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.