Wednesday, January 08, 2014

How Coke Can Destroy My Mood

When I was younger, my Dad and I would go to a local restaurant for dinner on a fairly regular basis. He would order wing dings and an iced tea and I would order a gyro. When the waitress would ask what I wanted to drink, the conversation would go something like this:

Waitress: What would you like to drink?
Me: A Coke.
Waitress: What kind of Coke?
Me: Mr. Pibb.

In this specific area, we called all soda "Coke" for some reason. Probably the same reason my wife called it "pop" when she grew up in Pittsburgh. So when I talk about Coke here, sometimes I'm referencing "soda" and sometimes the actual product "Coke."

Growing up, Coke wasn't a regular drink at home. That honor went to milk and Kool-Aid. But whenever I went out to eat, I drank a Coke. It was part of what made eating out so special. As I got older and spent more time with my Mom and step-father, I realized I didn't like Pepsi. I liked Pepsi products, but not Pepsi. I don't know why. It was just too sweet I think and Coke had just enough of a nice kick and acidity to make it more appealing. Plus that's what I usually had available to me when I went out to eat in my geographic area.

When I went to college in north-western Pennsylvania, I had to adjust. It was Pepsi territory which meant I had to switch to Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew to survive eating out. But it wasn't until I went home during a break in classes and saw the dentist that I realized what I was doing. I ended up getting a bit of Mountain Dew Mouth and had my first cavity. As a student with no parents to monitor me, I treated every meal as if it were a meal at a restaurant. So even though my meal plan covered milk, water, juice, or any number of other drinks, I almost always chose soda. After my freshman year, things got worse when there was a small dining hall in my dorm that was essentially a generic McDonalds. This would turn out to be the main source of my addiction for the coming years. It set a precedent that nearly every meal could be, and sometimes should be, accompanied by a soda.

After getting in the habit of drinking 30 to 60 ounces of Mountain Dew a day for years, I graduated college and moved on to adulthood. This meant that my habits changed little over time and were mostly governed by what I could afford. I wasn't on a meal plan that my parents paid for so water was cheaper to drink than Coke. But I still drank Coke. Fast forward a few years and I land a steady job. Coke becomes a part of my diet yet again for nearly every meal. I'd drink one for breakfast to wake up, one at lunch to wash it down, and another in the afternoon to keep going. The pattern of drinking was there, it was just modulating as time passed.

Fast forward another few years and I land an even steadier job with my current employer. Like many tech companies at the time, sodas were 25 cents per can. It was like being back in college again where I could almost, almost drink for free. I'd easily drink two to six cans of Coke a day for years. I was yet again reinforcing my bad habits without knowing it.

At some point in time I got sick with a sinus infection or the flu or bronchitis or something like that. I lost my appetite for a few days and, somehow, stopped drinking Coke for three days straight. I had a small streak started and I had quit cold turkey and best of all, my detox side affects were masked by my illness. So I took the opportunity and ran with it. For the next few years, I quit drinking Coke. Period.

Then ultra marathons entered my life and Coke was a staple at many aid stations. To make sure I wouldn't have a bad stomach during a race, I started drinking again. Not anywhere near the levels I had before but the pleasure of drinking had increased. So the one drink I'd have a month would feel like a week's worth of drinks all at once. Over time I would loosen my own personal restrictions on Coke consumption and a few times I would even train specifically with Coke as part of my drop bags or fluid consumption during training runs and races.

That's quite a lot of backstory on how Coke makes me depressed but I think it's important to put out there. I honestly feel, now, that Coke is addictive and can be detrimental to your life like alcohol or some other drug. However, I also feel that, like everything else out there, a little bit of something is okay. Too much of something isn't. So I try to put Coke and beer in the same category. You can have one, but remember that there will be some consequences if you drink it. With Coke, I'll get depressed. With beer, I can't drive.

That brings us to the depression piece of this post. The whole reason I'm writing this is to talk about the odd mental aspect of drinking Coke. A few years ago I realized that every time I drank a Coke, I felt great for a few hours. I felt refreshed, light on my feet, and maybe a little hyper. But for the next day, or two, or sometimes three, I'd feel down. Depressed. Blue. Sad. Whatever you want to call it, I just wasn't feeling good about anything. I'd be more irritable and grumpy with my family and co-workers. Any little thing would set me off. I wasn't depressed enough to be suicidal but I was depressed enough to struggle getting out of bed in the morning. It felt very much like a hangover but was more mental and less physical.

I have experimented with various types of Coke and nearly every one has the same result. The only exception I've found is Cheerwine. I never drank it when I lived in North Carolina, but tend to pick up a bottle when I feel like drinking soda. And even though I don't drink that much Coke, I can still taste the difference between a glass bottle, plastic bottle, a can, and from the fountain. But none of these various serving styles make a difference. I thought it could have been the corn syrup but the Mexican Coke with plain sugar still impacts me the same way. Even Diet Coke makes me wonky. And I don't think it's the caffeine because I drink coffee and tea and they don't do anything like this.

I know I don't eat as healthy as I could. But I am glad I stopped drinking so much Coke. I may once again wean myself off completely but I still have a six pack in the fridge calling my name. Begging me to get high all over again.

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