Me and Diet Coke

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.

Comments

  1. Rachel — you're not crazy!! I've heard so many REAL aspartame stories just like this. In varying degrees, of course. But still. My sister can't drink anything with aspartame – she gets debilitating headaches with it, and crazy mood swings. I gave up diet coke about 10 months ago because I had read and read the same thing you quoted about the sugar cravings. I would have a DC a day, usually after lunch for a "snack treat". By 4:00 I was always starving. And I mean STARVING!! Like 13-year old boy, haven't eaten in an hour, STARVING! Since I quit cold-turkey, that has completely gone away, and lost 10 pounds. Every once in awhile, I think to myself that I would like to have just one, but I can just imagine the taste and how much I would like it, and I just can't bring myself to even go there. It's like crack to me!! So cold turkey it is. Forever.

  2. I don't think you are crazy. And besdies the asp. the caffeine is havoc on your hormones and adrenals.

    As a diabetic, I use the cop out all the time that diet is better b/c of the sugar issue. But I've read that asp. is SOOOO bad that I might as well just have the sugar instead…that it's "better" for me in the long run!

    Good job!

  3. Heather @ Not a DIY Life says:

    Wow. saw your tweet and had to come read your story. Good for you! I have to keep my coffee habit in check too. It's hard! I totally admire someone who can make a clean break.

    PS. I have the same reaction to sudafed and other such medications. Won't touch the stuff and won't give it to my daughter for fear that she'll have the same reaction. I don't need 2 manics in the house!

  4. I totally DO NOT think you're crazy! I have said for the longest time, and I hold fast to the belief, that Diet Soda, and the use of artificial sweeteners in general, contributes greatly to the obesity problem we have today. I know that to some it sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. The artificial sweetener only keeps people wanting the sweet taste, as opposed to teaching them how to use real sugar in moderation. That's what we need: someone to teach us how to use sugar correctly and in moderation, NOT chemical or artificial products to satisfy our sweet tooth. I'm totally with you on this! Good for you for taking the big step and quitting!
    M :)
    http://Mandthe2Henrys.blogspot.com
    http://HomemakerPhD.blogspot.com

  5. I have been telling people for YEARS, that aspartame caused me to suffer from migraines and just an overall jittery feeling. I gave up caffeine over 10 yrs ago, and feel better than ever! I allow myself one caffeine free soda a week, as a treat. I am so glad to find other people who have similar effects from aspartame. Now if we could just convince others that sugar is not BAD for you in moderation.

  6. I'm not affected at all by caffeine (regardless of how I get it) and I don't get any feelings described here attributed to aspartame. Does that mean it's okay? I really don't know what to think. I drink a lot more than one a day and I really do love it.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am ready to stop cold-turkey my love of Diet Dr P and see how it goes and how I feel!

    Anyone know if these new, "natural" low-calorie sweeters are better? (Truvia, Sun Crystals, etc.)

  8. Nicky,

    I don't know about the new natural sweetners, though I've seen the ads.

    Gretchen,

    I don't want to screech the evils of Diet Coke across the board. I have so many friends and loved ones who tolerate it just fine. All I can say is that I feel better without it!

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  9. I quit diet drinks about 12 years ago because I had heard that it slows down the metabolism (which may just be the early version of the sugar craving thing and they have just researched it more). A few months later I was reading about the evils of aspartame and saw it mentioned that it could cause joint pain. I then realized I hadn't been hurting in my knees and hips since I quit the diet drinks. I had a Dr diagnose me with arthritis in my knees at 18 – one year after I started drinking diet drinks. My sister did the same thing so apparently we are sensitive to it as well. I don't remember if it had any effect on my mood though.

    I really try to limit my kids intake of it, but it is everywhere. Most of the childrens vitamins has it, I couldn't find children's pain reliever that didn't, and many of the gums have aspartame. Juicy fruit has both sugar and aspartame (Wrigley's only has one brand of gum that doesn't contain it.)

