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These Magical Things Happen When You Finally Quit Diet Soda

You keep hearing that diet soda isn’t good for you, but nothing has convinced you to stop drinking it. Maybe the following reasons will help you to decide it’s time to cut it out of your diet and daily routine. Your health will improve in many ways. Try cooling down this summer by drinking unsweetened iced tea instead of diet soda. Your body will benefit in several ways.

Your mind seems sharper and migraines go away.

You have heard that diet soda withdrawal can cause migraines. Cutting out diet soda will cut down on the headaches and you will think much more clearly. The chemicals found in artificial sweetener alter the brain chemicals, the brain’s reward system, and nerve signals. According to a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, these chemical alterations lead to headaches, anxiety and insomnia. An animal study on rats found that drinking diet soda also damaged cells and nerve endings in the brain that are responsible for motor skills.

Food tastes better.

The artificial sweeteners in diet soda give your taste buds an overwhelming amount of sweetness each time you drink one. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than table sugar, and Splenda is 600 times sweeter. Brain scans have shown that these sweeteners confuse the sweet receptors in the brain actually prolonging your sugar cravings.

It helps with weight-loss.

You probably started drinking diet soda to cut down on calories and facilitate weight-loss. By quitting you may see your weight go down. A nine-year study found that older adults who drank diet soda kept packing on belly fat. A piggyback study found that having a daily diet soda increases your chance of obesity by 65% during the next 10 years. That study published in Diabetes Care also found an increase in metabolic syndrome, which is obesity, high blood-pressure, and high triglycerides, leading to diabetes and heart disease.

Bones become stronger.

Giving up soda is a great way to reduce your risk of bone fracture and increase your bone strength. A study in 2014 found that cola drinking post-menopausal women had lower bone mineral density in their hips. Science has yet to do more research on this subject, but for now a soda habit proves to weaken your bones.

Risk for diabetes and fat storage goes down.

Hormone imbalances help to explain why gaining weight often accompanies a switch to diet soda. A study in Diabetes Care found that drinking diet soda before a meal primed the pancreas to release a lot of insulin, which is the fat-storing hormone in your blood. When your pancreas is overworked from making insulin in the attempt to control blood-sugar levels, diabetes is developed. A supporting study in Japan concluded that middle-aged men who had at least one daily diet soda were at a much higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes over a 7-year period.

Your kidneys function better.

Your kidneys have been working extra hard trying to make sense of the ingredients in diet soda. Stopping that habit will allow your kidneys to concentrate on clearing toxins, stabilizing blood pressure, and absorbing minerals. Results from an 11-year study found that women who drank at least two servings of diet soda per day doubled their risk of developing kidney function problems.

Convinced yet to drop your diet soda habit? Stop tricking yourself into thinking it is a healthy soda alternative and reap the health benefits of getting it out of your diet.

Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Tony Webster

I Tried to Quit Diet Soda 4 Times. Here’s What Finally Changed My Ways

Sometimes it’s the little things that get you. My little thing was diet soda. It was a small, daily habit, but as Annie Dillard said, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” And following that logic, I was spending my life swimming in chemical soup.

Portrait of the Diet Cola Fiend: The Early Years

Here’s an easy test to determine whether you’re addicted to a substance: Do you have specific criteria for your preferred “high?” If so, you might have a problem.

I had a brand of choice, and I always wanted to drink from a can for maximum coldness. Never with a straw, I wanted to plant my lips on the can like an extended kiss. And I lived for that kkk-shhhew sound of the can popping open. (Years after kicking the habit, hearing that sound will kick off a reaction. Dr. Pavlov, you knew your stuff.)

My love went deep. Diet soda was wonderful! Every can was a mini celebration. The jubilant bubbles! The hit o’ sweet! That pick-me-up perk of caffeine. A can alone was enough to turn a crummy moment around.

And when I didn’t have soda… well, I was no fun at all. Headaches from the lack of caffeine and sluggishness were my standard physical symptoms of withdrawal. But worse was that dull, gray feeling like my day had flatlined into a treat-free zone with no pick-me-ups on the horizon. So very sad.

What started as an occasional trip to the vending machine became a four-to-five-can-a-day habit at my first post-college job. The work, answering phones and doing filing, was dead boring, but I had a vending machine just steps away from my desk. And it had my cola of choice. Dangerfood, enter stage left. I had one with every meal—including breakfast—and one or two with snacks. It got to the point that I’d filled an entire filing cabinet with cans. Taking them home to recycle was my soda walk of shame: these discarded silver husks clattering around in an oversized bag were a reminder that I was out of control.

99 Reasons to Quit, but Flavor Wasn’t One

I justified my addiction in many ways; my primary rationale being that diet soda seemed so innocent. I didn’t do drugs or smoke, and I hardly ever drank alcohol. Soda was my one and only vice, and didn’t everyone deserve to have one of those?

As far as bad habits went, my diet soda dependency certainly didn’t make me special. Around, oh, 63 million Americans drink diet soda on any given day. And I can tell you, no one ever wrote a compelling character for a prime-time drama with the description, “Hard living and years of diet soda had colored her past.” Basically the monkey on my back was neither interesting nor cool. (Picture Don Draper hitting a supersized fountain soda instead of his bourbon. Bye-bye sex appeal.)

Plus, there were plenty of compelling reasons to quit. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to many serious diseases: metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease. The caramel coloring has even been linked to cancer. What if I let vanity be my guide and decide a little chemo was worth a little waist? Bad news, cola lovers, studies show diet soda actually adds several notches to your belt loop. And new research proves diet cola can prompt you to go gaga on sweets, negating those “no calorie” claims.

So I finally decided to quit. And failed. And failed two more times. And then failed again. Finally, on my fifth go, I cracked the code on my addiction. And that’s where I am now, living free from the cola cuffs that once bound me.

If you’re struggling with quitting this saccharine brown stuff, learn from my attempts, both the repeated failures, and my final triumph.

My 4 Failed Attempts, in Brief

Attempt No. 1: Moderation
“Moderation” is a nice word, right? It’s warm and inclusive, where “quit” is so harsh. For me, the trouble with moderation is that the boundaries are so fuzzy. What does it look like? What are the rules? When I’m guzzling down four to five cans a day, is moderation one can? Or three? And which cans do I sacrifice? Surely not breakfast—it’s the most important meal of the day! And not lunch. I need my lunchtime boost! And not my snack time. (You can see why this didn’t work.)

Attempt No. 2: Cold Turkey
OK, moderation was a bust, so I needed to get tough. And the tough go cold turkey. Tap water became my new diet soda. The only hitch was that I hate tap water. Every sip felt like a punishment. And was I really going to have an afternoon cookie with a glass of tap water? That just seemed so, so sad. Where was the celebratory sparkle? The fun? The party in a can?

Cold turkey didn’t last.

Attempt No. 3: Change of Environment
By now, I’d figured out my environment had a lot to do with my addiction. I needed a diet soda rehab center away from my corner store and my vending machine. And I had the perfect moment to bust out of my routine: I was going to remote Alaska for two weeks. There, I could measure the distance between me and diet soda in nautical miles. I could go through my caffeine withdrawal in my little cabin far away from diet soda’s siren song of sweet relief. Sure enough, after a week, I was off the stuff. Here’s the problem: I hadn’t laid any groundwork that would help me navigate the difficulties of my soda abstinence once I was back in my day-to-day life. I assumed I’d breeze by any shelves and coolers of diet soda I came across. But as soon as I had my first stressful day at work, I was back in the warm glow of the vending machine.

Attempt No. 4: Back to Cold Turkey
Obviously the problem was my lack of willpower. But I really wanted to change! I would redouble my efforts. I would avoid… oh who am I kidding? It didn’t work the first time, and it didn’t work this time either.

Seeing the Light: My 5th and Final Attempt

What was different this time? I turned to science. I started studying the pattern of habits. Habits are largely unconscious, which is why they’re so hard to break. Your brain is so used to treading the same path that it’s hard to forge new ones. That goes double for something that’s a daily habit, which has worn deep grooves into your brain’s carpet. The trouble with stopping that behavior is you’ve already conditioned your unconscious mind, which is almost impossible to undo.

I read Charles Dunhigg’s book The Power of Habit, and I started to understand something he calls “the habit loop.” In the book, Dunhigg breaks down the unconscious cycle of habit into three steps: cue, routine, and reward. Subtle cues we read during the day will trigger our behavior and that in turn will give us a reward. The reward cements the behavior loop. That means once we see the cue, our brain has already hit fast-forward, and it’s reaching for that treat. Often you’re not even aware of these cues, you just find yourself surrounded by empty husks of diet soda all over your desk (to use an entirely random example).

The bad news is once the habit loop is in place, it’s incredibly difficult to dismantle. But there’s hope. You can hack the habit loop. The key is to keep the same behavior and reward, but change the routine.

Hacking the Habit Loop

Dunhigg uses the example of Alcoholics Anonymous. Here’s what an alcoholic’s habit loop looks like according to Dunhigg:

Now the alcoholic joins AA:

Now my habit isn’t as damaging as alcoholism, but it’s easy to apply the same principles. Here’s my typical diet soda run:

Cue: Tough day at work, I look up from my inbox to see it’s 4 p.m., diet soda o’clock. Time for a treat!
Routine: Walk away from my desk to the vending machine. Crack open a cold can.
Reward: Ahh! Sweet, sweet soda. Pleasure centers in the brain light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

My mission was to keep the same habit, but replace the outcome. Afternoon “treat time” could not be undone. But it could be another routine.

My problem: the reward needed to be the same. That’s when I took a hard look at diet soda itself.

Breaking Down the Formula: Bubbles and Sugar and Caffeine, Oh My!

