Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diet Soda Diet

I was a caffeine freak in college. But not in the usual way. My freakishness was my lack of addiction. Nobody believed me when I said I didn't drink coffee. (I also never took No-Doz or speed.) I liked the smell of the beans, but to me the drink smelled like mud.  I associated its aroma with cigarettes, my parents' dual intakes when I was a kid (though Dad quit smoking at age 40), and I never wanted any part of it.

If I wanted caffeine,
I sipped some hot tea. The college cafeteria carried Salada, which had cheery fortune-cookie-like aphorisms on the tag [right] like "If you don't try, you can't fail." Written, I'd hazard to say, by failed writers. I moved off-campus in part so I could buy my own brand and escape this nagging.

I didn't really get hooked on diet caffeinated soft drinks until I got into TV writers' rooms. The environment was a marketer's dream: physical need -- being locked in a small space with endless hours of slogging and waiting and slogging -- with easy access, an unlimited free supply. Before I knew it, I was drinking diet soda like it was water, and my capillaries were never the same. But all over show business were examples of powerful people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Bill Clinton who mainlined it, almost like a badge of honor of their tirelessness.

My usage peaked in 2004-5 when I was the sole writer on the syndicated Jane Pauley Show, an experience which deserves its own post. For now I will just say that it was a dream setting -- 30 Rock, down the hall from Saturday Night Live -- with terrific colleagues, combined with the nightmare of a smart host not physically or mentally suited to the task at hand.

I worked from 8 am till midnight, 5 or 6 nights a week. And I downed Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi with the faith that it was the only thing keeping me from passing out. After seven months, the show was cancelled, and my usage waned, but never really went away. I kept 2-liter bottles in the fridge alongside orange juice, milk and other essentials. My kids teased and then hounded me about it.

I told myself at least I wasn't drinking caloric soda like the people Mayor Bloomberg criticized (except when I indulged in the occasional exotic Mexican Coke [right], which may or may not actually use sugar instead of fructose). I tried Diet Coke Plus which included vitamins, but it didn't taste good.

This year I got another daily grind job, and I soon ratcheted up the intake again. I was having a 20 oz. bottle in the morning, and another when I got logy around 3 p.m. I thought, this isn't so bad -- one of my coworkers comes in every morning with two or even three venti Starbucks on a tray.

But I noticed something funny: my body was having the opposite reaction to what I intended. As soon as I drank them, I was getting more tired. Whether I was getting inured to the caffeine or tricked by the fake-sugar, my system was crying uncle.

So about a month ago, I just stopped, cold turkey. After a week, I posted on Facebook that I'd received my one-week diet cola sobriety chip, and friends applauded or marveled at my ability to walk away from "crack" and asked if I was having horrible headaches.

The answer is, no. Of course, I haven't completely dumped caffeine and stimulants: I usually have an iced tea at some point during the day, and woe is me if there's chocolate around.

But I am no longer a walking barrel of dyspeptic liquid. And I have been sleeping fine on weeknights and taking a nap or two on weekends. And I haven't gained any weight. I don't imagine I'm going to change other diet soda addicts' minds on this subject, but at least I've cut back my plastic-bottle imprint.


Anonymous said...

I took on my parents' addiction to TAB when I was 10 years old (and already starting a life-long journey of dieting). At some point, TAB went away and diet coke was the drink of the day. We drank it in giant 32 ounce cups. It was breakfast and lunch during the particularly bad teen starving days. It was my coffee in my 20s... But I got pregnant and went cold turkey and really never went back. I still drink one here and there. I have a daily diet 7 up. But Diet Coke makes me think of the times in my life when I needed to "fix" myself. After having a baby... MAKING a PERSON... I started to see I didn't need to fix anything. Oh -- and there actually is evidence (a few studies) that people who drink Diet Coke tend to eat MORE.

D. Edelstein said...

I STILL drink Tab, maybe 8 cans a day, more when I'm writing, and DH's post and this comment make me very sad. I suppose I'll have to give it up, but I hardly drink alcohol or smoke dope now and am trying to lose weight (hopeless), and Tab is honestly the most pleasurable thing in my life. (I'm not counting my kids, who don't fire my dopamine eceptors in QUITE the same way.)