I’m of the firm opinion that a lot of the choices we make in terms of the substances we ingest determine our health, which then influences wealth, happiness and on and on ad nauseum. A lot of the “ingestibles” in America are really bad for you. This is not solely an American problem but it seems to be exacerbated to a greater degree here.
Americans ingest a lot of bad things, although some of them are arguable; alcohol or certain types of drugs may not always be a bad thing, for example. Big culprits:
- Fast food (it’s not just McDonald’s, either – supermarkets, schools and high-end restaurants are selling the same junk)
- Highly processed foods
- Artificial flavors and colors
- Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables
- Hormone-laced milk and milk products
- Tobacco products (one of the few things on this list that has no redeeming features whatsoever)
- Alcohol (although in moderation, alcohol can actually be good for you)
- Genetically modified foods (jury’s still out on this one)
- Drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal)
- And finally the subject of this article, soda, but I could probably think of 20 more examples.
I started drinking diet Coke in high school, more or less when it was first introduced. It seemed to have a lot of advantages for a high school athlete in a sport that demanded quickness, strength without being muscle-bound, and alertness. I kept it up, drinking more and more throughout my 20s and early 30s, drinking up to 8 cans per day at some points. I even kept it up throughout my time living in Russia, making frequent treks to the bakery across the street from my apartment which inexplicably sold diet Coke in addition to home-made black bread.
I quit drinking soda in 2005, and since then I have had fewer than 10 total sodas, usually root beer or 7-Up. Ironically at the same time I quit drinking “diet” soda I lost 100 pounds – not just because of that, of course, but I think it helped. I have only touched a diet drink one time in two years, and it was horrific.
From Wikipedia’s article on diet Coke, a list of ingredients:
- Carbonated Water
- Caramel Color
- Aspartame (known better by the brand name “Nutrasweet”)
- Phosphoric Acid
- Potassium Benzoate
- Natural Flavors
- Citric Acid
Why quit drinking sodas?
According to Food Chemical News June 1995, FDA Epidemiology Branch Chief Thomas Wilcox reported that aspartame complaints represented 75% of all reports of adverse reactions to substances in the [US] food supply from 1981 to 1995. Sodas cost a lot of money, they eat away at your insides and your teeth, they dehydrate you and the long-term health effects of aspartame (for diet drinks) are still being debated. I can’t really see any particular reason for drinking sodas other than continuing to get that sugar/caffeine/aspartame high, which isn’t really a high; it’s the lack of those substances that makes you feel bad, so you only bring yourself back to normal when you ingest them. So how do you escape your tastebuds’ cloying captor, the soda?
My tips for quitting:
11. Drink seltzer or club soda mixed with fruit juice (but make sure it’s 100% natural juice, not sweetened or artificially flavored. You can’t go wrong with this – if you try it, it’s much better. You will be amazed the first time you try this – it’s much better than straight juice or straight seltzer, and certainly better than overpowering soda. If you take a 12 ounce glass, fill it about 1/3rd full with juice and then the rest of the way with seltzer, it’s very tasty. You can use any kind of juice, although personally I prefer apple or cranberry juice. I love having my Soda-Club Home Soda Maker. I can make seltzer right at home – no lugging it home from the store, no wasted plastic bottles, and fresh fizzy seltzer any time I want it. Here’s what it looks like:
10. Drink lots of water. I sometimes suspect that when I used to drink a lot of soda it had somewhat of a vicious circle effect. The sodium-laced soda would make me thirsty enough to grab for another soda. Water counteracts that desire and seems to tamp down on my appetite, too. Ideally everyone should drink approximately 64 ounces a day of water. It seems like a lot when you first start, but after you get used to it you won’t notice it.
9. Don’t drink mixed drinks with soda. This only applies if you’re a drinker, but it’s a big one. I used to drink Stoli Vanil mixed with vanilla diet Coke (while it still existed) as my drink of choice. Frankly, Stoli Vanil doesn’t mix well with juice, seltzer, etc. What’s the solution? I switched to drinking wine instead of vodka. It has some (somewhat unproven but reasonable enough) health benefits and it doesn’t need to be mixed with soda. That was a conscious decision to get away from drinking hard liquor, and killed two bad habits with one shot.
