As a child of the enlightened generation, I’ve never understood how someone could smoke cigarettes knowing how cell-crushingly awful they are for your body. These days, smokers have become social pariahs–forced into dark alleyways and shadowy streets, shunned by polite society, and detested by the media. I know very few people who still smoke cigarettes, and those that do know how to hide their shame.

Turns out, the public health announcements and ad campaigns warning young people against smoking has had the desired effect: smoking is much less common than it was twenty or thirty years ago. This is great news for lungs everywhere, but a somewhat disturbing development for our fundamentally judgemental society. Who will we ostracize now?

In the name of anthropology, I’ve been on the lookout for the next socially defining taboo, and I think I found it in convenience stores and vending machines across the world: drinking Diet Coke is the new smoking.

How do I know? Well, at the risk of exposing my increasingly distasteful liquid addiction, I drink diet soda. I’ll give you a minute to adjust to your now rapidly sinking opinion of me.

Yes, I missed my chance to jump on the aspartame bandwagon back when it was trendy and now I’ve joined the club only after it has lost momentum and crashed and burned. Aspartame is poison. I might as well be drinking arsenic, or smoking. I’ve heard smokers say that they tried giving up cigarettes, but they gained so much weight that they ended up smoking again to improve their body image. Of course, I thought they were being extraordinarily superficial and shortsighted. Who would choose to defile their body for fashion?

Hang on, I just channeled my grandmother on tattoos and piercings. Woah, that was scary.

I never understood why someone would smoke just to stay thin until I looked at the calorie content in a regular bottle of coke, or juice, or smoothie, or pretty much anything besides water. As a woman in her 30s, I’m allowed approximately 1200-1500 calories per day, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste 300 of them on a Coke. I need those calories for other things like lunch or eating the crusts off my kids’ grilled cheese. There’s no way I’m giving those to the dog. His thighs aren’t looking particularly svelte these days either.

Like cigarettes, Diet Coke delivers delicious endorphin-releasing chemicals as well as refreshingly quenching your thirst. I am horribly and embarrassingly addicted to caffeine, and if I don’t ingest enough to fuel a small army every day, my brain will simply refuse to function, eventually melt down and come oozing out my ears. You can’t argue with science. 

Recently, I was supposed to be attending a seminar and was running late. Not surprising, given that I hadn’t had a fraction of the caffeine I needed to qualify as human. I could feel the migraine starting, prickling at the back of my head and behind my bloodshot eyes. Things were about to get very ugly if I didn’t feed my raging addiction. On my way to the classroom I passed a vending machine and, seeing as the impulse control center of my brain was still sleeping, bought a Diet Coke and proceeded on to class.

I crashed conspicuously into the room, sat down in the first seat I could find, and blushed my apology to the room for my tardiness. Once the room settled down I took out my pen, paper and my carbonated elixir-of-life. I twisted the cap slowly since I’d been walking quite vigorously to arrive almost on time. The bottle let out a loud, and recognizable hissing sound as it released its pressure. I glanced around the room and noticed about half the faces staring at me with a horrified look on their face, as though I’d just picked my nose…and ate it.

I might as well have lit up a cigarette, right there in the classroom.

When did drinking Diet Coke become as deplorable as smoking cigarettes? I certainly never received the memo. What was once a socially acceptable vice, like junk food or porn, is now so detestable that a room full of complete strangers simultaneously gasps when you take a drink. They sit with their BPA-free water bottles displayed proudly on the desks in front of them, while at least a few plan to take you aside later and remind you that you are, in fact, killing yourself with every sip.

Don’t even get me started on what happens if you’re caught drinking Diet Coke while breastfeeding.

I can remember as a small child, dumping my father’s cigarettes into the toilet in a dramatic gesture that I had seen on some after-school television program. I was indignant when he punished me for wasting his money. Dammit, I was saving his life.

I was young, and full of self-righteous confidence. I thought I was saving my father from himself, and maybe I was. Smoking really is terrible for your health, and so is ingesting large amounts of any chemical, like Aspartame. Like the smokers of previous generations, I am fully aware of the risks, but choose to indulge anyway: society’s judgement be damned.

Someday, you might find me huddled in the dark alley, surrounded by puffs of smoke and last night’s garbage, swigging on my bottle of Diet Coke wrapped in a brown paper bag. The smokers and the Diet Coke drinkers will walk hand-in-hand into exile. Passers-by will sneer in my direction, my kids will cry as they dump the last of my soda down the sink, and my husband will smell my breath every night to see if I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ll feel dirty, but at least I’ll be thin…and awake.

Mary Widdicks
Author

Mary Widdicks is a 31-year-old mom to two boys and is expecting the birth of her first daughter in February, 2015. Being outnumbered in the family means that sometimes her voice gets drowned out by fart jokes and belching contests. She started Outmanned so she’d have a place to escape the testosterone and share her hilarious life with the rest of the world. Mary’s writing has been featured on popular parenting sites such as Mamapedia, Mamalode, In the Powder Room, Pregnant Chicken and Scary Mommy. She has also been honored as a 2014 Voice of the Year by BlogHer, and Badass Blogger of the Year for 2014 by The Indie Chicks.

41 Comments

  1. Girl, did you drink it while pregnant? Because I do. I drink one a day and I’ve started hiding my can in the car, refusing to bring it in to play dates. You know what’s the best? Coke zero. There, I said it.

  2. OH….THE HORROR! I just don’t know if I can look at you the same, ever again! 😉 lol
    (P.S. I truly enjoyed reading this piece! You have such a way with words!)

  3. You make an excellent point! Truth be told, I would both smoke cigarettes AND drink Diet Coke if it made me thin. Either way, I’m drinking Diet Coke.