What could give me that same kick in the prefrontal cortex? I examined the formula and tried to replace those components. In diet soda, I get three things: bubbles, a sweet treat, and caffeine. Finding all three in a natural beverage was tricky. But I could find a substitute for each. Seltzer could give me my festive bubbles, iced tea or coffee my caffeine, and milky-sugary additions to that would be my sweet treat.

Real talk: That last one wasn’t exactly healthy. When I first started hacking my habit loop, I was basically swapping diet soda for cake-in-a-cup: I drank coffee or tea with a giant splash of milk and heaps of sugar. But, it was all natural, and that was my starting point. Step by step, I pulled back on the sugar, swapped in almond milk, and my treat became a bit more healthy.

This took time. My brain was wired for a big wallop of sweet, and yanking that away wouldn’t give me the reward I expected. The game plan was to shift my palate slowly so I’d still “read” the beverage as my treat and my brain would be fully fooled.

Meet My New Habit Loop

My reward in place, I subbed in my new routine into my habit loop. It unfolded like this:

Cue: Tough day at work, I look up from my inbox to see it’s 4 p.m., iced tea o’clock. Time for a treat!
Routine: Walk away from my desk to the coffee shop. Grab an iced tea with a splash of almond milk and some Stevia.
Reward: Ahh! Sweet, sweet iced tea. Pleasure centers in the brain light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

Success!

Yes, my fellow diet soda fiends, the system works. Miraculously my brain picked up this new flight pattern knowing the reward would be waiting, and I managed to dupe myself into my new MacGruber-ed faux diet soda. The happy ending is that years later I can confidently say I’m in diet soda remission. I can walk past the vending machine with my head held high.

To all the other diet soda fiends out there I can say, it gets better.

Man describes what happened to his body when he gave up fizzy drinks

A fitness journalist says giving up soda changed his life – after becoming so hooked on the stuff that he kept a huge bottle of it on his desk at all times.

“Everyone wants that one life-changing moment. I had mine three years ago,” Michael Freidson, 41, wrote in an article for Men’s Health, declaring that his moment occurred when he gave up the sugary beverage for good.

Freidson, who drank multiple cans of Coke daily into his adult years and who considered the creation of Coke Zero one of his “happiest days,” quit his habit once he realised that his soda intake may be ageing him prematurely.

According to Freidson, it was after seeing the headline “Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking,” on a 2014 study that he decided to quit once and for all, as only then did he realise the impact that soda was actually having on his body.

Prior to giving up his daily indulgence of Diet Coke, Freidson was 20 pounds heavier than he is today, and had high blood pressure.

“I felt unfocused, sluggish, bloated, and depressed,” he wrote.

Diet coke has the same negative effects as regular soda (Getty Images)

Through additional research into what exactly his habit was doing to his health, Freidson found that even diet soda is directly linked to a person’s risk of obesity, according to research from the University of Texas Health Science Centre at San Antonio (UTHSC).

Apart from a higher risk of obesity, eight years after the original study, the soda drinkers who drank one or more diet sodas a day were also found to have their average waist circumference increase by 3.16in.

Drinking soda is linked to obesity and increased waist circumference (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Research has also found drinking soda can cause infertility, increase the risk of certain cancers, and contribute to diabetes and high blood pressure.

For Freidson, the effects of quitting soda were noticeable “instantly.”

“I instantly began to think more clearly and have more energy,” he wrote. “One month in, I noticed I could ‘cheat’ more at mealtime and still lose weight. I realised my abs were more defined.”

And most importantly for Freidson, he is now often told he looks good for his age – his original motivation for giving up the sugar-loaded beverages.

Shape Created with Sketch. The amounts of sugar in food and drink

Show all 6 left Created with Sketch. right Created with Sketch. A 42g bag contains 28.9g of sugar

2/6 Dairy Milk

A 49g bar contains 26.8g of sugar

3/6 Skittles

45g of Skittles (about a quarter of a large 174g pouch) contains 40.4g of sugar

4/6 Ribena

A 500ml bottle of Blackcurrant Ribena contains 23g of sugar, down from 50g/500ml after it was reformulated to avoid the government’s tax on sugary drinks

5/6 Coca Cola

A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains 35g of sugar

6/6 Innocent Smoothies

A 250ml bottle of strawberries & bananas Innocent Smoothie (the middle size) contains 26g of sugar

1/6 Minstrels

A 42g bag contains 28.9g of sugar A 49g bar contains 26.8g of sugar 45g of Skittles (about a quarter of a large 174g pouch) contains 40.4g of sugar A 500ml bottle of Blackcurrant Ribena contains 23g of sugar, down from 50g/500ml after it was reformulated to avoid the government’s tax on sugary drinks A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains 35g of sugar A 250ml bottle of strawberries & bananas Innocent Smoothie (the middle size) contains 26g of sugar

Fortunately, soda consumption is down globally from the 49 gallons of soda per person that was being consumed yearly – although there are still significant ways to go.

To beat the habit, Freidson offered his own recommendations – a five-step plan which he developed alongside experts from the National Institutes of Health, Emory University, and Tufts University.

  1. Find a replacement
  2. Make a habit
  3. Reward yourself right
  4. Resist the marketing
  5. Take a sip, avoid a slip

Most former soda drinkers promise that after six months of no soda, the taste will be too sweet to enjoy.

Although it may sound like a daunting task, according to Freidson, giving up soda is “easier than you think.”

Some people’s worst habit is smoking, biting their fingernails, or swearing. For me, it’s downing liters of Diet Coke. I can’t remember exactly when our relationship began, but it was probably sometime in college. (When I was growing up, my parents didn’t even let us drink soda in the house.) And recently, the relationship became very intense.

I drank Diet Coke at least three times a day, and it started to feel excessive. If I was tired, I’d reach for a Diet Coke. If I was stressed, Diet Coke. If I was eating dinner, Diet Coke. If I was hung over, definitely Diet Coke. It was an addiction, and it was bad. So a few months ago, I decided to go cold turkey; I knew if I tried to wean off slowly I’d never make it. I marked my calendar for November 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving. (Repeat after us: No more dieting. Ever. Instead, learn how to eat clean—with zero deprivation!—and watch the pounds drop off, with Your Metabolism Makeover.)

Week One

Amy Schlinger

When you decide to quit something that has a big place in your life, it’s pretty easy at first. I mean, I should be able to go a few days without freaking soda. Talking about it helped, because it made it seem real and it made me accountable to someone other than myself. The day before my soda ban was scheduled to start, I told my family, “I’m quitting Diet Coke tomorrow,” and while they weren’t sure I’d be able to stick with it, they were excited I was trying. Whenever I saw good friends, I immediately told them that I gave it up.

The main reason I wanted to quit my diet soda addiction is because I was pretty sure it was messing with my body. Even though it’s sugar-free, it contains the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is 200 times sweeter than table sugar—how insane is that?! Research has shown that it can increase cravings for even more sweet stuff, both real and fake. And some studies have linked it to headaches, digestive issues, and even cancer.

MORE: 8 Things That Happen When You Finally Stop Drinking Diet Soda

I also hoped that giving up diet soda would help me drink more water. I work out a lot, and sipping plain H2O is generally the best way to stay hydrated. The problem? I’ve never really liked water. I bought some alkaline water from the grocery store (you can also get it for cheap on Amazon), thinking any kind of gimmick might help me. (Alkaline water is supposedly better for you than normal water thanks to a higher pH level.) But I also bought seltzer—lots of it.

A big part of my love for Diet Coke wasn’t only the taste but also the carbonation. To me, carbonation is like an orgasm for your esophagus, so I figured that drinking seltzer might help make this whole thing easier. I made sure the seltzer I was buying didn’t have added sodium (as many do) and that it wasn’t flavored, because a study came out last year saying flavored seltzers aren’t great for your teeth. (Try these creative ways to flavor your own seltzer.)

Week Two

Amy Schlinger

I was traveling a bunch for work this week, which happened to be a good thing. I realized that I tend to reach for Diet Coke mostly while I’m sitting at my desk working, or while I’m eating dinner and watching TV on my couch. Not having access to a fridge full of diet soda at night made it much easier to avoid.

Still, I started to have cravings. I made sure that I bought seltzers to carry around, and I also brought a water bottle. I tried to tell myself that people who drink water demonstrate the fact that they’re healthy and care about their health and that’s cool, and I want to look cool. That mental trick worked for about as long as you’d expect, which is to say not very long at all.

The toughest day for me was coming home from traveling. I’ll admit I had gone out the evening before and ended up having more booze than I had planned, so I woke up feeling a little dehydrated. I chugged water while I headed to the airport, but when I got on the plane, it seemed like every single person and their mother was drinking soda… fake-syrupy carbonated amazingness. It was like they were all trying to sabotage my goal. But I held strong and ordered about five seltzers from the flight attendant. Take that, diet-soda-drinking aisle seat passenger, who had to get up to let me go to the bathroom more than once.

MORE: Your Simple 3-Day Diet Detox

Week Three
They say it takes about 16 days to break a habit. I don’t know who exactly “they” are, but they are correct. I passed my 16-day mark this week and noticed that I was no longer yearning for my old friend DC. I never once went looking in my fridge for any, nor did I even think to order one while out at dinner with friends. Even when I went to a bar with my parents to watch our football team (go, Packers, go!), I didn’t even think to order a Diet Coke, which is what I normally would have done immediately. My mom was impressed!

I still wasn’t drinking a lot of H2O—I never finished a full water bottle—but I did get through a few meals with only water to accompany my food.

I was in a good place, but wow, did my sugar cravings kick in this week. I don’t know if it was because my body was missing the sweet taste of diet soda or what, but I’ve never wanted chocolate and gummy sour candy and ice cream so much in my life. I especially felt it when I was watching TV on my couch late at night, which is when I used to enjoy a Diet Coke. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) One night I ate an ice cream sandwich, a few mini Kit Kats, and half a bag of Sour Skittles in one sitting.

