I quit Diet Coke.

ImageAddictions come in many forms. Cigarettes and alcohol are the products most thought of as addictive substances, when we consider personal vices. However, studies have shown that a diet high in fat will trigger similar reactions in the brain (CNN.com). Obviously, narcotic substances have a much more dramatic and damaging impact, but the concepts are similar.

For others, caffeine is their personal vice, usually taken in the form of coffee. I’ve never liked coffee. Actually, I hate it and have never been able to get past even a sip of the stuff. Cola however, has been my vice for over 20 years. It started when my wife and I were first married. We were perpetually broke and cola is much cheaper than milk. When my son was born, I would never sacrifice his health for my own, so I continued to drink cola, leaving the milk for him. What started as an economic necessity soon became a biological dependence. My average intake, until this year, was three to four cans per day.

I used to drink any regular cola we could afford. PC Brand, Ice Castle and only Pepsi, when it was on sale. Pepsi was my favourite. As our finances became a bit less restrictive, I would only drink Pepsi. It remained that way for two decades. I was approaching 40 and my waist line was feeling the effects of a 600 calorie per day fluid intake. Of course, jobs had changed to less active pursuits and my metabolism was slowing down, but 600 empty calories each day wasn’t helping. It was then that I decided to make a life change. We quit regular pop.

My wife and I couldn’t stand Diet Pepsi, so we switched to Diet Coke and have been drinking it exclusively for probably five years. The problem is, aspartame is a very dangerous product (LiveStrong.com), or is it (Snopes.com)? Either way, it’s a man made substance and therefore, it can’t be all that healthy. Even the most nutritious of foods will be dangerous if not eaten in balance (HuffingtonPost.co.uk). So, a litre a day of man made chemicals, including aspartame, phosphoric and citric acids, “natural” flavours, caramel colour and a handful of other, unpronounceable ingredients, can’t be good for you. That doesn’t require an intense medical study to figure out.

waist lineFor one thing, my teeth have greatly suffered. So has my waist line. My cholesterol is higher, as well. All of these are well documented impacts of colas, diet colas in particular (HealthyLiving.MSN.com). Of course, I’m not blaming all of this on my cola addiction. I know better than that, but it’s certainly one of the leading factors in my present state of health. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an invalid. I’m a typically overweight North American. I frequent the gym, have a relatively sedentary work life and enjoy the television and computer far too much. Those have as much impact on my health as anything else, but we have to start somewhere.

I’ve increased my activity through the gym and we eat a reasonable diet, but cola has always been a part of that. That is, it was until a couple months ago. I was sick for a few days and not “in the mood” to drink cola, because it always taste flat when I’m sick. I used that as the opportunity to start my next major life change. I stopped including cola as part of my daily diet. Initially, I suffered a wicked migraine, but that only lasted about two days.

I was expecting that. I am susceptible to classic migraines and maintaining my caffeine levels has always been crucial in order to avoid them. Every time I tried to quit cola before, the migraines were crippling and I wasn’t able to follow through. This time however, my fluid intake had reduced due to a cold. I wasn’t in the mood to drink, so my normal intake had already decreased to one can a day. When the cold turned into a flu that lasted three days, I was off cola altogether. I jumped on the opportunity to make my break.

It hasn’t been a clean break, though. I still drink cola, but only a fraction of what I used to and better yet, I don’t enjoy it as much.smoothie I started taking unsweetened lemonade to work. Yes, it has more calories, but no caffeine, fewer chemicals and no aspartame. I don’t like water. I never have. It has a taste, whether people agree with that statement or not. I hate well water and chlorinated water I can only take in small doses, so I needed to find a suitable alternative. The lemonade is pretty good, but I don’t like it every day. I also enjoy strawberry banana smoothies and very few other drinks. I’m very fussy.

It’s been a few months now and each week it gets better. I went from three cans a day, down to three or four a week. For the past month I’ve averaged a serving per week. Now that I’ve broken the habit, my taste buds have changed. I don’t enjoy regular colas at all, anymore. I don’t enjoy cola from a can. It tastes metallic. I prefer fountain drinks if I’m eating at a restaurant or even rarer, a fast food joint. In other words, my cola has to be ice cold and watered down.

don'sI felt like treating myself last month and had an entire 710ml bottle of Diet Coke with fish and chips from our local seafood shop. I paid for it. I got a buzz from the caffeine. I didn’t feel well and I knew it was the cola. It caught me off guard. I was not expecting to get a cheap high from cola. It was a pleasant surprise and clear evidence that my body is adapting.

For the past two weekends I’ve had a bit of diet cola in a glass with ice and find that it’s not as refreshing as it once used to be. I do enjoy it, but I drink far less and find that I’m actually satisfied with less than a full serving. Psychologically, I’ve even convinced myself that it’s a vice and feel guilty when I do indulge. So, that helps keep me away from it.

no diet cokeMy wife is cutting back, as well. She hasn’t been as diligent as I have, but having cola in the house is part of the problem. If it isn’t here to drink, she won’t be tempted to rely on it. She enjoys a lot more fluids than I do and has always been a big water drinker. So, when I finally break that last barrier of keeping cola in the house, she will find it much easier to quit, as well.

I live in North America, don’t enjoy water, as I’ve already said and don’t drink coffee or tea; so my options are limited when I go to a restaurant. That means that I will get a Diet Coke, or a regular Pepsi, if they don’t serve Coke products. So, I will never be completely free from cola, but at least I won’t be reliant on it.

I have seen no improvements in my health. I didn’t really expect that I would. My waist line hasn’t changed. My teeth aren’t magically stronger and whiter, nor am I suddenly able to do the things I could when I was 20. However, I know that the long term effects of staying away from the chemical cocktail that is North America’s favourite beverage will benefit me in the long run. Keeping on this path, we’ll soon be ready to keep no cola in the house, whatsoever. Wish us luck!