I knew I was in trouble when I started looking for answers on the internet. If you Google “diet soda addiction” on the web, all sorts of articles and images pop up on the screen. None of them are pretty. Whether or not you believe that diet soda will grow you a third head, I knew that drinking chemicals from a can was probably not good for me.
Yet, he had me at “popfizzzgulp….” This relationship started the year after I graduated from college. I fell in love with a fountain soda machine in town. The bubbles, the fizz, the sweetness was all a delight to my sense. And it was calorie free. Diet soda was the one I was looking for my entire life. DreamyCoke.
From that moment on, I was loyal. I averaged about 4-5 sodas per day. I always drank diet soda, although I had my preferences with the “type” of diet soda. I preferred cans to bottles. Diet root beer was a particular favorite. Diet ginger ale was my least favorite. But when push came to shove, I wasn’t picky. I would happily chug a warm diet ginger ale in a bottle if it was my only choice.
My affair carried over into my work life. I began my day with a 9:00am soda at staff meeting. While my office colleagues gulped down steaming hot lattes, I gripped tightly to my chilly can of carbonation. The bubbles and caffeine stimulated my morning senses. At noon, I drank another can of diet soda. I would walk around town, carrying the can as I strolled with friends. At around 3pm, I guzzled yet another. It was a way to refresh myself during the afternoon slump. Finally, in the serenity of my own home, I would gulp down one or two more sodas. I’d have one with dinner, and then one right before bedtime. While most people topped off their evening with a cocktail or a soothing cup of cocoa, I settlde into the night with a frosty glass of diet root beer.
For ten years, I drank about 30+ diet sodas per week. On the weekends at the grocery store, I found myself replenishing my cases of soda more frequently than my fresh produce. On the weekdays, I made an effort to frequent restaurants which didn’t charge for free refills of fountain soda. When friends scoffed at the amount of cans in my recycling bin, I just laughed them off. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Something changed the night that my friends put me up to a challenge. They asked me to close my eyes and simply sniff random samples of soda. To their surprise, I could tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi simply by smelling them. I tasted four different types of diet cola, and could identify them all. My secret talent in recognizing the nuances in soda flavor was a bit preposterous. I could barely tell the difference between a slice of cantaloupe and a slice of honeydew melon, but I could easily distinguish between Sprite and 7-Up. I knew something needed to change.
I decided to give up soda that following Monday cold turkey. I wanted to live a soda-free existence for at least a month. I thought it would be easy.
The first day was excruciating. I realized that I was less addicted to the liquid, but rather very much connected to the “habit.” I could barely survive the first day of my soda retreat simply because I missed the crackle of the aluminum can. I missed the idea of my soda. I missed the consistent love of my life.
When I arrived at my 9am morning meeting on Monday, my hand felt empty. After the meeting, I took a trip to the water cooler and made a pathetic cup of decaffeinated tea to bring to my 10am meeting. The sad cup of Earl Grey felt watery and lukewarm. I barely touched it.
At lunch, I left the office empty-handed. At 3pm, I sucked on a cough drop at my desk to try to keep my mind off of soda. At 8pm that evening, I had a big glass of orange juice instead of my beloved diet root beer. The orange juice tasted boring, so I added some vodka, just so I could enjoy a cocktail in my misery.
I survived the day, but I missed the fizz. I craved the social habit of drinking soda. I missed the bubbly carbonation tickling my nose while I took a sip. I missed filling up a soda cup at the fountain of my favorite pizzeria. I missed the swishing of ice cubes.
At the end of the day, I text messaged my long-distance boyfriend. I hadn’t seen him in three weeks. I wrote, “I miss you more than a fountain soda.” He returned my text noting, “That was the most romantic thing text you have ever sent.” Even my relationship was defined by my love of soda.
On day two, I decided to drink more water. I wasn’t happy, but I was full. On days three- five, I substituted my soda with smoothies. They weren’t half bad. On day six, I forgot that I was even avoiding soda. I didn’t even miss it.
One year later, I was still soda free. People congratulated me and asked if I felt better. The truth was that I felt pretty much the same. I had replaced my soda habit with gallons of seltzer water which I still lugged from the grocery store. The seltzer cans filled my bin, my desk, and my car. They were the new man in my life. And sure, I was proud to have fewer chemicals in my system. But I missed soda a little bit. My new seltzer man was lovely. But just a tad bit boring.
A few weeks later, I had a diet soda. The world didn’t end, but I certainly felt a wee bit guilty. I was at an amusement park with friends, and it was easier to drink a soda than try to find an alternative. (I’ll allow you to comment on society’s lack of healthy drink alternatives. Go ahead.) A few days later, I had another soda. Then a few days later, another. I never got back to the 4-5 sodas per day, but I did have about 4-5 per week. The fizz had returned. I was in control, but it felt darn good to have my bubble love back.
Which brings me to January 16, 2015. I had a can of diet Coke which was flat. Really flat. It actually tasted terrible. I put down the can without finishing it.
The next day, I chose a seltzer over a can of diet root beer. I went the whole day without soda without really thinking about it. Then, a week passed without a soda. Then, a month.
I’ve been soda free since January 16th. I drink a lot of iced tea. I drink a lot of different things. Gin and tonics. Grapefruit Juice. Cranberry cocktail. Pear smoothies. And they’re all pretty darn good. They’ve made me forget ol’ what’s his Coke.
Chances are that I will drink a diet soda again in my lifetime. I’m not sure it will ever be the love that gets completely away. But it’s nice to know that there are other drinks in the fridge. It’s easier to get over a past love when you have a icy cold pomegranate iced tea in hand.
Diet soda, I loved you. But it just didn’t work out. It’s not you, it’s me. And I love me more.