To prevent ongoing sugar binges, I simply stopped buying the stuff. The cravings still came and went, but they lessened over time.

MORE: 7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar

Week Four

Amy Schlinger

It was getting close to Christmas, and holiday time means lots of unhealthy drinking and eating. I didn’t have any diet soda this week, but it was starting to seem as if I had replaced it with a lot of wine and beer. (Learn what nutritionists eat and drink at holiday parties.)

That’s not to say that I was a boozy mess, since I still relied heavily on seltzer. My family and I actually flew out to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to go to the Packers football game on Christmas Eve. And guess what? At dinner the night before the game, and even at the game and tailgate, I didn’t even think about ordering a diet soda. I was extremely proud of myself. I had water with dinner, and between meals or whenever we stopped at a convenience store, I bought seltzer. I did enjoy an occasional lemon-flavored seltzer, but I think that’s OK. We can’t be perfect, right?

After being off Diet Coke for a month, I started to feel better. Part of it may have been mental, since I was psyched to have conquered a bad habit. I also found that I had more energy throughout the day. Without soda before bed, I fell asleep more easily, without my stomach feeling bloated or gross from all the bubbles, and I no longer had an achy stomach in the morning either.

I can’t say I’ll never have a Diet Coke again—I think over time I may end up having one here and there so that I don’t feel totally deprived. But today I sit here 38 days clean, and I couldn’t feel better or be more happy with myself.

Amy Schlinger Amy Schlinger is a skilled health and fitness writer and editor based in New York City.

Happy Monday, y’all!

If you were to meet me in real life six or so weeks ago and we went out to breakfast—yes, breakfast—or lunch, I definitely would be ordering a Diet Coke. If you were to come over to my house to hang, it’s likely I would have been sipping on a Diet Mountain Dew. No matter how many times I tried to kick my diet soda addiction, it never stuck.

Yet at the beginning of the year, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to work on my fitness and overall wellness, and I knew that drinking at least a can or two of diet soda very day was not helping me with my health goals. So I decided to commit to giving up diet soda for Lent, figuring if it went really poorly, I could have my beloved bubbles back after six weeks. Since Ash Wednesday (March 1), I’ve only had one Diet Coke (this is huge for me!) and have no plans to become a regular soda drinker once Lent is over this Sunday on Easter.

I wanted to share a little bit about what I did to finally finally eliminate diet soda from my diet and what the process of giving it up was like for me. I don’t drink coffee, so you can only imagine what the withdrawals were like!

THE PREPARATION /

I had one last ceremonial diet soda on Mardi Gras, and made sure to eliminate the rest of my diet soda reserves from my apartment. I knew that if it was within reach, I would eventually cave, so I wanted to make sure I had to go out of my way to get a diet soda. I honestly don’t think I would have been as successful if I had soda around—it would have been too tempting!

I also knew that in order to be successful, I had to replace diet soda with something else other than plain water—something I’ve always drank a lot of—at least to start. I generally had a can of diet soda with breakfast or soon thereafter and one with lunch. While I love water, I think what I realized—especially in hindsight—is that I really just liked having something other than water every now and then to mix things up. Luckily, lemon water is one of my favorite things, so I swapped out my morning diet soda for a lemon water from day one. I honestly just did this because I liked the taste, but lemon water is also great for kick starting your metabolism and is a great alkalizing agent (#addedbonus).

Lastly, I told everyone I know that I was giving up diet soda so it was much harder for me to cheat. I knew if I drank a can of bubbly in front of them, they’d call me out, which was extremely helpful!

WEEK ONE /

I woke up on the first day of my diet soda free life, drank my lemon water, and went about my day. The first three days were really rough—I had really bad headaches, I was really tired even though I was sleeping a ton, and I was still adjusting to not having diet soda. And honestly, it may sound a bit hokey, but I missed the companionship I had with diet soda a lot—what was I supposed to drink with breakfast and lunch? What did I treat myself with after a stressful afternoon? But I forged ahead because in previous attempts to quit, I could never get past the first three days, so I was extra determined to prove to myself that I could do it.

By day four, my headaches were subsiding some, but I began to consider looking for an alternative form of caffeine so I wasn’t miserable. I took myself down to CVS one lunch break thinking I’d pick up some green tea or some other non-chemical-laden beverage. There’s no point in giving up diet soda if you’re just going to replace it with something equally bad!

It was on this trip I discovered the Bai Antioxidant Infused beverages that have as much caffeine as a green tea but also come in a variety of flavors. (I’m not a huge tea person to begin with, so their fruity options are much more up my alley!) Added bonus, there’s only 5 calories per bottle and there’s no artificial sweaters—in fact, there’s only one gram of sugar in the whole thing. Obviously, nothing is as great as water, but at this point, I was dying to taste something other than water. I also thought that by substituting Bai for diet soda at breakfast and/or lunch might help me stay off the diet soda train for the long haul—those reward stimuli were seriously missing their bubbly beverages!

WEEK TWO /

By the second week my headaches had pretty much stopped—partly because I was over the withdrawal hump and partly because I was getting some caffeine again. But, I was exhausted. Everything about the second week was pretty standard—I didn’t have any major stressors and was getting the normal amount of sleep I usually do—yet I found myself wanting to crawl in bed at 8:30 pm every night. I had kind of expected this period of fatigue as several blogs I read to mentally prep for quitting diet soda cold turkey had mentioned the extreme tiredness, but it really was no joke. As someone who likes to go, go, go all the time, it was definitely frustrating.

I was still grabbing a Bai on my way to work every morning to get that morning caffeine boost, but I wasn’t stockpiling them at home. I didn’t want to substitute one vice for another, so I wanted to try and stick mainly to water as much as possible. Plus, at $2 a pop, those things aren’t cheap.

One morning, my CVS was out of the regular Bai beverages, but had just restocked their Bai Bubbles flavors. I picked one up and knew that I found my healthier diet soda replacement. Though everyone told me to try La Croix, after drinking diet soda for years, they just weren’t sweet enough for me and I hated spending money and forcing myself to drink something I didn’t really enjoy. Bai Bubbles aren’t overly sweet or overly flavored, but they do have a stronger flavor profile than La Croix. I quickly became hooked—though I try to not drink one every day because like I said, not trying to develop a new bad habit to break!—and especially love the pineapple, blood orange, and pink grapefruit flavors. Because of the aforementioned cost, I’ve actually started buying these in bulk on Amazon simply to save some money—the unit price is almost 50 cents cheaper online!

During week two, I also became slightly concerned because I gained a couple of pounds. I was surprised since diet soda is often blamed for pushing the scale up, so I thought by quitting maybe the scale would come down. Though, good news to report—the weight gain was only temporary and probably due to the fact I was so exhausted and wasn’t making the best food choices.

WEEKS THREE THROUGH SIX /

They say it takes 21 days to break a habit, and it was the third week—so about 21 days in—that I felt like I really turned a corner. I had gotten used to not having diet soda as a normal part of my day or as a reward when I was stressed/tired/happy/sad/insert emotion here. I was no longer exhausted and actually had more energy than when I was drinking diet soda. I notice this newfound energy especially when working out and when I wake up in the morning. I also am not as bloated and am drinking even more water than I was before giving up diet soda, both of which I consider wins.

When I went to Chicago for my cousin’s bachelorette, I did cave and order a Diet Coke at brunch. We were hungover, hungry, and exhausted and I just needed that kick. As I was waiting for it to come to our table, I realized that not once during this process did I crave the flavor of diet soda—I was craving the bubbles and having something other than water to drink at a meal. When I enjoyed my Diet Coke at that brunch, it was good—but honestly, it wasn’t that good. It was a relief to realize I could enjoy a diet soda or two here or there without falling back into my old ways. I no longer felt like I needed diet soda the way I did before, so in a weird way, treating myself to a Diet Coke only made me more committed to giving it up.

While I do drink Bai Bubbles most days (and lemon water every day!), I’ll sometimes forget to bring one to work or be so busy on a weekend that I stick with good ol’ H2O. When I don’t have Bai Bubbles, I don’t get caffeine headaches or feel like I need it in the same way I did diet soda, so I feel like it’s a healthy replacement for me as I am not beholden or addicted. It’s simply a nice treat or source of caffeine from time to time.

MY BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS /

If you’re trying to kick your diet soda addiction and are sick of Googling “how to quit diet soda” every other month, I feel your pain. It’s a hard habit to break! But, I’m happy that it is no longer a part of my daily diet as I feel like it has helped me feel better overall.

If you’re looking to eliminate diet soda from your diet, based on the journey I described above, I would recommend doing the following three things:

  1. Quit Cold Turkey—it’s harder at the beginning, but will make it so much easier in the long run. Get rid of all the diet soda in your house and find a support system that will hold you accountable!
  2. Consider An Alternative Form of Caffeine—I wish I had done this sooner! Once I had a healthier way to get caffeine than diet soda, I wasn’t as miserable on those rough days. If you already drink coffee or tea, you’re probably set!
  3. Find A Substitute That Works For You—especially in the beginning, going from drinking water and diet soda to just drinking water is brutal and boring. Once I started trying healthier beverage alternatives to diet soda—like fruit-infused water or Bai Bubbles (seriously not sponsored, I just love them so much), it became much easier to stick to a no-diet-soda life.

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If you have any questions for me about how I quit diet soda or have any tips that have worked well for you, definitely drop me a line in the comments below! x

Sure, diet soda isn’t the sugar and calorie bomb of regular soda, but it’s not exactly harmless either. “Not only is there little evidence that diet drinks help people lose or maintain weight,” says nutritionist Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning), “but there’s some evidence that diet drinks cause similar metabolic problems to sugary drinks.”
Indeed, a University of Minnesota study of nearly 10,000 adults found that just one diet soda a day triggered a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, that cluster of symptoms that includes belly fat and high cholesterol and can lead to heart disease. “Anything with a heavy sweet taste, even if it’s not technically sugar, may stimulate insulin release,” explains Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction. “When it becomes excessive, you start to see a rise in insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.” Part of the reason it becomes excessive is that your taste buds get used to sweetness and then require more and more to feel satisfied.

