Having a soda habit or a soda addiction is one of the most common unhealthy habits and one of the most difficult to break because it often combines two drugs – sugar and caffeine. Even diet soda can be a problem, though. Either way, your soda habit can be fixed in five steps.
I remember drinking a ton of Coke as a kid.
Oh, and Mountain Dew (had a full blown Mountain Dew addiction).
Oh, and canned Lemonade.
Oh, and Dr. Pepper (but only if we were out of everything else, because bleh).
We’re talking 7 years old here. By 12 I was coming home from school to be comforted by two cans of Sprite delicately poured over crushed ice while I watched Saved by the Bell. In the Summer, I’d spend hours playing video games, powered solely by that Mountain Dew addiction (and pizza).
If you want to have a sugar consumption competition, let’s go. I’d wash down Jolly Ranchers with Coke and then snort a Pixie Stick. Wolf of Wall Street style. You think you can compete with that?
I’m not bragging because I’m proud of my history with sugar, soda, and processed food abuse. I just want you to know that when I write an article titled, “How to Break Your Soda Habit,” I’m not writing it as a person who grew up with two whole-food-pushin’ hippie parents who never touched a Twizzler and thinks Squirt is just a cute name for a kid.
Full blown addict? Pre-Diabetic by my mid twenties? That was me.
Now that I’ve beat my soda habit, my sugar addiction, and my processed food addiction, I’d like to help you.
Why is soda bad for you?
You obviously already know that soda isn’t a great thing. That’s why you’re here. But, it does help to know exactly *why* – knowing what soda actually does to you is a huge motivation for a lot of people.
I won’t bore you to death with this, I’ll make it super practical. And I’ll put it in a nice neat little list for you:
Soda gives you calories and sugar without any nutrition.
Of course, I’m not a huge supporter of the calories-in, calories-out explanation of why so many people are struggling, but calories do still matter.
And when you eat nutritionally poor calories, it exacerbates satiety and drives overeating on top of the calories you’re consuming from the product itself.
Soda puts you on the blood sugar roller coaster every time you drink it (if you’re not drinking diet soda).
One of the most important factors in being consistent with your healthy eating is stable blood sugar levels.
When you put yourself on the blood sugar roller coaster, energy levels tank and cravings go crazy. This, too, drives overeating.
[Diet] soda is full of a bunch of chemical nasties.
There’s mixed data on the healthfulness of sucralose, but I’m pretty firmly against aspartame. Those are the two most popular artificial sweeteners.
I don’t know about you, but ingesting chemical additives every single day, week after week, year after year doesn’t bode well for long-term health.
[Diet] soda might screw with your gut health.
The gut is one of the most important parts of your body (and one of our six pillars of authentic human health). If your gut isn’t healthy, you’re not going to be healthy.
Diet sodas also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which causes belly fat, high blood sugar and raised cholesterol. This may be due in part to the changes in gut flora as gut flora changes have been linked with obesity.
Why is a soda habit so damn hard to break?
And soda is a special brand of difficult because there’s often two separate drugs impacting you at the same time: sugar and caffeine.
So, what you’re really asking is, “how do I beat my sugar addiction?” and “how do I break my caffeine addiction?”
If you’re drinking diet soda, then it’s typically just the caffeine addiction, plus a third/fourth factor we haven’t talked about yet: the ritual.
The Power Of Rituals
It’s no secret that humans love rituals and traditions. You can look at cultures all over the world and find them engaging in these macro-rituals of holidays and celebrations.
People even engage in micro-rituals, like a baseball athlete adjusting his pants, glove, helmet, stance, etc. in the same exact order every single time he gets up to bat.
Why do we do this?
For the most part, it’s because humans love predictability. Because predictability is usually interpreted as stability (even if the environment is unstable, oddly enough). Stability is interpreted as safety. And humans have a biological core need for safety.
We love rituals so much that science suggests human behavior can be predicted 93% of the time.
Rituals are also helpful for energy conservation in the brain. Patterned behavior is programmed to increase efficiency. When you’re operating within the guardrails of a pattern, your brain doesn’t have to do as much work. In this regard, patterning is often a form of unconsciousness—of not being present.
