Giving Up Soda: Lack of Access Makes It Easier

May 8, 2009

If you follow me at all on Twitter you know that I’m back in the US spending some time with my family. It is a wonderful time of year to be back. My Dad’s garden is green as can be and the strawberries are bright red just begging to be eaten right off the plant.

Every time I’ve returned to the US since living abroad for the last 20 or so months I learn a bit more about how my eating habits have changed for the better. One area in which I’ve made huge improvements is soda consumption, specifically diet soda, and I’ve talked about this some before.

I always considered myself one of those people who would never give up my diet soda. I had the attitude that even if it wasn’t the best thing for me, at least it wasn’t adding calories to my day and extra pounds to my thighs. I could live with that choice.

As my knowledge of the effects of aspartame and the ingredients in sodas grew I was continuously faced with the fact that this was a habit I needed to break. When I made the move abroad the opportunity to reduce and eliminate diet soda from my daily routine had arrived.

Don’t let me mislead you. Soda is being consumed in mass amounts in Brazil. In some areas, I dare say as much as it is the US. The only difference where we live is that there aren’t any fountain drinks; the locals in our area – mostly teens and children – share two liter bottles during their meals and snacks.

What has changed for me is my personal access to it. My habit when living in the US was to buy a 12-pack each time I grocery shopped, once a week to once every two weeks. I averaged about two a day – one mid morning and one late afternoon. Add that to the fountain drinks I had with me each time I took a road trip for work (about once a week ) and that adds up to a lot of diet soda.

Now, I’m in a place where soda is more expensive. Cans are sold individually or in six-packs at the very most. Two liters are available, but I’ve never liked them anyway. After a few months in my new home I found myself only occasionally buying a 20 oz bottle to drink and getting a can when I ate out. (The only place I’ve seen fountain soda is at McDonald’s and it’s not free refills.)

As I drank it less and less I began to truly feel the affects all those chemicals were having on me. It seemed each time I had one I felt sluggish, groggy and a little sick to my stomach. I’m thinking this is likely because my body had a chance to get everything out of its system before my next soda. It wasn’t constantly swimming through my veins.

I finally reached a point where it wasn’t worth feeling bad for a drink and I’ve not only reduced it, but pretty much eliminated drinking soda all together. I can’t say I won’t ever have one again, but if I do, it will be rare occurrence.

So now that I’ve made this change I find myself back in the US. From the second I enter the terminal of the airport I am surrounded by soda of some form and everyone is drinking it. To be honest it is almost difficult not to drink it.

As bad as I know I will feel, the pressure of advertisement and availability are hitting me in the face. I think about all the things that went so well with it before – pizza, Mexican food, salty snacks. I have been tempted multiple times after being home just two days. I’ve had to make a conscious effort not to turn to a soda as my beverage.

This experience makes me realize why many people can’t give it up. I consider myself darn lucky that I was put in a position where I was pretty much forced to reduce my consumption which allowed me to realize the physical effects of my addiction. Had I stayed in the US these past 20 months I may have reduced my consumption a little bit, but it would have been a lot harder.

Even when you know the risks associated with eating or drinking something unhealthy or unnatural it takes an incredibly strong person to resist the pressures of this society we live in, and the constant availability and advertisement which result in cravings. I think this goes for most unhealthy choices. It is not an excuse, it is reality.

I have learned a lot about myself and my eating patterns by giving up soda. I once had the idea that if I gave it up the aspartame would stop affecting my metabolism and weight loss would be easier. Wrong. I now realize how much I used diet soda as an appetite suppressant especially during the afternoon. While I’ve replaced that non-calorie, chemically laden drink with real food containing nutrients, I’ve also replaced it with calories. Yes, I’m better off, but weight loss has become even more difficult.

I won’t lie and say that I notice a major difference in energy levels or vibrancy since giving it up. In those areas, I feel the same, however, now I can identify when I have had one and it does affect how I feel at the time of consumption. Because my system has rid itself of all those substances it now recognizes them as foreign. This is a very good thing because it is foreign. I finally gave my body the opportunity to tell me this instead of suppressing the warning signs by pumping it full of diet soda after diet soda.

