Ever since I can remember, I drank Coke and Pepsi. Despite all the news coverage of how unhealthy this habit is and all the potential side effects, I could never kick this habit to the curb. It wasn’t until January of 2017 that I really felt the need to take control of my health that I was able to start making progress. I stopped trying to give myself a plan and deadlines and parameters. I stopped beating myself up over a “slip up” and focused on my end goal. It took me months, but I eventually got to a place where I don’t drink soda every day – or even close to every day! Here’s how I did it:
- Set the intention: I think this is the most important step and the #1 reason why I failed so many times. I wrote a blog post, Overcoming an all-or-nothing mindset, that talks a bit about this. Connecting my goal of giving up soda to a deeper reason than it just being “bad for me” was hugely important, because whenever I felt like giving up or slipping up, I could think of my bigger reason. It was a lot easier to say “no” when I had this on my mind. My bigger, deeper reason was connecting this bad habit to my family’s long history of heart disease, diabetes, and health issues. I hope to have a family one day, and I want to be my healthiest self for them!
The task: think about the real, meaningful reason you want to give up this bad habit. Keep asking yourself “why” until you’re able to really understand the answer. This will be hugely important during your “weak moments” to help keep moving forward.
- Set the mindset: In my failed attempts, I tried to quit cold turkey. People said that the cravings go away after a few days… but I could never make it those first few days and retreated back to my old habits. This time, I approached it a little differently. From the beginning, I knew this was going to be a long, gradual journey of slowly cutting back and, most importantly, celebrating the small milestones along the way. I wrote down three specific things to keep in mind: do not compare my journey to someone else’s; practice patience; show myself the same encouragement and compassion I would show a friend.
The task: Spend some time thinking about how you are going to celebrate your milestones and think about a general realistic timeframe. When I thought about it, I realized this would likely take me months to achieve. Having this mindset from the beginning made me feel less pressure and I felt I had a better chance of succeeding. I could focus on the journey.
- Set your (loose) schedule: I encourage you to have a rough schedule without attaching dates to it. I knew I wanted to cut back gradually, but I did not want to give myself a very specific plan that I would feel like I “failed” if I deviated from it. My plan had 3 steps:- Gradually decrease the amount of soda I was drinking
– Introduce a replacement drink when I felt ready
– Eventually replace soda with the replacement drinkThe loose schedule will look different for everyone, depending how much soda you drink now and how aggressively you want to cut back. I found that cutting a little bit back every 2-3 weeks worked well for me. However, always do what feels good for you and your body. You may be able to decrease the amount daily while the next person needs 3-4 weeks until they can cut back. Everyone is different, and whether it takes you three weeks or eight months, you deserve to celebrate every.single.little.milestone. I mean it!
The task: go at your own pace. Cut back when it feels right to you. Some weeks I cut back and sometimes I didn’t. If I wasn’t ready to cut back, instead of beating myself up, I would gently remind myself of the bigger, deeper reason for this change and mentally commit to the next step the following week.
At the end of my journey, this is roughly what my schedule looked like:
Week 0: Approximately one or two 12 oz. cans of soda per day
Week 1: Alternate between regular 12 oz cans and “mini” cans (I think they are 7 oz?) daily (I am still drinking soda every day)
Week 4: Shift to one “mini” soda only (yes… still drinking soda every day)
This is where I introduced my replacement drink, sparkling water. I wanted something cold and fizzy to mimic the soda. Every grocery store has a ton of sparkling waters to choose from. I personally bought whatever was on sale… especially Dasani if they had it! A replacement drink can look different for everyone. Maybe your replacement drink is plain flavored water or hot tea. Pick a drink that feels right to you and fits in with your lifestyle and schedule.
Week 7: Mini can of soda every other day, sparkling water on in-between days
Week 10: Sparkling water only Monday thru Thursday, one mini soda per day on weekends (at this time, my cravings were starting to dwindle. Sometimes, I didn’t even drink it on the weekends!)
Week 12: Sparkling water only
There were certainly days in week 7-12 that I had a mini can of soda here and there. And I sometimes still do! However, using this method allowed me to finally free myself of my soda habit. Now, when I do drink soda, it’s intentional, I know when to stop, and I can return to my new, healthier habit immediately. Sparkling water is the habit and soda is the exception.
- Make your replacement drink accessible. Do you seem to always want a soda at the same time? Do you tend to go to the same vending machine? Anticipate your habits and decide what you will do to avoid the pitfalls. I knew I tended to grab a soda in the afternoon, so I would be sure to have a can of sparkling soda ready for me… no excuses!
- Keep track. Even if it’s just a quick note in a planner, jot down what you drank that day and how much. If you notice you’ve been at the same amount of soda for more than a week or so, try to decrease it the following week. It’s also great to look back and see where you started and how far you’ve come!
- Ask others to keep you accountable. Not everyone needs this, but I majorly benefited from other people reminding me of my goals. I was lucky to have co-workers who would gently asked me if I really wanted one. The answer was usually no. All I had to do was ask the people I spend a lot of time with to call me out when I needed it. Hey, maybe someone will even join the challenge with you! :)
I hope this post is helpful for those who have tried and failed to give up soda. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that there is no right or wrong way to do this; no “failures” if you have a Coke at dinner one night; no correct timeframe or guidelines for how long this “should” take. Everyone’s circumstances and experiences are different – so be gentle with yourself and continue on your path!