The Diet Coke Diet



It happened by accident, which is less surprising than the fact that it happened at all. People have been urging me to quit Diet Coke forever.

“It’s horrible for you,” they tell me. “Try coffee!” they urge. “How do you drink that stuff in the morning?” they inquire with more judgment than curiosity. Granted, I haven’t had any Diet Coke in over a week and I’m still feeling the loss, so it’s possible I’m being overly sensitive.

I took my first step toward giving up that sweet nectar of the gods when I was running late for work and didn’t have time to make my morning bodega run. I work at a high school that has no vending machines and the teacher’s lounge serves only coffee. I didn’t even realize I had forgotten such an essential part of my morning routine until my head began to implode, which feels like there’s a tiny elf out for revenge inside your skull sucking your brains through a spiky straw. Still, I’d been trying to give this up for a while. I wondered how long I could keep going.

Days one and two started out okay, leading me to a false sense of security. “I don’t know why this was so hard for me in the past,” I texted everyone I know. Then the headache came on and I collapsed, where I remained prostrate until the sun set.

Day three passed with nothing but complaints and not-so-gentle moans. I needed Diet Coke to function. I decided I would allow myself one small can a day instead of this cold turkey crap.

On day four I woke up without a headache, feeling victorious and slightly (okay, very) superior. “The haters keep me motivated,” I texted, bragging again because I didn’t learn the first time. By the afternoon, I was so lightheaded and spacey that I kept thinking someone was calling my name. (Diet Coke withdrawal: shrooms for the neurotic, too-afraid-to-ever-do-drugs set.) I got through the day with my head down, barely saying a word. Less loquacious people could possibly pull this off, but because I am known for talking anyone who will listen’s ear off, this strategy did not go unnoticed. I feared if I did talk, I would get fired for appearing drunk on the job.

I passed out right after work and woke up, disoriented that the sun had set.

I planned to begin day 5 with my usual morning can, savoring every sip the way a just-released prisoner enjoys a beer, when my taste buds were assaulted by a startling chemical flavor, like burnt-tar mixed with metal. Apparently, this is what Diet Coke tastes like to the non-addict. I drank half the can just to delay the inevitable headache and went on with my day, dumbfounded.

“Why did you let me drink so much of this shit?” I texted, and was immediately reminded, via direct quotation, of all the proudly creative curses with which I employed to assail people who suggested I quit Diet Coke.

Day 6 and 7 passed without incident, just half a can, and now I am perfect and eat only whole foods whose natural color is green.

JK. Quitting Diet Coke hasn’t turned me health-obsessed. I do, however, pair my kid-whose-parents-left-her-with-the-lazy-babysitter diet (chicken fingers and fries most days) with a seltzer now. I still have a ways to go. But I feel a real sense of accomplishment for sticking with something so unpleasant for the sake of being ever so healthier. Baby steps. Goldfish resolutions. After all, the month’s theme is goals.

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