Diet Coke, depression & why I’m ditching my favorite drink

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This morning, I walked into Bruegger’s bakery and surprised the girl behind the counter. “Diet Coke?” she asked, reaching for my mug.

“Actually, I’m going to try some coffee,” I replied, trying to feel brave. I’m a regular at this place, and I always have my “bottomless mug” filled up with Diet Coke, no ice. So she must’ve been surprised that I ordered coffee, though she didn’t say so. She guided me through their different roasts: hazelnut, house, french roast, french toast. I settled for hazelnut.

It smelled good. I’ve always loved the smell of coffee.

But I’m leery of drinking it. I’ve never been a coffee drinker. It’s too bitter, it makes me jittery, it tastes horrible unless I dump in a cup of sugar and even more creamer. Then it’s unhealthy, and I don’t like drinking my calories. That’s been my excuse to stick with Diet Coke.

And here I am, trying to drink coffee for the first time in years.

Ironically, my first published short story was entitled “Coffee.” It’s about a girl who gives up coffee in favor of water after a close friend’s death. (It’s symbolic, okay?) Go figure that I’ve never cared for the substance.

I stare at the Bruegger’s mug with the vile substance swirling in it. People in movies and on television drink their coffee black, so I cautiously take a sip.

I grimace. My daughter’s watching; she wants to see the face I make, she says. “Go, Mommy!”

It needs sweetener. I look at the nutritional info on splenda and nectresse (the two non-sugar sweeteners I have available) and opt for nectresse. I’m not sure it’s a great choice and tomorrow I’ll try to do without artificial sweetener.

It’s still not fabulous. I’m still grimacing, and wondering, like I did the one time I had a wine cooler, do people really drink this for fun? I decide that creamer might help tone down the bitterness. Thankfully, a few teaspoons of skim milk helps the coffee go down.

I miss my Diet Coke.

I drank my last Diet Coke yesterday, after a lecture from my doctor about the dangers of diet sodas. I drank it slowly, wistfully staring at the liquid chemical cocktail that has been my constant companion since I was a tween. I’ve known the pleasures of diet drinks since before I met my husband, before I went to college, even before I went to high school, so this farewell drink feels sad. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Juliet claims, and I agree.

In my defense, I’ve cut back—way back—on how much soda I drink. I used to average around 100 ounces of Diet Coke a day (and wonder why I was so jittery and nervous all the time). Recently, I’ve been down to around 36 ounces a day, with water as my other beverage of choice. Now I was looking at zero ounces. The last drops of Diet Coke were gone.

I burned a candle after I finished the drink. It seemed appropriate enough, since it was in a little coffee mug and supposedly smelled like cafe latte. (It smelled like generic vanilla candle to me.) So the candle was supposed to be both in memory of my favorite drink, and in anticipation of tomorrow’s coffee drinking pleasure.

My doctor would be so pleased.

Even a quick internet search revealed that Diet Coke is unhealthy. Obesity, kidney issues, headaches—all linked with high doses of Diet Coke. It’s pretty much all chemicals, after all—nothing that remotely resembles anything in nature—so why wouldn’t it do wacky things to our bodies?

I’ve known all this before. Dr. H isn’t the first doctor to lecture me on the horrible effects of my addiction to artificial sweeteners and caffeine. But then he trotted out the results of a recent study. High doses of Diet Coke can increase the risk of depression thirty percent. Thirty percent!

Part of me was shocked, part of me was contemplating kicking the silver can to the metaphorical curb, and part of me was wondering how he always remembers study results and statistics. Last time I saw him, he recited the benefits of kale. Previously, he’s told me about studies relating to fish oil and postpartum depression, and a multitude of other data that are simultaneously interesting and head-scratching. (Who thinks of doing scientific studies on some of this stuff? Not me.) How on earth does he remember all this? Is that an inborn talent, or a skill they teach in med school?

The second half of what he said was interesting, too. Coffee—in moderation—can possibly lower your risk of depression by ten percent.

As my doctor kindly pointed out, I’m on several medications for my bipolar disorder. One has some potentially serious side effects, including a neuromotor disorder that is irreversible. It’s one that I’d like to stop taking. But my addiction to diet soda is possibly making my depression worse, which means I have to take the medication, which means I’m at a higher risk for this neuromotor issue with a name that I can’t pronounce. Is the Diet Coke worth it?

And again, what came to mind was the quote from Richard Foster: reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. They are the same words that prompted me to give up Facebook, and now they help me decide to ditch my beloved silver-canned drink.

