Sadly, it appears I am going to have to give up my secret love – Diet Coke.
We have had a long and somewhat mixed relationship, with highs and lows. As a child (which was in the days before Diet Coke), I was not allowed to have Coke. Consequently once I turned 18 and moved out into my own house, I lived on it – and being a young image-conscious female, it was the Diet Coke that I got into. It was a great way to stay awake on shift work. It was how I first tried spirits (rum and coke). And while it wasn’t available in Africa when I visited there, it has been available pretty much everywhere else around the world. (For your future reference, Coke is available in Africa and is usually safer than drinking the water. For all I know Diet Coke might be available there as well now. And in France it is called Coca-light.)
Then came the love-hate relationship with caffeine. I love caffeine – it gives me a boost. I suspect I might be particularly sensitive to the joys of caffeine, as two members of my close family are in fact allergic to caffeine. I on the other hand get a bit of a high from it, an energy lift.
However I accept that large amounts of caffeine are not good for you, so I have several times gone cold turkey on the caffeine. Headaches, tiredness etc. The longest I stayed off it was two years…but eventually the smell of a coffee in a cafe lured me back. And once I have started on coffee, the Diet Coke creeps back as well. While nice coffee is not always available (and life is too short to drink horrible coffee), Diet Coke is often easily available in a variety of cafes, shops, supermarkets and restaurants, and is portable as well. And so nice on a hot summer’s day.
It was probably almost ten years ago that I first saw something linking diet drinks with weight gain. It was on an Oprah Show, one of the many about diet. This diet was called the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet, or something like that. Another version of the high protein, low carb diet.
The people pushing this diet said that the sweeteners in diet drinks trick your body into thinking it is getting sugars and it responds chemically as if it was dealing with a large amount of sugar. When the sugars don’t in fact hit the blood stream, the body thinks it is in a time of fasting and hence next time it gets carbs, it is primed to store them away as fat. Quelle horreur! This lovely substance I had been merrily drinking away thinking it was keeping me slim, had in fact been priming my body to store fat!
I have no idea if this is the correct mechanism, but it did seem to correlate with the number of larger women I saw drinking diet Coke and the number of skinny women drinking full-strength Coke. I asked a dietician I knew at the time but she felt that this was rubbish – she was very much of the calories in – calories out methodology.
Fast forward to now, and it seems there was something in the whole sweeteners tricking your body chemistry thing, after all.
So once again I am having to give up my secret love for Diet Coke.
December 2011: UPDATE! A really interesting article on coke addiction and the influence of food scientists in the development of adictive flavourings can be found here.