My Soda Addiction

by Claudius J West

my soda addictionMy soda addiction took a turn for the worse while standing in front of a serve-yourself soda machine inside a Taco Bell. My sons wanted to know: “What’s Mountain Dew Code Red?”

“Let’s find out,” I said.

Mountain Dew Code Red is Mountain Dew with cherry-flavoring added. Something about that combination was irresistible to me. From my first sip, I was hooked, big time.

Later, my at-home Code Red drinking routine developed into something ritualistic. It started with a tray’s worth of mini ice-cubes stacked into the biggest glass in the house. Sometimes it would be a tray’s worth plus some extra, with the bullet-shaped cubes mounded up over the rim of the glass. Maximum cubage was necessary to assure getting the frostiest drink possible. God forbid that the bottle started out at room temperature; that meant a sub-standard drink because the soda would never be as cold as I preferred.

mini_ice_cube_trayI used a bendy straw to sip the soda through the matrix of closely packed cubes. The red stuff hit my mouth explosively ice-cold. I could go through a 2-liter bottle in a day, easy.

I’ve since discovered that one of the reasons it is so easy to drink a lot of soda is because soda lacks a signal for satiety. The only way your stomach and brain know it’s time to turn off your “hunger” is from the pressure inside your stomach filling up with liquid. The high fructose calories in the soda itself won’t do it. As soon as the liquid clears your stomach and the pressure goes down, which doesn’t take long because, hey, it’s liquid and not solid food, you feel hungry again.

While doing research for my previous post about sugar-sweetened beverages, I came across a study that suggested that we may not be evolved to handle liquid calories, sort of along the lines that we aren’t evolved to handled a Big Mac run through a blender then poured into our veins through a tube.

For me, Mountain Dew Code Red was more than a sugary liquid dessert: it replaced entire meals. Because I was drinking so much, I figured I ought to cut out calories in other areas, such as solid food with actual nutrients in it. I would rather have drunk Mountain Dew Code Red than chew any alternative.

My safety net against weight gain was that I was spending every day at the gym, lifting weights, doing one or more spin classes a day, kickboxing twice a week, hitting the sauna after every workout. Surely, I thought, that would be enough to keep me slim and trim.

I was wrong.

The other crucial mistake I made was judging the state of my health by the circumference of my waist or the size of my biceps.

At that time, I was thinking of the calories from soda (high fructose corn syrup) as just another calorie. I didn’t know what fructose, especially in those amounts, was doing to my insulin levels. But I felt it.

One of the big reasons for my going to the gym was to ensure I had energy to spend quality time interacting with my sons. Instead, too often visiting days found me near-comatose on the couch or zonked out on the bed because my glucose levels were in the dumper.

You might think that all of that soda-caffeine would have kept me perky, but no; in the face of crashing blood-sugar levels, caffeine was MIA. Although it upsets me to admit it, very likely I was pre-diabetic.

To add insult to injury, I couldn’t manage to lose weight. It’s no surprise to me, now, why that should be, but back then it was frustrating. No matter how much I exercised, and I exercised a whole lot, the fat stayed where it was.

Let me share with you an contemporaneous account written not long after kicking my soda addiction:

Now’s the time to get mad at your fat, whether it’s a little fat or a lot. Understand an important distinction I’m making here: I want you to be angry with your fat and the people who helped put it there.

Ultimately it was you who put the fat there with your own decisions about what to put in your mouth and when not to exercise. But, believe me, you had help making those bad decisions.

Don’t get angry with yourself; that won’t do any good. After all, you have the right intentions. You want to do the right things. You want to be leaner, stronger, better looking. You want the body you deserve.

What you’ve got now, most likely, is NOT the body you deserve. Where did it come from? Where did all that disgusting fat come from?

For me, the biggest contributor to my fat was soda pop. Back in Wisconsin, we call soda: pop. Pop, pop, pop. It sounds so childish.

skeletal hand holding soda bottlePop isn’t something adults, or anyone, should be putting in their bodies. I didn’t start drinking pop until I was seventeen and working in a restaurant, where I could drink all the pop I wanted. Working over hot grills at breakneck speeds in un-air conditioned kitchens, I wanted a lot of it.

