The Diet Coke Diet

One woman’s quest to give up her daily dose of bubbly


It happened by accident, which is less surprising than the fact that it happened at all. People have been urging me to quit Diet Coke forever.

It’s horrible for you,” they tell me. “Try coffee!” they urge. “How do you drink that stuff in the morning?” they inquire with more judgment than curiosity. Granted, I haven’t had any Diet Coke in over a week and I’m still feeling the loss, so it’s possible I’m being overly sensitive.

I took my first step toward giving up that sweet nectar of the gods when I was running late for work and didn’t have time to make my morning bodega run. I work at a high school that has no vending machines and the teacher’s lounge serves only coffee. I didn’t even realize I had forgotten such an essential part of my morning routine until my head began to implode, which feels like there’s a tiny elf out for revenge inside your skull sucking your brains through a spiky straw. Still, I’d been trying to give this up for a while. I wondered how long I could keep going.

Days one and two started out okay, leading me to a false sense of security. “I don’t know why this was so hard for me in the past,” I texted everyone I know. Then the headache came on and I collapsed, where I remained prostrate until the sun set.

Day three passed with nothing but complaints and not-so-gentle moans. I needed Diet Coke to function. I decided I would allow myself one small can a day instead of this cold turkey crap.

On day four I woke up without a headache, feeling victorious and slightly (okay, very) superior. “The haters keep me motivated,” I texted, bragging again because I didn’t learn the first time. By the afternoon, I was so lightheaded and spacey that I kept thinking someone was calling my name. (Diet Coke withdrawal: shrooms for the neurotic, too-afraid-to-ever-do-drugs set.) I got through the day with my head down, barely saying a word. Less loquacious people could possibly pull this off, but because I am known for talking anyone who will listen’s ear off, this strategy did not go unnoticed. I feared if I did talk, I would get fired for appearing drunk on the job.

I passed out right after work and woke up, disoriented that the sun had set.

I planned to begin day 5 with my usual morning can, savoring every sip the way a just-released prisoner enjoys a beer, when my taste buds were assaulted by a startling chemical flavor, like burnt-tar mixed with metal. Apparently, this is what Diet Coke tastes like to the non-addict. I drank half the can just to delay the inevitable headache and went on with my day, dumbfounded.

“Why did you let me drink so much of this shit?” I texted, and was immediately reminded, via direct quotation, of all the proudly creative curses with which I employed to assail people who suggested I quit Diet Coke.

Day 6 and 7 passed without incident, just half a can, and now I am perfect and eat only whole foods whose natural color is green.

JK. Quitting Diet Coke hasn’t turned me health-obsessed. I do, however, pair my kid-whose-parents-left-her-with-the-lazy-babysitter diet (chicken fingers and fries most days) with a seltzer now. I still have a ways to go. But I feel a real sense of accomplishment for sticking with something so unpleasant for the sake of being ever so healthier. Baby steps. Goldfish resolutions. After all, the month’s theme is goals.

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.


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  • Congrats!! I promise once you go 3-4 weeks without it, you won’t even think twice. The craving just goes away. Now if I could go 3-4 weeks without french fries………..

  • I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. It’s all about the substitutions, dude. Want to eat healthier? Slowly substitute your favorite unhealthy shit with healthy versions of that thing.

    • Kayla Tanenbaum

      what can I replace hours of Netflix with?! xxx

      • ooo that’s a toughy. I like to make my Netflix sessions productive for things that I’ve always wanted to do but could never make time for and that consist of sitting for long hours. For Example, right now I am knitting a sweater. Idk If it’s healthy but it sure is somethin! I guess you could draw or meditate or go to the gym or do yoga or go for a walk or…..etc etc etc

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  • Rhian Westbury

    I tried to give up Pepsi Max and found that I was always so tired and used to get massive headaches even 2-3 weeks into doing it. I now drink it but in far lower quantities than I used to. Well done for sticking it out I hope you have the self control to carry on (something I don’t have!) x

    • Kayla Tanenbaum

      clearly you do have it if you quit that shit! I still have to have half a diet coke in the morning to avoid The Headies.

  • Chelsea Henriquez

    Congrats, it’s only for the better!


  • That’s a really honorable diet to go on. My mother never bought soda when I was a child, so when I did have it, the taste was always very strong for me. So I know that the less you consume it, the times you do you’ll probably find the taste to be stronger than you remembered. Good luck! I should go on the no sugar diet 😐 (I had a scone for breakfast, so….it’s hard)

  • Congrats!! I quite a few years ago. It really is soo good and gets easier

    Kisses from

  • Amelia Diamond

    I gave up Diet Coke a few years ago, too (now I only have it once a weekend because I still need DC w ice when I’m hungover) but it never tastes as good as it used to and it makes my teeth feel weird…but man is giving it up hard. I really truly don’t think I could do it with coffee though. (what’s the point??)

  • I went off soda cold-turkey my senior year of college. It was rough (especially because I was doing my student teaching), but about 2 months later, I drank my first Diet Pepsi and promptly spit it out.

    Now, 10 years later, I still only have soda occasionally – usually at restaurants or when I have a raging headache.

    Trust me, if you can keep going, it’ll be worth it in the long run! Think of all the money you’ll save! Think of how smug you get to be! Think of…well, whatever you like that keeps you going!

  • Triana Yentzen

    2015 was the year I managed to lower the intake to no more than 1 a day. And it was SO F*ING HARD. I was second guessing my decision to quit altogether… Then, looking for style ideas with denim dresses (I know, completely related to this post, right?) I found you and a new found strength to do it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to drink coffee instead, since I hate it… But maybe I’ll get used to it? Here’s to hoping. Wish me luck!

    • Kayla Tanenbaum

      I hate coffee so much. Wrote an article about it and everything. Don’t go from one addiction to another. We don’t need caffeine! We are superior beings! [think of that as a chant]

      • Triana Yentzen

        I hope this amazing chant helps me stay awake in the mornings, I’ll use it every day! This is day two and I really miss my diet coke. I haven´t fallen into coffee either for now. Maybe I’ll survive without it *fingers crossed*

  • BK

    Years ago, my mother brought home from work a peer-reviewed journal article discussing how drinking even a single can of Coke affects everything your from kidney function to bone density and since then I’ve done around a can per annum (two in a cheat year)

  • I got anxious just reading this. I literally drink diet coke morning, noon and night. About 7 glasses or cans a day? I wish I was kidding. The looks of sheer and abject horror at my drinking a can at 7am. I really need to quit, but F*CK you or anyone else who tries to tell me that.

    • Kayla Tanenbaum

      I swear, girl I was at 10-12 per day at my worst.

  • i’ve never really been a soda person which is surprising because i won’t bat an eyelash at putting honey mustard on basically anything in front of me but YOU GO, and good luck! seltzer water is amazing SO MANY FLAVORS!!

  • I found that if I have wine at lunch instead of a Diet Coke I don’t get the headaches…it’s a slippery slope my friends. Good luck!

  • JAJ

    I gave up Diet Coke for lent one year (don’t ask. it was my mom’s idea and I mainly did it as a knee-jerk reaction to her nagging) and I have regretted it ever since. It doesn’t taste the way I remember now. It tastes artificial and gross. Sigh. I miss it so much and sparkling water with lime isn’t the same.

  • Claire

    WAY TO GO!! I never regularly drank soda until a couple months ago, and now I’m so addicted to it. You are a true inspiration to drop the bubbly!!

  • Shweta Shah

    I had around 8 cans a day at one point- some days more! Thank god that addictions gone but I’m left with a bad digestive system.

  • Autumn Good

    Pfft. More like caffeine withdrawal.