Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Giving Up Soda

So, I've now been off soda for about a month.

I'm not sure when I developed a daily Coke habit, but by the time I was working at the Ensign magazine in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was getting a 32-ounce Coke every morning and then another one at lunch on some days, plus a refill of that one. By the time I was working at Unicity in the early 2000s, I was drinking as many as 100 ounces of Coke a day. Well, subtract for the space taken up by the ice, which I usually filled to the halfway mark of the cup, partly because I love extremely cold drinks and I love chewing ice, and partly because I told myself that putting more ice in was healthier because it meant I was drinking less soda, which I suppose is true. (I can also drink Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and at one point Dr. Pepper, but Coke was my main drink.)

Then one day I attended a health fair at work, and a few days later the nurse tracked me down with some urgency to inform me that my triglycerides were about 400, about double the maximum they should be. I did some googling, and I learned that triglycerides are fat in the blood that comes from your diet. One source is sugar, which your liver turns into fat if you eat too much. I eat out a lot and eat too many rich foods, so that's probably where most of my triglycerides come from, but I also felt certain that Coke was playing a role too.

I didn't make any immediate changes to my Coke habit, but within a few years later my doctor had put me on a couple of medications that I still take (Tricor and Niaspan), and my triglycerides soon got back down to normal. However, I have a minor case of osteopenia, which is a precursor to osteoporosis, and I'm pretty sure the main reason is all the Coke I've drunk. My understanding is that something in cola leeches minerals from the bones.

In more recent years, I've made some other gradual changes. I used to keep canned Coke at home to drink on the weekends, but then my kids started drinking it all the time, so I stopped keeping it at home. Besides, I don't really like the taste of canned Coke--I really only like fountain Coke. So on the weekends, I'd always get a Coke at some point on Saturdays, and on Sundays I'd drink it if we visited anyone with canned Coke on hand (especially my family's house in Bountiful).

At another point, I decided to finally cut my daily consumption of Coke. I don't remember what triggered this decision, but I started limiting myself to one 22-ounce Coke a day, nearly always at lunchtime. I did pretty well with this for the past year or two, only occasionally slipping and having more.

Another thing I started doing was eating fruit every day, or nearly so. This has taken a lot of discipline, and it took several months to really get in the habit, but now I'm quite good about it. The real battle is making sure that fruit is available and that I remember to eat it. My workmates tease me because I have computer alerts set to ping me with "Eat fruit" every day at 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Every Monday or so, I drive over to Wal-Mart and load up on apples and oranges, enough to have one of each every day. (I'd do bananas too, but I hate the taste and texture of bananas.) And then of course you have to wash the apples, because the pesticide accumulates in your body over your lifetime. Fortunately, one of my coworkers lets me stow my fruit in his fridge, so it's reasonable convenient. The oranges are a pain in the butt to peel, but oh well.

I've done this fruit thing long enough now that I actually look forward to my morning and afternoon fruit. It seems to satisfy my sweet tooth and keep me from eating candy and crap, at least most of the time. Also, my wife always has fruit available at home, and she cuts some up with nearly every dinner she cooks. At home, I especially like mangos when they're perfectly ripe, and we also eat a lot of melons and berries. I honestly believe that eating fruit every day has made it so I don't like processed sugar as much. When I eat a candy bar now, it usually tastes way too sweet and chemical-ish. But I've continued to drink soda until a month ago.

So what made me quit soda altogether? Deep down, I've always sort of expected some doctor or someone to tell me I had to, but I didn't really plan on it anytime soon. But the other morning, I got a Coke on the way to work when I stopped for gas, and when I took a mouthful, it tasted bad to me, all artificial and chemical-y. Then after I arrived at work that morning, I read this article about how much excessive refined sugar messes with various body systems and disorders, including cancer.

So I just said, "I'm stopping." However, I didn't necessarily think it was permanent. Despite my longtime habit, it was easy to stop. I've never been one to feel the effects of caffeine much, and I didn't feel any trace of withdrawal. Sure, there are times when a Coke sounds good, but it's been surprisingly easy just to get water at restaurants, and then fruit wipes out any lingering sweet craving I may be feeling. I also drink more fruit juice now, which has a lot of sugar but not as much or as refined as the corn syrup in soda.

I've toyed with the idea of allowing myself some soda, such as on odd days of the month or something. But why restart when I don't really need it anymore? The time when I crave it most is on the way to a restaurant where the Coke goes well with the food, but once I start eating I find that water is just fine with it too. I think trying to have soda in my life would be like having Angry Birds on my phone, which I had to totally stop playing because I just wanted to play it all the time. If I started up on soda again, it would probably gradually creep back into an unhealthy habit. I hope soda is just something that I've finally grown out of.

I wonder if I will notice any long-term benefits of stopping soda. With the combination of reducing soda and eating daily fruit, I'm pretty sure I'm feeling healthier overall now than I did five years ago. I'm still 20-30 pounds overweight and have a swollen-looking belly, but I consistently do the treadmill 90 minutes a week and I've been trying to take a brisk outside walk for an hour or two every weekend, and I also do fifteen minutes of crunches and light weights three mornings a week, which helps too.

I'm quite certain I couldn't have stopped soda if I didn't develop a daily fruit habit first, so if you're thinking about doing the same, maybe try that. Typing about soda right now makes me kind of want a Coke, so I'm going to go get an O'Doul's now instead, or maybe a little glass of grape juice...


Three Score and Ten or more said...

Congratulations. Several years ago, I gave up sugared soda for TAB. Drinking it in quantities with which you are familiar, I decided to forgo the stuff. I actually had classic withdrawal syptoms, headaches, shaky hands, all that stuff. Unvortunately I have retaken up a diet soda connection, but, though I often drink it from a 52 oz travel mug, I vary. Sometimes diet Dr Pepper, sometimes Coke Zero, and sometimes the bottled "flavored water" (carbonated of course) from Wally World. I really like the blueberry, Pomegranite Akai (all artificial flavors I am sure) drink. Giving up soda completely is a sign that you are a better (and probably healthier)man than I am.

Anonymous said...

Read "Sugar Blues" (Amazon for 1 cent) to get the history behind sugar. Woke me the hell up.

Good luck!

Kevin Peel said...

Cherry Coke is the love of my life and the bane of my existence right now. Have you lost weight because of your decision? I went from two cans to one can and lost over 20 pounds over the course of a few months.I started drinking Cherry Coke as a kid at the bowling alley because it went so well with the bowling alley fries. It was like a nine-year-old picking up cigarettes. :)

Christopher Bigelow said...

No, I didn't notice any weight loss per se. I would like to reintroduce some Coke into my life but am not sure how to do so in a way that doesn't get out of control again...