The effects of diet soda withdrawal can be quite unpleasant. Aside from the physical effects of avoiding Diet Coke, you will face the challenge of changing your habits. It's nothing compared to the stresses of heroin withdrawal, but it can be harrowing nonetheless.
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Fortunately, you have a wide variety of other options to get your sweet, bubbly fix without the less-than-healthy effects of the caffeine, aspartame and phenylalanine in Diet Coke. Learning to read labels, and to assess the listed ingredients, will also help you find healthier alternatives.
Facts About Diet Coke
Diet Coke is a sweet, bubbly concoction which, according to the USDA's nutrition database, contains carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid and caffeine. Of these ingredients, the aspartame and the caffeine are the greatest cause for concern.
Citric acid, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, can be used as a flavoring or as a preservative, and its quality is strictly controlled. Other ingredients, and even the cans and bottles which contain the beverage are also highly regulated. Potassium benzoate is used to preserve the flavor of the soda. Aspartame is a sweetener used in many products labeled "diet" or "sugar-free."
Diet Coke, according to the USDA, contains no calories, calcium, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, iron or protein. However, the aspartame and caffeine may have negative effects on your body, especially since you're not taking in any nutrients with which to offset the effects these compounds cause.
Diet Coke Addiction Symptoms
Like most dependencies, your addiction to Diet Coke is partly physical, but also partly mental and emotional. In fact, according to the experts at the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center (OSU), there is no such thing as caffeine use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
This means that from a medical perspective, withdrawal from caffeine does not qualify as dealing with a true addiction. That does not make giving up your Diet Coke any less unpleasant.
OSU goes on to explain that in order to qualify as a true addiction, your relationship with Diet Coke would have to include an inability to give it up consistently, and your behavioral control being compromised. Just as important, OSU notes, a true addiction would require continued consumption of Diet Coke to have a marked, negative effect on your behavior.
Most people do enjoy their Diet Coke to the point that it can feel like an addiction, but that characterization may not be completely accurate or fair.
True addiction or not, giving up your Diet Coke may cause a bit of emotional stress. One way to handle this is to do as you would with any stressful situation, and seek help and support from friends, family, co-workers, counselors or therapists.
Effects of Quitting Caffeine
Caffeine may not technically qualify as a true addiction. Nevertheless, one of the difficulties in quitting it is that diet soda withdrawal has side effects related to the sudden loss of caffeine. These are both unpleasant and difficult to ignore, and according to MedlinePlus, they may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
There is some good news, though, as MedlinePlus also advises that these effects will disappear after a few days. This means that if you can make it through a week without the caffeine in your diet soda, any physical Diet Coca Cola withdrawal symptoms related to caffeine should no longer be an issue for you.
Columbia University's Go Ask Alice! advice site suggests that you drink plenty of milk and fruit juices to provide the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Staying fully hydrated can also help to ease the effects of caffeine withdrawal, Alice reminds you.
Dangers of Aspartame
There are four different types of artificial sweeteners, explains Harvard Health. These include aspartame, saccharine, stevia-derived and sucralose. Oddly, the five most popular sweeteners, aspartame, acesulfame K, cyclamate, saccharine and Splenda, were all discovered accidentally.
Aspartame is considered a nutritive sweetener, Harvard Health says, because it provides some measurable calories. Saccharine and sucralose are non-nutritive, with few to no calories, and stevia-derived products are naturally non-caloric.
Of the four different types, aspartame is considered the most problematic, according to the experts at the University of Michigan. They report a large number of potential negative effects of aspartame, including abdominal cramps, dizziness, diarrhea, fatigue, hallucinations, headaches, hives, insomnia, joint pain, nausea, memory loss, mood changes, rash, racing heart, vomiting and weakness.
Of more serious concern, cautions the Mayo Clinic, is that aspartame contains phenylalanine. Phenylalaline also occurs naturally in foods such as eggs, milk and meat, but has no effect on most people.
However, if you have a condition called phenylketonuria, or PKU, which is a genetic disorder, phenylalanine can cause serious problems, including brain damage, intellectual disabilities and seizures. You should avoid aspartame if you have anxiety disorders, or if you take Levadopa.
Making Healthier Choices
People turn to diet sodas for a variety of reasons, including for refreshment, as low-calorie, caffeine-assisted energy boost, or as part of a plan to reduce calorie consumption by substituting diet soda for sugary juices. But in quitting diet soda, weight loss goals can sometimes go awry, especially if you go right back to high calorie sugary drinks.
Read more: Which Diet Sodas Do Not Contain Aspartame?
If an energy boost is what you're looking for, paying more attention to your lifestyle choices is important. This can includes regulating sleep, physical activity and nutrition. Your body develops a tolerance for caffeine, causing you to continually need ever more, in a vicious escalation cycle. The better choice, these experts advise, is to make sure that your activity level and food choices provide energy and encourage healthy sleep patterns.
Both dietitians advise getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, starting your day with a protein shake or a smoothie, and eating regular meals and snacks which contain carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This ensures that you are taking in all of the essential nutrients your body needs to function at its best.
The University of Washington recommends coconut water, sparkling water and water-rich foods, such as cantaloupe, celery, cucumber, grapefruit, lettuce and watermelon, to help you stay hydrated.
- USDA: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45130963, Diet Coke Can, 12 fl oz, PREPARED, GTIN: 00049000006582"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Carbonated Soft Drinks: What You Should Know"
- MedlinePlus: "Caffeine"
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice! "Caffeine's Effects on Health"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Sweeteners: Time to Rethink Your Choices?"
- University of Michigan: "Fake Sweeteners Make for Real Problems"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is Phenylalanine Bad for Your Health?"
- University of Washington: "Hydration 101: It's More Than You Drink"