Rituals, Emotional Eating, And Cravings
Cravings are complex because human beings are complex. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, that craving is a pattern. Let’s break it.” Why is it a pattern? What’s that specific pattern for?
If the pattern and the cravings that go along with them are deeply linked to core human needs, it won’t be possible to just decide to break it. Your brain is way more powerful than that. To think it won’t resist, and resist strongly, is an oversight.
Soda is part of your craving pattern. That means you use it for one or all of the three Cs: comfort, control, or coping.
If you’re trying to eat more healthily and reach some specific health and fitness goals, this pattern isn’t serving you well. It’s a destructive ritual.
To your brain though, and maybe to a few parts of your personality, this is a great ritual. If you investigated it further, you might find a few reasons why your brain loves it:
- It’s decompressing. The chaos of the world seems to come to a halt for this ritual period and everything seems to be in such control.
- It’s medicating. The entertainment you’re watching is medication and so is the snack you’re eating. It’s psychological medication. It’s physiological medication. It solves problems and suppresses pain, albeit temporarily.
- It’s symbolically meeting other core needs. For many, this ritual could be an antidote of sorts to loneliness or lack of connection. Its stability is surely meeting a need for safety (again, symbolically, because it also might be damaging your long-term prospects for survival).
- It’s nostalgic. Maybe this pattern was created in childhood where your family gathered around the TV every night and snacked together. It was very tribal. Engaging in this ritual subconsciously puts you back in those comfortable circumstances.
- It’s easy. Let’s face it, engaging in the ritual is easier than not engaging in the ritual. And after a long day at work and caring for kids, easy is pretty appealing. So the ritual gets repeated.
I could keep going. There are even more reasons why your brain loves the ritual, but that’s not the point. The point is to help you understand why you can’t just “decide to break the pattern.”
If those are the reasons you’re engaging in the pattern, your brain is going to fiercely defend it.
Frozen Turkeys are the Antidote to Your Soda Habit.
There’s a lot of people who insist that going “cold turkey” doesn’t work. That’s because they don’t understand the process and aren’t prepared for it.
What you have to understand is that this is often a two-phase process.
Phase 1: Break the physiological dependence.
Phase 2: Break the psychological addiction (if it exists).
Why you don’t want to try the “step-down method” of breaking your soda habit…
The “step-down” approach says, “Slowly ween yourself off soda over time.”
This sounds like a good plan, but it’s rife with both physical and psychological complication.
First, when you step down you’re torn between two different psychological worlds (this is the same psychological issue that occurs with cheat days as well).
Here’s the deal: It’s much easier to say, “I don’t drink soda” than it is to say, “Well, it’s complicated. I drink soda, just not as much.”
When I first attacked a bad coffee habit, I tried the step down method. I’d go to Starbucks and order the “tall” instead of the “grande.” You know what happened? A week later I was back to the grande.
There’s an inherent problem with stepping down. I call it the two-decision problem.
First, you make the hard decision to start tapering your habit. If you make progress with that, you’re going to be forced to make another hard decision down the road to cease the habit altogether.
That’s two leaps instead of one. Twice as mentally demanding. And there’s time in between those decisions. Time to think, time to be uncomfortable, time to dwell — that period of time changes A LOT of people’s minds.
If you go frozen turkey (because just cold seems like a half-hearted commitment), you only have to make one decision.
Life becomes very simple (from a decision point of view).
Phase 01: My (patent-pending) five step process for not being soda’s biotch…
I’m a little more cavalier than usual today. I think it’s the confidence I have knowing that I beat a pretty powerful enemy and I’m passionate about helping you do the same.
Follow these steps to tackle that nasty soda habit. Don’t try to alter them or find some other way to half-ass them. Go big or go home.
1) Decide. Right now.
You’re already grappling with this decision because you’re reading this article. The question is, how are you going to make the leap from intention to behavior? How are you going to close the gap?
Let me tell you this: these drugs are extremely persuasive. If you tell yourself some nonsense like, “I’ll quit soda on Monday,” you’re going to fail.
It’s not that everyone who says that will fail, it’s that choosing some arbitrary point in the future to start comes from a mindset of weakness and iffyness.
Be decisive. You know you need to do this, so start from this second forward.
2) Remove the soda. All of it.
Cut out the soda. All of it.
