Looking to quit drinking soda in 2022? You’re not alone. While the number of sugary drinks Americans consume seems to be decreasing, research still shows that about half of all American adults drink at least one a day. “Sugary drink” includes fruit juice and other beverages, but soda makes up the majority of that category.
Anyway, it’s probably fair to say that a chunk of people who currently drink soda want to stop — ’cause self improvement and stuff. If you’re ready to quit, keep reading to learn the best tips for kicking those cans to the curb.
Benefits of reducing soda consumption
Considering regular (non-diet) sodas contain as much sugar as candy (and don’t contain protein, fiber or fat), it won’t come as a surprise that reducing your soda intake brings ample benefits.
Removing extra sugar from your diet means you have room for more filling and more satisfying nutrition and flavor, says registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian. Excess sugar has been linked to a number of health complications, including:
- Dental caries (cavities)
- Weight and fat gain (especially visceral fat around the organs)
- Metabolic syndrome
- High blood triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
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Eating less sugar, particularly added sugar like that in soda, has the power to reduce your risk of all of the above. The benefits to your health are clear, yet quitting soda feels impossible for many.
Why is it so hard to quit drinking soda?
It’s simple: Habits are hard to break. Physiology likely plays a role, Bazilian says, due to the sugar and caffeine content of soda.
“But let’s face it. Soda is not an essential beverage,” Bazilian says, “but many people like or choose it because of some habit or taste or expectation, even if it becomes almost unconscious over time.”
When a behavior becomes habituated, it takes some strategy, effort and alternative behaviors to overcome. Then you need ways to monitor and reinforce the new behavior. This takes time, it’s tedious and, quite frankly, giving up something you like is no fun.
“It takes a while to rewire the mind and the behavior but it’s not impossible,” Bazilian says. “A person must want to do it, set him or herself up to succeed, practice and stay at it sufficiently and long enough to leave or shift a behavior or habit like this.”
It’s not always about taste or reliance on sugar and caffeine, says Maria Sylvester Terry, registered dietitian at Eat Fit NOLA in New Orleans, Louisiana.
For some, drinking soda makes them happy: They love the taste, the carbonation, the quick burst of energy. They may associate it with joyful, nostalgic feelings — “A cold soda on the beach with family, for example,” Terry says. Breaking away from this happiness takes time and commitment to that process, which ultimately requires a focus on the long game, she adds.
As for soda addiction, that’s not a widely studied topic. There isn’t sufficient evidence that allows anyone to say true soda addiction makes quitting challenging. “However, those who feel they are addicted to drinking soda will find that it is physically and emotionally difficult to visualize their day without soda,” Terry says.
How to quit drinking soda in 5 steps
1. Plan and commit
You have to be ready for this, Bazilian says. Establish some ground rules around how much soda, if any, you’ll consume and when. You don’t have to be ridiculously rigid — life happens — but if you have zero guidelines for yourself, you can’t follow a plan for success. You can always adjust things if they aren’t working, Bazilian says, but don’t go into this resolution blindly.
2. Set small, measurable goals
Quitting cold turkey may work for some, but setting small goals you can realistically reach is more likely to help you build long-lasting healthy habits, Terry says. Otherwise, you may set yourself up for disappointment and failure. For example, if you currently drink two cans of soda every day, try decreasing to one can of soda first. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and share your goal with someone who can support you and hold you accountable.
3. Have alternatives ready
In addition to sparkling water, flavored seltzers and fruit-infused water, a number of healthier soda-like drinks have popped up on store shelves. Olipop, for example, makes a “Vintage Cola” sweetened with stevia. It only has 35 calories and two grams of sugar — and, interestingly, Olipop contains nine grams of prebiotic fiber. That is definitely something you won’t find in a Sprite!
You can find several similar brands, such as Spindrift, Zevia, Minna, AHA (ironically brought to you by The Coca-Cola Company), Bubly (from Pepsi), Bai Bubbly, Perrier, and trusty ol’ LaCroix.
If it’s not about the calories or sugar, fruit juices and other sweet beverages can make great hydration options, Bazilian says. You get nutrition with 100% fruit juice — even though you lose the fiber from the whole fruit, many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients remain.
4. Set a hydration goal
Terry recommends choosing a number of ounces of water to drink and tracking your water intake. Start with a number higher than you currently meet, but make it attainable (don’t aim for 100 ounces when you currently drink 50). This tactic may reduce your desire to grab a soda since you’re staying quenched, and it’ll help you create a healthy habit alongside decreasing soda intake.
5. Be prepared for caffeine withdrawal
If you drink caffeinated soda, prepare yourself to contend with caffeine withdrawal. You may experience symptoms such as increased fatigue, headaches and mood swings as your body adjusts to a lower caffeine intake, Bazilian says.
You can remedy this with other sources of caffeine, such as coffee or black tea. Just know the grogginess and irritability will come back if you plan to quit those beverages, too.
Don’t give up if you give in
Don’t ditch your entire resolution if you have a soda. If you give into the urge for a soda, enjoy it, acknowledge it and move on. Don’t dwell on it or adopt the “well, I already ruined it” mentality — that doesn’t help anyone or anything.
All foods (and drinks) fit
It’s fine and great to cut soda completely if you want to, Bazilian says — the key phrase being “if you want to.” In terms of physical health, there’s really no reason to drink soda. In terms of mental health, though, it can be beneficial to allow yourself to enjoy soda sometimes.
“The last thing I like to see and hear is guilt around food choices. If you purposefully choose to have a cookie or soda, love it and skip the guilt!” Bazilian encourages.
“Try to eat good nutrition elsewhere in your day, not to balance or make up for [soda], but because that’s what makes a healthy, high-performing human,” she says. Basically, it doesn’t have to be so black-and-white.
As for whether or not you should keep soda in the house while you’re trying to quit, Terry says that depends on the person. “I feel that if soda is kept out of the house out of fear, you won’t be able to control your intake and you actually set yourself up for failure,” she says. “Making peace with food and beverages is important in order to overcome our feelings of fear.”
However, “You may find that simply having it available is the reason why you drink it, so replacing it with an item you find as enjoyable would be incredibly helpful,” Terry offers.
Consider your relationship with soda, as funny as that may sound. If it doesn’t feel scary to quit, you may be able to go without it in your house and it won’t evoke feelings of restriction or guilt from setbacks.
Bazilian reminds us that everything nutrition-related is dependent on the individual, their goals and a number of interwoven factors. “We are the cumulative effect of what we put in our bodies, not the product of any one food, one drink or one meal, or even one day.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.