Be a Quitter: How to Break Your Worst Habits
The Soda FiendAlison Keith, 33, Austin, Texas
Downing two liters of caffeinated regular soda was a daily habit of Alison Keith for the past 15 years. The busy wife and mom -- who works two jobs while attending nursing school -- felt she needed soda for energy. She also found it soothing. "We always had sugary stuff in the house when I was growing up," she explains. "It was a reward."
Keith hoped quitting soda would help her slim down and avoid developing diabetes, which runs in her family. She also wanted to set a good example for her 7-year-old son, Max.
She'd tried to kick her soda habit several times before but couldn't make the break for good. "When I feel stressed, I go right back to soda," she says.
The expert: Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet
Her give-it-up guide: First, Gans needed to know if Keith's diet played a role in her soda cravings. She asked her to keep a food diary, noting what and when she ate. When Gans scanned the first week of entries, she saw why Keith felt sluggish and dependent on soda. She usually skipped breakfast, which sapped her energy and set her up for high-calorie cravings later. To make matters worse, she sometimes went seven or eight hours between meals. "If you don't eat every four or five hours, your blood sugar can dip, triggering your body to seek out a sweet fix," Gans explains. Finally, Keith's diet -- high in refined carbs and low in protein -- simply wasn't filling. Gans's solution: Help Keith plan balanced, satisfying meals and snacks so she wouldn't sip soda out of hunger or lack of energy.
How it worked: "The first thing I did was buy soda in cans instead of bottles so I'd be more aware of how much I was drinking," says Keith. "Because I only like cold soda, I decided to keep the cans in my kitchen cabinets instead of the fridge so they'd be less tempting. Those strategies got me down to about two cans of soda a day.
"Unfortunately, I started relying on other sweet drinks and candy instead. So I focused on meeting the daily food goals Keri had set, like bringing healthy snacks to work and eating fruit or veggies with each meal, so I'd feel full and energized. Her advice was reasonable but I felt overwhelmed.
"Halfway through the process, I was impatient with my lack of progress, so I quit soda cold turkey for a week. Keri was against it but I wanted to shake things up. Huge mistake! My sugar cravings got worse. I ate frozen yogurt, a granola bar, a candy bar, a snow cone, and half a Danish in one afternoon. I went back on Keri's plan.
"Some of the tips were working for me. For example, my food diary showed I had more energy on the days I ate more protein. But I was having trouble finding a substitute beverage for soda. Keri suggested mixing juice with seltzer but that didn't appeal to me.
"For a while I felt like I was doing better. I kept my list of nutrition goals in my notebook so I could evaluate myself at the end of each day. But then it all started to feel like too much pressure again. Keri said that I didn't have to be perfect but it didn't help.
"At the end of three months, I was down seven pounds. Still, I didn't feel like I'd accomplished much. Keri said that even though my diet hadn't really improved, I had gained insight into my soda cravings, which was important.
"But a funny thing happened after we stopped working together: I started following her advice. Now I drink water I infuse with fruit, not soda. I've been really good about eating healthier snacks and more protein. I even track my diet online although I'd hated keeping a food diary! I have a rebellious streak, and I guess now that I'm on my own I don't feel the need to rebel."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2012.