For the past several years, I have been trying to cut down my consumption of soda, specifically caffeinated soda. My dependency on it has gotten to the point where I made quitting soda my one and only resolution for 2008. However, here it is halfway through January and I haven't made any real effort to quit because I've failed so many times in the past and I'm afraid to fail again. Not having any real idea for how to approach another attempt to quit, I've been treading water and pushing the resolution to the back of my mind, because I've got a whole year to do it, right?
A friend of mine in college was a heavy smoker, but she told me once she has no plans to quit in the near future. She was aware of the health risks of smoking and she knew how much more money she would have if she wasn't buying cigarettes, but as she told me, "I LIKE to smoke, and I'm not going to be able to quit until I want to. When I quit, it will be because *I* want to, not because my mom wants me to or my boyfriend wants me to or my doctor wants me to."
After Maureen was born, I wrote up a list of reasons to not drink soda, including the fact that I was nursing Maureen and needed to watch my caffeine consumption for her sake, and my goal of losing the weight I gained while pregnant. Then I put the list in plain view on the front of my refrigerator in the hopes that it would inspire me to reach for water or juice instead of Dr. Pepper. While the theory was good, it didn't work because I wasn't really ready to stop, and after a few months, I tore the list down and threw it away, because all it did was hang up there and mock me whenever I went into the kitchen for a soda. You're a failure. Who are you kidding? You can't quit soda!
Then I read an article in Prevention about the preparatory stages of making changes that stick and realized that if I'm going to be successful, I need to think differently about the reasons behind my caffeine addiction and how I approach making the change. It won't be as easy as don't drink soda, Presto Chango.
James Prochaska, director of the Cancer Prevention Research Center at the University of Rhode Island, identifies five stages of change. In the first stage, you admit to a vague sense that you need to make a change, whether it is eating less or exercising more or reducing stress. In stage two, you intend to make the change, but not right now. In stage three, you arrange the details in preparation for stage four, the action stage, By stage five, your changes become routine. Stages one through three are the most important for achieving success.
I've been firmly stuck in stage two for awhile now, knowing I need to modify my behavior, but unsure about how to do it and afraid of failing again. In order to be successful, I need to examine the reasons for my caffeine dependency and map out a plan for dealing with them so I can do this once and for all.
For starters, acknowledging that caffeine dependency is not easy to overcome is key. The molecular structure of caffeine is similar to that of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel drowsy by dilating blood vessels in the brain and slowing down nerve cell activity within the brain's arousal centers. Caffeine has the opposite effect on brain cells by binding to adenosine receptors on nerve cells. Caffeine speeds up nerve cell activity and constricts the blood vessels in the brain. This is why many over the counter headache remedies contain caffeine. Caffeine also triggers an increase in the hormone cortisol and the neurotransmitter dopamine, which activates the pleasure center of the brain. In this manner, caffeine is similar, although less potent, to drugs like cocaine or amphetamines. After a person consumes caffeine, levels of the "fight or flight" hormones adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine increase, leading to an increase in energy, mental alertness and endurance. When the hormone levels drop, weariness, irritability, headache and inability to concentrate can take over, setting the stage for a craving. Habitual users of caffeine will experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache, depression, nausea and fatigue.
Knowing the biological response to caffeine helps point out that overcoming a caffeine addiction is not as easy as mind over matter, it's a real condition with a clear physical component.
I also need to examine the reasons behind my caffeine consumption and make a list of the benefits of quitting.
For example, I have been using caffeine to treat my migraine headaches. I've spent much of the past several years either pregnant or nursing, so prescription migraine medications are off limits. A combination of caffeine, Sudafed and Tylenol has been effective in treating the pain, but I've been getting the headaches more frequently in the past couple of months. I have had a lot of sinus pain that leads to migraines, so I suspect I have a sinus infection and need to see a doctor. By removing the root cause of my migraines, I will decrease my dependency on caffeine to treat my pain.
Also, my quantity and quality of sleep have been affected since having Johnny and Maureen, so I use caffeine when I feel fatigued. We're tweaking Johnny's bedtime routine to make it more effective, and I need to make better sleep a priority for myself. I'm already working on this one, part of the reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because I've been going to bed when I'm tired instead of staying up to blog.
Finally, while caffeine in and of itself is not a bad thing, consuming it through too much soda is a bad thing. Regular soda contains empty calories that can lead to unwanted weight gain, and even drinkers of diet soda tend to make up for the calories they have "saved" by eating too many of other foods. While artificial sweeteners are not a health risk according to the FDA, many physicians advise using them in small amounts only, and there are plenty of anecdotal reports of adverse effects. Drinking even one diet soda per day raises a woman's risk of heart disease. Soda is acidic and it changes the pH of the saliva, leading to tooth decay. Non-diet soda contains high fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener that can increase your susceptibility to insulin resistance, a precursor of diabetes, and that alters the release of hormones related to satiety.
If I spend 8 to 12 dollars per week on soda, I'll be saving between 400-630 dollars per year, money which would be better used sitting in our savings. In addition, I want to set a healthy example for my kids, and while Johnny has shown no interest in soda so far, he will most definitely be exposed to kids who drink it when he starts school, and I want him to view it as a treat and not as a necessary part of the day.
I'm not good with willpower, so once I get my sinus issues resolved, I'm thinking I need to quit cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms will be more pronounced that way, but I've tried cutting back before and it doesn't work for me. I don't have the willpower to drink "just one." I will also need to enlist the help of family while I deal with the physical symptoms. I'm feeling much more confident that this approach will help me overcome my caffeine dependency once and for all.
Jen at Lords of the Manor tagged me for the Think Different Challenge after writing about how she plans to concentrate on magnifying her calling as wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc instead of taking on more responsibility.
Here are the rules for this meme:
I'd like to tag Kiki, Terina, Kenady and Mary to consider how to think differently about some aspect of their lives.