I'm a Diet Coke fiend who gave it up for a month, and I was surprised by how quickly I stopped craving it

  • I'm a Diet Coke fiend, and at the end of 2019 I was drinking a can most days.
  • Both studies and experts say conflicting things about the health and weight implications of consuming artificially sweetened soft drinks, but I suspected it wasn't good for me.
  • I stopped drinking Diet Coke for a month to see how it affected me, and I realized I wasn't as reliant on it as I thought.
  • However, while I'd been hoping my afternoon snack cravings might disappear, they didn't, and my body, focus, and energy levels didn't change either.
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I really love Diet Coke.

Or Coke Zero, depending on my mood. Actually sometimes I even go wild and opt for a Pepsi Max. 

No calories! No sugar! But all the deliciousness, refreshment, and caffeine!

I have consumed sugar-free soft drinks for as long as I can remember, despite the fact that I know they're full of artificial ingredients and sweeteners. As someone who prioritizes eating a balanced diet and following a healthy lifestyle, my friends and family are always surprised that I am such a Diet Coke fiend.

I know, it doesn't make sense. But I just love Diet Coke — or DC, if you will (you won't?).

Towards the end of 2019, I realized my consumption was getting particularly high, and I was drinking a Diet Coke (or another sugar-free soft drink) most days. 

Scientific opinion on diet sodas is mixed

It seems like every health, fitness, or nutrition expert you speak to says something different about diet sodas, and the studies into the area reach equally confusing conclusions.

The overall health implications of consuming artificial sweeteners are widely contested, and the same goes for their impact on weight management.

There has been some research which suggests drinking diet sodas is linked to increased risk of stroke and Alzheimer's, as well as diabetes.

However, researchers note that in most of these cases it's hard to draw solid conclusions as you can never fully account for other lifestyle factors which may contribute to these diseases — it could be that people who drink more diet soda are doing so because they're already overweight, for example, and it's that which actually results in the health problems. 

When it comes to weight management, while some studies claim consumption of diet sodas is bad — for example, it's been linked to weight gain by making people crave more sugar — others say it can be beneficial for weight loss by curbing cravings without adding any calories.

Sports nutritionist Scott Baptie, for example, previously told Insider he encourages his clients to drink diet soft drinks to help them slim down — however, the ultimate goal is to transition to water.

I wondered whether the drinks affect each of us differently, and there was only one way to find out how diet drinks were affecting me: cut them out completely.

Ultimately, I knew it wasn't good for me, so decided to set myself a challenge to go cold turkey for a month to see if I actually noticed any difference.

The rules of the challenge had to be clear

When setting out my challenge, it was hard to know where to draw the line. Obviously no diet cola of any kind, but I knew that if I only cut out those drinks I would simply transfer to other sugar-free sodas like Diet 7Up or Diet Dr Pepper, which rather defeats the point.

I decided sodas of all kinds would be out, but other flavored soft drinks were allowed.

Opting to take on my challenge in January also made it extra difficult because I was doing Dry January — when I've given up booze before, Diet Coke has been my go-to drink when out for dinner or having drinks with friends (unless a non-alcoholic spirit like Seedlip or Ceder's is available) because even though it's not a G&T, it's more interesting than water. 

Week One: The cravings are real

Is there anything better than a crisp, sweet can of Coke Zero when you're feeling, well, somewhat delicate after a night of celebrations? There would be no comforting my sore head on New Years' Day with a fizzy drink this year. Surprisingly, I survived.

It wasn't until January 2 that my first real craving hit, and it was only when I saw a colleague drinking Diet Coke. I suddenly had an overwhelming desire for that sweet, fizzy nectar.

I considered buying some sparkling flavored water on my lunch break to fill the void inside me, but I figured I was trying to save money as much as anything else, so resisted.

And that attitude lasted all of one day.

