For about a full decade of my life, I was a full fledged Diet Coke addict.
It was a part of who I was — I cracked open a can first thing in the morning, friends sent me Buzzfeed articles about things only Diet Coke addicts could understand, I had a little Diet Coke keychain and a Diet Coke mousepad, and my family I would send each other level red, full blown SOS texts when the fridge was running low. I was drinking 2-3 cans a day, plus fountain (my preferred delivery of choice) whenever I could get my hands on it, and I really had no true interest in stopping.
And then, suddenly, I did.
On March 1st of 2016 I started a one month Diet Coke free month while in Thailand, and on April 1st I decided what the heck — I extended another two weeks until I flew through the USA. After six weeks, the spell was broken, and I no longer feel powerless over the pull of the silver can.
So why cut the cord? I admit, of the many reasons people kick Diet Coke habits, I did so for pretty superficial reasons. I wasn’t getting headaches, or staining my teeth, or having any negative health repercussions — yet, anyway. But I was trying desperately to lose ten pounds that had creeped on slowly, and the connection between diet sodas and out-of-whack metabolisms and insulin production are hard to ignore. The more I learned the more convinced I became that a trial period without it was something I needed to try.
But in addition to hoping to drop some weight, it was also at times a very inconvenient addiction and I hated feeling so beholden to a particular can of fizz. When I woke up in the morning, it was the first thing I drank, and I was cranky and irritable all day when I couldn’t source it — which was fairly often, considering I often travel to remote areas, and diet sodas are still rare in many corners of the world.
At the time, I searched pretty desperately for first-hand accounts those who were also trying to kick a soda habit, and came up surprisingly empty. So, my carbonation loving friends, here is mine.
My uncle — who once ran a Coca Cola museum! It runs in the fam!
How I Did It
I never intended to cut Diet Coke out of my life entirely. Drinking Diet Coke was so much a part of both my daily routine and my identity I don’t think I ever could have started had that been my intention. Yet after years of trying to casually “cut back,” I knew I had to do something drastic if I ever wanted to make it a reality.
Today, I am no longer addicted to Diet Coke and that is all thanks to the initial six week cleanse in which I did not consume a single sip (more about my current consumption later.) In fact, it started as just a month long challenge which I extended for two weeks based on how good I felt! That cleanse was completely necessary to sever my dependence to the stuff and allow me to start living with a normal, non-crazy person’s relationship with soda after it ended.
I should probably note that Diet Coke was the only soda I ever really drank — I think Coca Cola tastes repulsive and outside of the rare diet root beer or craft soda on some sort of special occasion (hello, artisanal sodas at a county fair!), Diet Coke and I had a pretty monogamous relationship.
Everyone warned me about the withdrawal symptoms I’d have. Aside from a few terrible headaches the first few days, I actually didn’t find the physical side-effects to be too dramatic. I attribute the ease with which this cleanse went to these steps:
1. I did a ton of research
Once I decided to do the cleanse, it was actually pretty easy in practice. And that steely resolve was inspired by research I did as part of my DIY Health Retreat.
Documentaries like Fed Up and books like What Are You Hungry For? really spoke to the specific reasons I was personally looking to cut back — vanity, duh. They dove into how aspartame disrupts the body’s metabolism and craving systems and leads to unintentional weight gain, despite being zero calories. I was also recently recommended the documentary Sweet Misery, which I plan to watch on the plane back to the US to strengthen my resolve for another addiction-free summer.
Also, I read several interviews with skinny people — LOL — who said that they never drink diet sodas, and message board accounts from those who dropped pounds doing so. In the spirit of full disclosure I also read a ton of comments and message board posts from those who quit and never lost a pound, but everyone who did so seemed to feel it had a positive impact on their life.
Now look, it’s not like until last year I was walking around thinking Diet Coke was this super healthy product that I was treating my body like a temple by consuming. Not in the slightest — I knew Diet Coke was bad for me and I literally did not care, at least not enough to make me change. Thankfully, in this case, my desperation to lose a few pounds led me down an unlikely path that has had a holistic and positive effect on my life.
