The evils of drinking Diet Coke: Addiction and objectification
My roommates and I eat a lot of Jello and Diet Coke. I always have a diet coke in my hand. I drink six or seven a day. I drink a lot. I love it.
Diet Coke sometimes almost seems a force unto itself here at Princeton. I've often seen extremely thin (I would say "skinny," but in our warped society that term has entirely lost its negative connotation when applied to the female body) women nibbling on bits of salad in the dining halls but gulping down one, two or even three glasses of diet soda. I think one can be reasonably sure that since they're stinting their calories on food, they're not going to blow them on three glasses worth of Coca-Cola! The woman quoted above is not unusual, as according to an estimate found in last year's 'Prince' feature story on Nutrasweet, many women on campus (and some men) drink an average of six to seven cans of Diet Coke a day, more than half a gallon! Regardless of what anyone contends about the safety of Nutrasweet, the FDA itself recommends a maximum of the equivalent of two cups of diet soda (two cans are the equivalent of three cups), much less than half a gallon (8 cups).
Even if you don't worry about cancer, there are other reasons to worry about drinking Diet Coke. For one thing, because they are so much sweeter than actual sugar, drinking so much abuses the systems your body has in place. Some believe that this desensitizes your body to sugar-like substances and can make you gain weight. Moreover, because artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet are so much sweeter than actual sugar, they give you additional sweets cravings rather than satisfying the ones you're probably trying to pacify by drinking Diet Coke.
I've been there. I know what it's like to be addicted to the stuff. You get stressed, you reach for a Diet Coke. You feel like you've gained weight, you reach for a Diet Coke. You want some chocolate, you reach for a Diet Coke, don't feel satisfied, reach for another, and then have the chocolate anyway. And then another Diet Coke, of course.
I didn't really think about all this until the summer. I didn't want to; no one wants to give up a crutch. It was only when I was finally out of the Princeton bubble after my first year that I confronted the problem of Diet Coke. I felt like I'd turned into a Diet Coke consuming machine (and this is not meant to be humorous in the least). I realized I was disassociating myself from my body and abusing it. By drinking Diet Coke, a substance that is supposed to be pleasing to the senses but also purposely entirely useless to the body, I was affirming a view that my body was at best either an object to keep as lean as possible or an orifice in which to dump mixtures that give me short-lived sensory pleasure.
I can't say I'm completely cured even now. Though I've been Nutrasweet/aspartame free for some time, I'm still tempted sometimes. It's not the taste — like cigarettes no one ever likes Diet Coke the first time they try it. Rather, there's something incredibly appealing about sweets with no consequences, no guilt. That's what Diet Coke symbolizes to a lot of people at Princeton. I think they forget that they then treat their body as an object, or maybe a tasting tool.
I'm sure people are wondering how I can differentiate between drinking Diet Coke and drinking anything else that has no nutritional value, and worse, has calories to boot. I think there's an inherent associated guilt or at least certain amount of preoccupation with food that is found in Diet Coke drinkers. People may drink regular soda because it tastes good, but at least the keep their eating within the original framework of the process, that is acquiring energy to do more interesting things than intake food. Diet Coke is most often used in an abusive way, such as for more caffeine or to get rid of food cravings (which are completely natural and necessary in healthy individuals in case we've all forgotten that).
Back at Princeton, I can already feel the Diet Coke pressure when I look around and see so many women with Diet Coke in hand (not to take away from the men who also indulge, but Diet Coke is a woman's problem). I wonder if these students remember who they are. They're Princeton women. They're not here for their girlish figures. They're here for their minds, their creativity and their determination (I would hope, anyway). Everything about drinking Diet Coke inherently disrespects those qualities within them, because it makes a social statement that they do have to conform to certain expectations about their appearance even at the risk of their health.
I think this is something we really can change. This is something that's literally right in front of us. You might argue that it's a personal choice, and nothing that should be part of a community dialogue. Yet, most people don't feel that way about cigarettes and have no qualms about taunting their nicotine-dependent friends. To be starting out so young with what amounts to an addiction and basic disrespect for what it means to be an evolved human, a rational creature who lives in the mind through the body rather than just a hunter/gatherer is a huge disadvantage. What can really be said for this famed Princeton education if we let so many march out with such a basic problem? Aileen Ann Nielsen is from Upper Black Eddy, Pa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.