MORE: 8 Things That Happen When You Finally Stop Drinking Diet Soda

The artificially sweetened, caramel-colored bubbly has also been shown to cause tooth decay, thinning bones, and kidney decline and to increase the odds of obesity. In a University of Texas Health Science Center study, sipping two or more cans a day expanded waistlines by 500%. (Take back control of your eating—and lose weight in the process—with our 21-Day Challenge!)
To curb your cola consumption, you could try weaning yourself slowly: First, cut out one can a day for 2 weeks; then mix the remaining one with water (uh, ew, but people are apparently doing it); then go down to half a can…but Teitelbaum believes there’s a better way. “The issue is that it’s an addiction—there’s something driving the craving,” he says. “If you don’t address what’s driving the craving, it won’t go away.”

Here’s how you might be using diet soda to achieve various goals—and the healthier way to meet those needs. “Whatever way you choose to do it, have a plan,” advises Londa Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “Have other drinks on hand to replace your soda with.”

1. Your diet soda motivation: You need energy.
If you pop a can of diet soda when you’re looking for a pick-me-up, it could be the caffeine you’re after.

Your diet soda detox: Try coffee or tea, which are chock-full of antioxidants for a good measure of disease protection. It’s OK to lightly sweeten them—as long as you choose stevia, a naturally sweet plant extract, or a teaspoon of honey, and not three packets of table sugar or the artificial stuff. Sandon recommends fruit-flavored iced tea such as cold brew peach or berry by Celestial Seasonings, because the fruit provides a natural sweetness. It’s also a good idea to get more sleep so you’re not chronically exhausted and dependent on caffeine to get through the day. (Think you’re fine on shut-eye? Don’t be so sure. Here are 7 ways to tell if you’re getting enough sleep.)

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2. Your diet soda motivation: Your blood sugar is low.
If you get irritable, shaky, or lightheaded and feel overwhelmed by everyday stressors, it could be that your adrenal glands need support. “Their job is to make more sugar during periods of stress,” Teitelbaum explains. “When they get exhausted from being chronically activated, your blood sugar will drop and you won’t have the hormones to manage it.”

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Your diet soda detox: Teitelbaum advises dispensing with as many day-to-day stressors as you can—like, do you really need to watch TV news at breakfast and start your day with terrorism and tornadoes? He also suggests avoiding blood sugar dips by not skipping meals (aim for three meals and two snacks daily); spread your protein throughout the day (add grilled chicken or chickpeas to that pasta salad); and keep a supply of nourishing snacks (like ⅓ cup of nuts and raisins) on hand for a blood sugar reboot. Nuts contain healthy fats that slow the absorption of sugar, and raisins have natural sugars that will bring you back into balance. You can also rehab your adrenal glands by taking supplements of vitamin C (500 mg) and vitamin B5 (50-100 mg) and by drinking licorice tea, Teitelbaum says.

MORE: 9 Highly Effective Solutions For Yeast Infections

3. Your diet soda motivation: You’re (unconsciously) feeding yeast in your body.
If you have chronic nasal congestion, sinusitis, spastic colon, or irritable bowel syndrome, you could be heeding sugar cravings caused by yeast or candida overgrowth in your intestinal tract.

Your diet soda detox: “A good probiotic and getting off sugar will kill the yeasty beasties,” Teitelbaum says. In the meantime, find a diet soda alternative that doesn’t feel like punishment. Teitelbaum likes to trick out tea with stevia, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Sandon recommends fruit-infused water or seltzer. “Lemon-flavored seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice is my favorite,” she says. (Give these 25 simply delicious water recipes a try.)

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MORE: 8 Things That Happen When You Drink Diet Soda
4. Your diet soda motivation: Your hormones are in flux.
If you’re PMSing or heading into perimenopause, hormonal fluctuations can cause insomnia, headaches, fatigue, or mild depression, all of which can trigger sugar cravings.

Your diet soda detox: Explore ways to kick up your estrogen, which increases the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Teitelbaum recommends taking a page from Japanese women and grabbing a handful of edamame or drinking soy milk, because soy has plant compounds called isoflavones that mimic estrogen in the body. If that doesn’t cut it and you need something sweet, have nature’s treats—an orange, a banana, a handful of berries, or two squares of dark chocolate.

Lori Andrews/Getty Images

MORE:7 Absolutely Essential Tips For Wiping Out Your Worst Menopause Symptoms

It may take 7 to 10 days to stop craving diet soda, Teitelbaum says, depending on how well you’re addressing the root cause. And if you still indulge occasionally, that’s OK, too. “The bottom line is really to drink sodas of any kind in moderation,” Sandon says. “By this I mean not every meal or every day. Save them for special occasions.”

Getty Images/Mitch Mandel

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Soda

Drinking soda is an easy habit to fall back into—it’s everywhere, and it’s easy to consider diet versions to be a relatively harmless vice. A sip for nostalgia’s sake or a quick caffeine hit can lead back to a three-a-day habit.

We had two diet experts tell us what happens to your body once you finally give up the colorful carbonated menace for good. And—spoiler alert—in their view, soda isn’t just bad for you; it’s dangerous.

1

You’ll reduce sugar cravings

Cutting the calories from sugar-spiked soda is a no-brainer: At 150 calories a can, those can add up to serious poundage. But diet soda packs on the pounds as well—it’s just more passive-aggressive about it. “Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition.

“Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. It causes a couple things to happen: The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, ‘Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.’ It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.”

2

You’ll lose weight

“Even though diet drinks are calorie-free, they cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” says Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN. “Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold on to any extra fat,” she explains, adding, “Trying to lose weight by trading a Coke for a Diet Coke is doing the body just as much harm, if not more, because of all the chemicals in the calorie-free version.” While you’re weaning yourself off of your soda habit, add these fat burning foods to your diet, some of which actually block adipogenesis, the process by which fat is stored on your frame.

RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.

3

You’ll increase your immunity

The acidity in soda is bad news for your digestive system, eroding tooth enamel and worsening acid reflux. But diet sodas are especially treacherous for your gut—and the far-reaching bodily systems it affects. “Researchers are finding that artificial sweeteners may affect our healthy gut bacteria, which can affect everything from blood-sugar control to weight management to disease—how our immune system works and how our body responds to infection,” says Smith.

4

You’ll Have Stronger Bones

The caramel color in soda contains an artificially created phosphorus that can be bad for long-term bone health, says Smith. Phosphorous is a natural chemical found in foods like beans and grains, but the mutant variety found in dark soda is like a dinner guest who refuses to leave. “Basically, you’re taking something that exists in nature but making this hyper-absorbable form of it,” says Smith. “Your body doesn’t have the choice whether to absorb it or excrete it, so it can cause calcium to leach out of bones. It’s particularly bad for anybody with kidney disease,” she explains.

5

You’ll have more energy

No shocker here: The caffeine in soda is not your friend. “Drinking too much caffeine can make you dehydrated, and it can overstimulate the nervous system, making you fatigued and exhausted,” says Smith. “I find that when people cut back on caffeine they have more energy because the caffeine causes very big highs and lows,” she adds.

In her practice, Smith has seen what happens when you stop drinking soda, and it can lead to a positive domino effect. “There is way more energy for our bodies in real food than in processed foods,” she says, adding, “When people cut back on processed items, they often look for more fresh foods and make better choices. By giving up soda, it may seem like you’re making one change, but it can actually change a couple aspects of your diet for the better.”

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I drank at least four cans of Diet Coke every day for years. I’d heard that it could wreck my blood sugar control, boost my risk of prediabetes by 20 percent and trigger weight gain. I’d also heard that it could damage my teeth and cause mood swings, chronic headaches and even bone thinning. I didn’t care. The soda was my treat. I loved it, I craved it, and I had no intention of giving it up.

Then I found out that a sensitivity to Aspartame—the sweetener in my beloved beverage—could be the reason I was struggling with daily bouts of diarrhea, bloating, gassiness and belly pain. It was time to quit. So that Friday, I chugged my last Diet Coke and switched to water. No problem, right?

Wrong. I spent all day Saturday lying on the cold concrete floor in our basement, trying to numb the killer migraine that was threatening to destroy the left side of my head. By Sunday night, the headache had finally started to fade, but I was so crabby, queasy and tired that my kids wanted to be nowhere near me.

On Monday, I snapped. I pulled a big tub of cookie dough out of the freezer and used a screwdriver to break off chunks so I could eat them raw. I was looking for something—anything—that would help me feel human again.

It took two weeks to shake the worst of the withdrawal symptoms and at least six months before my daily Diet Coke cravings eased. My intestinal problems disappeared when I went cold turkey, but I still cringe when I think back to how miserable I was during those first long weeks.

Turns out cutting down—or even quitting—Diet Coke doesn’t need to be that traumatic. Here, the tricks that can make this task a whole lot easier:

Start slow

I thought going cold turkey would be the best way to get Diet Coke out of my diet, but UCLA researchers say making small changes (like cutting out one glass or can of soda weekly) can double your odds of long-term success. “Small diet tweaks are easier to adjust to, and they can turn this health goal into a permanent, lasting lifestyle change,” says Tom Kersting, Ph.D., author of Losing Weight When Diets Fail.