8. Start drinking tea. Let’s face it, no one wants to drink water all day. I work in big corporate hives where I can’t exactly keep a fresh supply of seltzer and juice, so I get a little bored with water. I find that having a nice pile of herbal and decaffeinated teas gives you something to drink that’s flavorful and healthy.
7. Drink lukewarm water. I think one reason people can’t drink a lot of water is that they drink ice-cold spring water bottles out of the fridge. Room temperature bottles taste terrible if you aren’t used to them, but you’ll notice they are easier to sip if they aren’t 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, you can keep them sitting on your desk/in your car/wherever. Since you won’t expect chilled water, it will be easier to drink.
6. Don’t buy soda. This sounds obvious, but maybe it’s not. I stopped buying my poison of choice, diet Coke, and simply didn’t have it in the house. I had tried to “cut back” before, by buying a few two-liter bottles and telling myself “only one glass per evening”. That didn’t work for me. I removed the temptation entirely by not bringing it into my house.
5. Drink coffee. If you are a caffeine junkie, I won’t lie to you – withdrawal hurts. I think the addiction to aspartame hurts, too, and nothing really helps that. But you can ease your caffeine DTs with a cup or two of coffee in the morning. Just make sure you don’t waste your money buying it – brew some at home. Don’t skimp, either – buy something flavorful or you’re going to hate it. And learn to drink it black. You’ll save money, calories and your teeth.
4. Think of all the money you will save. Soda is fairly expensive. In all fairness, spring water is, too, but if you learn to drink from the office cooler at work and from the filtered water tap at home you can cut your expenses pretty significantly. I was working in one office where the diet Coke was free, which was fine, but when I moved into consulting I found I was dropping $1.25 four or five times per working day (let alone at home) to get a soda. That’s almost $1600 per year. I buy a box of tea bags for $3 (usually about 20 to a box) so even drinking five cups of tea per day, which I seldom do, I would only spend about $190 per year.
3. Tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who cares to listen that you are eliminating soda from your life. A lot of people will laugh, but by and large I think most people realize that soda is bad for you and will be supportive. I wasn’t asking people not to drink soda in front of me, or anything, but the simple fact is that if you tell a lot of people who will be with you at mealtimes or other times you might drink a soda, you will be too embarrassed to drink one and look like a backslider in front of them. Public goal-setting is a great way to maintain a resolution.
2. Read. What? Read about aspartame. Read about Coke’s uses as a toilet bowl cleaner, or how it dissolves a steak. Do you really want that in your system?
1. Wait. If you stop drinking soda and give it a few weeks – and that’s it, really – you won’t want soda anymore. I never meant to completely quit drinking soda when I gave it up, but somehow I lost the desire for soda when I quit drinking it regularly. It just doesn’t seem appealing. Diet Coke is downright nauseating – it has a chemically, bitter taste. Regular soda, quite honestly, still tastes good. But the cloying sweetness is overpowering after you drink juice/ seltzer or water or tea or black coffee for a while. I just don’t want soda. In the two years I have had a few sodas – on vacation I drank a root beer, and maybe once every six weeks I’ll find myself at a food court or some such place where my choices are tap water or soda. In those cases I’ll stick with 7-Up (supposedly all-natural) if they have it and Sprite if they don’t. But I haven’t had a Coke or a Pepsi in two years, with one exception. I was waiting overnight in a hospital on Little Buddy, who was briefly ill with a terrible virus earlier this year, and late at night I desperately needed caffeine to stay awake. The vending machine had nothing left but diet Pepsi. I choked half of it down, but even then I couldn’t drink it. Fortunately a very kind nurse (the wonderful Expie who seemed to me that night one of the most wonderful people on this planet) brewed a pot of coffee for me.
So that’s it. If I forgot a tip, feel free to comment or email me for a future post!