    I think Truvia is just a name brand of stevia. I have used stevia before and liked it. It does taste a bit like saccharine though.
    Another one is Agave nectar, it tastes more like sugar, looks more like honey is is supposed to be low on the glycemic index.

  10. Wow. I've been having this same nagging feeling about Diet Coke for a long time. Oh, the anxiety I have! I think it's time to give it up….

  11. Hmmmm. I appreciate you sharing your story, Rachel. It's really made me think about a lot of little things in my life – and my DC addiction.
    And I do NOT think you're crazy, that's for sure.

  12. I was hoping your story would turn out very differently….that you would say how bad you felt after you quit DC! Because now I feel the need to try quitting and see if anything changes.

    I don't drink Diet ANYTHING when I'm pregnant because if aspartame can cause cancer in mice, what is it doing to my little baby embryo?

    On that note, if I don't drink it to have a healthy baby, maybe I should stop being a hypocrite and have a healthy me.

  13. A little over a year ago I made this very same decision — and I have not regreted it; in fact, I get a great deal of pleasure from water (with maybe a wedge of lemon).

    And I totally relate to your elevator/traffic anxieties because I had them, too.

    Yes, Free of Diet Coke and loving it.

  14. I'm in a constant battle with soda in general. I go long stretches where I rarely drink it, and I feel great, and I think I am done with the stuff, only to have a period of time where I am drinking it way too much. I try to remind myself that I love unsweet iced tea and don't have nearly the same side effects. I'm so glad for you that eliminating DC worked and that you are feeling so much better without it.

  15. Along the same vein as diet drinks making your body crave sweets; caffeine holds sugar in your blood. The result, as I learned with a bout with gestational diabetes, is that even a healthy meal, in a diabetic prone body, if washed down with a caffeinated beverage can cause problems. This is another reason I am convinced that educating yourself on and following a diabetic diet is the most well rounded "dieting" plan. Just a little research on the science and physiology is eye opening!

    ABA

    PS – verification code is calling out reSONIC… eerie

  16. Thanks for taking the time to share this story. Very interesting.

  17. I wanted to respond to the Truvia/Stevia question and the agave nectar one. I use Truvia when I have coffee, because I read several books that advocate more organic, low sugar eating, and all of them recommended Stevia as a natural sweetner that wouldn't raise the glycemic index. I have also discovered agave nectar, and have started using that in place of sugar in baking, dressings, cooking, etc. You need only half the amount that the recipe calls for sugar, and it has a much lower glycemic index. I have never tried it in coffee, though. It's sweet, so I would imagine it would be good in tea.

  18. I thankfully never got into the addicted to soda thing. But I have been addicted to nicotine on and off for 20 years. I had been praying about quitting the smokes for about a year, after having failed miserably at it during Lent. And then one day, about 2 months ago, I put out the cig and just tossed the pack. Incredibally, I didn't feel awful or jittery or anything during those first few days of nicotine withdrawal. I really do believe it's a miracle. Anyway, I just take it one day at a time, with gratitude.

  19. Oh, for me it is Dr. Pepper. It used to be one a day and even just one Caffine Free one…until I tried homeschooling with a 5,3, and 1 year old. That was 9 years ago and it has just gotten worse! I have quit here and there, but find myself so attached! Thanks for setting a great example!

  20. The Cochrans says:

    SAME THING here… I started Weight watchers several years ago and started drinking Diet Coke and eating light yogurt every day at lunch. The terrible headaches started then and didn't stop until I kicked aspartame to the curb!

  21. canewton42 says:

    You're an inspiration, Rachel. I'm on Day 2 of Operation No More Diet Coke. Mine was an all-day-long habit that started back in college, more than 20 years ago, during my employment at a 7-11. We were allowed to drink all the lucious, from-the-fountain goodness we wanted during our shifts. Of course, I'm not giving up caffeine itself; that would be sheer madness. But it's homebrewed (I sound like I'm making moonshine!) unsweet tea from here on out.

