By Dan Dunkle | Feb 05, 2017

It's been more than a month since I drank soda.

I made a New Year's Resolution that I would stop drinking sugary drinks, and I told people around me what I was doing. It was such a big habit that I can hardly believe I've quit. I sometimes worry that in my sleep I'm going out in search of soft drinks.

I had been drinking one or two 20-ounce bottles of soda per day, usually Pepsi or Canada Dry ginger ale. Ginger ale is, for some reason, perceived as being better for you than cola, but it is still high in calories.

A 20-oz ginger ale has 230 calories compared to a cola's 250 calories. And all of those calories are from sugar.

I had switched mostly to ginger ale first, which allowed me to wean myself off caffeine. I still have coffee in the morning.

What I've seen for information online varies, but it seems likely that if I stick to this lifestyle change and can eat a little better and find an exercise I like, I'm on track to lose 50 pounds in a year.

Ken Waltz in the sports department had talked about it with me. He had given up his addiction to Dr. Pepper for the most part and started drinking water after his son told him his “need” for the stuff was a cop-out. If he could do it, so could I.

In my doctor's office, there's a poster that says 5-2-1-0. That stands for:

Five servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Two hours or less of screen time watching TV (that's going to be a tough one)

One hour or more of exercise per day (that also is going to be a tough one)

Zero sugary drinks.

When I got to New Year's Day, I figured, I could make one change. That was manageable. So I started with soda.

Telling my friends and family I was doing this was probably one of the biggest factors in my success, because that made me feel accountable. If I have to go back to them and say, “Yeah, I'm drinking soda again,” I will feel ashamed of myself.

There is a benefit to living as part of a community. We were not intended to live as individuals in our houses surfing the net for all of our needs. Your family, your friends, the people who work with you can create a support system.

This experience has brought home a few things for me. One is that a New Year's resolution can be a useful tool for positive change. I know a lot of people on Facebook make fun of resolutions, but don't feel discouraged if that's something you want to do. Some cliché ideas serve a purpose in our lives.

I also learned that it's OK to go without something I want. That sounds silly, but in this culture, we often confuse wants with needs.

It was only tough for the first few weeks. Around two or three in the afternoon, I would get this restless feeling, like I should get up and go somewhere. I realized that must be when I was going in search of soda. Now I just get up and get some water and it refreshes me.

The biggest challenge is restaurants. At a sit-down restaurant, I just order an unsweetened iced tea. If I'm going to a fast food place, I take a bottle of water with me and then just order the food. This does not save much money because by ordering outside the meal plan which comes with a drink, you have to pay more for the food items. That seems a little evil to me, and likely reflects the soda company's desire to keep us hooked. However, if you are going to quit soda successfully, beware the restaurant. That's the biggest temptation point.

I don't look at the scale every day. The numbers have a tendency to be discouraging. In the end, I know a lifestyle change is the right thing to do, so I stay away from the scale to avoid the rationalization, “It's not doing any good anyway, so I might as well eat what I want.”

Online sources also caution against diet soda. You do not see the benefits with diet soda that you do with water. For me, it makes sense anyway because diet soda just awakens that craving within me while over time, with water, that craving has died down.

Without the soda I feel much better. I feel lighter, more energized. I don't have these drastic swings between feeling hyper and then crashed out. Sleep is easier and better. In addition, I have read online that quitting soda actually makes you less hungry. It may be drinking more water and being properly hydrated, but I have found that to be true. My mood seems to have improved.

Some of it may be placebo effect, but I'll take what I can get.

The last point I'll make in this blog is about shame. A little bit of shame can be useful. I don't want to go and tell my loved ones I've given up on my diet.

A lot of shame is toxic. It's not helpful to compare yourself to some Hollywood ideal or to the body of your late teens and early 20s. As a friend of mine said this week, we all should have done something different 10 years ago that would make us thin or rich or happy. We need to give ourselves a break.

Just remember 5-2-1-0. It's a simple formula for a more balanced life.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and two cats. Email him at ddunkle@villagesoup.com and follow him on twitter @DanDunkle. Snail mail letters to 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.

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