How I kicked my Coke habit
September 28th, 2011
09:15 AM ET
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Holy crap, did I used to drink a lot of Diet Coke. Not just a can or two at lunch and one with dinner. Not just a pick-me-up in the afternoon or the tail end of a droopy morning. More like two liters a day at the very minimum - sometimes four.

Had the end times come and yea and verily the East and Hudson rivers risen up and swallowed New York, I could have easily lashed together a raft of the empty plastic bottles I'd amassed in my recycling bin since the last trash day. First port of call: wherever they're keeping the rest of the Diet Coke. And I'd probably have to fight for it.

I can spot a Diet Coke addict from across the room. At the first sip of one freshly poured or popped, there's a barely perceptible sigh and slump; their itch has been scratched.

A casual drinker will simply slug, quench and continue about their normal activities, but the Diet Coke freak cannot be so nonchalant. They'll pause for a moment, sinking in and surrendering to the sweet fizz. Then comes the surreptitious scan of the premises to ensure there's easy access to more.

For many, it's less enjoyment than appeasement of a bubble-hungry little beast within. It's a physical need with definite emotional underpinnings, bordering on addiction. While the root causes of that are a matter of great debate among healthcare professionals who claim it's tied to everything from caffeine dependence to chasing an ever-elusive high triggered but not satisfied by artificial sweeteners like the aspartame in my precious Diet Coke, that meant jack to me over the course of the twenty or so years I spent trying to kick the habit.

Frankly, I didn't care to give much mind to experts, friends and partners who suggested I cut back a tad, citing expense, lack of storage space, late-night convenience store pilgrimages and (in an anonymous, locally-postmarked letter later traced back to my roommate) concern over "Where does the caramel coloring go?"

One boyfriend went so far as to ask me, on the eve of our anniversary meal at a high-end Manhattan restaurant, "Would you mind not ordering a Diet Coke at dinner tomorrow night?" I refrained from ordering one (not on his account, but because I opted for the restaurant's notable wine pairings), but not from pointing out the tables around us with Diet Cokes upon them. There, it came in small glass bottles for fanciness' sake. I was clearly not alone in my obsession.

We take care of each other, the Diet Coke addicts of the world. My grad school roommate and I had an unspoken pact that even if we were running late to campus in the morning, we'd take five minutes to stop off at the local convenience store and stock up for the day - me with a well-iced fountain cup and her with a two-liter that she'd swig from throughout the day, even after it reached room temperature. Gross, but her devotion paid off; she married the cashier who sold us our fix every day.

After that came a boss whose office I dared not enter for a long meeting unless I came bearing a cold bottle for her, a friend who'd also show up at parties with the requisite wine for the host - along with a two liter of Diet Coke for her own personal consumption, and my now-husband who I adored on his own merits, but even more when he started stocking Diet Coke for me in his own fridge. Bad habits appreciate the heck out of company - and I'd justify it by noting that I didn't smoke, drink to excess, do drugs or bungee jump - but it was time to quit.

It was, in fact, quitting time for a long time. I was sick to death of the expense, the hauling of bottles, the financial support of a company with which I had some serious ethical issues and perhaps more than anything, the feeling that I had no control over this particular area of my life.

It seems like such an insignificant thing, but there's an inherent anxiety to any addiction. I wasn't going to go all foamy-mouthed and twitchy on the floor, but I felt tremendous stress if I didn't know there was another bottle or can close at hand. If I knew I'd be staying over, I'd show up at a friend or boyfriend's home with a supply so I'd be assured a cold one in the morning, and keep bottles stashed in office desk drawers just in case the vending machine ran out.

My attempts to quit were a running joke with friends, but truly, it hurt - both physically and psychically. I shook and worried and my head pounded. I'm an exceptionally friendly person (or at least I try to be), but I was crabby and short with people I love and I'm convinced it wasn't just the caffeine. That, I could get anywhere. There is something specifically in Diet Coke that pushes buttons in me that others might simply be missing. Lucky them; this was humiliating.

And then the Sodastream happened. I'd wanted this magical machine for ages, but couldn't justify the counter space or the purchase price. It is simply a carbonation device - screw a specially fitted bottle of plain tap water onto a nozzle, press a button, and release. Some people choose to augment the water with flavored syrups, but as it turns out, I'm a purist. Who'd have guessed?

My husband presented me with one of these for Christmas, and I appreciated the novelty. It makes a comical little honking sound upon operation, and one can opt for everything from a mild sparkle to a riotous, nose-tickling rush of bubbles. I began drinking a glass or two of carbonated water a day, then three or four or more and it wasn't until I tripped over an unopened bottle of Diet Coke on the kitchen floor one day that I realized I hadn't bought any for weeks.

I have no idea how I was released from diet cola's hold, but I opt for seltzer or water in or out of the house every time now. I haven't supplanted the caffeine or the sweetness with anything else, and the most I'll adulterate the sparkling water is by adding a dash or two of Fee Brothers peach or celery flavored bitters or a dash of Tabasco sauce, because I have really odd flavor issues. I'll chalk it up to a fizz addiction which is - lame, I admit, but I'll take it.

Tallied up, that's a savings of (with New York City pricing) $850 a year at the very low end of an estimate and a cool grand or more if we're figuring in taxes and bottle deposit - not to mention the 400 or more plastic and metal containers I'm no longer chucking willy-nilly at the planet. That's pretty darned cool to me.

I certainly don't mind if folks around me are having a Diet Coke and a smile. I just won't be chilling out with them - for now.

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