Overall, am I happy I gave them up? Of course! Whether or not I lose weight or have increased energy isn’t the important issue in this case. Diet soda was my main source of chemical sweeteners and it is now gone. I know without a doubt I am healthier for it. I want to fill this body with real food and soda is definitely not a real food.

What foods or drinks have you worked hard to give up for improved health, but find that the pressures of society (however you define them) make it a difficult task to accomplish? Have you ever been in a situation similar to mine where lack of access made making a healthy choice easier?

This post will be submitted as part this week’s Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

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  • Erica May 8, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Great post! I use to be a huge Diet Coke addict and never thought I would be able to give it up. I did it slowly- eliminating 1 from my diet/day then moving to only 1 soda per day and now I rarely have it. Only sometimes when we go to dinner and I never feel like I “need it” . My body feels so much better without it!

  • kat May 8, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I used to drink a couple of regular Pepsis a day & then realized how many calories that was & I quit cold turkey. I haven’t had a soda now in over 10 years & don’t miss it at all.
    The other thing is coffee. I drank about 3 cups a day. I started having these really bad pains & did some reading that said women could get these pains from caffeine. I switched to decaf & the pain disappeared in a week!

  • Candice May 8, 2009 at 6:34 am

    I am currently trying to break the habit of diet coke. I have about one a day or one every two days. It’s really my only vice as far as food goes, and sometimes I think I use that as an excuse not to give it up. The headaches and cravings just get me, and I keep giving in! When I stop and think through what it is I’m putting into my body I know that I have to quit. Congrats on breaking your habit, and good luck sticking with it while in the States. You can do it!

  • Tangled Noodle May 8, 2009 at 7:17 am

    I was able to break my soda habit because it was more important to me to stay within a daily calorie set and I preferred using the 120+ kcals in one can for another treat. Unfortunately, I’ve subbed soda for coffee (with sugar) so I’m not sure that I’m any healthier for it.

    If you live in the US, I don’t think lack of access to unhealthy foods (unless it’s an affordability issue) will ever be a problem! My big regret is lack of access to the good stuff! I love reading about your market forays and all the wonderful fresh produce you find. Here, the grocery stores, laden with prepackaged foods are within eyesight everywhere you turn. It can be tough to resist.

  • Sweta May 8, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Never been a soda fan-as a kid I thought there was something wrong with me and pretended to like it when I was with my friends.Later,I got to know that my BF never liked sodas either-I married him 😉
    Sweets/chocolates are my Achilles heels-if it’s at home,then I can’t stop eating them.Remedy-I try and avoid buying them!
    BTW,growing up chocolates were very expensive in India and we had limited variety(Cadbury’s had a monopoly).I was introduced to all the evils(Toblerone’s/Hershey’s/Bounty/Mars,etc) when my uncle moved to the gulf and kept coming back with truckloads of chocs for us!!
    Now that I’m in the land of these chocs I try not going into the aisle when grocery shopping-but,sometimes,just sometimes…….

  • Lori May 8, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Erica – Thanks! Great to hear your story. I know what you mean about getting rid of that I “need it” feeling. I’ve finally passed that too.

    kat – Wow, cold turkey? That would be tough, but glad you accomplished it. Mine was a progression from regular to diet soda in my teens then getting rid of it entirely now. Thanks for sharing your experience with caffeine. That’s really intersting.

    Candice – I know what you mean. It was pretty much my only food vice as well. It is great to hear that your consumption is low. Don’t worry. I think you’ll eventually hit the point when you know you can give it up if that is your goal.

    Tangled Noodle – I’m such a coffee fan, specifically from a cultural perspective, that I don’t really equate it with soda. I guess coffee is more of a real food in my eyes. I am talking about coffee and not gigantic coffee drinks, of course. 🙂

    My whole experience in Brazil has been surprising. With soda there is limited access and I have access to wonderful veggies at the market, however, eating healthful has not been as easy as I expected it to be.

    Where we live, the presence of packaged foods is growing especially those considered light and healthy with artifical fat and sugar replacers. The women there always have them in their baskets. When I see a new item it is hard not to think – oooh, I’m going to try that, it’s different, it’s Brazilain. But then I have to take a step back and remember that it is just like the packaged stuff I used to eat in the US. Not good for me.

