In 2003, at the age of 25, I had to admit that I often struggled mightily to catch my breath after climbing just one flight of stairs. I had no cardiovascular strength of which to speak and everytime I looked in the mirror, I saw an image reflected of my obese, chain-smoking mother Gloria, who at 40 years of age looked not a day under 50. It was a frightening counter-example to the kind of healthy, vibrant adult life I wanted to live and I vowed to turn things around. I adopted the faddish but successful Atkins diet to kick start what would eventually turn out to be a 60-pound weight loss. I also began exercising, slowly at first, not much more than a little yoga and the occasional treadmill sprint, but it was enough. In the ensuing months I lost the weight and have kept it off for nine years.
One of the greatest challenges I faced after the end of the Atkins-era was a wholesale lack of knowledge of how to eat properly. I was a child of the 80s, raised by busy working parents on a steady diet of convenience foods: Dunkin' Donuts for weekend breakfasts, white bread bologna sandwiches with sugary juice boxes for lunch, and McDonald's for dinner. Soda was served in cans all day and snacks usually involved some form of potato chip or the now-defunct Jell-O Pudding Pops. I never met a carb I didn't adore, knew naught of portion control and if my sister and I were bored, a trip to the fridge or pantry usually followed.
The twin influences of determination and a temporary job processing conference registrations at the American Dietetic Association, commenced a long overdue education of the ins and outs of a sensible meal plan. One of the first, yet toughest things to relinquish, was a long-treasured adoration for soda pop, more specifically Dr. Pepper, Strawberry Crush and my old friend Coca-Cola Classic. One of the first rules of a weight loss plan: don't drink your calories. And the calories of my favorite sodas are as empty as they come. More than once I was given the advice to simply switch to diet. But why would I do that? I drank soda because it tasted GOOD and Diet Coke, that chemically-developed can of nastiness, never held any appeal. Thus I resigned myself to a carbonated beverage-free life, chalking it up to a necessary health sacrifice.
And then in 2007, it happened: Coke Zero. Fully of the opinion that this impostor was just another shitty variation of the same Diet Coke I'd been rejecting for years, I had Zero interest (Get it? Ha!) in sampling the new product. I was further turned off when I came across the following information on Wikipedia:
"Coca-Cola Zero or Coke Zero is a product of the Coca-Cola Company. It is a low-calorie variation of Coca-Cola specifically marketed to men, who were shown to associate 'diet' drinks with women."
Bah! There's nothing that turns me off faster than sexist marketing and I managed to go nearly five full years without being pulled in by Zero's siren call, its claims to taste almost exactly like its parent product. How could this be? If I could enjoy the taste of Coca-Cola Classic without sacrificing flavor or adding inches to my waistline then why, by cracky, had the company waited so long? Fool me once New Coke (1986), shame on you. Fool me twice....
And what I'm dealing with now is a full-blown Coke Zero addiction. I have never been able to drink coffee (a writer who drinks no coffee nor smokes cigarettes? Clearly I am up to no good) as it makes me feel dizzy and nauseous. I was more than used to dealing with high school all-night study sessions or morning commutes au naturel. Yet suddenly I could not board the daily train to the office without a 12-ounce bottle in hand.
But here's the rub. Although I have come to adore Coke Zero, to depend on the caffeine jolt that it provides my 34 year-old body, I know the absence of calories hardly makes the beverage GOOD for me. If I wanted to identify most of the ingredients listed on the back of the package, I'd need to consult my chemist boyfriend for a little help. My friend and fitness trainer Rob has absolutely savaged me for buying into the hype. Dammit, the hype is tasty!
So what's a girl to do? Can I go back to the woman I was, an imbiber of tap water and unsweetened iced tea (or at least I was until I discovered Splenda, but that's another obsessive food post for another time)? Now that I have been to the top of Coke Zero mountain, am I capable of complacently return to the valley of hydrating liquids with no additives? There seems to be Zero chance.