Some people's worst habit is smoking, biting their fingernails, or swearing. For me, it's downing litres of Diet Coke. I can't remember exactly when our relationship began, but it was probably sometime in college. (When I was growing up, my parents didn't even let us drink soda in the house.) And recently, the relationship became very intense.
I drank Diet Coke at least three times a day, and it started to feel excessive. If I was tired, I'd reach for a Diet Coke. If I was stressed, Diet Coke. If I was eating dinner, Diet Coke. If I was hung over, definitely Diet Coke. It was an addiction, and it was bad. So a few months ago, I decided to go cold turkey; I knew if I tried to wean off slowly I'd never make it. I marked my calendar for November 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
When you decide to quit something that has a big place in your life, it's pretty easy at first. I mean, I should be able to go a few days without freaking soda. Talking about it helped, because it made it seem real and it made me accountable to someone other than myself. The day before my soda ban was scheduled to start, I told my family, "I'm quitting Diet Coke tomorrow," and while they weren't sure I'd be able to stick with it, they were excited I was trying. Whenever I saw good friends, I immediately told them that I gave it up.
The main reason I wanted to quit my diet soda addiction is because I was pretty sure it was messing with my body. Even though it's sugar-free, it contains the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is 200 times sweeter than table sugar - how insane is that?! Research has shown that it can increase cravings for even more sweet stuff, both real and fake. And some studies have linked it to headaches, digestive issues, and even cancer.
I also hoped that giving up diet soda would help me drink more water. I work out a lot, and sipping plain H2O is generally the best way to stay hydrated. The problem? I've never really liked water. I bought some alkaline water from the grocery store, thinking any kind of gimmick might help me. (Alkaline water is supposedly better for you than normal water thanks to a higher pH level.) But I also bought seltzer - lots of it.
A big part of my love for Diet Coke wasn't only the taste but also the carbonation. To me, carbonation is like an orgasm for your esophagus, so I figured that drinking seltzer might help make this whole thing easier. I made sure the seltzer I was buying didn't have added sodium (as many do) and that it wasn't flavoured, because a study came out last year saying flavoured seltzers aren't great for your teeth.
I was traveling a bunch for work this week, which happened to be a good thing. I realised that I tend to reach for Diet Coke mostly while I'm sitting at my desk working, or while I'm eating dinner and watching TV on my couch. Not having access to a fridge full of diet soda at night made it much easier to avoid.
Still, I started to have cravings. I made sure that I bought seltzers to carry around, and I also brought a water bottle. I tried to tell myself that people who drink water demonstrate the fact that they're healthy and care about their health and that's cool, and I want to look cool. That mental trick worked for about as long as you'd expect, which is to say not very long at all.
The toughest day for me was coming home from traveling. I'll admit I had gone out the evening before and ended up having more booze than I had planned, so I woke up feeling a little dehydrated. I chugged water while I headed to the airport, but when I got on the plane, it seemed like every single person and their mother was drinking soda... fake-syrupy carbonated amazingness. It was like they were all trying to sabotage my goal. But I held strong and ordered about five seltzers from the flight attendant. Take that, diet-soda-drinking aisle seat passenger, who had to get up to let me go to the bathroom more than once.
They say it takes about 16 days to break a habit. I don't know who exactly "they" are, but they are correct. I passed my 16-day mark this week and noticed that I was no longer yearning for my old friend DC. I never once went looking in my fridge for any, nor did I even think to order one while out at dinner with friends. Even when I went to a bar with my parents to watch our football team (go, Packers, go!), I didn't even think to order a Diet Coke, which is what I normally would have done immediately. My mom was impressed!
I was in a good place, but wow, did my sugar cravings kick in this week. I don't know if it was because my body was missing the sweet taste of diet soda or what, but I've never wanted chocolate and gummy sour candy and ice cream so much in my life. I especially felt it when I was watching TV on my couch late at night, which is when I used to enjoy a Diet Coke. (Coincidence? I don't think so.) One night I ate an ice cream sandwich, a few mini Kit Kats, and half a bag of Sour Skittles in one sitting.
To prevent ongoing sugar binges, I simply stopped buying the stuff. The cravings still came and went, but they lessened over time.
It was getting close to Christmas, and holiday time means lots of unhealthy drinking and eating. I didn't have any diet soda this week, but it was starting to seem as if I had replaced it with a lot of wine and beer.
That's not to say that I was a boozy mess, since I still relied heavily on seltzer. My family and I actually flew out to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to go to the Packers football game on Christmas Eve. And guess what? At dinner the night before the game, and even at the game and tailgate, I didn't even think about ordering a diet soda. I was extremely proud of myself. I had water with dinner, and between meals or whenever we stopped at a convenience store, I bought seltzer. I did enjoy an occasional lemon-flavoured seltzer, but I think that's OK. We can't be perfect, right?
After being off Diet Coke for a month, I started to feel better. Part of it may have been mental, since I was psyched to have conquered a bad habit. I also found that I had more energy throughout the day. Without soda before bed, I fell asleep more easily, without my stomach feeling bloated or gross from all the bubbles, and I no longer had an achy stomach in the morning either.
I can't say I'll never have a Diet Coke again - I think over time I may end up having one here and there so that I don't feel totally deprived. But today I sit here 38 days clean, and I couldn't feel better or be more happy with myself.
This article was originally published on Prevention.com