Add whey protein to your breakfast

Just starting your day with a high-protein breakfast can cut your withdrawal symptoms in half within 48 hours, say University of Cincinnati researchers. Protein slows carb absorption and improves your ability to convert blood sugar into fuel, and that helps reduce cravings, brain fog, fatigue and other symptoms, explains David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., author of The L.A. Shape Diet. Why whey? According to a Dutch research team, this milk byproduct can boost your brain’s production of serotonin, a mood-steadying hormone that shores up your ability to say “no” to temptations. One that gets five-star reviews: EAS’ 100% Whey Protein Powder ($24.54 for two pounds at iHerb.com).

Part of the reason giving up Diet Coke makes people miserable is because a daily treat has suddenly disappeared and nothing good has been added in its place, says Kersting. So whip up a delicious, filling breakfast smoothie that you can look forward to (don’t just choke protein powder mixed with water). Start with eight ounces of milk and two ice cubes, then add your favorite ingredients and blend well. Some tasty picks:

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Tropical fruit smoothie: Add two scoops vanilla-flavored whey protein powder, one cup frozen pineapple chunks, 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract and 1/4 teaspoon orange extract.

Cafe mocha smoothie: Add two scoops chocolate-flavored whey protein powder, two teaspoons instant coffee crystals, 1/2 banana and a dash of cinnamon.

Banana bread smoothie: Add two scoops vanilla-flavored whey protein powder, 1/2 ripe banana, 1/8 teaspoon black walnut flavoring, a few drops of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon.

Don’t be a hero. Ditching Diet Coke can cause brutal caffeine withdrawal, but with a little preplanning, you can skip that misery altogether. According to researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, substituting four ounces of coffee for every 12-ounce can or glass of Diet Coke that you cut out of your diet can prevent those nasty symptoms entirely. Even better, while Diet Coke does nothing whatsoever to improve your health, coffee is a nutrient-rich herb with a long track record of proven health benefits. Sip two or three cups of java daily, and researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University say you’ll cut your risk of diabetes, depression, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease by 30 percent or more.

Sweeten with real sugar

If you’ve been chugging Diet Coke to kill your sugar cravings, that could be the reason you have such a yen for sweets in the first place! According to Stanford University researchers, artificial sweeteners often prompt people to keep refilling their glass, because fake sugar actually fuels your brain’s desire for the real thing. Rx: Sip a mug of coffee or tea flavored with one teaspoon of real sugar, and that annoying cola craving could fade in as little as 20 minutes.

Fizz up your juice

Diet coke is more than just caffeine and Aspartame. There’s that bubbly, mouth-watering, nose-tickling fizz that you just can’t get from a glass of plain water. To make an at-home treat with an effervescent kick, pour four ounces of your favorite juice over ice, then top with four ounces of seltzer or club soda.

Try natural soda

Never heard of it? It’s a natural soda available on Amazon.com and also in many whole foods stores (log onto blueskysoda.com to find the one nearest you). It’s caffeine-free, and doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors or preservatives. Incredibly, Blue Sky Cola still tastes like Coke (although it has a much lighter, smoother flavor), and if what you crave is that nose-tickling fizz and refreshing, cola taste, this could be the perfect substitute for you!

Respect your routine

Do you absolutely love sipping a Diet Coke at lunch or crave one mid-afternoon when your energy levels lag? Pinpoint the vulnerable times in your schedule, then make smart trades, instead of simply depriving yourself, suggests Kersting. This is the perfect time to make your juice spritzer and natural cola swaps. When your energy levels nosedive mid-afternoon, reach for tea or coffee.

Have an evening cocktail—That’s right. Drink up!

Enjoying a five-ounce glass of chilled wine or a 12-ounce frosty beer each evening can cut your late-day yen for a soda by 25 percent or more, say Harvard researchers. The reason? Wine and beer are both rich in antioxidants that tamp down production of cortisol, a troublesome stress hormone that fuels—and worsens—cravings. Cheers!

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

Kicking the Can: How I Broke My Addiction to Diet Coke

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:

Tea

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.

Water

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.

Carbonated Water

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.

A couple years ago when I was working in an office, I had a pretty good weekday routine going: I’d have a well-balanced lunch (usually brought from home—bonus points!) and kept mostly to healthy snacks. My one remaining vice though, was the siren call of the vending machine. Every day at 3 p.m. Not for a candy bar, mind you—but for a big old 20-oz. bottle of Diet Coke. I never bought soda to keep at home, but for some reason that ice-cold bottle was a ritual I couldn’t give up when lunch was a distant memory and the end of the day seemed like it would never come. It was a “special” occasion, even though it happened five times a week!

We all know soda isn’t a great beverage choice, and aspartame-laden diet soda is a bad habit at best, harmful at worst. If you find yourself hitting the vending machine for a fix on a regular basis, there’s hope!

Why you should quit diet soda

A soda once in a while seems harmless enough, but consider this: one 12-oz. can of cola is 140 empty calories—basically just sugar. You’d have to do 15 minutes of a high-intensity workout to burn that. Instead, you could have a serving of banana chips, 21 almonds, an apple with peanut butter, 2 pieces of string cheese, a granola bar, a serving of pretzels, 10 baby carrots with hummus, or a serving of Greek yogurt (with fruit!) for that number of calories—and you’d be getting protein, vitamins and minerals. Soda has been linked to everything from cavities and bone decay to obesity, diabetes and cancer, making it a lose-lose beverage.

Diet soda might be free of calories, but it’s got its own laundry list of risks. In addition to altering our gut microbes and contributing to diabetes, researchers have attributed soda to weight gain (especially around the waist) stemming from aspartame’s effect on blood glucose levels. Artificial sweeteners are also to blame for altering our taste buds (training us to seek out sweeter foods) and triggering insulin resistance and headaches.

6 Tips for quitting diet soda

1. Don’t keep soda at home. If you’ve already eliminated it in your house, congrats. If you haven’t, keeping it out of your cart is the first step.

2. Identify what you love about soda and replace it with something healthier. Is it the caffeine, the carbonation or the sweetness? All of the above? For me, it was mostly the carbonation and caffeine. I started turning to iced green tea for an afternoon pick-me-up, and adding seltzer water for carbonation. Put them together and voila: I was saving money and avoiding diet soda, but still getting caffeine and carbonation (and some antioxidants to boot).

3. Order water at restaurants. Tell yourself it’s to save money. Then see how much more flavorful your food tastes. If you want to splurge, go for wine or tea.

4. Avoid headaches. If caffeine and/or sugar withdrawal is giving you headaches, make sure you’re staying plenty hydrated. If they don’t go away, try subbing in a healthier source of caffeine or sugar to fill the void, like coffee, carrot juice, iced tea or coconut water.

5. Wean yourself off slowly. Try drinking a glass of water right before you drink a soda and see if you drink less. Or replace every other soda with water or another beverage until you don’t need it as much anymore.

6. One day at a time. Try telling yourself you’re only quitting for a day or a week. Soon you won’t even crave it anymore. It’s much easier to go cold turkey when you don’t even realize you’re quitting.

What to drink instead of diet soda

Stay off the proverbial sauce with these drinks that hydrate and replenish your body throughout the day.

All Day

1. Water + Seltzer Water: Staying hydrated is half the battle when you’re avoiding soda. Make sure to keep plenty of water (or seltzer water, if you need the carbonation) on hand all day.

Morning

2. Weight Loss Flush Beauty Water: Kickstart your day with refreshing grapefruit.

3. Vegan Chocolate Shake: Raw cacao powder provides a little caffeine, and plenty of antioxidants. If you have a sweet tooth, the sweetness from the dates will hit the spot.

4. Homemade Energy Drinks: Natural energy boosters like matcha, citrus and banana are the perfect way to start the day, and to give you sustained energy.

Afternoon

5. Pear, Raspberry and Rosemary Water: Increase blood flow to your brain and lower blood pressure with this earthy, fruity water.

6. Chia Green Tea Energy Drink: If you need more of a pick-me-up, turn to this antioxidant- and fiber-rich homemade energy drink. Add seltzer water for fizz.

7. Green Juice: Greens and citrus will give you a natural energy boost that won’t make you crash minutes later. They’ll also help flush out toxins in your liver.

Evening

8. Kombucha: Kombucha also affects your gut—but in a good way. This wonder drink is a great way to get a second (or third) wind at the end of the day while you get some probiotics, vitamins and minerals in your system. It’s also pleasantly fizzy.

9. Turmeric Tea: The curcumin in turmeric is a natural mood booster, and this soothing tea will help

10. Cucumber Melon Mint Water: Cucumber and mint are soothing, and melon adds a touch of sweetness.

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When I recently learned that intestines have feelings, too, I began wondering what their days must be like, and listening more carefully to their cries. Sometimes they are quite obvious – a bloat that says, “please don’t eat oatmeal” or a clench that says “that’s not a good idea”.

Then I felt like drinking a Diet Coke. I drink a fair amount it, at least one 20-ounce (600ml) bottle a day, if not two. But then a thought infiltrated into my brain from its snaky neighbor to the south.

“Quit it with the Diet Coke,” it said. “You know what I’m talking about.”

I did know. I’ve contemplated quitting Diet Coke before, but I’ve come up with all manner of excuses every time. It’s my only vice, I whine. It’s too hard. I can’t deal with that right now.

But I thought about all the reasons why I would like to quit Diet Coke. I don’t want empty cans and bottles around me that I have to deal with – it makes me feel like a wino. It must be killing my teeth. Some say Diet Coke causes all kinds of brain problems and joint issues and maybe even cancer.

Then I asked myself, “what are the benefits of this regimen of consuming regular amounts of expensive, tainted water?” Little breaks – it becomes associated with a sense of relief. A banal identity marker. “You’re a Diet Coker? Me too!” Companionship – that little joy you feel because Diet Coke is always there for you.

Why doesn’t eating baby carrots or having a plain glass of water trigger the same sensations? I also drink a lot of tea, and that doesn’t do it either.

