One of my most popular blog posts was back in March of 2011. It was called, "the effects of diet soda (and regular soda) on your body". I had no idea it would be such a popular topic for people. But, I guess when you think about the amount of marketing dollars spent to sell soda and diet soda, it is not surprising at all that we have a problem with it.
Today, soda has become somewhat of a public enemy – being pointed to as an underlying cause of the obesity epidemic and then, of course, its potential connections to diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease, tooth decay, kidney stones, liver problems and premature aging.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans still drinking soda and you’re watching Bloomberg try to limit the sale of soda in NYC or you’re watching how the big soda companies are diversifying their product line (i.e. PepsiCo’s recent move into the yogurt industry), you may be starting to wonder if maybe there is some truth to all of these health concerns.
Most of us know at some level that soda isn’t good for us. But, we’re just not convinced that it’s bad…at least not bad enough that we should be concerned about it.
That’s where I was at several years ago. For most of my life, I had a daily soda habit. As a kid, it was regular soda and then as I grew up and started dealing with weight issues, I moved into the diet soda camp. Even as I began to make health a focus in my life, my daily diet soda fix was one of those habits I just didn’t want to give up. It was easy to justify that my one, little can of Diet Pepsi wasn’t going to kill me. After all, it had zero calories – it was an empty food, right?
How bad could it be?
Okay, let’s talk about that for a bit.
First, soda drinkers can be broken up into two camps: Regular and Diet. For the sake of this article, I’m addressing both. I was in the Diet camp for over 20 years! (The funny thing about it is, no matter which camp you are in, you cannot understand how the other side can drink that stuff. When I was a Regular soda drinker, I could not stand Diet soda and when I was a Diet soda drinker I could not stand Regular. It all goes back to what you are used to and your body’s sensitivities to something over time. Today, I can’t stand the taste of either one. They just taste nasty to me.)
As a nutritionist, my number one problem with regular soda is the amount of sugar in it. If you are not already familiar with how sugar changes your body’s biochemistry and the negative health effects, then I would stop reading this right now and click on my post called, "The Skinny on Weight Loss". Go ahead, I will wait right here for you and stop writing until you get back.
Okay, so now you are up to speed about how the overload of fructose on the liver causes a host of health issues and how sugar can be addictive.
My second biggest issue is that there are zero health benefits from drinking regular soda. What I mean by this is that our bodies need a certain amount of nutrition from our foods. We only have so many calories to get the nutrition we need into our bodies. The amount of discretionary calories we have to work with is minimal, particularly if you are working to lose weight or stay or become healthy. Drinking regular soda uses up a good chunk of our daily calories and gives us nothing in return – no nutritional benefit whatsoever.
The last issue is the concoction of chemicals within soda. These add no benefit to our health and just give our body additional wear and tear to process and deal with these chemicals that we are not really designed to consume. In addition, there is the genetically modified corn used to make soda. The long-term effects of GMO's is another big unknown in my book.
The good news is that I think the soda companies see the writing on the wall. With all the information on health effects and the obesity epidemic, I can see them working on diversifying into more "healthy products" - like yogurt companies. (I am so curious to see how long before they muck up those products as well.)
So, now let’s look at the other team. Diet soda is not much better. Even though diet soda doesn’t have all of the calories and harmful health effects as a regular soda does, it does have its own set of issues. The main issue is the artificial sweetener. The long-term use of artificial sweeteners on our health is unknown. In addition, there are many studies out there that claim diet soda tricks the body into gaining weight. The idea is that when our body eats something sweet without the accompanying caloric load, it confuses our metabolism and causes us to eat more.
Similar to regular soda, the other ingredients in diet soda, like artificial coloring and preservatives, are things that our body is not equipped to process and we’re discovering these things are linked to all kinds of health problems. When you think about it, having a daily dose of chemicals in your system puts your body in a chronic state of stress having to process these unnatural substances.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you how bad soda is. You can ‘google’ away and find reason after reason why you should stop drinking it. The real question is not should I stop, but HOW?
So, let’s spend some time talking about how to stop.
The good news is that it’s not that hard. And, once you stop, you won’t miss it. You just need to give yourself enough time, a good strategy and some support.
First, find your motivation. For me, it was learning about diet soda’s link to heart disease. That alone was reason enough for me to stop cold turkey. There are a million reasons to quit drinking soda – weight loss, improved health, saving money, impact on the environment. Pick one that motivates you.
Next, understand your addiction. Even if you feel confident you can just stop drinking soda, it’s trickier than you think. There is a physical chemical addition that goes on in your body from being repeatedly exposed to these chemicals. The only way to break the addiction is to get it out of your system for a period of time.
Finally, analyze your habit. Beyond the addiction, the second and probably even more powerful reason why it is such a challenge to stop drinking soda is the habit of drinking it. The initial physical chemical addiction to the soda triggers us to create habits around our soda drinking. When I was addicted, my soda habit was time triggered. My body wanted a diet soda somewhere between 10-11 am, with lunch, and then in the afternoon between 2-3 pm. These times of day were my triggers for my habit. Habits are hard to break – even harder than a physical addiction in most cases.
Habits have 3 parts - the trigger, the action, and the reward. My diet soda became my ‘reward’ for different phases of my day. Once I got through my morning, I would drink a Diet Pepsi as a break – a reward for working hard all morning and as a kick-start to get me through to my next break – lunch. Once I understood my habit and triggers, I could begin to replace the actions and reward so I could successfully break my soda habit permanently.
How to Stop
So, if you’re ready to tackle your soda habit once and for all so you can experience improved health and weight, here are some steps that will help you get there.
1. Get soda out of your system.
The best way to do this is to commit to a period of time with no soda. This allows your body to flush the chemicals out of your system and to remove the physical addiction. Participate in our 21-day Soda Free Challenge or find a friend who will commit with you to stop drinking soda for at least 21 days. The benefit of this is two-part: 1) You will prove to yourself you don’t need it and 2) You will find that after you get it out of your system, it simply doesn’t taste as good when you go back to it. I remember after I quit drinking my daily diet soda, I tasted it again after a month or two and it tasted nasty. I couldn’t believe that it ever tasted good to me. For the first time, I tasted it for what it was – a concoction of chemicals.
2. Replace your habit.
Even after you get the physical addiction out of the way, you are still going to have to deal with those triggers. For me, I had to figure out how to deal with my habit of having a soda at 10 am. I could stop drinking the soda, but I couldn’t stop that trigger of wanting a soda at 10 am. I had to find a replacement so I could still experience the ‘reward’ of sitting with my beverage mid-morning. Try drinking iced tea, iced coffee, or sparkling water with a squeeze of lime. If you are dependent on caffeine from your soda, having tea or coffee will help you avoid the caffeine crash.
3. Identify your reward.
The first three days will be the hardest, but if you can make it through those first few days, it will get easier with each passing day. Find ways to reward yourself for abstaining, especially during those first few days. Maybe your reward is a break with your new beverage. Or maybe there is something else that will motivate you. Just make sure you find a healthy reward for yourself.
4. Get support.
Find some support. It always helps to have a friend ‘suffering’ along with you. Grab a buddy and do it together. That way you have someone to keep you motivated and on track.
Give yourself 21 days without soda. See how you feel. See if you can break the habit. Join this 21-day challenge and we’ll provide you with some motivation and support that will keep you going. A little friendly competition never hurt. Our daily check-ins and tips will help keep you going, while helping you replace your soda habit with a healthier option.
Are you ready? What have you got to lose? (Other than a bad habit?) Let’s do it together. Join us here and take the Soda Free Challenge. And, encourage your friends to join you. You just might find it’s easier than you thought.