My friends know me as the Diet Coke girl, rarely seen without a cold can in my hand, and joke about me being addicted to the stuff. I’m fanatical about paying the lowest price possible to sustain my daily habit. You’ll find me concentrating hard in the supermarket as I use my phone’s calculator to work out which of the many special offers works out cheapest – I’m loath to pay more than 35p per can – and I don’t leave the house without at least one can in my bag.
But my habit is getting to the point where even I’m worried. On a recent big work project, I bought a six pack one morning and polished them all off over the course of a day before heading home to bed. It scared me to think that I’d been able to fall straight asleep despite putting 252mg of caffeine in my body that day – equivalent to more than three cans of Red Bull.
So I’m going to take drastic measures: I’m going cold turkey. It has to be all or nothing for me – I’m not the kind of girl who can nibble a bit of chocolate and wrap the rest up for later. For three weeks I won’t touch a soft drink, be it a cola or lemonade or even posh fruity drinks containing carbonated water. I’ve got big deadlines and friends’ birthdays in that time but won’t be able to rely on my faithful fizz to stay perky. It’s going to be painful.
Before I start I can’t help but think about why I’d like to quit my habit. I’ve tried to kid myself that my routine isn’t so bad, but my lack of energy would beg to differ. I feel tired most of the time and turn to fizzy drinks to give me a boost. I worry that I look unprofessional when constantly reaching for the can next to my keyboard and can’t last in meetings without a can to sip from throughout.
I use my weekends for lazy days of catching up on sleep and telly rather than getting out of the flat and doing things that make me happy and refreshed. It’s no wonder I’m sluggish again by Monday lunchtime.
Vanity plays its part, too: I’ve been struggling to fit into some of my clothes and the constant bloating from all that fizz doesn’t help. My skin looks dull and spotty and my face looks puffy. It’s all self-inflicted now I’m no longer a hormonal teenager.
I feel that I’ve now lost control of my fizzy drinks consumption. I’ve always got one with me to fulfil the physical need for one so it’s too easy to just crack it open without a thought and I’m surrounded by friends who share my vice. I’m not looking forward to the next few weeks one bit.
It’s the first day and I’ve already cheated: there’s one last can of Diet Coke in my fridge and I decide the best way to avoid giving into temptation midway through my three weeks is to neck it down quickly. I then crack it open at lunchtime and savour it for more than an hour and a half.
I become painfully aware of the hiss of ringpulls opening around me, and glare at my boyfriend when he boasts about his office receiving a delivery of more than 120 glass bottles of the stuff. By 9.10pm I fall asleep on the sofa soon after I’ve eaten before dragging myself off the sofa and crawling under the covers by 11pm – being too tired to remove my make up before bed.
It’s not till I’ve polished off a bag of salt and vinegar crisps with lunch the next day that I remember that I’m not drinking Diet Coke anymore, and washing them down with water just isn’t the same. I get caught gazing longingly at other people’s fizzy drinks twice during the day, and I first think about lying on my bed and having ‘a nap’ at 6.24pm, roughly 27 hours since I finished my last sips.
My next day’s tactic is to not be presentable until I absolutely need to leave the house, thus stopping me from wanting to sneak out to grab a soft drink from the corner shop.
I’ve also devised a new tactic to get rid of my cravings: brushing my teeth every time I fancy a swig. If the acid erosion isn’t going to wear away my teeth, perhaps my frantic brushing will. By 3pm, I’ve got a headache that stays for the rest of the day when I’d usually knock back a can or two to banish the pain. I’m out for dinner and have a glass of flat cloudy lemonade with my meal and I’m tired and cranky by 9.30pm. It doesn’t help that I’m in the smoky garden area of a pub and need to stay awake late to watch a band. I could really use a dose of caffeine to perk me up.
By the end of the week I feel thirstier than ever; chilled water is the only thing that can see it off. My skin is still spotty and dull from the week before, I’m completely lacking in energy, and don’t even leave the flat or get dressed on one day.
The first weekend
I wake up horrendously bloated on Saturday morning, even though I haven’t had a fizzy drink all week, which feels hugely unfair. I go out on Sunday night for a friend’s birthday but my dancing legs haven’t left the house with me. I also have a minor transgression: I’m slurping on the straw of a delicious gin and tonic before my friend gleefully reminds me that tonic water packs a lot of fizz in it. I make a command decision that tonic is not a fizzy drink – it’s water! I drink a glass of wine and two gins, and not being able to have a nice fat McDonald’s Coke the next day to perk me up after mixing my drinks means I’m in bed till midday and not the happiest company.
On the day of a big evening deadline I’m sluggish by 3pm and have to be prodded along through the task by my co-workers, even though I made sure to eat breakfast, and had fresh fruit and water all day. The rest of the week starts to feel like I’ve accepted my new limits, though I have to keep remembering not to look at the fun fizzy drinks in shop fridges, and I’m still reaching for the toothbrush rather than my purse when I’m at home and feel the urge to nip out. And I’m suddenly noticing soft drinks screaming at me from the side of buses to cinema screens and seemingly at the end of every supermarket aisle. Even my newsagent has a drinks logo on his shop sign outside! I have a quiet low-energy weekend at home catching up on telly and magazines, but still don’t feel bright and raring to go for the week ahead.
It’s another stressful week juggling my workload where I need to retain lots of important information, but one particularly bad day feels like I’ve left my concentration under my pillow. This is the day I feel the most like chucking the past fortnight out of the window and giving in, but I talk myself away from the supermarket drinks fridge and back to the water fountain. Later in the week I catch a friend staring at me and she tells me my face looks thinner and my skin looks brighter. Appealing to my vanity is a genius move – whether it’s true or she’s just saying it to keep me going, it’s worked. I realise I haven’t touched a packet of crisps or even craved fast food because the thought of those tastes without a fizzy drink to accompany them is off-putting.
By the time the last day of my short experiment arrives, I don’t have touch a fizzy drink till my evening meal and only then because I have a weird sense that I should try it out. It’s not pleasant: I’ve got a headache and stomach ache within half an hour and lie awake for at least 90 minutes before an unsettled night’s sleep. A few days later I try it again at a gig before the unfamiliar taste sends me heading for chips and gravy before catching the bus home, and it’s a similar story in a pub for my friend’s birthday that weekend. On a day where there’s no food in the flat, we head round the corner to McDonald’s for large meals. Each of those returns to fast food has been prompted by only one can, and I’ve felt decidedly crap after each one and haven’t slept well. I don’t fancy self-inflicted headaches much, and find it easier to keep on the water afterwards.
I’m surprised that I’ve not gone rushing back to my fizzy favourites at my old rate when I resented not being able to have them so much. It’s made me realise how good it’s felt to not be bloated and to feel lighter on my feet rather than dragging myself around – something I definitely didn’t appreciate during my short experiment. It’s been nice having a clean-feeling mouth, settled digestion and undisturbed sleep, and I haven’t had a big spot breakout since the spots of week one faded. Best of all, I feel like I’ve regained a bit of control over one of my many bad habits – the shakes and physical cravings are yet to make a return. Perhaps I do have the willpower to ditch the sweets after all.