I think it’s because Diet Coke has a dark side. Despite the beverage’s marketed image of “fun” and sexy, Diet Coke really isn’t.

It doesn’t actually taste good. It can make you burp. Is it cute to be drinking sodas all day long? Not really. It’s that little crackle of “I like sabotaging myself with bad decisions” that keeps ’em coming back. “Maybe this time it will taste good. Maybe it actually will be refreshing.”

Diet Coke promises a lot, but delivers little. A diet drink is supposed to be a guilt-free sweet treat. No calories – all joy! But Diet Coke can make its drinkers feel guilty, knowing that maybe something isn’t quite right in their body as it slides down into their depths. It is in that curious category of “non-food items” – at best, tooth-rotting and fattening; at worst? Who knows? Coke took something decent (water), mucked it up, called it “the real thing” and exported it all over the globe. I have a friend who calls Coke the “black water of imperialism”.

Why are we all so thirsty, anyway? People used to have two cups of coffee and a scotch as their daily hydration. They were fine. I sometimes think that we’ve turned into big babies (myself included) who need our ba-ba’s, as we lug around bottles of water and diet sodas.

Nonetheless, something had to replace my beloved Diet Cokes. I couldn’t just ditch my ba-ba cold turkey. So I cranked up my seltzer machine and laid in some Key limes. I am not lying when I say that this watery treat is about a million times better than Diet Coke.

I’m going to save a lot of money, anyway. Diet Coke retails for about 2.5 cents per ounce. My tap water costs about 2 cents per gallon.

How terrific do I feel since quitting? Physically, about the same. Mentally, I feel more peaceful without that nagging feeling of “maybe I should stop and get a Diet Coke”. I don’t have the insane sugar cravings I thought were part of my personality – just the regular ones. I am walking taller since I have taken back a piece of something I didn’t realize I had lost: my self-respect.

Sure, a lot of Diet Cokers will roll their eyes at suggestions that it’s an unhealthy beverage. Some will make uncomfortable jokes. Others will admit sadly that they, too, have tried to leave, but Diet Coke won’t let them.

But they aren’t really talking about Diet Coke. The craving is real, yes. But it’s bigger than that – continuing to do things that you don’t want to do, but you feel you must do, but you don’t really have to do, is a real sparkle-killer.

And, also, Diet Coke is awful.

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For as long as I can remember I’ve had an addiction to Diet Coke. Yes, addiction. I’m not being dramatic, or funny. When it was in my home, that’s all I wanted to drink. When I was out at a restaurant, one was never enough. I was addicted, and I knew it… for a really long time.

The funny thing is, I wasn’t even really thinking about giving up Diet Coke. I’ve given it up a million times. I’ve given it up for lent or for a cleanse or detox back when I thought that was the way to lasting weight loss… but I have always ended up drinking it again. Every single time.

Two weeks ago I stopped drinking it and it’s been different this time. I didn’t give it up for any reason in particular but it was very clear to me that I was supposed to do it.

I rarely keep Diet Coke in my house because when I do, it’s literally all I will drink. I’d go an entire day without drinking water if I have it here… so years ago I stopped buying it on a regular basis to have at home. Sometimes I’m weak at the store though and end up with a 12 pack in my fridge only to soon ask myself, “Why in the heck did you bring that in the damn house!”

I HATE the control it has over me.

On the day I stopped drinking Diet Coke I reached in my fridge to grab one first thing in the morning. We’d been on vacation and I’d bought some to have and we didn’t drink them all. As I was reaching in my fridge I remember thinking, “What are you doing? It’s not even 9am and you are reaching for a Diet Coke… you haven’t even had a glass of water.”

I didn’t feel shame, but I was a little frustrated that since they were in the house that’s what I was reaching for. I put the Diet Coke back and walked out the door with a water in hand. I didn’t think too much of it as I dropped my son off to school and began my day, but within the next hour something kinda crazy happened.

I was stopped at a stoplight and audibly heard God say to me,

“Amy, you need to give up Diet Coke.”

It was the weirdest moment. I literally looked out my car window and towards heaven giving God this look like, “I’m sorry… I think I heard you wrong… I think you just told me to give up Diet Coke.” I started telling myself I didn’t actually hear him and I was going to go get one when He said to me, “You don’t need your ‘last’ one… you’ve had more Diet Cokes over the years than you could ever count. Don’t drink another one.”

I know. This sounds completely crazy. You can roll your eyes or call me a weirdo that God spoke to me this way (about Diet Coke of all things) but He TOTALLY showed up like this. Want to know the craziest part? This happened on Thursday, March 22nd and I haven’t had a Diet Coke since the day before on March 21st… and I haven’t craved it yet.

It’s been 2 weeks and I haven’t had a single headache or withdrawal symptom.

Diet Coke has been such a struggle for me for the longest time. And God showed up and said to me, “You can’t do this without me… let me help you.” And He did. He took away my desire for it. Just like that. He answered a prayer I didn’t even realize needed answered.

Why did I know I needed to give up Diet Coke?

  • It’s a trigger for me- Everytime I drink it, I want more of it and then I want to eat more. When I drink it I want chocolate or chips or peanut butter by the spoonful. Every time I had it at home I would find myself reaching for it when I wanted to snack, and that snack turned into something more like a meal because it triggered me to eat more food than my body actually needed, or wanted to be honest.
  • Aspartame- I know it’s in Diet Coke and I know it’s not good for me. I’m not going to go into all the research, you can if you’d like. This isn’t my main reason for giving it up, but I am trying to be a bit more conscious of this and cutting out Diet Coke is a small step in this direction.
  • I don’t drink enough water- Since I’m being honest I may as well admit that water is a struggle for me. I always have a water bottle with me, but I wasn’t drinking nearly enough of it. We all know water is important, and it’s the best thing we can drink… so why wasn’t I drinking more of it? I was replacing it with a Diet Coke or other caffeinated beverages. This left me feeling dehydrated and inflamed and overall, not my best.
  • It’s expensive- This doesn’t need an explanation. Water is cheaper and more affordable (obviously) than pop. At some restaurants it’s over $3 for a glass. And since I wasn’t buying it for home that meant that when I was drinking it I was paying that much per serving. That’s just silly and a waste of money on something that I know my body would function better without.

Plain water can get a little boring for me so I have replaced my daily Diet Coke with some flavored beverages. And though I have stopped drinking Diet Coke, I’m not giving up on caffeine because #momlife 😉

What am I drinking?

  • A lot more water- FINALLY! This is coming so much easier to me now and I feel much more hydrated!
  • Spindrift- I recently discovered this company and I’m obsessed. Bonus? They sell a multi-pack at Costco so I just scored a great deal on a 30 pack! I’m trying to limit to 1 can a day. You can buy this on Amazon, or at Target or Trader Joe’s.
  • Advocare Spark- I still need caffeine and this just makes me energized and focused without the jitters. I drink this every morning and after I’m done with my serving of Spark with Collagen Peptides I switch to water. Occasionally, if I hit a mid-afternoon slump I’ll drink another in the afternoon but I’m trying really hard to limit it to once a day simply to cut back on expenses.
  • Hot tea- I love to drink hot tea at night after my kids are in bed and I’m winding down or working.

I’ve worked hard to let go of all or nothing thinking so I’m not writing this post and telling you I will never drink Diet Coke again. I’m also not writing this post and telling you I will drink it again. I have no idea if you want me to be honest. I know that right now in this season of my life though, I’m surviving without it, and my body is happy, too.

I also want to say, if you drink pop this isn’t a post to convince you not to.

This is MY journey, MY experience and it’s what’s best for me RIGHT NOW.

That doesn’t mean it’s right for you, and this isn’t meant to make anyone feel guilty for drinking pop. I’m simply sharing MY story… and if it inspires you to quit drinking it, AWESOME.

If not, order it with a lime… it’ll rock your world 😉

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Should you quit drinking diet soda? It’s sweet, refreshing, and zero-calorie, but many say this beverage is bad for your body. What’s the real story?

“Diet soda can’t be good for you.”

Maybe you’ve heard this before. (Or said it yourself.)

After all, diet soda offers no vitamins or antioxidants, and it’s usually artificially sweetened. So what, exactly, is “good” about it?

While that argument sounds logical, it doesn’t answer the real question on everyone’s mind:

Is diet soda actually bad for you?

And of related interest: Should you (or your clients) stop drinking diet soda?

To find out, we examined the body of research and talked to leading scientists and nutrition experts. Along the way, we asked lots of questions, including:

    • Does diet soda lead to weight gain?
    • Can it make you crave sugar?
    • Does it affect your hormones?
    • Can it mess with your microbiome?
    • Does it cause cancer?

Plus: Why are some people so “addicted” to it?

The answers, found below, can help you decide if diet soda is right for you. (Spoiler alert: You’ll even learn what’s “good” about it.)

Does diet soda lead to weight gain?

Over the last two decades, several large observational studies have suggested a link between diet soda consumption and being overweight or obese.1, 2 (Other studies have shown benefits for weight control.)

“Is this because people are drinking these beverages to try to lose weight, or because the diet sodas are causing the weight gain?” asks Gail Rees, Ph.D., deputy head of the school of biomedical sciences at Plymouth University in England.3 “That’s what we don’t know.”

Granted, this type of research doesn’t show cause and effect. So it’s not meant to be conclusive. But if there were a smoking gun, “high-intensity sweeteners” would be at the top of the suspect list.

If you’re not familiar with the term “high-intensity sweeteners,” it’s the trendy way food scientists categorize zero- and very-low-calorie sugar substitutes. These substitutes include artificial sweeteners—like aspartame—and all-natural sweeteners, such as stevia.

