Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cola Wars

I'll admit it: I have a love/hate relationship with diet soda. On the one hand, it's a calorie free way to quench my thirst and has more flavor than water. On the other hand, there is more and more research to show that it can be much more harmful than you may realize. Recent studies suggest that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda actually make us crave more of the real thing. And that leads to overeating.

I joke sometimes that I need a diet Pepsi "patch." I've given it up several times--as part of a new nutrition plan, for Lent, as a New Year's resolution--but I always seem to find myself running back to my old flame. I'll be out running errands and that cooler at the checkout will seduce me like Antonio Banderas holding a bouquet of roses in a candlelit room. Without thinking, I add it to my cart. As soon as my purchases are stored away, I climb in behind the wheel, open the cap and those fizzy bubbles start tickling my nose. I take a long sip of the sweet, dark beverage, savoring it as it bounces down my throat. OK, I'll say it: I might even let out a loud, raucous burp of satisfaction. But as is true with any addiction, the following sips are not quite as fulfilling as the first.

At one point, I was going through 2 to 4 cans every day. More than a 12-pack each week. That can really add up, especially if you're not the only one in the house drinking it. And I've found that it's true: I really do crave sweet things when I drink diet sodas. I try to avoid caffeine, but sometimes it's the only option. When I drink too much of it, I get headaches and I tend to develop fibroid tumors in my breasts, which can be painful, and may panic you into scheduling a mammogram if you haven't had one recently. Better to be safe than sorry.

Well, this year I took a different approach to giving up soda, one not entirely of my choosing. Like most humans, I have been forced to reexamine my spending during this recession and eliminate anything that's not an absolute essential, so soda has been out for the past few months. Instead, I usually drink water or decaf herbal tea. And guess what? No more headaches, no sugary cravings, my skin looks better, and I just feel better in general. I can't really say for sure, but I think I may have finally kicked the diet soda habit for good.

There will always be that temptation at the checkout, and it will be hard to avoid diet soda entirely. In the past four months, I have had maybe 8 diet sodas, a dramatic change from my 2+ can a day habit. Sure, I'll probably still order an occasional soda if we go out to eat or if we're at a party and there are some in the cooler. But from now on, I'm putting diet soda in the category of "sometimes food" and I think that's the way it will stay.

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