Diet Coke Break....(Up)
Addiction is an emotive subject; just the name addiction brings up so many visions in my head as to what someone may be addicted to; we are all aware of well-publicised addictions to things such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, and maybe even spending money, but for me personally, my addiction has been Diet Coke; my name is Al, and I'm a Diet Coke addict.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a serious Diet Coke addiction. It started innocently enough grabbing a Diet Coke from the garage on the way home from school because it had a soda fountain where you could pour your own drink and add your own ice, which being this was the late 80's, was a pretty cool thing to be able to do, and so I did this most days, but that was ok, it was just the one, however over the last 30 years, my casual Diet Coke habit slowly morphed into a nearly debilitating dependency. I was drinking at least 2 litres a day, sometimes 3 litres; I would finish one Diet Coke and then pour myself another; it was pretty much all I drank! I knew that Diet Coke was sugar-free and calorie-free, and that was the big draw. I've been overweight most of my life, obese for as long as I can remember, and so to me, it made sense that if I filled myself up with calorie-free, fizzy pop, it would mean I was too full up to want to eat, and this would help me to lose weight. In my mind, that was logical; there's only so much room in a tummy filled with gas and liquid, so it made sense that I would lose weight!
I would, however, get really bad cravings for food, especially sweet food, so that meant then when I had room in my belly, I would eat and eat, often junk or unhealthier food; I never got a craving for fruit or vegetables; there wasn't an uncontrollable craving for hummus and rice cakes; if only it had been that easy; no, I would fill up on carbs and sugary treats and junk food!
I was aware of the insinuation that artificial sweeteners had the potential to be bad for you; there have been rumours that they might have carcinogenic properties for many years, but that never really bothered me that much; I mean, I don't smoke; I drink very little alcohol, and so surely the chance of getting cancer from Diet Coke must be pretty small right, and so carried on regardless.
Recently there was a documentary on BBC which spoke about artificial sweeteners, such as the artificial sweetener aspartame which is used in Diet Coke, and the possible links to cancer that a recent study by the World Health Organization conducted. I didn't see it when it aired; however, my mum did and left a message on my mobile to say she had watched the documentary and was concerned that my love of Diet Coke may be causing me health issues.
Now I'm a middle-aged man, I'm nearly 50 years old, and if I'm honest, I took that message with a pinch of salt; I've been drinking Diet Coke for decades, and I don't have cancer, and I would have thought that if there were a link it would have shown up by now. I spoke to Mum and explained this and told her that if she cuts out coffee (never going to happen), then I'll cut out Diet Coke!
As expected, she said she wouldn't cut out the coffee, but please, would I at least watch the documentary, which I agreed to do, and indeed I watched it.
As expected, I glossed over the part about the link between cancer and sweeteners; after all, there is conflicting advice about this, one organisation says to stay clear of sweeteners, and another says they are fine, so long as you don't drink 40 cans of diet drinks a day, but what did make an impact with me, was that they explained that there is a link between sweeteners and diabetes development and these diet drinks not only don't help weight loss but can actually lead to weight gain, heart disease and an increased risk of mortality!
This is what was said by the WHO:
The recommendation is based on the findings of a systematic review of the available evidence, which suggests that use of NSS, (no sugar sweeteners), does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children. Results of the review also suggest that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.
"Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” says Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety. "NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health."
Now I drink these drinks as a way to try and keep my weight down by filling up on zero-calorie drinks; clearly, this isn't the right way to do this! If my drinking Diet Coke is actually increasing my risk of diabetes and heart disease, then why the hell am I drinking copious amounts of it?
My doctor has already Classed me as being in the pre-diabetes stage; I'm very obese and so at greater risk of heart disease and, of course, heart-related issues, plus early mortality; therefore, I've been kidding myself, no fooling myself into thinking that I was being clever by chugging that fizzy black liquid to health my health; I was doing the bleeding opposite! Diet Coke was likely reducing my insulin resistance, and these sugary foods I was consuming due to the food cravings weren't helping either!
I spent a week or so reading blog post after blog post, report after report and watching video after video, researching this link between NSS and health. I saw so much information that not only backed up what I had just learned but also that these sweeteners actually helped the development of belly fat, as the body doesn't know what to do with this non-natural substance and so converts it into fat for storage; plus this sweetener induces food cravings and can cause big spikes in glucose in the body; which is never good for diabetes of course, and so can cause you to eat more, again often sweeter foods. These drinks also can affect kidney function and eat away at tooth enamel, causing tooth decay, decreasing bone strength and bone density, and causing joint pain; it seemed like a good idea to make some positive changes to my overall health and the best way was to knock diet cola on the head. I finally decided enough was enough. I was done with my toxic relationship with Diet Coke and ready to break things off for good...
I didn't think about the side effects of not drinking Diet Coke! I wasn't quitting taking cocaine or smoking all of a sudden; I was just stopping drinking Diet Coke; how hard can that be?