There are eight high-intensity sweeteners approved for use in food by the United States’ Federal Drug Administration (FDA)4:

  • Saccharin
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Sucralose
  • Neotame
  • Advantame
  • Steviol Glycosides (stevia)
  • Monk Fruit Extract (luo han guo)

While high-intensity sweeteners are used in thousands of food products, they’ve become notorious as a key ingredient in diet soda.

But observational studies on diet soda have an inherent challenge, beyond simply having to control for lifestyle factors (such as calorie intake, activity level, and smoking habits). Namely: They rely on food-frequency questionnaires, which means participants report their own intake.

So, for example, a research survey might initially ask a large group of study volunteers: How many diet sodas do you drink each week? From there, the scientists would run a statistical analysis to find correlations between diet soda intake and body weight (and other disease risk factors).

In nutrition research, this self-reporting is notoriously sketchy. Will the participants accurately remember what they ate or drank? Will they be honest? Will their answers provide a clear picture of their typical behavior?

All these variables can cloud the findings. But with high-intensity sweeteners, the takeaways are even murkier.

The reason: It’s rare that someone knows what high-intensity sweetener they’ve been consuming.

What’s more, sweeteners are combined to create a flavor more similar to sugar. Diet Mountain Dew, for instance, contains three sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose.5

As a result, high-intensity sweeteners are typically treated as one class of chemical in observational research. Yet each of these sweeteners may have very different effects on the body.

(To review the research yourself, check out this 2019 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal or this 2017 review in Nutrition Journal. )

What if we studied high-intensity sweeteners individually?

Two years ago, at a conference on sweeteners, Richard Mattes, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and the director of The Ingestive Behavior Research Center,6 became frustrated by what he heard.

The researchers who took the podium were presenting wildly inconsistent results. Some linked high-intensity sweeteners to better health and weight loss, while others hedged toward disease and obesity.

“The findings contrasted so much,” says Dr. Mattes. “And it struck me: Why do we think that these sweeteners would all behave the same way?”

After the Purdue conference, Dr. Mattes launched a trial that compared table sugar (sucrose) to saccharin, aspartame, stevia, and sucralose, individually.

For three months, he had 123 people consume 1.25 to 1.75 liters per day of a beverage sweetened with just one of the five sugar substitutes. (That’s 42 to 60 ounces—or 3.5 to 5 cans of diet soda daily.) When the results came in, he found significant differences in how each sweetener affected body weight.7

Study participants consuming aspartame, stevia, and sucralose gained such little weight that the results were statistically equal to zero.

But those consuming saccharin, the artificial sweetener found in Sweet ‘N Low, gained 2.6 pounds—about 60 percent as much as those consuming sucrose.

“That was a really surprising finding,” says Dr. Mattes. “We expected people to gain weight with sucrose, but not with the low-cal sweeteners.” (Note: These results haven’t been replicated yet.)

Why the type of high-intensity sweetener might matter

Like many researchers, Dr. Mattes believes the difference lies in how sweeteners travel through our bodies.

Aspartame, for instance, the sole sweetener in Diet Coke8 and Dr. Pepper,9 is digested quickly in the upper third of the intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream as individual amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine).6

The aspartame itself? “It’s never going to get into the bloodstream, and it’s not going to reach the colon,” says Dr. Mattes. That limits its ability to wreak havoc, he says.

Neotame, which isn’t widely used, is also thought to be rapidly digested,10 while other sweeteners continue through the digestive tract to be broken down in varying degrees by enzymes.6

Stevia and sucralose—the high-intensity sweetener we consume the most—appear in large quantities in the colon, while saccharin (along with acesulfame potassium, which wasn’t included in Dr. Mattes’ study) shows up more readily in the bloodstream.6

“The idea that we can view them all as a single class of substances is likely wrong,” says Dr. Mattes. “To study their health effects, we’re going to have to look at them individually.” (And ultimately, in different combinations with one another, too.)

And that, says Dr. Mattes, is where the research is headed. In the coming years, we’ll see more studies that put the focus on specific sweeteners, rather than the class as a whole.

All of which isn’t to dismiss findings from observational research. To prove, however, that high-intensity sweeteners, and thus diet soda, can cause weight gain, researchers need to find the mechanism through which it happens. And while there are theories, none have yet to emerge as fact. Here’s what the research looks like right now.

Theory 1: Diet soda makes you addicted to sugar

The idea: Sweet foods and beverages alter your taste preference, so you crave more sweet foods. That, in turn, could make it more difficult to turn down dessert or break-room doughnuts.

“It’s well-established that consuming sugar-sweetened foods can increase your desire for sweets,” says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition at Precision Nutrition. “You tend to crave whatever you eat habitually, and this seems to be true for both sugary and non-sugary foods.”

But does consuming high-intensity sweeteners, specifically, make you want sweets? The research isn’t clear.

Most studies that suggest high-intensity sweeteners increase the desire for sweet foods have been done on rats. In fact, in a 2019 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal,1 researchers found just two randomized controlled trials that tackled the question of sweet preference head-on in humans. And they did it by adding aspartame to the diets of overweight and obese subjects.

The conclusion of those studies: Among those who consumed the high-intensity sweetener, the desire to eat sweet foods was slightly lower.

“There’s some evidence that consuming a diet version of a sweet food can actually help satisfy your desire for sweets,” says St. Pierre. “Especially if you’re used to consuming a sugary soda and replace it with a diet drink.”

There’s also this possibility: The effect could be highly individual. Perhaps this is a problem for some but not for others.

Theory 2: Diet soda affects your hormones

The proposed mechanism here: High-intensity sweeteners “trick” your body into thinking you’re eating sugar. This triggers your pancreas to release the hormone insulin, which signals your body to slow the breakdown of fat. As a result, it could be harder to lose weight.

A small insulin bump has been observed in studies on sucralose11 and saccharin, but one study of 15 young men failed to find the response for aspartame.12 Overall, human studies show these insulin spikes are so small they’re hard to detect and very short-lived. Which makes it unlikely they impact weight loss at all, given what we know now.

Plus, even if there were a significant insulin release, your ability to lose weight is most dependent on your overall energy balance, not insulin, says St. Pierre. (For more background, read: Calories in versus calories out? Or hormones? The debate is finally over.)

Theory 3: Diet soda disrupts your microbiome

What if high-intensity sweeteners alter your microbiome? “That could have implications for energy balance, appetite, immune function—all kinds of things,” says Dr. Mattes.

As with other issues, Dr. Mattes believes any impact could be dependent on the type of sweetener used. Those that make their way to your colon, for instance—such as stevia, sucralose, and to some extent, saccharin—might be more likely to present problems, he says.

While this is an intriguing area of research, it’s still in its infancy. “There are some interesting animal studies, but not a whole lot on humans,” says Mark Pereira, Ph.D., a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.13 And of the human studies that do exist, he says, “They just aren’t very good.”

Now, all of this might seem like a whole lot of nothing. But it’s useful to know where these theories stand for one reason: It gives you a better sense of the existing scientific evidence. (Especially useful when reading Facebook comments on the topic.)

Of course, these aren’t the only ways a no-calorie diet soda could lead to weight gain. Some studies have suggested that consuming high-intensity sweeteners may increase hunger, by perhaps interfering with appetite hormones and how your brain regulates food intake (or by some other mechanism).2 But even more studies have shown no effect at all.

“The idea that high-intensity sweeteners increase hunger seems to only be true if they’re consumed alone, in the absence of other nutrients,” says St. Pierre. “This doesn’t, however, seem to be the case when they’re consumed with meals, although the data is very limited and far from conclusive.”

But in considering all this research, it’s important to remember: “If you currently drink a lot of regular soda, or have in the past, diet soda is a better option based on what we know today, even if it’s not perfect,” says St. Pierre. “There’s far more data on weight and health problems associated with sugar-sweetened beverages than there is with high-intensity sweeteners.”

What about cancer and other serious health problems?

In the 1970s, saccharin was linked to bladder tumors in rats.14 For a while, the sweetener was even banned from foods and beverages in the U.S.

But the cancer link never emerged in humans, and as a paper from Current Oncology notes, you’d have to drink 800 cans of diet soda per day to reach the dose used to induce cancer in rats.15

Still, the cancer scare means that every high-intensity sweetener since saccharin has faced increased scrutiny.

“There are still people out there who claim that are associated with cancers,” says Dr. Mattes. “But every governmental body that has reviewed them—they’ve done it extensively in the United States, Australia, Europe, Japan, and Canada—concludes that when used in reasonable amounts, they’re not harmful.”

If that sounds less than comforting, that’s understandable. Especially given how much there is to learn about the way individual high-intensity sweeteners are processed by the body.

But currently: There’s no good evidence to suggest any of the FDA approved sweeteners pose serious health risks.

In fact, the chart below shows the daily intake of these sweeteners that the FDA has deemed acceptable for a 150-pound (68 kg) person.4

Sweetener Number of times sweeter than table sugar Acceptable daily limit for a 150-pound (68 kg) person
Acesulfame Potassium
(Sweet One®, Sunnett®)
200x 1,020 mg
Advantame 20,000x 2,230 mg
Aspartame
Nutrasweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin®
200x 3,400 mg
Neotame
(Newtame®)
10,000x 20.4 mg
Saccharin
(Sweet and Low®, Sweet’NLow®)
400x 1,020 mg
Sucralose
(Splenda®)
600x 340 mg

* Adapted from United States FDA chart on Acceptable Daily Limit of High-Intensity Sweeteners

For perspective, here are the amounts of high-intensity sweeteners you’ll reportedly find in several popular 12-ounce cans of diet soda16:

Diet Coke 187.5 mg aspartame
Diet Coke with Splenda 45 mg acesulfame potassium + 60 mg sucralose
Coke Zero 87 mg aspartame + 46.5 mg acesulfame potassium
Diet Pepsi 177 mg aspartame*
Pepsi One 45 mg acesulfame potassium + 60 mg sucralose
Diet Dr. Pepper 184.5 mg aspartame
Diet Mountain Dew 85.5 mg aspartame + 27 mg acesulfame potassium + 27 mg sucralose
Sprite Zero 75 mg aspartame + 51 mg acesulfame potassium

* Since this analysis, Diet Pepsi has adjusted their formula in the U.S. It’s now sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium (precise amounts not available).
** Adapted from Diabetes Self-Management, “Diet Soft Drinks” by Mary Franz, MS, RD, LD
Of course, few people will guzzle 19 cans of Diet Coke a day. (We’ll stop short of saying “no one,” because… people.) That’s the amount that’d put you over the acceptable daily limit from diet soda alone.