  • Lori May 8, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Sweta – That is so great. I’m kind of that way with potato chips. I can take them or leave them. Not having them really is no big deal.

    I share your fondness of chocolates.I try to stick with the dark stuff, but I’m tempted with all those others you mentioned all the time. I like your “don’t enter the aisle” philosophy. I’ve tried to exercise that at our supermarket in Brazil in the candy aisle. 🙂

  • Mindy May 8, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I love Coke (regular, not diet), and being in France has had a similar effect as on you in Brazil. It’s not as easy to get here and is more expensive. In the States, even when I tell the waiter that I don’t want a refill, I end up with one. We’ll see how the reintegration goes in just a couple of months!

  • janetha May 8, 2009 at 9:44 am

    giving up alcohol was not hard for me as an individual, but when i am in a social setting it is a bit harder to resist having a beer. but what has helped is my boyfriend does not drink.

    sometimes i crave a soda but then i look at the can and see the 46 grams of carbs/sugar that comes with it and remember what those grams turn into (FAT) and it is easier to ask for a water.

    great post!! much luck to you 🙂

  • Amy May 8, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I too gave up diet soda (and all soda) and haven’t looked back. I found it was a huge problem for my tummy and I haven’t had that debilitating pain in a long time now that i’m off caffeine and fake sugar.

    Next challenge? Dairy. I know that’s not right for everyone, but for me i know dairy does not love my body. But it’s SO hard to give up, especially with all of the news about benefits of eating dairy and of course the fabulous taste of cheese. It’s a journey, but I’m hoping that my commitment that help me eliminate stomch problems for good.

  • Michelle @ Find Your Balance May 8, 2009 at 10:44 am

    It is fascinating to feel the ill effects of something you used to eat/drink all the time! I have never been a soda drinker but I did drink a lot of coffee at one point in my life. Because my coffee always came with dairy and sugar, I stopped drinking it a few years ago. Plus, we were trying to save money and a daily Starbucks adds up!

    Now, occasionally when we are out to dinner or in Boston’s North End at a cappuccino place, I’ll have one. And EVERY time I regret it immediately. I feel loopy and sick to my stomach and remember why it was never good for me in the first place.

  • Marianne May 8, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I can’t say that I consciously tried to give up my diet coke consumption, but one day I had one, and decided it didn’t taste that great. So I just stopped buying them to keep in the house. Now I only pick one up when I really feel a craving to have one. And generally, I’ve switched to drinking water when I go out to eat, simply because it’s free. I don’t think I’ll ever give up diet soda completely, because I sometimes want one, but I can say that my 1-a-day habit is pretty much gone.

  • May 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    What I appreciate most here is your commentary about all the advertising & societal pressures to drink soda. YOU ARE SO RIGHT ABOUT THIS.

    Thanks for joining us in today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival.

    All the best,
    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen) May 8, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    The less we eat certain things, the less we crave them. Easier said than done of course but awesomeness on kicking this one.

  • Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen May 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    We use water kefir or other probiotic beverage in place of soda. It’s great – lemony and fizzy without being sweet.

  • Alison May 8, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Congrats on giving up soda. I went through a phase earlier this year where I was drinking it all the time. I’ve really cut back. Now a diet soda is only an occasional treat…which I don’t think there’s anything wrong with. I don’t really notice a difference in my body, but I do think that it’s better for me to avoid soda.

  • 5 Star Foodie May 8, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Every time I go on a diet, the sodas is the first thing that I give up, and it really does work. The problem is that I relapse when I am no longer dieting. I need to work on being more consistent for sure.

  • Angie (Losing It and Loving It) May 9, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Great post! I gave up soda back in May 2005 and still can’t believe it’s been that long since I had one. Best decision I ever made.

    I had to give up oreos because I couldn’t limit myself to one serving ever LOL

    Trying to get hubs to stop the soda and I’m very proud of him for cutting down as much as he has so maybe one day it will be a success.

