Diet coke is like cigarrettes for me … and how I quit

I heard a stop smoking ad yesterday and I thought they were talking about diet coke:

"I have one at 6:30 in the morning, after every meal and right before I go to bed."

I also think my diet coke addiction is somewhat like an alcohol-addiction because even though I've quit drinking diet coke, I think I'll always have a problem with it. At any moment, I could drink a diet coke (it sounds good!) and I'd be drinking 5-6 or more a day again.

While a diet coke habit is easier on those around you (no second hand smoke, no embarrassing behavior, no dangerous driving), it's still an annoying habit. You can't carry a six pack in your pocket and even if you could, it wouldn't be cold. I was always preparing. Did the hotel I was staying at have diet coke? Would I be able to get one before my afternoon meeting? Maybe I could take a smaller cooler and stock up … (Don't laugh, I know a guy that carried a 12 pack of diet coke with him on every trip to Asia because he didn't like Coca-cola Light. Another, rather high level, manager had every meeting room stocked with diet coke before he got there!)

I haven't had a diet coke since September 8, 2008. While I think I don't have any physical dependencies on diet coke (no head-aches, no mood swings, no shakes, etc when I give it up) the psychological dependency is huge. (And by the way, I read a *lot* about dependencies and addictions and I'm convinced we don't really know much about them.) I found no good advice for how to quit drinking diet coke. Or for that matter how to stop any addiction. The best advice seems to be to attend AA meetings which hardly seems like a practical suggestion for most of us.

So how'd I do it? Three key things:

  1. I made giving up diet coke my number one priority. I didn't care what I ate, how much I exercised, what else I drank, …. as long as I didn't drink diet coke. It was my number one goal. This is important because when I tried to combine it with eating healthy, I failed miserably.
  2. I substituted with carbonated water. I drank a lot of sparkling waters for a while. This made business trips to Europe and Asia pretty easy. Not so much in the US. But you can get soda water in any restaurant and 7-11s sell Perrier. I don't drink carbonated water as much now but there for a while I was drinking a lot of carbonated water. (By the way, business trips were the hardest times not to drink diet coke.)
  3. I told everyone. Especially when I was feeling particularly tempted, I'd tell everyone around me. I told complete strangers. They'd all smile and nod. Some would ask why. I'm sure they thought I was a bit strange. But I have to tell you, I never broke down and bought a diet coke after I'd just told everyone around me that I'd given them up!

Lots of people also advise keeping in mind why you want to quit. I wanted to quit because I hated feeling dependent on anything – it's really annoying to always be trying to figure out where you're going to find a diet coke – to feel like you have to have one. There were a lot of other good reasons to quit, but that was my main one. That said, knowing why didn't help me as much as the three points above: making it my #1 goal, having a substitute, and telling everyone!

Good luck with all your new year's resolutions!

Photo by cackhanded.

65 Replies to “Diet coke is like cigarrettes for me … and how I quit”

  1. Hello

    I am just like you and yes it is just like a smoking/alcohol addiction.

    Your story has convinced me that I will give up diet coke as I have tried many times before and failed.

    Just wondering how long did it take to stop the headaches and withdrawal symtoms?

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Happy New Year! For me, it was two days that seemed much much longer. Obviously, it varies. Find La Croix flavored sparkling water, like Stormy suggested. It makes a good substitute…

  2. Hello

    I am just like you and yes it is just like a smoking/alcohol addiction.

    Your story has convinced me that I will give up diet coke as I have tried many times before and failed.

    Just wondering how long did it take to stop the headaches and withdrawal symtoms?


  3. I could so relate to your post! I gave up Diet Coke on the 2nd of January 2012. I have had intense headaches and withdrawl symptons but I can honestly say I feel so much better! i don’t ache anymore like I did. I am determined to give it up and reading this helped me! Thanks, Sandi Mauk

  4. I have such horrible acid reflux and have a feeling my Diet Coke addiction is partially to blame. I drink a couple 2 liters a day and like you, plan my day around it. Simply horrible.
    I’ve been able to quit when pregnant, so why is it so hard when I’m not?
    Congratulations on your success! Greatly inspiring for this 40 year old mom who uses it as a crutch to get me through the day. Appreciate the advice on how to quit!

    People laugh when I complain about my addiction, as though it’s not real… or as though it’s harmless, but quite the contrary. I don’t drink anything else… not water, not milk, nothing but Diet Coke. How healthy do you suppose I am? I’ve been doing this for years now.

    So… I’ve made myself a promise to quit. I’m sitting here typing with a flame in my chest. Took 6 Tums and found no relief whatsoever… going to call my doctor Monday morning and have him check me out, just to be sure I don’t have any serious damage from the acid in my esophagus. Fun times!

    Wish me luck!

  5. If you were to ask 1,000 people why they drink diet soda and other drinks with artificial sweeteners, I expect the vast majority (if not all) would tell you it is because they are “watching their weight” and these products have no calories.While it is true that diet sodas have no calories, it has never been proven that they help with weight loss. In fact, as I have reported in this space before, many studies have clearly shown that diet soda may do the exact opposite: make people gain weight. Read the article about Excitotoxins and avoid consuming all diet products containig aspartame. Natural Stevia is a better alternative.:

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  6. Thank you sooo much for this artikel. i’m a diet coca cola light junk for more than 10 years now. I have to quit and i will!!! Thanks you for your tips, specially the first one because there i go wrong all the time, i want to do it all at the same time. But my first priority will be getting off the diet coca. 🙂

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