But keep in mind: High-intensity sweeteners are used in far more than diet soda. You’ll find them low-calorie yogurts, energy drinks, baked goods, diet desserts, and protein powders and bars.

And just because you’re under that limit for diet soda doesn’t mean you’re drinking what most health experts would consider “reasonable amounts.”

Here at Precision Nutrition, our coaches say it’s not unusual for new clients to report they’re drinking six or more 20-ounce diet sodas a day. That’s a lot, by any measure. These folks often claim they’re hooked on it. Which leads us to this question…

Why can’t you stop drinking diet soda?

If you’re a diet soda diehard, maybe you’ve wondered why you can’t get enough. Plenty of people even say it’s downright “addictive.” (To learn more, read: Eating too much? Blame your brain.)

You can be sure: That’s no accident.

“Food and beverage manufacturers scientifically engineer products, including diet soda, to appeal to the pleasure centers in your brain, belly, and mouth,” says Brian St. Pierre, M.S., R.D., Precision Nutrition’s Director of Nutrition. “That drives you to consume more of it than you might otherwise.”

The sweetness is no doubt part of diet soda’s allure. But the other big factors? Carbonation, caffeine, and flavor enhancers.

“All combined, this is known as stimuli stacking,” says St. Pierre. “It’s how companies engineer foods and drinks to make them nearly irresistible.”

The weird reason you love carbonation

Ironically, the appeal of carbonation is that it hurts: The CO2 burns your tongue. Like the Tabasco on your eggs, the pain is mild and enjoyable. It also occurs through an entirely different pathway.

“Enzymes in your mouth convert CO2 into carbonic acid,” says Paul Breslin, Ph.D., a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and a professor of nutritional sciences at Rutgers University.10 “That can actually acidify the tissue, so it will hurt a little bit.”

The pain increases as the bubbles sit on your tongue, and that creates a built-in customization mechanism. Someone who likes more of this pain can simply savor each sip longer.

In addition to the mouth thrill of a minor burn, carbonation amplifies the signal coming from the liquid, so it quenches your thirst better than flat water.10

The likely reason: It provides more sensory data for your brain to latch onto. “When you start playing with the sensory properties of the beverage, you can sort of make it hyper-stimulatory,” says Dr. Breslin. This can make a diet soda seem more refreshing than water, even before you factor in sweetness.

Caffeine: Diet soda’s little helper

Caffeine is next in line to explain diet soda’s popularity. Although it’s known as a productivity booster, it also adds a slight bitterness to cola.

“People who make sodas have a tendency to say caffeine is there to affect the flavor,” says Dr. Breslin. “But there’s another camp that says the caffeine is at a level you can feel systemically, like a caffeine buzz that you would get from tea or coffee.”

To be fair, diet soda’s dosing is relatively small compared to coffee. A 12-ounce can of Diet Coke contains 46 milligrams (mg) of caffeine8, and Diet Pepsi has slightly less.17 That’s about half of what you’d find in an eight-ounce cup of joe,18 and less than 20 percent of a tall Starbuck’s Pike Place Roast.19

But again, it’s common for coaches to report their clients are drinking a two-liter bottle of diet soda daily. And all that caffeine adds up.

Plus, the smaller caffeine dosage could lure people into thinking soda is okay to drink with dinner or before bedtime, which could interfere with sleep and even lead to weight gain.

A study from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine found that reducing people’s natural sleep times by a third (roughly 2.5 hours) caused them to consume 559 extra calories per day.20 And no, the sleep-deprived subjects didn’t use their extra waking hours to work out: Despite eating more, their caloric output remained flat.

Flavor enhancers: The X-factor

Why is Coke more popular than Pepsi?

Not because it’s sweeter or more carbonated or has more caffeine. It’s all the ingredients together, including the patented flavor enhancers that make Coke… taste like Coke.

“These ingredient combos stimulate the reward and hedonic centers of your brain,” says St. Pierre. “They also tap into the nature of human behavior.”

Let’s say you try diet soda and enjoy it. So, like any normal human, you start drinking it regularly. “After a lot of consistent consumption, your brain comes to rely upon and expect the pleasure hit it gets from the drink’s ingredients,” says St. Pierre. “And that drives you to drink even more.”

So, should you drink diet soda… or not?

There’s no clear-cut answer that applies to everyone.

As is often the case, the “right” choice isn’t dictated by the science alone. Instead, it’s dependent on what makes the most sense for you, the individual—with respect to both the evidence and your personal preferences, lifestyle, goals, and current intake.

Experts who recommend cutting out diet soda are essentially following the precautionary principle: Until something is proven without-a-doubt safe, it’s better to assume it isn’t. (Read: Phrases like “generally recognized as safe” and “acceptable daily intake” don’t cut it.)

That might seem overly cautious to you, or it might make complete sense. Neither approach is wrong.

But that brings us to the diet soda drinker’s dilemma, and the real reason you’re still reading this article: What if you love diet soda, but you’re still concerned with how it might affect your health?

Step 1: Worry about what really matters first.

Based on the scientific evidence, there’s no compelling reason to stop drinking diet soda entirely.

“The risks of having excess body fat, on the other hand, are well-known and significant,” says St. Pierre. “If you’re replacing regular soda, or another highly caloric beverage, with diet soda, and it’s helping you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, the benefits outweigh any potential downside.”

Besides helping with weight control, there are other ways diet soda can support your health and fitness goals.

Maybe you’ve decided to drink less alcohol, and diet soda feels like a compromise you can live with in social situations. Or you want to have some caffeine in the morning or before your workouts, and you just don’t like unsweetened coffee or tea. (See, diet soda is good for something!)

Think of the effort you spend on your health as a jar, says St. Pierre. If you have a choice between big rocks, pebbles, and sand, you’ll be able to fill up your jar fastest with big rocks. Afterward, you can fill in the cracks with smaller stuff, like pebbles and sand.

In the grand scheme of things, whether you choose to drink diet soda is a small rock. It might even be sand, says St. Pierre.

So, before you worry about changing your diet soda habits, focus on “big rocks” that make the most impact on your health, such as:

  • eating mostly minimally-processed whole foods
  • eating enough lean protein and vegetables
  • eating slowly, until satisfied, and only when hungry
  • getting adequate sleep
  • managing stress
  • moving regularly
  • reducing excessive smoking/alcohol consumption

Unlike eliminating diet soda, there’s a wealth of evidence showing the above habits have a lasting effect on your overall health. Tackle the big stuff first. (Coaches: This advice applies when helping your clients, too.)

Three additional notes on health:

1. People with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disease that makes metabolizing phenylalanine difficult, should avoid products with aspartame altogether. (Aspartame is composed of phenylalanine.)

2. Diet sodas tend to be highly acidic, which can erode tooth enamel. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of American Dental Association found most diet sodas to be “erosive” or “highly erosive.”21 For context, though, many flavored waters, bottled teas, and juice, sports, and energy drinks also met these designations.

3. Carbonation, caffeine, and high acidity can all cause acid reflux individually, says St. Pierre. And since many diet sodas contain all three, they’re among the worst triggers. Which is worth considering, in case you regularly suffer from reflux or heartburn.

Step 2: Lose the all-or-nothing mindset.

If you decide you want to drink less diet soda, you don’t have to go cold turkey.

In fact, there’s a wide range of choices available between drinking nothing but water and drinking a two-liter of Diet Pepsi a day.

For example:

  • If you drink four diet sodas a day, could you substitute green tea for the morning one?
  • If you normally have a diet soda every night with dinner, could you do that just three times a week instead?
  • If you constantly crave the bubbly mouthfeel of diet soda, could you swap one or two a day for carbonated water (such as seltzer or sparkling)?

St. Pierre uses this chart to help clients see how they can make slightly better choices, one drink at a time. The goal isn’t to completely eliminate drinks you love, but rather, shift your habits toward the “drink more” category. (See our “What to drink” guide for complete recommendations and strategies.)

At first, these tweaks might not seem like much. But small, consistent changes made over time add up to lasting change.

As a rule of thumb, St. Pierre does recommend a “reasonable amount” target of 8 to 16 ounces a day. Why? Because this amount:

  • Ensures you’re well within the “acceptable daily limit,” as determined by the FDA or your country’s governing agency
  • Allows for the inclusion of other items that contain high-intensity sweeteners (such as protein powders and no-calorie sweeteners for coffee and tea)
  • Keeps intake low enough to protect your teeth from erosion
  • Leaves plenty of room for beverages known to be health-promoting, such as plain water, tea, and coffee

Step 3: Remember: There’s no “best” way to eat… or drink.

As much as a universal, one-size-fits-all, “best diet ever” might make our lives simpler… it doesn’t exist.

Instead, it’s about finding a way of eating (and drinking) that works best for you as an individual.

Good nutrition is the goal, and it’s possible to accomplish that in a way you actually like. Even if it includes drinking diet soda daily.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s evidenced-based and personalized for their unique body, goals, and preferences—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

What’s it all about?

The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools you need to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.

Developed over 15 years, and proven with over 100,000 clients and patients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 30% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

  • Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 30% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
  • Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.

Stop drinking diet soda

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