I have a confession: I used to drink soda a lot. I come by it naturally; my dad drank Coca-Cola for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all I wanted was to be allowed to do the same. As it was, I drank at least one tall glass nearly every day. I never really decided to “quit” soda; it happened much more organically (and much less dramatically!) than that. Before I knew it, it had been months since my last glass and I hadn’t even missed it. I simply no longer enjoy it, a concept that, as a kid, I would have found foreign. (And if you’re wondering, my thrice-a-day soda loving dad has also cut back, savoring a bottle of his new, favorite craft root beer on special occasions.) If we can do it, I promise, so can you.
We all know soda is “bad;” that is, we “shouldn’t” drink it. I liken this to how everyone knows smoking is harmful, but that no longer works as a motivator to quit. We get it, right? Still, dig deeper than “soda is bad.” Do you know what, exactly, soda does to your body? Type “soft drink soda infographic” into Pinterest and you can find a laundry list of worrisome effects. If that feels like too much work, here are my top concerns about too much soda:
- Empty liquid calories: they won’t fill you up or nourish you but will eat up your energy allowance for the day. I know people who lose weight without changing anything except their soda habit. Seriously.
- Over 100 percent of the recommended maximum daily intake of sugar in found in one 12 oz. can. High sugar diets are being linked to everything from increased risk of diabetes to fatal heart disease.
- High fructose corn syrup is found in most sodas, and due to its fructose content it is metabolized differently in the body (not in a good way).
- Too much phosphoric acid and caffeine, two components of colas, may damage bones.
- Diet soda does not seem to fare much better, confusing our body and potentially altering healthy gut function.
Cut it back, not out.
This process should be a slow one, and everyone starts at a different place. If you normally drink soda three times every single day, your first goal might be to limit it to two times a day, two days a week; the remaining five days, you would still drink soda three times. If you tend to nurse bottles of soda throughout the day, you could try first confining them to mealtimes only. Every week or two, as you get more comfortable with a goal, progress it.
Add in other carbonation.
Sometimes what we really crave is the sensation or memory of a food. A similar beverage that reminds you of soda can help you transition. Start with flavored (preferably not sweetened) sparkling water; you can even add a splash of 100 percent fruit juice if you need a little extra sweetness. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it can help fill the soda void while you adjust to a life without fizz.
Pour it out.
This is where things get serious. When you have decreased your intake to less than once a day, gather up all of the soda in your house and get rid of it. If you have trouble wasting, simply donate it or give it to a friend (with explicit instructions to not give it back). I’d encourage you to keep one bottle to symbolically pour down the drain. Though wasteful, this is an important and empowering step to mark your commitment to change. Now that soda is out of your home, it becomes something only available when out at restaurants and celebrations. (If you eat out frequently, you may want to consider also avoiding soda at restaurants and reserve it for truly special occasions that occur less often.) Of course, if other people in your house drink soda and are not interested in stopping, this step may be more difficult. In this situation, you could consider labeling the sodas with other family members’ names or placing a note near them reminding you of what you aim to achieve by not drinking them.
Cut the cord, if you like.
The truly occasional glass of soda, when part of an overall nutrient-dense diet, is not likely to be particularly harmful. If possible, opt for one of the varieties made from real sugar as opposed to artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup, and consider splitting a can or bottle with a friend for a smaller serving. Pretty soon, I’ll bet you’ll have gone months without soda and you won’t even miss it.