drink plain or sparkling water solo or with a splash of fruit juice or lemon/lime/cucumber slices. And remember that decaf coffee and tea still contain some caffeine (albeit much less than fully “caffeinated” versions).
I decided to quit Diet Coke at the same time an acquaintance friend decided to quit smoking. Checking in with one another every few days has helped us both stay on course. I have also found support by being accountable and posting my progress on Twitter and on Facebook (using the hashtags #nomoredietcoke and #smallchanges). My friends and followers are my cheerleaders, and at the same time, have given me lots of great ideas for what to drink instead.
Have you ever given up diet soda? How did you do it?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.