Beware of the Vacuum: Don’t Give Up Something Unless You Replace It

Quitting Diet Soda

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week, I shared about quitting diet soda (specifically Diet Pepsi)–and how I plan to make it stick.

December 20 was a pivotal day in my life, though I didn’t know it at the time. I drank my last Diet Pepsi. Quitting diet soda–this wonderful, lovely drink–has been a goal for about five years now, and lately I’ve been cutting down substantially.

But on December 20, only after I had finished that last aspartame-filled can did I finally decide that I had had enough, thanks to some prodding from my pesky oldest daughter who mentioned things like “it can cause cancer” and “you’re killing yourself.” When a Christmas guest left a diet soda in the fridge, my daughter poured it down the sink. I am officially cut off.

Old age dementia runs in my family, and I figure aspartame can’t be that nice a thing for your brain. So, after ten years of it being a daily habit, I’m quitting diet pop.

Many of us are quitting things this time of year. 2014 is upon us, and we want to start right. We’re going to cut out sugar. We’re going to cut out wheat. We’re going to cut out aspartame, preservatives, and anything resembling flavour. We’re going to beat our bodies into submission.

Yet one thing I’ve found with my decision to forsake Diet Pepsi is that vacuums aren’t pretty. When you quit something you rely on–whether it’s a drink or a cigarette or a daily Facebook fix–you’re disrupting your normal habits. That forms a vacuum. Whenever there is a vacuum, things rush in to fill it–usually bad things. That’s why it’s so hard to finally quit, because that vacuum reminds you, every second of every day, wouldn’t that nice cold fizz taste good right about now?

If you’re going to give something up, then, you must replace it with something–and it’s best to have that plan before you give that thing up.

Beware of the VacuumToo often we think, “I’ll just develop self-control and I’ll be fine.” If self-control were that easy, we wouldn’t have rehab or Cheetos in giant bags or websites dedicated to the People of Wal-Mart. Taking pride in oneself and treating oneself well isn’t just about self-control; it’s about developing new habits. And it’s not easy.

That’s what I’m really struggling with right now. My cousin, who has never ingested anything bad into her body in her life, suggested that I replace my Diet Pepsi with lemon and Perrier. I wonder if she has ever actually tasted Perrier. But I’ve stocked up anyway, along with a new water cooler and some juices, because I need something.

These habits that we hate are only there because they serve some purpose in our lives.

Food comforts us. Alcohol helps us relax. Diet Pepsi dances on your tongue, especially when you take that first sip after the ice is added (I really need to reach for that Perrier again). Or perhaps it’s something even more intransigent: that go-nowhere relationship helps you feel not so alone, even if he’s never going to marry you, even if she’s never going to stop flirting with other guys, even if he still chooses porn over you. At least you have someone, right?

Maybe this year it’s time to say that the bad things that are holding you back have to go–and find something to replace them.

If you eat for pleasure, find something else that will give you pleasure. If you go for three days without taking more than a small dessert at a time, let yourself buy a new lipstick. Trying to give up cigarettes? Start a new hobby that will keep you busy. Tossing out that boyfriend who constantly berates you? Start volunteering and find a wider circle of friends.

Don’t just say good-bye to something; say hello to something else. Misery thrives in a vacuum, so this New Year’s, fill up that vacuum with things that help you, not hurt you. That’s the route to a truly Happy New Year.

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  1. Great post, Sheila! I never thought of it this way…about replacing something you’ve given up with something good. Maybe you should try something like a little cranberry juice or other juice that you enjoy with sparkling water and a little bit of liquid stevia to sweeten it up. We use the NOW brand and it is really good. This way you are satisfying the bubbly and the sweet. I am not sure Perrier water and lemon will do the trick for you! πŸ˜‰
    Lori Alexander recently posted…Making A Little IncomeMy Profile

  2. Great post!! I know this to be true but never thought of it in terms of “should”. I thought I was weak because I was always replacing addictions with something else, but you’re right – if I planned ahead it could be a great and necessary thing!
    Also, I personally love a little frozen juice concentrate (orange or grape are my favorites) in sparkling water. It tastes like punch but it’s just juice :) Good luck with your new resolutions!

    • Oh, my goodness, that is such a good idea! I tried to find some superconcentrate stuff at the grocery store the other day, and all they had was stuff with aspartame. I thought that kind of defeated the purpose. But I never even thought about the plain old normal frozen juices. Thanks so much!