2. I told my friends
So strong was my resolve that the only serious cravings I had in those first six weeks were the two times I was tragically hungover. And because I had already told my friends what I was doing and they knew how important it was to me, they stopped me from giving in, reminding me how proud I’d feel when I hit the four — and then six — week mark.
3. I replaced it with something else
One of my primary concerns going into this cleanse was that Diet Coke made up the vast majority of my beverage consumption. Like literally, what was I going to drink?! Because in those days the only water I consumed was what I had while I was working out. Well, I now drink tea like it’s going out of style, as well as one or two carbonated waters per day and a TON more straight up tap water than I’ve ever drank in my life. Let’s get into each of those:
I have never been a tea drinker and so I did a bunch of research to find out which teas had caffeine — which I wanted — and which I would actually like. I absolutely loathe black tea, still to this day (sorry, Brits) but found green tea sort of tolerable, so I started out by putting one green tea bag into a mug with another herbal flavor that I enjoyed more, like lemongrass. For the first week or two of my cleanse, I sweetened my tea with local honey, though I quickly phased that out and I now drink my tea straight up, no sweetener.
A year later, I am a complete and total tea fiend and start every day with a mug of green tea rather than a Diet Coke, and usually go for an herbal tea over ice in the afternoon. I love trying new flavors — this brand from Hawaii is a recent obsession.
I have struggled my entire life to drink water. My cleanse kick started a new habit in which I drink more than ever. I generally try to drink a full 17 oz. bottle between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner, and whenever I work out. Combined with my carbonated water at meals and my morning and afternoon tea, I now easily exceed the recommended 64 oz. per day without too much trouble.
My recommendation? Get a fun, easy-to-drink stainless steel bottle that you love and will want to take everywhere, and have a jug or filter in your fridge so you have easy access to cold, ready-to-go tap water anytime. If you live somewhere with great water you can literally just use a nice pitcher, if you live somewhere where drinking tap water isn’t advisable — like I do — I highly recommend this Clearly Filtered Pitcher, which filters all bacteria, viruses, and other no-nos.
Or seltzer, or if you’re here in Thailand, soda water. To this day I can’t stand to drink straight up tap water with meals, it just doesn’t feel right. Seltzer is literally just regular water infused with air, and is just as safe and hydrating to drink as regular water (though studies do show it can be slightly more filling, and does have some extremely mild effect on dental health.)
So I now have unflavored seltzer with pretty much every single lunch and dinner. When I’m in the US, I sometimes go wild with the naturally flavored ones. I drink so much of the stuff I’m thinking of getting a seltzer machine like my mom has at home, and bringing it with me back to Thailand.
4. I did it somewhere away from the USA
I know this probably isn’t exactly replicable for most people, but it was a huge factor towards my success. Doing the Diet Coke cleanse in Thailand, where I’m not a fan of the local formula, made it so much easier than had I tried it stateside. If you can find some way — any way! — to shake up your routine, I think that will make all the difference in helping you to snap out of deeply ingrained habits.
While you may not want to mar a trip or vacation with withdrawal symptoms, starting a few days before you leave and your enthusiasm is still strong and arriving in a new destination just as your willpower might be wearing off could be the perfect way to distract yourself. (And ya know, now that I added this, it’s totally relevant fodder for a travel blog! Nailed it!)
5. Make a calendar
I actually didn’t do this, but if I started to struggle or stumble I would have bought or printed out a calendar, and marked off each day I made it without Diet Coke. I always find tracking and visual aids to be incredibly effective in helping me meet goals and stay strong through a challenge.
