Biting the Silver Bullet

Michael Epstein

I need to stop drinking Diet Coke. It’s bad for me and I know it. I’ve known for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped me drinking a lot of it. I can’t remember the first time I thought I needed quit, but I’ve come to that conclusion more than a few times over the last few years.

Have you ever noticed how people who drink diet soda consume so much more of it than people who prefer the regular stuff? I know you’ve seen them: Maybe it’s a friend of yours, or a co-worker, or a teacher at school. They’re the ones who always have an extra bottle in their purse or their pocket, or who you’ve caught drinking out of a two-liter bottle as if it’s meant to be casually gulped down by a single person.

Yeah, I’m one of those people.

Researchers can take their sweet time proving exactly how bad it is to drink diet soda: As a walking, talking case study, I know exactly what extensive, prolonged DC-drinking can do.

Most of the time when I’ve thought about dropping the habit, it’s been for my health. The worst thing diet soda does to serial drinkers is slow their metabolism to a crawl. I’ve lost more weight by just reducing—not quitting, reducing—my Diet Coke intake than going to gym two-three times a week while drinking it regularly.

Weight-gain issues aside, steady and chronic Diet Coke-drinking can mess with your mind in other, more noticeable ways. For starters, drinking caffeinated beverages throughout the day takes its toll on your sleep cycle. When I was in college I thought I drank so much coffee and soda and Red Bull that the caffeine from just one drink wouldn’t help me stay awake. It turns out that, back then, I just didn’t mind staying up ‘til 3am every night, and it didn’t always put any extra pep in my step.

Years later, I’m pretty sure that’s not true. Even if it was, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter: The cumulative effect of drinking multiple soda in a day can keep me in a waking coma-like state, leave me too tired to be productive, but also unable to fall asleep hours after I should’ve gone to bed.

Before you say it; caffeine-free just doesn’t work for me. You see, like any tried-and-true addict I definitely have an ideal way of getting my Diet Coke fix. I like it better out of the can, for example: There’s an extra bite when you drink Diet Coke out of a can that, I believe, comes from the soda sitting in a metal container. Also, while I don’t like my soda hot, per se, I find that it’s more drinkable when it isn’t ice-cold. Lastly, the social convention that dictates we not drink things like diet soda at certain times has worn terribly thin: I’ll drink it in the morning. I’ll drink it late at night.

So in summation, I prefer to drink cool to room-temperature Diet Cokes in rapid succession, leaving a trail of silver cans in my wake from my bed to my desk to the fridge to my door.

It wouldn’t be unfair to brand diet soda as the 21st-century cigarette. That isn’t to say that cigarettes have disappeared or that the negative impact of diet soda didn’t kick in until after the year 2000. The difference is in the mindset: Diet soda is a “next-gen” health problem because it’s still so readily accepted and available, while we already see smoking as a public health hazard. Depending on where you live, cigarettes aren’t allowed in bars or restaurants or even outside if you’re standing next to a particularly neurotic pedestrian. There’s no age restriction for buying a diet soda, nor is there a real concern over who buys it or how much they buy.

I mention the age issue mainly because I was personally indoctrinated into the silver-can cult as a teen. I had already started to gain weight and I was already a soda-drinker, so in order to cut out the sugar my mom told me to drink diet soda instead. I’ve never asked her, but I assume she was thinking something along the lines of: “It’s not as sweet, so he won’t drink it as much.” Obviously, that’s not how things shook out. In fact once I took up Diet Coke, I realized that plain ol’ Coca Cola tastes way too sweet. Maybe that’s why other people don’t drink it as much.

Based on my personal drinking habits I’ve postulated that, in order for me to have a real shot at kicking the habit, I would need to line up a perfect storm of personal circumstances. I’d need a time when I’m A) pre-occupied by something so my brain doesn’t default to demanding I feed the beast, but also B) relatively stress-free, since I tend to drink more Diet Coke when I’m nervous, stressed out, or upset.

With that in mind, I should tell you a few things about myself:

– I’m a journalist, a generally intense, high-stress profession.
– Since I’m a freelancer, when I’m not working I get stressed out about the fact that I don’t have any work to do.
– I play a lot of video games, both for work and in my spare time: It’s a sedentary hobby conducive to consuming large quantities of the thing I’d be avoiding.

My primary fear of trying to just stop drinking Diet Coke stems from the fact that it’s become inexorably tied to my workflow. As a freelance writer who’s not really a morning person, the fantasy of working late into night is appealing enough that I tend to ignore the lesson I’ve learned so many times before in the hopes of priming myself to ride the lightning into late-night productivity. It rarely works, though. Human beings really aren’t meant to be awake for more than 18 hours a day.

I think about quitting more these days than I used to. It feels like one of those things I’d like to do before I leave my 20s. I’m not sure when, or even if it’s going to happen. But it’s a new year, right? Maybe 2013 will be see the end of the “Diet Coke era” of my life.

And if not? Well, no one actually keeps their New Year’s resolutions, right?

    Michael Epstein

    Written by

    Person behind PXL8. Freelance technology and culture critic w/ bylines at IGN, Lifehacker, and more. Former Digital Trends gaming editor.

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