Of all the liquids marketed to be consumed by the people of the world, soda is perhaps the most damaging to your health. I know with all the new “energy” drinks being sold, especially to kids, an argument can be made that soda could be in danger of being knocked from its throne at the top of the list. I also realize that alcohol is a beverage that certainly can be and is abused by many. Alcohol for most people, however, is not a problem at the one or two glasses of wine or beer per day level. In fact, it has been shown to possibly have health benefits at those amounts. I plan to discuss both of alcohol and energy drinks in future “small step” articles, but for today soda is in the hot seat!
First, I admit that I have consumed my share of soda in my life. At times, I even drank a lot. It was not easy to stop, but it has been many years, now since I pretty much eliminated soda from my diet. As with so many things, me being nobody special or gifted, if I can do, so can you. What? You say you caught the “pretty much” a sentence or two ago? Guilty as charged! Yes, two or three non-caffeinated root beers a year go down my throat. That is the key to making lifestyle changes. Be reasonable. If you now drink 4 or 5 sodas per week (or day!), and are able to reduce that to 4 or 5 per year, you have indeed succeeded.
What is there to say about soda that is positive? ……………………… Yes, the silence is deafening. Like cigarettes, most everyone knows it is bad for you. Please add something in the comments if you have any good things to attribute to soda. The immense revenues and profits generated by companies that market and sell soda do not count as a positive factor, even if you do happen to own stock in Pepsi or Coca Cola!
What is there to say about soda that is negative? Lots, but I will try to keep this as short as possible. First and foremost, it is an “empty” beverage nutritionally. It is nothing but water with chemicals and sugar or artificial sweetener added. The rap on soda even 30 or 40 years ago was that it was nothing but useless calories. Now there are many soda choices with artificial sweeteners added to circumvent the calorie issue. But, many studies link diet soda to weight gain! I will discuss artificial sweeteners another time, for now I’ll just say, do not consume them in anything.
When a person drinks soda, they are unfortunately substituting it for other liquids that a healthy body needs. As an elderly lady I knew years ago was fond of saying, “it rots your gut”. Maybe she was referring to Coke’s notorious ability to dissolve rusty nuts and bolts, but I like her short and sweet claim anyway. It can also be bad for your teeth.
What is it about soda that is so addicting for so many people? In can be the caffeine. In regular soda it can be the sugar. In diet soda, the artificial sweeteners are chemically addicting. In many people soda is just an acquired habit or taste. Many people drink lots of soda because they are thirsty, and soda gives the impression of quenching that thirst. In fact, its effect on the body is the opposite. You drink a soda, feel that your thirst is quenched, so think “mission accomplished”. Your body, however, knows different and a short while later you feel the thirst switch come on again and reach for another soda. People who drink water or other healthier beverages instead of soda are thirsty less often. In my case, because the water content of my food is quite high, I sometimes have to remind myself to drink a glass of water. Water from fruits and vegetables is as good, or better a source of hydration as plain water, but I do try to drink a few glasses of water each day anyway.
So how can you decrease or eliminate soda from your diet? As with many things, it all starts in the mind. Make a plan. Write it down. Tell others close to you about your goal. Decide for yourself that you want to do it and the rest will be easier. For example, you could tell yourself that every time you feel thirst, you will drink a large glass of water and then wait at least 15 minutes before drinking anything else. After the 15 minutes, when the water has had time to hydrate you, it will probably be easier to resist the soda urge. You could also think about the times you most often drink soda and change the routine of those times. Maybe you eat a fast food lunch and get the soda because it is “included” and there seems to be no other choices. Think this through and you might find that even if you are not ready to give up the Big Mac lunch, drinking water instead of the soda is a choice. Yes the soda is included, but so what? If it is less expensive to get the “super value meal” than the burger and fries separately, pay for the meal and leave the soda behind.
As with all other lifestyle and diet changes, decide ahead of time if you want to reduce your soda consumption. If you truly believe that drinking soda has no bad effect on your health, but still want to otherwise improve your lifestyle, diet, or your weight, then look for other places in your life to make changes. Additionally if you make choices for yourself and not only because others want you to do it, you are more likely to be successful.
If you find you have symptoms of withdrawal like headaches, nervousness, or shakes when lowering your soda drinking, then you may have to systematically reduce what you drink in small steps. A cold turkey approach works for some, but definitely not for others. Like reducing salt, small, systematic, steps will probably making reducing your soda intake easier and the end result more likely to be a life-long change.