The reasons to stop drinking soda are abundant. Whether you want to cut down on empty calories and added sugars, consume less artificial sweeteners, wean off of caffeine, or even save money, ditching soda is a great place to start.
I actually used to be a big soda drinker–the diet type in particular. Something about it being calorie-free gave me permission to drink it with reckless abandon–so I did. At one point, I consumed more soda than water throughout the course of the day.
Back in 2006 I decided I wanted to rid myself of a dependence on artificial sweeteners, so naturally I started with soda. Over the course of about a year I went from drinking 2-3 sodas per day to 2 to 3 per month. I still very much enjoy a cola with my cheeseburger and french fries, but now that I drink it so much less frequently, I have no problem treating myself to the real deal.
As a former soda-drinker myself, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks I found helpful along the way for those of you who also want to get off the sweet stuff:
- Be okay with scaling back slowly. If you drink 3+ sodas a day, switching to tap water cold turkey will most likely make every sip feel like a punishment… not to mention induce some serious caffeine withdrawal headaches. I bet you can rather painlessly replace 3 sodas per week with tap or sparkling water, though. Heck, maybe even 1 per day! Whatever the number, make it reasonable. Soda has not, and will not kill you over the next few weeks or months while you gradually get off of it. Over time, you’ll miss those first few sodas less and less and eventually you’ll be ready to cut out one or two more.
- Get on a soda schedule. Keeping #1 in mind, jot down a schedule for weaning your soda consumption. By writing a plan, you’re thinking through and committing to a reasonable approach to drinking less. For example, if you normally drink 3 sodas per day, cut down to 2 per day for an entire month, and then 1 per day the month after. From there, you can gradually cut down even further. Allow yourself 5 per week for the 3rd month, 4 per week for the 4th month, and so on.
- Explore tasty alternatives. Once you start cutting out soda, you’re going to want to replace it with other fluids so you don’t get dehydrated. When I first started cutting down on soda, I really missed the carbonation + flavor combo. Bored with tap water, I began exploring the wonders of sparkling water. Most of the time the carbonation alone did the trick–but when I craved a sweeter beverage, I found just a splash of juice worked wonders. 1-2 ounces of cranberry, orange or any other 100% fruit juice blend can make all the difference. Another favorite soda alternative is flavored water. Adding some cucumber slices, berries, citrus fruit or fresh mint to a pitcher of water gives it a refreshing essence of flavor.
- Have alternatives handy. Once you find a few suitable soda alternatives, make sure they’re within reach when you get thirsty. If you just love the tingle of carbonation on your tongue, keep your cabinets stocked with club soda, or invest in a Soda Stream or one of these more classic soda carbonators and make it yourself at home. If you like flavored water, slice up a bunch of oranges, cucumbers or rinse off some berries at the beginning of the week and make a fresh pitcher every morning. Fill up a water bottle before heading out to run those afternoon errands. If you’re prepared, when thirst strikes you’ll have one less excuse to grab for a soda. Oh, and if you’re prone to caffeine headaches, have an an anti-inflammatory on hand, or a bag of green or black tea to help ease those withdrawal pains.
- Adopt a no soda policy. When I first decided I wanted to stop drinking soda, the first thing I did to start scaling back was adopt a “No Soda at Home” policy. It was highly effective. Seriously, if it’s not in your house you can’t drink it! This one change helped kickstart my journey to cut back. Here are some other “No Soda” policy ideas:
- At work
- On campus
- On road trips
- Before 5pm
- At restaurants
- At the movies
- As mixers in alcoholic drinks
Try choosing one to start, and then adopt more as you feel ready.
- Break the routine…by substituting a new one. For me, soda drinking, much like my morning cup of coffee, was a ritual. I found my daily walk to the soda machine was just as much an excuse to escape the office and chat with a co-worker as it was about getting a cold drink. Luckily I was able to convince my colleague to trade the soda for a few flights of stairs and a pit stop at the water fountain after. Think about when you habitually grab a soda and then figure out how you can change the scenario and make a healthier beverage choice. After just a few weeks your old, bad habit will likely be replaced with your healthier routine.
- Make yourself accountable. If you’re the type of person who is motivated by accountability, telling your family, co-workers and friends that you’re giving up soda really works. When I decided to cut out soda, I told all of my girlfriends. It kept me honest when we were together, but I also found their support made a big difference. They still check up on me to this day to make sure I haven’t fallen back into my old soda habit! When you start cutting out soda, keep yourself accountable by telling people around you, and reap the benefits of having their support along the way.
- Redefine the word “stop”. After reading the 2nd paragraph you might look at the title and think, “She still drinks soda though…” Why yes, on occasion I do! But I no longer consider myself a “soda drinker.” There’s a big difference! Just because you want to “stop drinking soda” doesn’t mean you can never enjoy one again. Maybe for you “stop” means getting down to 1 per week, say when you’re out to a nice dinner or as a lunchtime treat on Fridays. The best way to approach a long-lasting behavior change is by making it sustainable and avoiding those feelings of deprivation. If allowing yourself a soda on occasion makes you happy, by all means! In the end, it’s about making healthy habits the default and enjoying treats along the way.
Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., is the Registered Dietitian and Food & Nutrition Editor at MyFitnesssPal, as well as an active runner and food-enthusiast. For more healthy living inspiration, connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest.