Yea, well I think there was something much more sinister going on behind the scenes at whatever ad agency Coca-Cola was using at the time.
Sure, they marketed it to consumers, encouraging us to buy it “just for the taste of it” but really, I’m absolutely convinced it was a conspiracy. If you ask me, I think Coca-Cola’s engineers, quality control team and ad people all knew that Diet Coke is, in a word, addictive. They banked on the gullible American consumer falling for the trap.
Case in point: I waitressed in my hometown each summer between college semesters, and would get exasperated at the tables where everyone was drinking Diet Coke. Literally every five minutes, I’d be flagged down to fill their empty glasses.
I could have had a tray in my right hand, a glass of wine in my left hand, and a pen falling out of my pocket, but their eyes told me that they needed their Diet Coke. Stat.
Two of my favorite bosses of all time were certified Diet Coke addicts; neither could function without their caramel-colored bubbly beverage. Some people go for “smoke breaks;” mine would go for “Diet Coke breaks.”
Back then I wondered, did this magic brew quench thirst better than water? What was everyone so obsessed with?
Clearly, I didn’t understand it.
I rarely drank soda and when I did, it was a special treat. Good old regular Coke was fine for me at the occassional party or mixed with rum at a bar. Plus, I always associated diet beverages with my beloved diabetic grandmother (Bubby) who sucked down Tab like it was going out of style and always had Sweet-n-Low or Equal on hand. (Ok, or in her purse.)
But once I started Weight Watchers and learned a can would cost me 3 points, I most certainly canned (pardon the pun) the habit before it ever became a habit.
Walking back to the office on my lunch break one spring day in 2005, I decided to stop at CVS to try a diet soda. It was a Diet Dr. Pepper, it probably cost $1.19 … and it went into the trash within a mere swig.
It was nasty—totally fake and chemical-laden, leaving a bitter after-taste. I surely didn’t get what all the rage was about.
But a couple weeks later, my curiosity was piqued again after seeing my boss’s desk littered with empty Diet Coke cans and wondering, for a second time, if I was missing something.
My office had a fridge stocked to the brim with juices and soft drinks. So since it was free, I decided to pull a Goldilocks and try a Diet Coke to see if maybe this one was “the one.”
Lo and behold, it was crisp and delicious, and once I got past the initial chemical taste I think I crossed the line into oblivious addiction.
There was no turning back. No wonder it’s called Coke…
Today, I drink probably the equivalent of three cans a day, on average.
Road trips just aren’t the same without my trusty fountain Diet Coke, and the work day flies by with a hit of caffeine. Even at a diner, I’ll have a Diet Coke when others are drinking coffee. In fact, it’s gotten to be such an addiction that two of my girlfriends always have a Diet Coke waiting for me on the table when we do girls’ nights if I’m running late.
When abroad, I’m all over Coca-Light (though Coke Zero is huge now, too). Especially in a glass bottle, can we say heaven?
And I’m “that girl” at the bar or restaurant whose glass always needs to be refilled. Sigh.
Last year, after a cleaning at the dentist, my husband brought home a brochure that showed the evil things that drinking soda (regular or diet) can do to your teeth. “I don’t want you to get cancer, and I want you to have your teeth for life!” he pleaded. The brochure—with his highlighter marker annotations—is prominently hanging on our fridge door.
But the notions of tooth decay, gum disease and weakened enamel haven’t stopped me from taking a sip.
In truth, I know that my compulsive addiction to Diet Coke has to end. The bloated-belly feeling isn’t all that great, and though it “fills” me for a little bit, it certainly doesn’t curb hunger. Plus, it makes me crave something sweet after I drink it.
This makes sense, as multiple studies like this one featured in Time magazine have shown that people who drink too much diet soda often gain weight because the fake sugars aren’t registered in the brain the same as, say, a cookie would. So they end up eating the sweets on top of the diet soda which can lead to weight gain. Clearly that’s a risk.
And, perhaps most importantly, if I want to get pregnant, drinking all those chemicals surely can’t be good for me – or my yet-to-be-conceived children.
Worse yet, since my leap into the abyss of Diet Coke Addiction, artificial sweeteners have worked their way into other areas of my life. While I don’t eat many processed foods anymore, I admit I’ve taken a liking to fat-free, sugar-free Jello pudding (butterscotch…mmm!). Sugar-free gum. Crystal Light. Sugar-free York peppermint patties. These sugar-free choices aren’t helping me any, even in small quantities. All they do is provoke the dependence.
Weaning myself off Diet Coke (and other artificial sweeteners) won’t be an easy thing. I sure as hell don’t drink it “just for the taste of it.” I fully admit I am addicted to it, but if there’s ever a time to cut back, it’s now.
This week, I am challenging myself to just one Diet Coke a day. And then next week, I’ll cut back even more, until it really is “just a treat.”
How about you? Do you find diet sodas and artificial sweeteners addicting?