  22. You're not crazy! My aunt was addicted to DC and wound up not being able to think clearly (like, getting lost in her OWN neighborhood)

    I'm with you on the Sudafed thing. I was able to take it just fine until I was pregnant with baby #2. In the throes of a horrific cold, I thought it was time to punt and take something for it. I popped one Sudafed and had a THREE-DAY LONG PANIC ATTACK. I mean, like "running outside in the middle of the night during an ice storm screaming I can't breathe! I can't breathe!"

    Never. Ever. Again. will I touch Sudafed.

  23. Ouiz,

    Oh my, I had that same thing happen. I was taking this medicine for colds and I had no idea it contained Sudafed. I thought I was going crazy. One night I stayed up for hours with my heart pounding, like I had just run a marathon.

    It took me weeks to get all that out of my system and feel like I wasn't on the verge of a panic attack constantly.

    Good times!

  24. I think I have just found a long lost friend. Hi- my name is Jenny and my friend sent a link to your blog to me. I just (I am talking I am on Day 14 today) gave up Diet Coke. I had been drinking only diet coke (with a few waters thrown in here and there) for about 24 years. OH my word. And I have been holding onto this 20 lbs too. So, I decided to go for it. Low and behold, headaches- gone- stomach aches- pretty much gone and I feel free. I do! IT is amazing. I kinda chronicled my progress on my blog if you are interested. Thanks for posting this! I don't feel so alone out here!! : )

  25. Nomad Librarian says:

    As the wife of an Air Force pilot, I can definitely tell you that the story about pilots not being allowed asapartame is a myth. Sometimes they will take certain things when they fly, and its possible that aspartame might interact with those medications, so they would be told to avoid it, but it is definitely not banned!

    Congrats on kicking the diet coke habit…I'm still working on mine.

  26. Happy Cheapskate says:

    Wow! Great post… I think the bigger lesson to take from your experience is not just that this one combination of chemicals known as Diet Coke may have surprising negative side effects, but that we really need to watch what we put into our bodies, very, very carefully. I tried using splenda for a while and it gave me horrible migraines…

    I had a horrible reaction to Sudafed where I thought I was dying- I couldn't feel my body and sort of willed myself over the phone to dial 911. The paramedics thought I overdosed on drugs or something. Oddly, I wasn't able to drink coffee after that without my heart racing- somehow it made my whole system so sensitive to stimulant chemicals that I just couldn't handle it. I drink tea now, because I couldn't live without at least a little bit of caffeine. :-)

  27. lotusblossomjin says:

    Catching up with your hilarious and very real blog :)…and just wanted to pipe in that I have horrible effects from aspartame (nausea and severe headaches) so I don't go near the stuff. My uncle also got severe anxiety while drinking DC. My mom, an RN, told him to stop drinking it and once he did, he even stopped taking valium that he had been on for anxiety because it all went away. It's crazy how sensitive one can be to something that doesn't bother the person next to you.

  28. Parents and their strange behaviours. says:

    I've just read this and all the comments and im saddened by what ive read – for me personally. Since about 1994 ive drunk diet coke. Pretty much a minimum of three cans a day but that has always been the minimum. I have stopped caffiene and in particular DC for the last two days and i feel so less anxious. Ive been in therapy for three and half years and yes, i do have stuff to deal with but i think DC has stopped the feelings coming up – always being anxious can make it hard to feel relaxed enough to deal with things..

    I think now im convinced it has made me anxious and given me panic for years and years. I feel what i would call "heavy" but its a nice wellbeing feeling. Im not so fidgety and restless. I would lie in bed and be tapping, tossing turning etc. Last night i crashed and woke up like some wand had been waved over me.. thanks for the post. It confirms my suspicions. DC IS EVIL!!!

  29. Thanks so much for blogging about this. I just gave up diet coke 6 days ago and I was just telling my friend "I cant explain it- I am just more clear in my head" I feel more present and quick. I am still mourning the loss of my diet coke but I am so happy to hear about your anxiety problem. I had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder over a year ago but hated taking the medicine just decided to "deal" with my anxiety. I am hoping and praying that I have a similar affect that you did! I also cant take sudafed because I feel like I am on speed

  30. Is it alright to reference part of this on my site if I post a backlink to this web page?