  • lesley May 9, 2009 at 11:31 am

    This is definitely a big thing I have pretty much eliminated from my life also. I used to drink probably at least one pop a day (and I didn’t even care if it was diet or not) but meeting my husband helped a lot because he pretty much only drank water. (I used to hate water). Slowly but surely, I started drinking more hot tea and unsweetened cold tea along with water and now I really can’t say I even miss pop. I feel like my body is much happier with no carbonation.

    (Though I do get discouraged sometimes at work, as the vending machines have ONLY pop, diet pop, regular water, and lipton green tea (with loads of sugar) … I don’t think it’s right that there are no other options … like regular tea … in vending machines. But like you said, this is reality!)

  • Sapuche May 9, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Fantastic post! I had an identical experience to yours with respect to soda when I lived overseas. I simply never had it. There were always so many better choices, like tea and fruit juice, and I’ve basically eschewed soda for close to ten years now. The same was true for sweets. Now that I’m back in the U.S., however, I find myself dealing with my sweet tooth more often than I’d like. But it cuts both ways, I think. When overseas, I couldn’t find lowfat milk or even commercial soy milk (it was all sold on the street by individual vendors), and the oils used for cooking were generally less healthy than what are available here. Living overseas really opened my eyes to these things, and I’m glad that it helped me kick some of my bad habits. Sometimes it’s as simple as “out of sight, out of mind”!

  • Daily Spud May 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Luckily, I’ve never had a big soda-drinking habit, though I’d say I definitely drank relatively more of it when I lived in the States than I do now – it was just so, well, available, and in such quantities that it was hard kindof hard to avoid. While very available here in Ireland, it’s probably not quite as in-your-face-available and perhaps a bit easier to choose alternatives (for me anyway).

  • gastroanthropologist May 14, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Diet coke is my vice. I have about five a week – and always in the late afternoon.
    My coke drinking began when I was cooking in a fine-dining restaurant. You often taste lots of rich foods and coke is the only thing that seemed to cleanse my palate. When I realized how much sugar was in coke I switched to diet.
    Now I don’t work in a restaurant but the diet coke addiction sticks. I’ve cut back a bit and there are days when I go without it but I probably won’t give it up entirely. I don’t drink much alcohol so its a nice thing to order at a bar if your out with others who are drinking.

    I haven’t put much though into how food advertising influences my decision, but your post reminds me that I should.

  • Lori May 16, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Mindy – Yes, I don’t know what it is but soda just seems to be pushed on us more in the US.

    janetha – Thanks for your comment. I think it does help to give something up if those around you don’t eat or drink it either. Oh yes, the sugar and calories. Giving up regular soda wasn’t so hard for me at all, but the diet was a different kind of challenge.

    Amy – Dairy would be really hard for me to give up. Best of luck to you. I have no doubt you’ll be successful!

    Michelle – We all seem to have thosse thing that are trigger for us. I am such a coffee lover. I can have it or go with out it at any point so I don’t feel that I am addicted. For me, this makes me feel better about enjoying b/c I don’t have to have it.

    Marianne – I know what you mean about water being free. I’ve often gone without soda when in the US for that reason. It really makes a difference in the final bill. 🙂

    foodrenegade – It is a strong force for sure!

    Meghan – Yep that is usually what is said when one things about junk food and sugar and I believe it.

    Jenny – Interesting, I’d never thought of that as a fizzy drink. Thus far I can’t get into kefir, but only time will tell. 🙂

    Alison – Thanks! Yes, we all have to do what is right for us. Good news that you have cut back.

    5 Star Foodie – It is definitely not an easy thing to give up!

    Angie – Thanks! It is encouraging to know that you’ve stuck with your choice for so long. 🙂

    Lesley – Yes, regular tea without additives and sugar needs to be more readily available!

    Sapuche – For sure, the out of sight out of mind thing is so true. I still think fruit juices are probably more popular where we are in Brazil than soda. This is definitely a good thing although most Brazilians I know like their juice super sweet with sugar.

    Daily Spud – Yes, the constant availability and it often being the only option makes it difficult in the US. I’ve really been overwhelmed how in your face it is since being back.

    gastroanthropologist – How interesting about the coke cleansing the palete. That is something I never would have thought of.