Steve Mankoff and I met during our freshman year of college, 32 years ago. On and off, for years, I’ve suggested that Steve kick his habit of drinking a huge amount of diet soda. Last year, he finally decided to try. I asked Steve if he wanted to share his story and he’s done so here.

The point of sharing Steve’s story is not about diet soda. That just serves as an example of changing habits. In this case, one for better health.

Change is hard. Especially changing eating habits. That’s why losing weight is always at the top of the list of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions.

I like a lot about Steve’s story, including the way he changed his habits in steps.

I also like how he talks about acquiring a taste for seltzer. I think about the idea of acquired tastes a lot. It’s very rare that someone likes coffee the first time they try it, or alcoholic drinks, or cigarettes. But they work at it! Maybe because those things are viewed as making you seem mature. Well, working at your health is the new mature!

Thank you to Steve for sharing his success story. Here it is…

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Until about a year ago, I was a life-long drinker (addict, really) of diet soda. Having struggled with weight my entire life (up until and including today), I found diet soda a tasty way to be able to drink a lot of a sugary-flavored beverages without adding calories to my diet. It tasted good, and I loved the carbonation. Specifically, I loved the “pins and needles” effect when I drank a carbonated beverage.

I drank a lot of diet soda for many, many years – typically two to four20-ounce bottles a day. I loved the stuff! However I also had a nagging feeling that diet soda, especially in such large quantities, couldn’t be a good thing. So after many years of urging by my close friend David Singer, I decided to try to “kick the diet soda habit” by switching to seltzer in 2011.

I had tasted seltzer before, and had always hated it. Yes, it had carbonation, but there was no flavor in it and that made me hate it. Frankly, it was worse than that: for some reason, flavorless seltzer actually made me feel psychologically queasy, although I couldn’t tell you why this was the case.

David suggested that I try adding a small amount of orange juice to seltzer, but that had the same psychological effect on me as the prospect of drinking flavorless seltzer – I just did not want any part of it.

Then David suggested I try flavored seltzer – that is, seltzer that came pre-packaged with a bit of flavoring already added. There were several flavors available, including lemon-lime, raspberry, and others. Like diet soda, there was no sugar (or calories) in flavored seltzer, but unlike diet soda, flavored seltzer did not have any artificial sweetener.

There was no sugary taste in flavored seltzer, but there was a hint of flavoring that was discernible, so the experience was different than simply drinking flavorless seltzer. Most importantly, for some reason, I didn’t have the same queasiness when drinking flavored seltzer that I had when drinking flavorless seltzer, so that was a major problem solved. But, it wasn’t all easy.

Initially, I did not enjoy the flavored seltzers either. But I kept at it. The first two to three weeks of drinking flavored seltzer were particularly difficult. One thing that helped was I didn’t go “cold turkey” with the diet soda. I cut way back – to about one 20-ounce bottle a day.

After that first two to three weeks, I found I was “adapting” or “acclimating” to it. I was very encouraged by this development, and I kept at it. I also thought consciously about other beverages I liked quite a bit – coffee (both regular and decaf), iced coffee, and hot and iced tea.

When I drank any of those drinks, I never added sugar or artificial sweetener. So I started thinking, “If I’ve been enjoying coffee and those other drinks for decades without any type of sweetener, why do I need sweetener in my carbonated beverages to enjoy them?!?” And all the while, I kept drinking the flavored seltzer, and kept getting more and more used to it.

Flavored seltzer was clearly becoming a habit! I started cutting back on diet soda even more – sometimes going for days without one. Then, after about three to five weeks of drinking flavored seltzer, I realized I actually kind of liked the stuff, and it wasn’t an effort for me to drink it.

I made sure to stock my refrigerator at home and work with flavored seltzer – so I had plenty available to me virtually all the time. After a couple of more weeks, I realized that flavored seltzer was as enjoyable for me to drink as diet soda, and I was happy with the change because I knew that it was certainly better for me than diet soda.

I also found that drinking flavorless seltzer and squeezing some lemon or lime into it was as enjoyable to me as the pre-packaged flavored seltzers. For some reason, the concept of adding some lemon or lime into my seltzer did not bother me the way that adding orange juice did. While I often find myself in situations where flavored seltzer is not available, I rarely find myself in situations where flavorless seltzer and lemon (or lime) wedges are not available – so Voilà! – I now have flavored seltzer!

The fact that my wife is a big seltzer fan helped too. She was very supportive of the switch, so there was no need to keep large amounts of diet soda in the house the way we used to. (My wife even likes flavorless seltzer, but for my benefit we now generally keep only the flavored varieties in the house.)

Today, I only have diet soda if I really “need” a carbonated beverage, and there isn’t flavored seltzer (or flavorless seltzer with lemon/lime wedges) available. This happens infrequently – maybe two or three times a month. I now typically drink about three or four cans of flavored seltzer a day, and although I enjoy the diet soda when I occasionally drink it, the good news is that as I approach a year of drinking flavored seltzer, I don’t miss diet soda at all!

What habits have you worked on to gradually change over time? Join the conversation with your comments…

Best regards,

David

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