My husband was leery. He probably remembered the last time I gave up Diet Coke. That time, it was for Lent and I gave up all caffeine. Miserable experience (for him and for me). I was exhausted and cranky and well, you can read the blog post. But I figure that if I can drink one small cup of coffee a day, without all the high sugar and full fat add-ons, then I’ll get some caffeine and should be fine. I only drink water for the rest of the day.

I can’t see how I’ll ever be a more than one cup of coffee a day type of person; the stuff just doesn’t produce that must-have-more craving in me. But if I ever do start drinking more than one, I’ll consider ditching caffeine entirely.

So. Here I am. Drinking coffee. And realizing that it isn’t half bad.

If you’re interesting in reading about the Diet Coke/depression study, here’s a link:


37 thoughts on “Diet Coke, depression & why I’m ditching my favorite drink

  1. Isn’t it funny how caffeine, an “upper”, becomes a downer when the body is overloaded by it? The common sense of God’s perfect creation is fantastic. I’m happy you will by freed of that rat poison in artificial sweeteners, too! Congratulations on a sensible choice and for the interesting facts.


  2. Laura,

    Welcome to the club of coffee drinkers! I started drinking coffee around 2008, just before I went off to India. I still have to drink it with plenty of sugar and cream, although if forced I could probably drink it just with cream. .
    I’ve been leery of Diet Cokes for years due to the artificial sweeteners (and also to me, the horrible taste). I would have never guessed that it also could increase depression!
    On the other hand, I just finished a fast from all colas for forty days of Lent. I’m working to reduce the amount of soft drinks I pour down my throat, in general, although I’m not yet giving up colas (if ever). The reason has more to do with the bad things carbonic acid does to the enamel on my teeth.
    I have found that I can substitute teas, coffee, and chocolate for the cola and I enjoy those just as much as cola. I think psychologically I’m attached to colas more than physically attached to them. A can of coca-cola in my hands has a nice feel to it– kind of the way I’ve heard people say they just like to have cigarette with them. I’m sure you’ll remember me from college, always carrying a coke and a book. 🙂
    If ever I completely give up colas, I’m switching to sweet tea and coffee. Especially the cold green tea they serve here in America. I’ve also heard that green tea is actually good for your health. 🙂
    So, if coffee isn’t your thing, I suggest trying sweet green tea. But in the meantime, welcome to the club of us coffee drinkers!

    Paul Lanier


    1. Well, I gave coffee a fair shot, and I just could never get past the taste of it, even with some sweetener and cream in it. So I switched to tea, which I grew up drinking (though always sweetened with aspartame. Yuck.) Now I use a little bit of stevia in it, which I’ve heard mixed reviews of, but I’m taking the risk. My biggest hangup about drinking anything with sugar in it is the calories; I hate drinking my calories, because it doesn’t make me full but still has to be burned off. (That was my excuse for drinking Diet Coke for years: no calories!) Thanks for reading!


      1. Most welcome. I enjoy reading your blogs. 🙂 It took me a long time to begin drinking coffee (age 36) and I’m still not really a regular coffee drinker, altho I do drink it on Sunday mornings and Wednesday mornings semi-regularly. I do love tea though. 🙂 I guess working out has helped me with keeping off weight. Anyway, Many blessings.


      2. Ooooooo….. Me too. I hate drinking my calories, but I love pop.soda.whatever ones wants to call it. I am going to have to read your link about the study! I am always being told by my mental health professionals to watch caffeine and sweeteners and such, but I don’t ever recall them giving me explicit details as to why I shouldn’t.
        I love coffee. The smell and even the taste. I didn’t growing up, but then I didn’t like radishes either and now I eat them all the time….. I have in the last few months begun to enjoy hot tea, especially chai. I usually drink it plain too (again with the calories thing), though I know it is much better with sweetener and cream.


      3. I’m drinking lots of hot tea now, usually with a little stevia (which I’ve deemed the least of the artificial sweeteners to be problematic.) Interestingly enough, after I went off Diet Coke, I had a really mentally stable spring; that’s usually my problem time of the year. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. On the other hand, of course, if the teas also could increase depression, perhaps you ought to stick to coffee.
    By the way, not all coffee is equally bitter. I had some wonderful Rwandan and Ethiopian (and even Indian) coffee that actually left no bitter aftertaste. It still had some bitter coffee taste but no aftertaste, and really was fairly pleasant – more of a hickory-roasted taste than anything else. I was told that coffees grown in the mountains were not all that bitter. But the usual American coffee (Robusta) that you find in many commercial brands is very bitter. The gourmet brands are the better-tasting and less bitter. So, maybe if you’re drinking only one cup a day, it would be worth it to shell out the bucks to get good coffee. 🙂 Anyway, blessings and may God ever prosper you,

    Paul Lanier.


