My long, crazy love affair with Diet Coke began over eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with Elliott.
I had gained 45 pounds when pregnant with Ethan, thanks in large part to my great love of Sweet Tea, and when I found out I was pregnant again (a year later) I decided I would just skip that part of the pregnancy, the part where I ingest vast quantities of sugar. I had miraculously gotten that weight off before Ethan’s first birthday but I could not gain like that again.
So I started drinking Diet Coke. That’s when it all began. And I only gained 25 pounds that pregnancy. Me and Diet Coke were meant to be.
I LOVED Diet Coke. What is so remarkable about Diet Coke is so often when you hear people talk about that being their drink of choice, they rarely say “I drink Diet Coke,” or “that’s what I prefer.” It’s almost always “I AM ADDICTED TO DIET COKE.” That’s certainly how it was for me. I was fueled by Diet Coke.
It’s not that I drank it constantly. But every day, when I woke up, one of the first things I thought about was when I would get my DC for the day. I never bought it for the house (I only drink fountain sodas, not canned or in 2-liter). But I mapped out my day around when and where I would get my drink (usually at Sonic with my 99 cent coupon).
Okay, so all these years went by where I had my one-a-day habit. No big deal. But here and there I would have these thoughts that I should get “off” Diet Coke. I would come across a website devoted to the evils of aspartame and all the nasty things it could do. I would read for a while and think “yes, I should quit this stuff.”
But then I would convince myself it was crazy and people who preached the evils of DC were also crazy. If aspartame is that bad for you, how come it’s allowed on the market? (I do remember a conversation with a friend whose brother-in-law was in the Air Force. She told me their pilots aren’t allowed to drink Diet Coke because of aspartame. But maybe this is an urban myth? That’s what I figured.)
Despite the back and forth, there was always this underlying, nagging feeling that if I stopped drinking Diet Coke some of my random health issues would subside. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer from headaches so much, or maybe I wouldn’t get this sort of non-descript fevery feeling so often. None of these things were debilitating, but it just felt like it was not too uncommon for me to need Motrin for these aches and pains, for feeling run down and just not great.
Two summers ago, we were at the beach for our family vacation. I was complaining to my friend that Henry was coming up on his first birthday and I still hadn’t gotten the weight off. She suggested I quit drinking Diet Coke, pointing to studies that show intake of these “fake sugars” make you crave more sugar. I thought, what the heck. I already wasn’t having any DC that week because I couldn’t get my fountain version at our remote beach, so that would be one week down of detox.
We got home from the beach and I was so committed to losing these last few pounds that I just put Diet Coke out of my mind. (Unfortunately I started drinking Dr. Pepper, so it would still be a few months until I quit that and then really did lose weight). But I noticed something: I felt good. Amazingly good. All the time.
It’s a strange phenomenon, because so many of the things that I suffered while drinking Diet Coke I didn’t even realize until I started to feel better. Little ways of feeling that I figured were just life — they all disappeared.
The main thing for me was the underlying anxiety that I dealt with constantly — it was gone. This was huge and life-changing and this has been the absolute best side effect of being DC Free.
I never thought to treat my anxiety because I assumed this was my genetic make-up. My anxiety didn’t prevent me from doing anything I liked or wanted to do. But I never realized (until the feelings were gone) how very present anxious thoughts and feelings were in my life. Little things like getting on an elevator and just being very, very aware that what if this elevator gets stuck? What will you do? I didn’t avoid taking elevators, but I prayed the whole time it wouldn’t get stuck.
I’d have similar feelings when driving in traffic. What if all the cars have to stop and I’m stuck in some huge traffic jam and can’t move? What will I do? Again, this didn’t prevent me from driving, but I just never knew you could actually live without constantly worrying about that. Not everyone is afraid of traffic? Huh?
These kinds of thoughts, and just a whole lot of other similar, small little nagging feelings — this was the stuff of my mental state. No big deal, that’s how I roll, I’m a “little anxious.”
Except, two or three weeks after I quit Diet Coke, they were all GONE. Totally gone. Like the biggest load off my brain I could ever imagine or hope to experience or even think to pray to have lifted. I can’t even describe what it has been like to live without this fear, a burden and load that I had no idea I labored under until it was gone. Fear and anxiety, relentless overwhelming thoughts that I had learned to live with but did not have to be living with.
Now this is where I explain that I understand how absolutely crazy all of this sounds. I’m like all those people who I came across when googling “aspartame is bad” and reading all about people like me. All I can say is, this is my story and I am so happy it is.
A few months after that summer, I was talking to my godfather who is a psychiatrist. At that point, I was still so stunned from my new head space, how incredible I felt all the time, that I didn’t even want to talk about it. I worried it was a fluke and at any moment I could go back to feeling the old, run-down, head-in-a-vice grip way of all those years before.
“I quit drinking Diet Coke, and this is what happened,” I told him. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
His explanation to me was that he sees patients come in who can’t take certain substances or medications — people whose brains react adversely to something that all kinds of other people can tolerate just fine (this has also been my experience with Sudafed. It’s like I’m on speed and it is horrible and I will never touch the stuff again.). It’s strange and complicated, but all you can do is go from your own experience. It doesn’t matter if no study has proven any of this, he said. You found this to be true for you. That’s what matters — how your particular system reacts to what you are feeding it.
And then I just claimed it. For whatever reason, drinking aspartame made me feel like total and utter crud. Getting off that junk gave me incredible freedom and health — mental and otherwise.
I understand the world is filled with people who drink Diet Coke and don’t suffer any of the things I just described here. But I did, and I no longer do. I still have not taken for granted, every single day, how much better I feel. What a relief this has been.