I think I can put my gastrointestinal résumé up against most folks’. When I was 12, I ate 12 tacos out of a 20-shell family pack. I once ground through 76 ounces of steak in the name of journalism. My college nickname? Hoover, because of the speed at which I sucked up my food. And the only doggie bag I’ve ever needed is the one I use to clean up the backyard.
All of those facts (and many related ones) are the reasons why I — like many Americans these days — have struggled with weight. The choices we make with food (healthy or unhealthy, nibbles or gulps, green tea or Shamrock Shakes) dictate so much about how our bodies look, feel and work.
Like many, I have tried this or that method to find the sweet spot that balances eating well most of the time and straying off the path very little of the time. Sometimes it works well, sometimes I have trouble and sometimes #OneMustSimplyOrderTheLasagna.
In all of my attempts, failures and successes, I have one self-imposed dietary limitation that I don’t quite understand.
This summer marks the fifth anniversary of me giving up diet soda. For maybe two decades I drank it all the time — through the morning, at lunch, at my desk in the afternoon, at dinner and as a nightcap. When I drank, I reasoned that diet soda was the lesser of any other nutritional evil, so what was the harm in chugging like a hairy dog after a summer walk?
Then I read some studies and reports that said diet drinks can actually backfire — that they can cause weight gain, perhaps because the ingredients can trick your hormonal system and make you crave more sweets. And I thought, hmm, maybe now I should take a stand and give it up for good.
And I did. I subbed in lots of water and coffee (#AndWine), and besides an accidental sip here and there, I haven’t had diet soda since then.
I look back on it now and think my sacrifice sounds less like an accomplishment and more like a headline from The Onion:
Man Wants to Lose Weight, Gives Up Zero-Calorie Drink
Oh, how things may have been different had I employed the same discipline on whipped cream or cheese. Or potatoes. Or foot-high burgers.
When I reach the five-year mark, I won’t know whether to celebrate the accomplishment or rethink it. Sure, it showed some discipline to go cold turkey, and that’s something to celebrate. And there’s no question that water and coffee (#AndWine) are healthier choices in the long run. But maybe I have a decision to make: Do I keep my streak alive and continue on? Or do I say, “Hey, I don’t drink diet soda anymore, but having one every so often won’t hurt me?” Or maybe I’ll add another sinister food to my “Do Not Eat” list and swap it out with something else.
Let me stew on it, while I sip on my cream-and-sweetener-infused coffee.
Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.