    Clever piece!

  4. If Coke Zero is made available I’ll join you in your alley party. If I can’t have the cigger shitties (what my husband called them when I smoked) then I will have my burbly caffeine!

  5. HAAAAAAAAAAAA. I really sorta hate aspartame — the taste, not the stigma. But I get my dirty caffeine other ways. Mwah ha hahaaaaaa

  6. And now I love you even more… (she says while raising her can of Diet Coke in a long distance cheers)

  7. Hello from a fellow addict. I refuse to drink my Coke Zero in the alley. I’ll be out in the open! What’s next, dirty looks for unwrapping chooclate? Only question I got: is there an age limit for drinking out of the bottle?

  8. YES to all of this!!! I’m in LOVE with Diet Dr. Pepper (which my mom refers to as poison when she sees it in my house) AND I still even use SweetnLow in my coffee!! The horrors!

  9. I’m with Chrissy. I drink a few Diet Cokes every week in my 3rd trimester and it’s apparently my secret shame. I try not to do it in public because god forbid some do-gooder looks at me with horror. Whatever….if our parents could drink and smoke (while pregnant and not) and paint our nursery’s with lead based paint and let us play outside alone until dark, then a freaking diet coke isn’t gonna hurt me or my baby. My doctor said moderation is key so that’s my justification! Great read…I’m gonna post this SHIZ on my fb now

  10. Sarah del Rio

    I remember being pregnant and trying, TRYING to do no caffeine. And about 4 months in, I walked into a Target and you know how they have those little cafe things? I went over and ordered a large fountain diet Coke. And you know what? That thing tasted like liquid orgasm. It was the best moment of my pregnancy, hands down.

  11. Mary Widdicks

    “cigger shitties” might be the best term I’ve ever heard for cigarettes in my life. I might file that one away for when I give my kids the “no smoking” talk 😛

  12. Mary Widdicks

    I hate aspartame too, but I have found that Coke Zero tastes almost exactly like real coke. Not as bad as Diet Coke.

  13. Mary Widdicks

    Thanks for the share!! And I drank Coke Zero while pregnant too. So I’ll be joining you in that particular circle of Hell.

  14. Sounds like we’re going to have a helluva posy in the alley. My drug of choice: diet cherry coke. Not cherry coke zero, but regular old diet cherry coke. Mmmmmmmm…

  15. *posy = party.

    Clearly I haven’t had enough diet soda today…

  16. Amy, when I was pregnant I researched the diet soda topic. In terms of caffeine a Coke Zero a day is much “better” than actual coffee! I didn’t know that. Made me feel less guilty. When it comes to aspartame we should be dead by now, let alone those innocent sweet babies. My son will turn 6 soon as is a picture of health 🙂 Cheers, friend!

  17. Unless you’re topping off with some Jack, I say drink up! Even if you ARE topping off with some Jack…Mommyhood is no joke, yo. We do what we can to stay awake!

  18. Oh girl, I am WITH you. I abstain as long as I can during pregnancy but usually give in around 28 weeks and proudly get my one fountain diet coke a day (my poison of choice is Target or Chick Fil A). It’s so damn good and I am a okay with the “risks.”

  19. The taste of aspartame makes me want to count my tongue out. But what I wouldn’t do to live in a country that sold coke zero!

    (Sadly my thighs have never recovered from quitting smoking and -I loath to admit it- in dark moments while trying to will myself into a pair of jeans I’ve considered picking up a pack)

  20. Ha! I have the same story but with a giant bowl of linguine carbonara! (Went gluten free to conceive due to PCOS and endometriosis) I never totally gave up coffee. There’s only so much sacrifice one human can take!

  21. I’m a former Coca Cola addict. Then it was diet coke. I’ll be the old grandma here and just say that research (and my own body) has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that drinking diet soda or ingesting foods with aspertame actually make you GAIN weight. It’s true.

    That said, we can’t give up everydamnthing in life. It’s all about moderation. If you’re really at the IV stage, lol, try and cut back. I got my brother off of drinking 6 diet Cokes a day to none. He just craved the carbonation, he gets caffeine from coffee. I switched him to soda water with fresh lemon or lime. He loves it and I’m glad. 6 or 7 a day isn’t “moderate”.

    Great read – drink free, drink proud just drink a teeny tiny bit less?? lol 🙂

  22. Kristine Laco

    God help me… my New Year’s resolution was to give up Diet Coke. Day 5 and counting. Should we get tokens for staying dry for 30 days? Fun read!

  23. Although I truly enjoyed your humor and plight….as a health coach you do NOT want to know what I have seen in the area of health issues from women you drank/drink diet soda. I hope you find an alternative — water, perhaps? Believe me, in the end, it is just not worth it.

  24. American Beverage Association , ABA Communications

    While it’s true that false claims in the media have perpetuated the impression that diet coke is unsafe, the body of science finds otherwise. Diet soda and the low- and no- calorie sweeteners it contains are among the most extensively reviewed in our food supply, and renowned toxicologists have repeatedly reaffirmed the safety of these products and their ingredients. Also, credible research proves diet soft drinks are an effective calorie-cutting tool when integrated into an overall weight loss regimen: http://bit.ly/Ik4zjC. Bottom line: no need to hide your diet soda habit when science is on your side.

  25. You’re right. Diet sodas rank up there with the negative health effects of smoking. Diet Coke and other diet soft drinks do not help with weight loss. Studies show they increase risks for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

    Some researchers believe diet sodas leave the drinker without the energy reward that eating should provide so they seek to eat more. And, the sweetness of diet sodas further fuels the flavor preferences of consumers so they desire more sweetness in their foods. Both contribute to fat gains.

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