Once, back in high school – maybe my senior year? – I gave up pop (or soda, for the coastal peoples) for Lent, because the thing always seemed to be to give up some particular food item for Lent alongside the meatless Fridays. The year I gave up french fries was particularly awful, because my pre-two years of vegetarianism in college-self hadn’t really figured out what to eat other than french fries and mac and cheese when I couldn’t have meat as part of a meal. So in keeping with the foodstuffs-elimination-Lenten-observance-ritual, I gave up pop my senior year of high school.

It sucked. At least, it sucked at first because I had a massive caffeine headache from the withdrawl. Once the withdrawl symptoms finally dissipated, I was left with a profound sense of boredom. Until then, I had drunk pop at every meal and was prone to downing one or two during school. I really didn’t drink much of anything else – I’d occasionally grab a milk at lunch if I was feeling virtuous (or like my meal was otherwise entirely devoid of nutritional value and I was having one of those moments where that bothered me), but otherwise, pop. I hadn’t discovered coffee as anything other than an occasional drink, couldn’t/didn’t drink alcohol yet, and hated pre-made lemonade* and bottled tea.

I found myself stuck with water something like 95% of the time. For 40 days, I had water with pretty much every meal and any other time I was thirsty. I got bored with water quickly – the only thing that kept me going was that I reasoned I ought to be able to deal with *anything* for 40 days.

The only major break in my water consumption was a standing Friday night cappuccino/bookstore outing with a friend. The coffee outings turned into a sort of barometer for how long Lent had been going. The first week was awesome – caffeine! flavor! – until my caffeine headache returned the next day with renewed vigor. The second week was a repeat of the first – wonderful to taste, but headache-inducing the next day as my body tried again to figure out how to deal with the loss of the glorious, glorious caffeine molecules.

Then things got ugly.

By the third week, an 8pm cappuccino was a bad idea not because it gave me headache the next day, but because my body was becoming really adjusted to *not* having caffeine at all times. The upshot was that I was up until after 1am, trying desperately to fall asleep.**

The next week, it was later. And then later.

Meanwhile, I got to the point, roughly a month in or so, where I didn’t mind so much that I was having water all the time. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I did notice eventually that I could taste my food better when I wasn’t slurping Coke between every bite or three.***

Anyway, right when I got really used to having only water at meals, Easter happened, and there was pop. I remember being really excited to get out of church so that I could have a pop with lunch – I was more excited about pop than I was about anything else that day. Except that I then had one, and I couldn’t finish it. It was too sweet, too bubbly, too syrupy. The sugar and caffeine combination made me jittery. I’d never been jittery before. I didn’t like it.

I had another pop at dinner, simply because I could, and had the same reaction, plus the added inability to sleep that night. I continued on in the pop-drinking  anyway . My body adjusted quickly to the sugar, and almost as quickly to the caffeine. The flavor got closer to what I remembered every time I had one.

The thing was, though, that it never quite got all the way back to the light and fizzy drink I remembered. It felt heavy, and drinking a pop made me feel heavy in a way it never had before. Once the initial yay pop! feeling was gone, I found myself reaching for water at a meal as often as I would go for anything else. 

When I discovered coffee full-on early in college, I switched allegiance and relied on coffee for the vast majority of my caffeine intake, eventually elimating pop out of my diet altogether in the fall of 2000.+

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*Seriously, the “let us squeeze a lemon into a cup and then fill it with semi-pre-made lemonade” stuff that we got at Worlds of Fun over the summers killed Minute Maid for me. Killed it.
**In high school, I was typically so exhausted from getting up so early and running nuts all day that I could set land-speed records for falling asleep.
***I refused to eat McDonald’s ever again at some point either immediately prior to or right around this time. I wonder sometimes if the pop ban contributed to the McDonald’s ban.
+Lest I sound really holier than thou about all of this, I should point out that my coffee habit at that point hovered around the ten cup a day mark. I am not trying to pretend health was a part of the no-pop decision – the decision to dump pop came entirely out of a sense of trying to make sure my caffeine level didn’t cause my heart to explode out of my chest. At this point, I’m down to a much more reasonable two cups or so a day (or three shots of espresso, depending), but yeah. It’s not gone.

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