My name is Dr. Jennifer Gunter and I am a Diet Coke addict. I had my last drink on Sunday, June 17th, around 6 pm. The photo is the Diet Coke that I drank that day. The last addition to the graveyard of my addiction.
Now many of you might think my use of addiction in describing my 30 year love affair with Diet Coke as hyperbole, but allow me to apply the CAGE questionnaire (an addiction screening tool) to my habit:
Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking? Why, yes. Yes I have. For 30 years I sustained a 4-5 can per day (at least that’s what I’m admitting to) habit. You don’t need to have a medical degree to know that’s too much Diet Coke. For the last 5 or so years I’ve really thought that I needed to do something about it (I was in full denial before).
Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking? Yes, yes they have. My best friend Cara and my partner Jen. They make little comments from time to time. It annoys me because deep down I know they are right, but I still haven’t been able to stop.
Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking? Yes. I feel bad drinking Diet Coke in front of my kids (here I am telling them soda is bad…yes, I am a hypocrite. I walk the walk everywhere else in my life, why not here?). I also feel bad when I get excited that Safeway has a special and I leave the store with 4 cases knowing that will probably get me through the week. Just. I feel bad because I need it.
Have you every have a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye opener?). Well, the hangover thing doesn’t really apply, but for many, many years I drank a Diet Coke first thing in the morning. Hated coffee, so in med school while everyone else was drinking coffee in class and on rounds I had a Diet Coke (it also made me different as I think I was the only non coffee drinker in my class, so I admit to liking that it got me a little extra attention). Over time it became both my schtick and my needed caffeine kick-start to the day. Maybe not an eye opener in the classic sense, but I couldn’t have imagined starting my day any other way.
Continuing to do something even though you know it is bad for you, another sign of addiction, certainly applies to my case as well. While sugar sweetened soda is definitely associated with obesity and diabetes, more and more research is emerging that indicates artificial sweeteners not only screw with your satiety center (making you crave food/sweets when you don’t need them), but also stimulate the pancreas to secrete insulin, much like sugar does. Paradoxically, artificially sweetened soda may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, much like sugar sweetened beverages. Never mind the excessive sodium, potassium, association with osteoporosis etc. etc.
I stopped drinking Diet Coke twice before. The first time during my pregnancy, a good motivation for change. However, after my premature delivery and inability to produce breast milk I quickly started consoling myself with Diet Coke (as well as 7-11’s brief flirtation with the Diet Pepsi Slurpee).
The second time was about 3 years ago when my kids starting asking for soda. However, after a few weeks of mom giving up Diet Coke to set an example, I started drinking at night after they went to bed (boy, did that make me feel awesome) and then, of course, I gradually started drinking more and more in plain sight.
So what is different this time? Well, I finally decided I needed to do it for me. I’m also in a good place. I am the healthiest I’ve ever been and this seems to be as stress free as my life is going to be for a while. Basically, I’m trying to set myself of for success, for example trying to quit the weekend I visit my parents would not be the wisest choice. My boyfriend also doesn’t share my habit, so it’s not stocked in his fridge. Once I found myself going a couple of days here and there without it, I thought the time is really now.
So, I upped my coffee and tea consumption to compensate for the missed Diet Coke caffeine and I turned to Twitter and found a virtual DCA (Diet Cokes Anonymous) for support. In lamenting my lost love (after only 48 hours) I was buoyed by @ProfSpiker and his very encouraging 300+ days dry. And I thought, if he can do it, so can I.
Do I feel better? Not in some global, life affirming, earth shattering way, but I have noticed that it is much easier to stick to my maintenance 2,000 calories/day (I am an obsessive calorie counter). Typically, I’m fighting hunger between meals and jonesing around for something sweet mid morning and around 5 pm and those feelings have gone away. I also feel a little less bloated. Whether it’s placebo or a real effect, I don’t know, but it is very interesting positive reinforcement.
So here’s to kicking a 6 can a day habit. One day at a time.