Quitting Diet Soda - Beware of the Vacuum: Don't Give Up Something Unless You Replace It

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 Vacuum - Beware of the Vacuum: Don't Give Up Something Unless You Replace ItToo 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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