It was a bitch! I don't know if my body was addicted to the sweetener or the caffeine, but whichever one it was, or the combination of the two, perhaps, but my body let me know it wasn't happy while clearing toxins! Headaches aren't the right word; almost debilitating migraines would be a more accurate description! I think that was the caffeine withdrawal kicking in! Cold sweats, muscle aches, extreme tiredness and a general feeling of being under the weather lasted for 5 days and nights until I came through the other side! I was moody and not a pleasure to be around, but I got there without giving in, which is the easier option, but it wasn't a piece of cake!
Diet Coke Alternatives
So what do you drink when you stop drinking Diet Coke? You only have to go down the drinks aisle of your local supermarket, and you'll see dozens of different types of drinks, so it should be pretty easy to find something else to drink instead; after all, there's no shortage of replacements available.
I didn't want to start drinking sugary drinks; I didn't want to stop drinking diet drinks because they contain something that is making me put on weight to then start drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, which are ladened with calories and would do the same thing; what's the point!?
So I decided to look at diet drinks that don't contain any artificial sweeteners; fizzy bottled water looked like a good choice, and I spent a small fortune stocking up with bottles of every flavour of fizzy water I could find, after all, it's just flavoured water, so that's ok right? Nope, it's not alright; all the fizzy water was sweetened artificially! In fact, every single diet drink I could find on the shelf was artificially sweetened!
I don't want to go from one bad habit to another; I'm going to fail if all I can drink is plain water; that's so boring. I need flavour in my life, and without it, I'll revert back to my old ways and quickly!
After some research, I did find some canned fizzy water and flavoured fizzy waters, in cans, that were naturally flavoured and weren't horrendous on calories; however, they were more or less £1 a can each!
I'd been spending around £1,000 a year on Diet Coke, and that's not a small amount of money, especially for someone who blogs about ways to save money and be more frugal; that's not exactly practising what you preach is it!? I couldn't justify spending £1 a can on drinks when I'm likely to drink several a day. I did find some of the drinks I'd been buying on the clearance site Approved Food, which sells shorter-dated food and drink products at a discount, and that helped financially, but it's not a sustainable or long-term solution!
So what was the answer? I'd been able to get a free bottle of fizzy water through the Shopmium app and had added some fruit juice to the water to see what it tasted like, and it was lovely! I twigged this might be the way forward!
I looked at buying a load of fizzy water and fruit juice and drinking that as my new go-to beverage; after all, it's far healthier; you don't need much fruit juice to flavour a bottle of fizzy water so you can control the calorie intake and so was ideal!
The problem here is that actually buying lots of fizzy water was actually pretty expensive, heavy to move around and a bit of pain. I sat mulling this over and had a brain wave - Sodastream!
I had a Sodastream years ago; I never really used it much once the novelty wore off, and so it got binned a long time ago, so I had a look and was a bit shocked to see they were between £70 and £100! That's more than I wanted to spend, but being I had blown about £60 on canned drinks, and the now useless to me, flavoured fizzy water, that week, I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, and I bought a Sodastream machine! I bought it direct from Sodastream as it was on a special offer, and I could get 6% cashback from Topcashback as well, which lowered the cost for me. I got the machine, a gas cartridge, a small bottle, 2 large bottles and 2 organic drink mixes, which don't contain artificial sweeteners; all the others do, for £109.00, with free delivery. It made all the difference! It's so much easier to just fizz yourself up with a healthier drink whenever you want! I mix and match fruit juices to keep things more interesting, and I haven't looked back since! I make myself drinks in the morning to take to work with me, and this has been working out really well.
I've also invested in a Brita water filter jug, as I don't just want to be drinking fizzy drinks as they can make you bloated, especially with fruit juice I find that drinking water is key to staying hydrated, but I'm not a massive fan of the taste of the tap water at home. I didn't want to be spending a fortune on bottled water, so I invested £21.99 on the Brita jug from Amazon and keep this in the fridge so I can grab cold water as needed, and I've found that I actually avoid the fizz the evening now and instead drink water, where previously I would have been likely chugging Diet Coke all night, so that's a better option for me! I've dabbled a bit with herbal teas, green tea and unsweetened iced tea as well. I'm more of a cold beverage drinker than a hot beverage drinker, so the hot teas have fallen rather flat for me, and the iced tea is expensive, so this will be more of a treat than a regular drink choice for me.
I thought I might be drinking more coffee or tea to combat the decrease in my caffeine consumption, as obviously, Diet Coke was a big source of caffeine, and I'd drink an energy drink if tired or needed an energy fix, but surprisingly there hasn't been that urge for caffeine I expected; I'm guessing its the water that's giving me the energy I need without the need for an artificial energy source, so I'm pretty happy about that!
How Do I Feel?
So, 31 weeks in, how do I feel? Am I noticing any difference in my health? The simple answer is yes! Firstly, I am far less bloated than I was when drinking all that Diet Coke. I'm less gassy, and my bathroom visits are different from how they used to be and are less frequent! Most fizzy drinks have a diuretic effect on the body, and I found myself needing to pee all the time, to the extent that I thought I was diabetic, as that is, of course, a symptom of diabetes. It seems my frequent visits to the loo were simply because caffeinated drinks can cause you to produce more urine, so you pee more, and since reducing the caffeine, I pee far less! As it turns out, I am actually pre-diabetic, so I do need to urinate more frequently, but it's still less than it used to be!