Don’t take one micro-sip.
Don’t “finish off what’s left” of your inventory.
As a matter of fact, go through your house and office and introduce every last ounce of it to the sink (open each one and pour it like alcoholics do in Hollywood movies for added effect).
3) Prepare yourself accordingly.
In the military, there’s a phrase soldiers say when they know they’re going into a bad situation. They say, “Welcome to the suck.”
You can’t pretend this is going to be easy. Cultivating a mindset of courage, bravery, and willingness to be uncomfortable is important. It prepares you for the next step.
That doesn’t mean you will be completely uncomfortable (some of you will), it just means you’re prepared for that if it happens.
This would also be a good time to recruit someone to talk to about this. Tell them what you’re doing and what your goal is and then instruct them as follows…
“I might call you for help. Under no circumstances are you to beat around the bush with me. If I’m considering drinking soda, the answer you need to give me is no. Firmly. Without question.”
There may come a point where you have trouble telling yourself, “No.” It can be very helpful for someone else in your life to be able to step in and help you.
4) Fight the dependence, not the soda.
The withdrawal won’t be anything *too* severe. Headaches, extreme tiredness, and powerful cravings are most common.
If you can, schedule some you-time and take a lot of naps.
Don’t take NSAIDs (acetaminophen/ibuprofen) for the headaches — they’re horrible for your body and destroy your gut. Just deal with the discomfort.
This step varies in length for each person, but the average is a few days for the worst of the symptoms and then some residual tiredness and decreased mental clarity for about two weeks.
It’s also important here that you fight the dependence, not the idea of soda itself.
There are no “bad” foods. There are only consequences and goals. Your body is physiologically dependent on a substance (or two). What you’re experiencing is the effect of that.
The cravings you have are driven not by the soda, but by your body’s desire for those specific substances.
In layman’s terms, “this isn’t the soda talking, it’s your body talking.” Respect what your body is going through. Stop pointing fingers at things external to you. And be kind to yourself.
4b) Look Out for Extinction Bursts!
Once you break the two week mark, you may feel that you’re in the clear completely. This is a huge mistake.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called “extinction bursts.” These are last ditch efforts your brain makes to get you to return to old habits.
These extinction bursts manifest as extreme desire for the habit. One day, you can easily avoid soda and the next you find yourself locked in a heated battle with an intense desire to mainline a can of sprite.
The way you defeat extinction bursts is by knowing they exist and understanding how they work. Extinction bursts can occur randomly over the course of weeks and months, but they lose their power every time they’re defeated.
If you suspect you’re being hit with an extinction burst, it’s critical that you do anything to avoid feeding it! Beating the first one is an awesome thing and will give you confidence. From there, just keep the snowball growing.
Once you’re free from your soda habit, which will take 2-3 weeks, don’t go back. Not even for a visit.
I’m not saying that you have to avoid soda forever. The reason I’m telling you this is because you’ve only completed Phase One.
Re-introducing that which you struggled to break free from so soon is a recipe for relapse. Trust me.
Phase 02: Moving Beyond Soda & Addressing the Real Reasons Why You Struggle
This phase won’t apply to everyone. But, in my experience, it applies to about 2/3 of men and women.
If you’ve gone on and off soda and sugar multiple times throughout your life, or you’ve never been able to stay off soda and sugar for longer than a few weeks or months, you can rest assured that this phase needs to play a role.
I mentioned earlier that dependence and addiction are not the same thing. It’s important you understand the difference.
Phase 01 of this protocol breaks the physiological dependence on caffeine and sugar. It can also effectively break the ritual for some people.
However, if you continue to be called back to soda, and sugar in general, even after you’ve beaten the dependence, it means you’re living more on the addiction side of things.
In other words, soda and sugar to you are more about comfort, control, and coping than the substance itself.
If this is the case for you, the only way you’ll find lifelong freedom is to heal your relationship with food.
You can learn more about this by reading my No-Fluff Guide to Emotional Eating.
Just keep this in mind: If you try these steps and still have consistent difficulty beyond 21 days, it’s likely that you’re suffering from some other eating triggers and/or full blown addiction and could use some work on healing your relationship with food, body, and self.
If you’re interested in getting help with this issue, you’ll want to enroll in our Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings program.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.