      1. Until I went to Rwanda on a mission trip, I didn’t know either. But once I tasted Rwandan coffee, I knew there was truth to what my friend there told me. Believe me, it does make a difference. Grace and Peace, Paul


  4. I have the same disorder as you. I have been on the same medication for a few years now and it’s really helping. At first my doctor raised the dose so high that I ended up in the hospital with tardive dyskinesia, two days in a row. They cut back my meds and I’ve been fine for years.
    I drink coffee only once in the morning. It helps lift me out of the fog. I use 1% milk as my “cream” and blue agave syrup as my sweetener, (cheap at Costco).


    1. Hi, Annette–It’s good to meet you. My doctor is really worried about the possibility of tardive dyskinesia with me; he’s had 2-3 patients develop it, so I guess it’s really on his mind! I’m glad to know that once the doctors cut back on your meds that you’ve been fine. 🙂


  5. I’ve been a long time coffe drinker. Used to drink diet soda, but ditched it when I found out it can actually cause obesity. Who would have thought? I like that quote about addiction. It’s tough to ditch long time addictions. I did it almost four years ago with cigarettes, through the strength God gave me through prayer. Maybe you should pray if you are tempted to backslide. I’ll be praying for you.


    1. Thanks for the prayers, Diane. I’m doing much better now. (I wrote this post about a month ago, but didn’t post it until this week.) After the initial withdrawal period, where I had headaches and chills and felt like I had a mild case of the flu, I’m pretty much reconciled to not having Diet Coke anymore. It’s still hard when others around me are drinking it, but I’ve switched to drinking hot tea a lot. That helps. So does prayer!


  6. I’m a terrible diet coke addict attempting to give it up/ reduce it – again. We’ve stopped buying it and although I can’t bring myself to turn it down at someone else’s house. I’ve been D.C. free during the week for the last three weeks though! Good luck it’s a tough one!


    1. Good for you! Once I got through the headaches and withdrawal stuff, I felt good. It’s hard, though, because my husband still drinks it (though not as much as I did). Thanks so much for reading!


  7. When I was a kid, coffee was for the rich folks and tea was for the poorer folks. Like you, I don’t dirink a lot of coffee in the house at all, occasionally, but often when I am out I have grown to love a cappucino in a cafe. Drinking coffee or tea without milk or sugar though? No thanks!

    I have had severe depression for chunks of my life, but am now in the process of getting my meds reduced and have been for several months. I still get twinges and bad days now and then, but the tablets are just a habit now, so I am slowly but surely ditching them, with the Dr’s advice and guidance of course.

    The American and British diets are so similar; everything is about fast food, lemonade, cheap food, overly processed food piled high with sugar, salt and fat. They are not good diets at their worst. You are right to give up or seriousy cut down on diet soda, or anything like that. I love a coke myself now and then, but the British weather means it’s not a year round thing! Anything that is addictive usually means that it is negative in some way. And Heaven knows, we’ve all been addicted to something or other.


    1. I found your comment about tea being for the “poorer” folks interesting. I grew up drinking hot tea/iced tea, though always sweetened with aspartame (never sugar), because that’s what my mother drank to get her caffeine fix in the morning. After giving coffee a fair shot, I decided that I would go back to drinking hot tea when I went to the bagel shop, and that’s worked beautifully.

      You’re so right about the typical diets in America/Britain. I’m trying to go off gluten for a while, too, and so I’m reading food ingredient labels all the time. It’s astounding what chemicals and other trash we routinely eat.

      Good luck with cutting back on your meds! I know that’s a hard one.


  8. Just found your (lovely, articulate, funny, honest) blog and had to leave a comment since, when asked to describe myself, the best I could come up with was “fueled by grace, laughter and caffeine.” I once accidentally gave up caffeine – not so funny for the first three days but afterwards we laughed and laughed. , if you’d like to read the story. Nice to “meet” you 🙂 and good call on switching to tea, IMO. Black coffee is a bitter pill.


    1. Thanks for reading, Manish. It’s been months since I’ve had Diet Coke (or any other soft drink!) and my doctor is amazed that I ditched it. So am I, actually. But I feel proud that I was able to work through the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and change my habit.


  9. Wish I could give up SUGAR, period!!!! I’ve never liked DIET cokes – don’t like the artificial sweeteners, but LOVE regular coke, so I can relate to your difficulty in giving it up!


      1. If I could give it up, I’m certain that I could get rid of that darn Buddha belly of mine!!!! Oh well…..Just makes me more “humble”, I guess!!! 🙂


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