Fanta Grape Zero was calling to me.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

Exhausted from a bad's night sleep, on January 3 I was craving, well, everything, so naturally I went to buy sustenance. When perusing soft drink options in Boots, I happened upon Fanta Grape Zero. Fanta Grape Zero! How had I never tried such a delectable-sounding libation? I wanted it so badly, but it would have been breaking the rules.

Instead, I bought a Vit Hit, which are low-calorie drinks made from vitamins, juice, water, and tea. They are, by all accounts, delicious, and no doubt healthier than a diet soda. However, they do still contain artificial sweeteners, and at £1.90 ($2.50) for a 500ml bottle, they're more expensive than your average soda, too.

Vit Hit: delicious, but more expensive than a Coke.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

So much for saving money.

Week Two: Trying to be healthier is more expensive

As the month went on, I found myself spending more by trying to choose healthier options — kombucha, for example, costs a lot more than Coke.

I do of course realize that the healthiest option of all, water, is free, but I already drink vast quantities of straight-up H2O, so I really enjoy mixing it up with something flavorful.

Over the course of the month I tried a lot of different soft drinks, from peach and pear flavored sugar-free iced green tea (almost definitely not very nutritious) to black raspberry flavored sparkling water.

I wasn't convinced this was actually any healthier than a Diet Coke.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

My costs were rising, so I decided to try a new strategy and buy a bottle of every Brit's favourite childhood drink, squash (a fruit concentrate which you dilute with water).

A lot cheaper than buying an individual bottle or can of something most days (and better for the environment), squash still contains artificial sweeteners and preservatives, so I wasn't sure if I was doing my health much good or not.

It did fill the Diet Coke gap somewhat, though.

Week Three: Traveling poses an extra challenge

In the middle of January, I went to Finland for a week, and I realized I usually drink a lot of Diet Coke both on travel days and when abroad. Honestly, I missed it.

For starters, European Diet Coke is actually my favourite of all diet cola variants (yes, it tastes different to UK Diet Coke — like a cross between our Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, if you're interested). I was sad not to be able to enjoy it.

On the flip-side, I had fun Finnish drinks to try, like flavored vitamin waters and something called a Kane's Ruby Hill Thrill which was a delicious fizzy strawberry drink.

The color of this alone suggests it not exactly natural.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely sure if it should be classed as a diet soda, but I figured if I didn't really know what it was, it was allowed. (Debatable, I know.)

Week Four: The cravings were definitely lessening

As I neared the end of my month sans DC, I realized my cravings for it had definitely decreased.

They hadn't completely disappeared, though — it was often when I saw someone else drinking some, or heard that gloriously satisfying sound of a can being opened, that I found I suddenly wanted one.

I didn't cave, but I was drinking squash at an alarming rate.

Squash for the win.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I considered buying bottled sparkling water thinking that it would be better health-wise than an artificially sweetened beverage, but I felt too bad about the plastic, so I resisted. I concluded that for the health of both the planet and myself I should really just drink water from the tap.

I'm not going to cut Diet Coke out completely, but I will cut down

On February 1, I had my first Diet Coke in a month and it was, well, underwhelming. Yes, I enjoyed it, but it didn't feel like coming home or anything.

Honestly, I didn't notice any drastic enough benefits to make me want to cut Diet Coke out of my life completely (that might be a different story had I not drunk any soft drinks).

I was hoping my afternoon snack cravings might magically disappear when I stopped drinking diet soda, but I'm not convinced they did. My cravings changed day to day, but that happens normally.

My energy levels didn't change, nor did my focus or body. It was all rather anti-climactic.

I may never give up Diet Coke all together.
Rachel Hosie/Insider

I don't need Diet Coke to get me through an afternoon. I just quite enjoy it.

That said, I am going to try and limit my diet soda consumption to one or two a week. I know they're not good for me, so I hope I can gradually wean myself off all soft drinks and be one of those beacons of health who only drink water. Maybe.

At the end of the day (well, month), I believe in moderation and having a little bit of everything you fancy as part of a balanced diet. That's the key though: a little bit. Not seven cans a week.

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