I’ve written before about why I won’t consume sports drinks, even during long races. And it’s pretty obvious to anyone that I’m not a fan or a consumer of processed foods in general. But this wasn’t always the case. If you opened the cupboard door in my first apartment 8 years ago, you would see a vastly different array of products than in my pantry today. Boxed meals and processed snack foods, not much resembling a “whole food” at all. But what really stuck out, in my tiny galley kitchen, was the stack of Diet Coke cases against the wall.
I actually didn’t drink a lot of pop growing up (and I obviously grew up where we called it pop and not soda). I didn’t even like cola until I was a teenager. And when I started working at McDonalds and the only thing that was free was pop, I began to drink a lot of regular Coke. That only lasted for about a week, as I quickly overloaded on the sugar and decided to give the diet version a try. And from that day, for the next 10 years, I was addicted to Diet Coke.
When I say addicted, I’m not exaggerating. I drank the equivalent of 6-8 cans of Diet Coke a day, either at work from the fountain or in cans in my dorm room or later, apartment. I quickly became addicted to the caffeine, especially because I also took up a coffee habit in college. By graduate school, working and going to school at the same time, I was drinking 40 ounces of coffee and more than 72 ounces of Diet Coke every day. If I was thirsty, I drank Diet Coke. I rarely drank water.
When I’d randomly go on diets after gaining bits of weight here and there, Diet Coke was a staple. Zero calories! It was one thing I never had to “give up” and there were times I honestly craved feeling an icy cold can in my hand and hearing the click of the open tab and the bubbles. You know those commercials where someone opens a can of soda and a ton of fun starts? That’s almost how I looked at it, as embarrassing as that is. I couldn’t wait for the burn of the first cold sip.
Also during the time I was a heavy consumer of Diet Coke, I suffered from pretty severe migraines. I thought it was the stress of college, graduate school, work, etc. and I saw a neurologist regularly and was on special migraine medication. Never once did the doctor ask me about my eating or drinking habits. So I medicated rebound headaches which I attributed only to caffeine withdrawal, and I kept on glugging.
After we watched Food, Inc., Mark and I started changing our eating habits. We started sourcing meat, dairy and produce differently. We cooked more and more and we cut out processed foods and investigated nutrition labels closely before we made purchases. Except for Diet Coke. I just couldn’t give that up. It was one thing I really wasn’t willing to part with, justifying my consumption because it was calorie-free.
It might have been the studies linking diet soda and depression. Or the fact that aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke, has been linked to cancer and premature birth. It might have been the fact that we were spending a lot of money every week on Diet Coke (generic would not do). But one day, I just decided to stop. I replaced some of the caffeine with tea or coffee in the mornings, but not all. I started drinking water.
And I haven’t suffered from a severe migraine since. After noticing a distinct rise in my energy levels and also a decrease of cravings for sweet foods, I cut out all artificial sweeteners entirely. I now look back and can’t believe that a beverage had such a hold over my body (and my wallet). I was a marketer’s dream come true and I played right into their hands, falling for all of their lies hook line and sinker.
It didn’t help me lose weight. In fact, I’ve lost more weight since I gave up soda and artificial sweeteners than I ever did when I was addicted to Diet Coke. It gave me headaches and gave me cavities. (Thank goodness I didn’t get to this point. Warning – it’s disgusting.) And I was consuming something with questionable health risks. Was drinking Diet Coke now worth developing cancer later? Of course if I’m someday diagnosed with cancer, I won’t necessarily know what caused it. But I can at least have the peace of knowing I eliminated a known risk factor.
If you are a regular consumer of diet soda (or really any soda), I’d challenge you to give it up, even for just a few weeks. I would venture to guess you’ll notice a change in how your body feels (and you’ll save yourself some money too).