Hello, my name is Mary Anne, and I’m a soda addict.
It might sound odd, using that phrase in regards to soda. But I remember the day that Diet Coke was introduced. As a freshman at Western Kentucky University, I had already experienced the Freshman 15. Diet Coke seemed to be a great solution to replace my favorite drink of choice, Coke. In my 18-year-old mind, it seemed simple: switch to Diet Coke, jog around campus a few times, add a salad here or there, and then head off to the mall to find the perfect swimsuit.
During the spring semester, when they finally added Diet Coke to our vending machine, excited voices filled Poland Hall. In 1983, there were few soda choices. There were the browns: Coke or Pepsi. The clears: 7-Up or Sprite. The yellows: Mello Yellow or Mt. Dew. The fruities: Nehi or Crush. The diets: Tab or Fresca. If you wanted an energy drink, Gatorade Original was the only choice. I remember riding the elevator with my roommate, going to the vending machine, then going back upstairs and tasting Diet Coke for the first time. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t awful. Thankfully, it was heaps better than Tab or Fresca and I had weight to lose. And so it began…
Growing up, I didn’t drink water. Our farm didn’t get “city water” until 1988. Until then, we got our water from a spring-fed well that went often went dry in the fall. Each July, our father started reminding us not to be wasteful. Five minute showers were considered good enough. We didn’t leave the water running while we brushed our teeth, nor did we wait for water to warm up just to wash our hands. We had bricks in our toilet tanks to conserve flushes. We didn’t wash cars, pets, or water the lawn.
By August, things became extreme if it didn’t rain. Laundry was done in town, and toilet flushing received a whole new set of rules. If the well went dry, my father became tense. It meant a lot of extra work for him, which was already jammed packed with his day job at Peabody Coal and his other job – tending livestock and farming. There just wasn’t time or extra hands to haul water. It also meant extra work on my mom. Money was tight back, and hauling 500 gallons of water wasn’t cheap when you were trying to get three kids ready for school to start.
In my child’s mind, I somehow concluded that drinking water was wasteful. So I never drank it. My mother bought a carton of Pepsi’s each week. On Sunday nights, rather than cooking, she would make a big bag of popcorn, and we’d each have a cold Pepsi for supper. She knew we weren’t hungry because we would have gorged ourselves after church at our grandparents’ house. Sunday nights were special; it was a quiet pause before the Monday chaos. I think I started loving soda then — not so much for how it tasted but for what it represented: watching the fulfilled faces of my parents, spending time together as a family, and sensing all was well with the world as we watched the Disney movie of the week.
My paternal grandparents kept “little Cokes” in the fridge. Unrestricted access to these little treasures, paired with the fun-filled antics of my grandmother, meant good times. If you packed that little Coke with peanuts, you would experience a salty sweetness unlike anything else. “Have a Coke and a smile.” We lived that advertising campaign on her front porch. Even now, a little Coke and a packet of peanuts can instantly take me back to her swing, people-watching the fine folk of Hanson. When sitting on her front porch, it seemed like the entire world whizzed by on Highway 41. She’d make up ridiculous stories about where everybody was going in such a hurry, and I’d laugh myself silly.
I’m telling you all this because I think it’s important to understand how soda became part of me.
The Freshman 15? I never lost it. When my father was killed working 3rd shift at the mines, the stress and grief I experienced was crushing. I gained more weight, then more, and more. I couldn’t figure out why as I slurped my way through Diet Cokes through the 90’s.
My weight finally stabilized when my son was born. Since then, I’ve added a few extra pounds, but nothing like before. Soda addiction is a vicious cycle. The more you drink, the more you want. It never conquers thirst. It only leaves you wanting more. Whenever I became stressed, I would reach for a soda. It was as if I were reaching for those happy childhood moments to calm me down. And it delivered — every time. Whenever that cold and fizzy sweetness would touch my tongue, it was like an instant hit.
According to a recent 60 Minutes episode, your brain responds to soda just like it does to cocaine. It’s manufactured to feel that way. You’re not going to believe how clueless I truly was. After all we’ve been through eliminating processed food and chemicals from our home, I never once considered eliminating soda. Neither my husband or my son drank it. But I existed on it. A diet soda was never far away. I always had one with me. Photos always included at least one can within reach of me. Sometimes, there would be two or three. You could always find empty soda cans in my car, as I never got in a car with one a ‘fresh one for the road’. If I were on a business trip, I couldn’t relax until I knew there was at least one soda in my hotel room.
Addiction is addiction.
In the past few months, I have harped about the dangers of bottled water — while holding a can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Making bottled water the enemy was easy for me. After all, it echoed those childhood images of hauling water. Thankfully, a co-worker finally called me out on it. It was like she threw water in my face when she told me that the soda I was drinking at the time was just as bad her bottled water. Instantly, I knew she was absolutely right. As I read the ingredients on the side of the can, I realized that I was breaking my own rules about three ingredients or less. There were also many ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. I finally realized what I should have known all along: the soda had to go.
The thing is, it’s hard for me to comprehend that the FDA isn’t the watchdog I took them to be. The FDA is not on our side. Corporations only want to sell their products, then find a way to get me to buy more. If that means using chemical additives that make my brain respond, then so be it. And if those chemicals cause cancer in animals, then it’s my fault for buying it. After all, they only make it available. They don’t make me purchase it. They don’t make me use their coupons. Its not their fault that I didn’t know that propylene glycol is the scientific name for antifreeze. And they are right. I should have known these things. But I didn’t.
Many of you have followed my efforts of giving up soda on Facebook. To my amazement, many of you expressed a desire to know how I did it. Some said that they could never give up soda. You CAN do it, and most importantly, you SHOULD do it. There are 1000 reasons why, but you have to find the reason that best fits you. I’ve had friends tell me for years that I shouldn’t drink as much soda as I did. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I didn’t want to hear it.
What will make you listen?