To (Finally) Quitting Diet Coke

Those that know me (even just a little bit) have seen firsthand and have come to understand the relationship I have with Diet Coke. Over the years, the caramel colored nectar has become an extension of me — it runs through my veins like blood and we're basically Facebook official.

Scratch that, we were Facebook official. In the past month, my relationship with the bubbly liquid has gone from Married to It's Complicated. You see, our relationship was never meant to last. The signs were there: dependency, resentment and convenience. Now that we've taken some time apart, I can say that it's probably for the better, but I can't help but wonder if it misses me too.

Silliness aside, the stuff is toxic. I've known for more than I'd like to admit how awful this chemical-laden beverage is, but it was too hard to kick. Trust me, I'm not here to judge, lecture or force change upon you just because I've made the decision to quit. I care for your well-being, so I will urge you to consider the hold soda (diet drinks especially) has on your life — and to seriously reflect on that relationship before making your decision either way. 


This is why and how I quit drinking Diet Coke cold turkey


I've read the studies, been forwarded the same email at least a dozen times by my dad and had numerous conversations with friends about kicking diet soda. From my research, the culprit to hooking folks is the aspartame. This chemical is used as an artificial sweetener and replacement for sugar because it's incredibly sweet and has a fraction of the calories regular sugar does. This chemical, also known as NutraSweet and Equal, has actually been found to lead to weight gain due to the effects it has on the brain's natural chemical levels. 

What's even scarier than the addiction, is the long-term health effects that drinks containing Aspartame may cause. According to a study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "...it has been reported that consumption of aspartame could cause neurological and behavioural disturbances in sensitive individuals. Headaches, insomnia and seizures are also some of the neurological effects that have been encountered, and these may be accredited to changes in regional brain concentrations of catecholamines, which include norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine." As a longtime sufferer of migraine headaches and stomach issues, I began contemplating if the aspartame in my Diet Coke could be the common denominator. It wasn't until I noticed myself sneaking Diet Coke from the fridge at work that I realized I was truly in an unhealthy frame of mind (and living in a state of denial.)

I decided to quit four weeks ago today and haven't had a sip of aspartame since. If there were an aspartame anonymous, I'd be just shy of my thirty-day chip. Addiction, of any substance, is brutal for all involved and can take more than once to really kick. It's something that takes dozens of conscious decisions each and every day.

Disclaimer: I decided against weaning myself down as some bloggers suggest, only because if I could justify two cans before lunch, I could easily talk myself into another because of a headache, being thirsty or needing that few minutes of bubbly joy, etc. I needed a clean break to make it work.

 THE WITHDRAWAL PERIOD

THE WITHDRAWAL PERIOD

As I write this, I'm looking over my notes from the very first day. At 10:24 am I began feeling the telltale twinge of an "I need a Diet Coke, stat!" headache forming. I grabbed another water and tried to ride it out. At 11:14 am, I walked to the fridge to grab a cold can. Hey! I needed it — this headache wasn't going to get any better, who was I to defy what my body craved? I can laugh now, but at the time, writing the words on my yellow-post it, "Erin drank last cold Diet Coke" with a very angry hand-drawn emoji hurt. That was the sign that I needed, I could do this — just.get.through.the.day. 

After the first day, my cravings were virtually non-existent. (No, this was not a Christmas miracle — they came back, just not 'til the next week) To be honest, I still wanted Diet Coke but only when sitting down for a meal. Water, for me, just doesn't cut it as a meal enhancer — or, you know, a replenishment tool. From day two on, rather than the gut churning pang for the drink, I was plagued with days of terrible headaches, mood swings (that more often than not left me incredibly short-tempered), joint pain in my elbows, waist and knees along with other flu-like symptoms like extreme lethargy and things that shouldn't be discussed in a forum that's not anonymous. 

 HERE COME THE CRAVINGS

HERE COME THE CRAVINGS

It was probably around day six or seven that the terrible symptoms I'd encountered had started to float away like a dark storm cloud. The wild and crazy "I gotta have it" cravings took the place of my withdrawal symptoms and Diet Coke became everything I thought about. My days were flooded with the thought of a cold can as I had trained my brain to think it would make that tough meeting better — the drive home more tolerable — and me feel happy. 

Therapists that work with people with addictions or bad habits (which, yes, your cola consumption could be) will tell you that you need to find a substitution that's healthier. It seems to be common sense — the whole, "this, not that" mentality — but what people don't see is that we, as humans can become hyper-focused on that replacement, which not a good coping method for kicking bad habits either. Try working out the root cause of the addiction or habit and use your substitution method as practice to make yourself stronger and healthier with a clearer mind and sharper focus. 

 WORKING THROUGH IT

WORKING THROUGH IT

With each passing day, the cravings lessened  maybe by a hair, but lessened! I swapped out the Diet Coke for water with lemon or lime and black tea when I needed a little jolt of caffeine (that's the next one to kick to the curb.) I've never been much of a water enthusiast, so adding the lemon or lime made it a little more palatable. I grabbed some sparkling flavored waters from Safeway only to read the label and see that they were sweetened with aspartame! This leads me to my next (and final point):

As with any dietary change, always read the labels. I was shocked to see that these waters had aspartame listed as ingredients. Learn more about what you're giving up and the alternative names for these products. I found myself flipping bottles (and food items) over and scanning the ingredient list for these names that have become known-enemies. I was baffled to see so many ingredients listed that I couldn't pronounce on some of these products — but clean eating and kicking preservative-laden foods will be a challenge for another time. 

Four weeks down, and I can say that it is easier. I still want to say "Diet Coke" when asked my drink order, but the habit is becoming fewer and far between — just like the cravings. For those that have worked through the challenge of giving up soda, or those currently battling the switch, I salute my lemon-mint water to you and congratulate you — you got this!

 

Holy smokes, guys Thanks for hanging in there and reading about my short (but trying) journey. It's definitely a process and takes multiple conscious decisions every day to stay away from the bad stuff and make those wiser choices. I'm excited to see how the next few weeks go — especially during my upcoming vacation!

Did you give something up recently? I want to hear about your experiences and how you managed to get through it.

  • What was something that you gave up?
  • What led you to the decision to give it up and how was that process?
  • How are you feeling now?

Sound off in the comments below or shoot me an email. I love getting feedback from you guys!