  3. Sheila, I gave up diet soda almost 2 years ago. One big reason was the caffeine makes me nutty and its hard to find caffeine free diet out and about. But artificial sweetner was the biggest reason. I semi replaced it with the “healthiest” soda I could find. First with pepsi made with real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup). Then i found cola at whole foods with no caffeine and real cane sugar. I only have it as a treat. I dont keep it around. I dont restock it the minute it runs out. It doesn’t draw me like the old stuff. I mainly just drink water now even though I never thought I could succeed at that!! Mostly I wanted to give up artificial sweeteners. Sugar is bad too. Especially HFCS! But fruit juices are high in sugar too. I’ve heard of people losing weight when they drop the artificial sweetener. I didn’t. But I didn’t gain either. you WILL get to a point where it won’t call to you at all. You’ll grab a swig of the kids’ coke or root beer or sprite just to get a carbonation fix now and again. But eventually it’s just a thing if the past. I quit smoking 17 years ago and that was WAY harder :).

  4. Good advice, Shiela. I’m (mostly) on the wagon with you, but for me it’s Coke! I’ve decided I can have a Coke if we’re eating out (which is rare) but won’t keep it in the house. And I’m drinking tea – yummy mint tea, right now πŸ˜€ I needed a replacement! Hot in the winter and cold in the summer – mm mmm.

    But I have to tell you that my mind first went another direction when I saw the post title. I had in mind the New Year purging of STUFF I like to do, and (very briefly) misunderstood where you were going with “replacement: ;D

    Happy New Year to you πŸ˜€

    Julie recently posted…Bad News,Good News.My Profile

  5. We quit sodas and replace it with advocare spark :)

  6. I saw your title and thought, “My 3yo has that down pat – she runs out of the room whenever I’m cleaning!” :)

    You’re absolutely right, though – there ‘s no way to give something up without a plan for what will fill it’s place.

  7. I quit drinking soda just over one year ago. I was solo tired for two weeks! After that my body adjusted to the lack of caffeine. It helped to avoid foods that usually go with soda, like pizza or burgers. I did drink a lot more juice for awhile, then cut that mostly out in lieu of water. But juice isn’t quite so addicting!

  8. Good on you Sheila for cutting out soda. My resolution is a bit less tangible. I’m cutting out envy. Whenever I feel envy, I will immediately replace it with gratitude for the things in my life. Unfortunately, this little resolution may involve me visiting facebook exponentially less πŸ˜‰ P.S. I gave up soda about 3 years ago and never felt better. By replacing it with water, my skin is clearer, I have more energy, I sleep better and just feel healthier in general. Stick with it – the end result is worth it!
    Jason Ellis recently posted…Can Christian Marriage Counseling Save or Strengthen your Marriage?My Profile

  9. Jen in Oz says:

    I want to eat less baked goods this year and eat more fruit and vegetables. I have found that my local corner shop has a great selection of salad leaves and a really tasty salad dressing. Instead of thinking about what I am missing out on (brownies, biscuits (cookies), muffins, slice) I am enjoying a fresh salad almost every day. I still don’t do great on fresh fruit, maybe I will have to go with tinned. I hope you can find a drink that “hits the spot” for you to replace that soft drink habit.

    Best wishes
    Jen in Oz

  10. Try Topo Chico in the glass bottle or San Pelligrino, Perrier is awful stuff! Lol. :) I gave up sodas and replaced it with Topo Chico and Lemon. The bubbly goodness has kept me off sodas for over a year now. Great post!

  11. Awesome job, you will notice the change in your system.

    I gave up sodas 3 years ago in a month. The first month was the hardest getting past the caffeine cravings. But it does get easier as time goes. I replaced sodas with sweet tea (decaf) and have also reduced the “sweet” not completely but significantly reduced.

  12. You are absolutely right. Now if I could only get my husband to do this. He drinks about 10 a day, no joke. I’m 30, and I just started having seizures about a year ago, and the side effect from my medication is that I can’t taste soda (carbonation takes about 30 seconds to register on my tongue). Tragic…sometimes I really miss it. I just have to tell myself it is for the best. I just drink a lot of water since I might as well.

  13. What a very refreshing way at looking at the New Year! And kudos to you for giving up Diet Pepsi. Your body will be so much better for it. :) this year I’m filling my vacuum up with less things and more people and I know God will bless and enrich my life as a result. :) Happy New Year! (Btw, adding a little fruit juice to seltzer or other sparkling water can be a great healthy substitute for soda on days you get those cravings)

  14. This is awesome. My husband and I have always taught the youth group this same concept. You can’t just stop doing something without having an action ready to replace it with.
    Keelie Reason recently posted…How to Develop Friendship In Marriage Through Steering Your ConversationsMy Profile

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  1. […] because last December 20 I quit Diet Pepsi, and I hate coffee, but I still need something with caffeine to drink. And I figure if I have lots […]

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