The vast majority of articles on this site relate to giving up severe, life-threatening addictions. My drug of choice was alcohol and it nearly killed me. There are definitely worse problems to have than a penchant for soda or diet soda, but I want to address this issue because I think that many people have a legitimate addiction to soda.
Most of us know that soda isn’t the best thing for you. And most of us have ordered a soda without even thinking about it. You’re out at a restaurant getting the same thing as everyone else, or maybe you’re stopping at McDonalds in the middle of a long drive.
I would classify my “addiction” to soda as relatively mild but annoying. Giving up soda had been on the back of my mind for awhile before I actually did it.
Quitting alcohol gave me the first sweet tooth of my life. I quenched it with diet soda because I couldn’t stomach the full-sugar versions. During the first month of rehab, I drank a liter of diet coke every single day.
It was nearly two years before I decided to give up soda for an extended period of time. For the past month, I haven’t had a drop of diet coke or any other artificially sweetened beverage.
Guess what? I feel noticeably better – and more mentally and physically stable – than I did more.
I honestly don’t know why this is the case. While excessive sugar consumption is clearly linked to diabetes and obesity, not much is known about the health effects of artificial sweeteners. Different studies show different results for the potential toxicity of aspartame and sucralose (aka “Splenda”). Some studies show that they might adversely affect insulin sensitivity, blood sugar levels, and the number of calories consumed during meals.
Common sense told me that whatever the potential risks, the benefits couldn’t possibly outweigh them. I would be sacrificing nothing by getting rid of the diet soda.
And so in lieu of the soft drinks, I ordered nothing but unsweetened iced tea for a month. In the South, where I live, you often have to say “unsweetened” twice so people know you’re not kidding around. Sugar addiction is rampant down here!
If you hate unsweetened iced tea, you could opt for club soda with a lemon/lime. At home, I often drank La Croix – naturally flavored soda water that has been described as “methadone for soda addicts.” And of course, I made chamomile tea myself every afternoon and often drank this with dinner while family and friends were downing sodas or wine.
My approach to giving up diet soda therefore mirrored my general approach for recovery: You can’t give something up if you’re just creating a void in your life. You need a substitute for every one of your addictions. The healthier and more appealing the substitute, the higher your chances of success.
My substitute for alcohol was exercise and a commitment to find my life’s purpose. It might sound silly, but my substitute for diet soda was my newfound passion for making iced tea (especially this brand at home). I enjoy La Croix just enough to let it fill in the gaps when iced tea isn’t available.
To be clear, I didn’t swear off diet soda forever. I wanted to prove to myself that I could go an extended period of time without drinking the stuff. I’m glad I did, because I’m not in a rush to drink diet soda anytime soon.
Here are some of the benefits that I’ve noticed after a month + of no soda:
- 1) I feel fewer irrational hunger pains throughout the day.
- 2) I don’t crave salt as much as I did before.
- 3) My moods are more stable.
- 4) Intermittent fasting is easier.
- 5) Instinctive eating is easier.
- 6) My sweet tooth has become more manageable.
- 7) I no longer feel much of a desire for diet soda.
- 8) I feel a heightened sense of self-efficacy.
1) I feel fewer irrational hunger pains throughout the day.
This leads me to believe that diet soda had been distorting my perception of calories consumed throughout the day. Nothing made me salivate over a greasy burger like a diet coke!
2) I don’t crave salt as much as I did before.
Sweet and salty go together for some reason. I had an ex who had insatiable cravings for sweet and salty foods every time she had her period. Since I gave up diet soda, I no longer feel like a chick on her period.
3) My moods are more stable.
Correlation with the above observation? Maybe not, but this was a noticeable effect.
4) Intermittent fasting is easier.
On weekends, I tend to fast until sometime in the mid-afternoon. Fewer hunger pains have meant an easier time fasting.
5) Instinctive eating is easier.
I no longer follow a strict diet because I know generally how many calories I need to gain muscle of lose fat. Practice makes perfect. Since giving up soda, I have less of a problem eyeballing food.
For whatever reason, fresh fruit tastes better than it did before.
6) My sweet tooth has become more manageable.
I won’t lie – I indulge in dessert every Sunday during my weekly all-out cheat meal. As long as I haven’t eaten excessively throughout the day, I’ll sometimes have a scoop of ice cream after dinner.
I crave sugar less than I did before quitting soda. The frequency of dessert has stayed the same, but my portion sizes have gotten smaller.
7) I no longer feel much of a desire for diet soda.
When we stop exposing ourselves to something we think we need, our brains eventually adapt to its absence.
Most importantly, because the experiment has gone so well,
8) I feel a heightened sense of self-efficacy.
I just feel better in general. Nothing feels better than proving something to yourself. It’s not about society or your peers or your family.
It’s about victory over your own demons and weaknesses. Every last battle counts toward your renewed sense of self in the struggle to build the best life you possibly can.
Don’t have a clearly defined mission in life yet? A renewed and enlightened sense of self is a noble thing to aim for.