The sweetener in Diet Coke, (and other other drinks), can also cause one's bowels to be 'less happy', and so I assumed I suffered from IBS as I would get an unhappy tummy. Since cutting out the sweetener, my gut health has much improved, and my 'IBS' has cleared up totally, showing that actually that 'fake sugar' was a catalyst for poor gut health!
I've lost 15 pounds since I stopped drinking Diet Coke, but if I'm honest, that all went back on again, so drinking less Diet Coke hasn't really helped my weight! To be fair, poor eating and lifestyle choices are more likely to blame, but I am now on a diet (mainly because I'm getting married in August and don't want to have issues finding these things to wear!
I now consume a great deal of water and fizzy water, plus, as I got a nice new coffee machine courtesy of Influenster so I'm drinking more coffee, which is helpful to help fight that withdrawal of caffeine that I used to get from the Diet Coke. I'm Neuro-divergent (I have ADHD), and caffeine (as well as the fizz in fizzy drinks randomly), is good to help people with ADHD to help focus, so that coffee really helps!
I do now drink a small amount of cordial. I initially cut it out as it contained the artificial sweetener I was avoiding, but I need flavour in my life! I've grown to enjoy water and fizzy water especially, but it's boring; I need something to give my taste buds a treat, otherwise, I would reach for sweet treats or crisps etc, and that wasn't helping my weight, so I made the decision that a very small amount of cordial is ok; after all its a still a ginormous amount less sweetener that I'm now consuming, so I'm sure a small amount of cordial will do me little harm! I did try the cordials that have real sugar, not sweetener, but they are sickly sweet, high in calories and crazy expensive, so I've stuck with Robinson's cordials...
I do have more energy; I'm less tired and more alert than I was when I was drinking Diet Coke! My sleep is better as well, and I don't have to get up 3 times a night to pee anymore, so the benefits to my health, mental health and general well-being have made a big difference in my life!
Even my taste buds have improved, my general sense of taste has improved, and food tastes different now, more flavoursome; I think that the sweeteners had numbed my taste buds somehow, and now my body has re-discovered the real taste of food; plus I'm less interested in sweet things, my sugar cravings have reduced significantly; savoury foods are what interest me! I've been eating more healthy snacks and steering away from the more unhealthy foods, and trying to eat a more healthy diet, such as salad for lunch instead of carb-laden bread and swopping crisps for nuts and eating more fruit, trying to make a better choice in my food as well as drink choices!
The whole experience of knocking Diet Coke on the head, and actually any product with any type of artificial sweetener, started off being far worse than I thought! Going 'Cold Turkey' was a big adjustment, and those few days of unpleasant side effects I had not expected, if I'm honest, but I think that cutting Diet Coke out of my diet entirely was the right way to do it; I doubt that just reducing my intake would have worked; I would have slowed down for a bit, but then old habits would have kicked in and I would be drinking just as much again; the 'All In' approach is what's worked for me!
It's now much easier than I expected; I can hand on heart say that I've not been tempted to drink a Diet Coke since the end of week one! I don't have pangs for Diet Coke, the fizzy water I drink lots of gives me the fizz kick I need, and the coffee gives me the caffeine kick, so, for now,, I think its a pretty sure bet I won't be drinking Diet Coke again for the foreseeable future.
I've been out to pubs and restaurants, where my first thought would have been to be to order a Diet Coke, and I've been quite happy with a fizzy water or cordial, so that a positive step for me!
It's Still Early Days
I have heard many stories of people who have kicked that sweetener habit for 12 months, even a couple of years and then had that blip and gone back to old habits, and I'm determined that's not going to happen to me!
I think that, and for anyone looking to kick the habit as well, having a suitable replacement lined up is the key to more likely success. You need to have something you can drink instead that you actually like; otherwise, I think it would be easy to fail; You can't just move on from something you crave to then replace that with something boring like tap water; you need to have 'something' that you enjoy and will take the negativity out of what you are doing!
It's probably better to have that planned in advance rather than to try and find your new 'thing' right in the middle of 'Cold Turkey'; it's an added stress and inconvenience, and I suspect likely to be a big reason to fail; so test out new drinks beforehand so you can switch quickly and easily! I'm committed to cutting Diet Coke from my diet; the health benefits of doing so are already apparent to me, and I like that! Only time will tell as to if I will stick to my guns and keep going; I think and hope I will! I'll update this blog post periodically with how I'm getting on and likely refer to it should I feel myself slipping back to old habits, but if nothing else, I hope my story, my experience, will help those people who also want to cut artificially sweetened drinks from their diet. I think my message is that if you don't try and stop this addiction today, when? Don't put it off; plan ahead, have a game plan and go for it. I wish you the best of luck; you'll be so happy you made the change; I know I am!