What I Learned
I have always considered myself to have an insane sweet tooth and ravenously consumed candy, desserts and all kinds of sugary goodness on a near-daily bases. Very quickly after giving up Diet Coke, those cravings all but disappeared. I still loved my sweet treats but I noticed that I didn’t HAVE to have them, and so throughout the course of my cleanse they were more of an actual occasional treat instead of a daily obsession. I even noticed my cravings for/consumption of things like bread and pasta subsided.
It was somewhat disorienting to realize that this thing I thought was just a core part of who I was was actually induced by a chemical I’ve been consuming daily for the last decade and a half. Some researchers believe artificial sweeteners like the aspartame in Diet Coke actually fuel the brain’s desire for the real thing, and after six weeks, I agreed with them.
Today, recognizing that my cravings are at least partially a result of choices I’ve made has actually been incredibly empowering. When I’m perusing 711 for snacks before a late night work session, I can no longer grab a bag of M&M’s with the excuse that, “Well I’m just a sweet-tooth having, sugar-loving fiend and there’s nothing I can do to change it!” Instead I think, “Well, I’m craving candy right now because I made the choice to have Diet Coke with my lunch. I can choose to go for it, or I can choose to have a banana instead.” It actually feels really good.
No, I didn’t drop a dress size. But I did find a new awareness of what was fueling my cravings. And as someone who considers herself to have like, zero willpower, it was kind of cool to set such a lofty goal and not just meet but exceed it.
One Year Later
Like I said earlier, I never intended to give up Diet Coke entirely — and I didn’t. Some warned that after six weeks I wouldn’t be able to stand a sip of the stuff, and I can assure you that did not happen. But I do feel like I have a normal, non-psycho person’s relationship with Diet Coke now, and that is a beautiful thing.
For the most part, I probably average about a can a week. When I’m extremely stressed and sleep deprived, I definitely fall back into a can a day. But that has only happened a couple times and within a few days I actually now see it as a big red flag I’m waving at myself — whoa girl, pull in the reigns on your life. Something isn’t right.
I split my year between Thailand and the US, and I admit that it’s much easier to go without here in Thailand, where I never even really liked the local formula but drank it out of pure dependence. In the US, I still love the taste of the stuff, especially the fountain version, and so it is much harder to avoid — especially because when I’m stateside I bounce between staying with various family members who are all still hardcore hooked.
What I tried experimenting with last summer was not allowing myself to drink cans at home, and instead only treating myself to fountain Diet Cokes when I was out and about running errands. Therefore it felt more like a special treat that I savored every second of, and less like something I was mindlessly downing out of habit. If I’m staying in a house where I have any input over what’s in the fridge, I keep it Diet Coke-free to avoid the temptation.
While there are definitely certain locations that tempt me to spiral out of control again (hello, my mom and dad’s houses!), overall I feel incredibly free from my old aluminum shackles. It kind of grosses me out now to think that in the past I would drink Diet Coke out of a plastic bottle, or even, heaven forbid, the occasional fountain Diet Pepsi at a restaurant — thing I literally don’t even like — just because I was so hooked.
It feel so good to go to a four day festival where there’s no diet version of Coke and not lose my shit. It feels so nice to stay at a resort that stocks Pepsi (gross) and not freak the flip out. It feels very freeing to no longer wake up in the morning, bug out that the fridge is empty, and disrupt my day by sprinting to the closest minimart to stock up before my dang morning can start.
While breaking my Diet Coke addiction didn’t make me the size zero supermodel I had hoped — just kidding, there are no catwalks in the future of this 5’2″-er — it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It made me feel empowered, it removed a frequent hassle from my life, and it was a major game-changer in the healthier lifestyle I am always trying to cultivate.
Are you a current or reformed diet soda addict? Tell all in the comments!
Please note I know there are a lot of different opinions out there about food and addiction and if you happen to disagree with what I write here, please know it isn’t meant to offend you — I’m just sharing my own personal experiences and thoughts, and I respect that other people’s will be different! Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.
Want to learn more about the science behind Diet Coke addiction? This article is a good place to start.