Luckily, all this pop wasn’t an obvious problem for me until a few years ago, when I stepped onto my sons’ Wii Fit machine and it told me I was obese. The Wii machine changed my screen figure—poof—from normal into a butter-ball.

The Wii machine got me looking in a new way at the excess bulges of fat that showed up where the elastic band of my underwear cut into my waist.

And I looked at the droop of my stomach. I realized that many of my clothes weren’t fitting comfortably, weren’t fitting at all.

This was not the hot body I was supposed to have. My chest was starting to transform into man-boobs. This was disgusting; this was unacceptable. This had to change.

So I loaded up my ipod with fitness podcasts of every kind. I rededicated myself to the gym.

I knew I had to cut back on the soda, so I weened myself down to a bottle a day.

But it never stayed at just one bottle a day. Usually it was two bottles a day, sometimes three. Worse, sometimes it was the 20 ounce bottles I was drinking—those are the ones the grocery stores kept in the coolers near the checkout counter, refrigerated and close at hand.

I realized two things: first, I didn’t have the willpower to control my soda habit. I loved soda. I’d put a bottle in the freezer for just the right amount of time so when I opened it there would be slush at the top, as cold as it could possibly be. Oh, yeah.

I loved the effervescent burst it made in my mouth and on my tongue, the way the bubbles sparkled down the back of my throat. I loved every delicious, refreshing sip of it the way a connoisseur savors a vintage wine.

help speech bubbleAnd I was too weak to say no.

The second thing I realized is that the people whom I admired, not just the hardbodies  but every other class of highly successful person whom I sought to emulate, they didn’t get the way they were by being soda-whores. That wasn’t a struggle they had to go through because they had kicked that pop-pop-pop thing a long time ago. (Or so I believed.)

Here’s where anger is a useful thing. I couldn’t be angry with myself for liking what I liked. Pop tasted good—it’s not wrong to like the taste of good tasting stuff.  A million years of evolution have programmed our brains to want to maximize calories in order to survive famine.

But look what it was doing to me. Look at the layer of fat on me, distorting me, mutilating me, hiding my real physique underneath all that fat, fat, fat.

Where did most of it come from? From soda. Pop.

And it occurred to me that if the soda manufacturers knew exactly what was going to happen to me every time they sold me a bottle of soda, if they knew that their product was going to make me fatter and less healthy, well, they would have sold it to me anyway.

In fact, if it wasn’t against the law, and if they could sell me bottles of diluted diarrhea, they would sell me that, too, just to get my money.

And if it wasn’t for the law, I’d probably be drinking it, if it tasted good, if it had enough corn syrup in it.

Clearly, it was a bad assumption on my part to think that the food industry had my best interests at heart. If I left the decisions up to them, I’d end up like most Americans: even more obese and with broken health, diseased and dying a premature death.

All of this really ticked me off. As long as the soda makers had my money in their pockets, those a-holes didn’t care what they were doing to me. They’d no doubt say they wouldn’t be doing it to me if I wasn’t doing it to myself, and paying for the privilege.

diarrhea soda bottleWas I going to let people like that continue to rip me off, add fat to my body, and eat away at my health? No. There’s something in me that hates being ripped off.

It turns out that my anger was stronger than my willpower. I gave up soda, spent a few days having headaches while I went through caffeine withdrawal, and got over it.

When I put it like that, it sounds easy. It wasn’t.

For all you out there who drink diet soda: I assume you’re aware of the studies done on rats that were given just enough calories to maintain their weight, and given diet soda at the same time? You know that the rats gained weight, even though gaining weight should have been impossible?

Does it make you wonder if there might be something about diet soda you don’t know? Does it make you wonder just how much you actually do know? And can you doubt that if it was proven diet soda makes you fatter and sicker that the soda manufacturers would still sell it to you?

Maybe soda isn’t your big bugaboo the way it was for me. That’s okay. Soda’s just an example.

There’s no point blaming yourself for liking what you like. It’s part of your biology, wanting the foods you enjoy, and there’s nothing you can do about that.

Look, instead, at the people who are exploiting that fact to make foods as sweet and as fatty and as irresistible as they can.

They do it because they want your money. They don’t give a feck about you, your health, or your happiness. They want to be in control of your food choices. How does that make you feel?

black can

Look in the mirror. See anything to be angry about?

So, what’re you gonna do about it?


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