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How To Break A Diet Soda Addiction: Tips From A Former (Diet) Cokehead

by | May 16, 2012

It’s the rare person who has never been a victim of Diet Coke. I’ve definitely been there, and I’m not proud of it. My friend E—geek girl extraordinare—overcame her Diet Coke addiction, and can help you find your way to recovery.

Since 2008, E. Foley has been helping geeks find love. She writes amazing online dating profiles and guides her clients through the perilous waters of the dating scene. She’s totally proud to report that she’s even caused a couple geek weddings! As part of her quest for her healthstyle, she is an admin at Plus5CHA, a fitness & health community for geeks. (Visit or follow @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.)

How To Break A Diet Soda Addiction: Tips From A Former (Diet) Cokehead

by E. Foley

Hi, everyone. My name is E and I’m an addict.

(Hi, E.)

CNN recently posted an article entitled “Can you get hooked on diet soda?” Before I clicked on it, I thought to myself, “Duh, of course you can. Been there, done that.”

The addict in the opening paragraph of the article sounds just like me a few years back:

First thing every morning, Ellen Talles starts her day by draining a supersize Styrofoam cup filled with Diet Coke and crushed ice. The 61-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., drinks another Diet Coke in the car on the way to work and keeps a glass nearby “at all times” at her job as a salesclerk. By the end of the day she has put away about 2 liters.

“I just love it,” she says. “I crave it, need it. My food tastes better with it.”

My preferred poison was Diet Pepsi, but I’ll still refer to myself as a recovering (diet) cokehead. It was my coffee in the morning, it was my pick-me-up mid-morning, it was my lunch beverage of choice, it was how I washed down my afternoon snack, and it was the drink of multiple refills if we went out for dinner. Two liters a day? Easily.

It took me three tries over several years to fully break my addiction.

Each time I quit I went through the horrible withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, irritability, and the unrelenting desire to take one long draw on a cold bottle of Diet Pepsi and feel the sweet rush of it as it traveled from my tongue to my brain. Even though it’s been several years since my last Diet Pepsi, I can still remember that feeling. That rush I got when feeding my addiction is still there, buried in my brain.

Which is, of course, why I will still refer to myself as a (diet) cokehead. I could, if I chose to feed the beast, reawaken the same addiction and be back to a two-liter a day habit.

5 Tips For Quitting Your Diet Soda Addiction

1. Don’t feel like you have to go cold turkey.

It’s what worked for me, but it may not work for you. Maybe set a rule for yourself that you only drink diet soda when you’re out at a restaurant. Since your SummerTomato-esque healthstyle involves more meals at home, that’ll cut down on the diet soda you drink. Later, you can start substituting other drinks when you eat out until you’re eventually soda-free.

2. Remove the addictive substance from your environment.

Smokers will attest that it’s harder to quit when someone else’s cigarettes are in the house. It’s the same for a diet soda addiction. Try to enlist your family, partner, or housemates to quit with you. If they can’t or won’t, see if you can put the soda in another location. Get a mini fridge for it and put it in another room. Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Be prepared for the withdrawal symptoms.

Your body is addicted to this substance. Your brain is addicted to the high you get from it. When that feeling disappears, your body will fight tooth and nail to get it back, to get that next fix. You’ll probably feel downright terrible – headaches, irritability, lack of focus.

  • Time your quitting so you can be out of focus and irritable without it affecting your life too much. Don’t quit diet soda the week of the giant research paper or the big work project or your wedding. That’s just a recipe for disaster on both fronts.
  • Get some ibuprofin, or your anti-headache medicine of choice. Remember, these headaches are temporary and they will go away. No sense to suffer through them when you can dull the pain.

4. Substitute a tasty beverage that you enjoy.

When I quit, my savior was unsweetened iced tea with lemon. It gave me enough caffeine to dull the headaches and it was sugar-free and natural. Nowadays, my #1 beverage is water, followed by unsweetened iced tea. Here are some substitutes for diet soda:

  • Water. It’s not as boring as it sounds. Flavor it up with a squirt of lemon, lime, or orange.
  • Sassy Water. I tried this recipe from The Flat Belly Diet and it’s pretty darn good. If you hate straight-up water, give it a shot. It tastes very fresh and zippy.

2 liters water (about 8 ½ cups) 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 1 medium cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced 1 medium lemon, thinly sliced 12 small spearmint leaves. Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and let flavors blend overnight.

  • Unsweetened Tea. As a former resident of NC, I can tell you that asking for unsweetened iced tea in the South will get some really odd looks (especially after you tell them you won’t require fake sugars either). But most places have it, and you’ll discover quickly which restaurants have unsweetened iced tea worth drinking.Hot tea is also amazing, especially if you get loose leaf tea rather than grocery store teabags. My favorite loose leaf teas come from Adagio Teas and their Ingenuitea teapot is super spiffy for brewing.
  • Italian Soda. If you can afford a few extra calories, consider stepping down from diet soda to Italian Soda. You make Italian soda by mixing carbonated water with flavored simple syrup. Torani syrups come in a myriad of flavors and are made with cane sugar (not HFCS). It’s 100 calories for two tablespoons, but trust me, you do not need two tablespoons, or even two teaspoons, to transform your water into something a bit more flavorful. Be careful to watch your consumption of Italian soda. It won’t have all the calories (or chemicals) of a HFCS soda, but the empty calories do add up. (Torani does make sugar-free syrup, but it may be better to go the more natural route, even if it does mean a few more calories.)

5. Get a sponsor.

No, you’re not an alcoholic. Diet soda isn’t going to ruin your life and relationships the way alcoholism can. But you will need help sometimes, and it’s good to have a friend or three you can call or text or visit when you’re feeling the need to swing into a 7-11 for a Big Gulp. Have your lifelines on speed dial and don’t be afraid to use them.

You can do it!

Why don’t you drink soda?

Originally published March 9, 2011.

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