Thursday, June 30, 2005

Going No Caffeine

Neil Harvey, a reporter in Roanoke, Virginia, is keeping a diary of his experiences while going for thirty days without carbonated, caffeinated soft drinks.

Thirty days? Wuss. I went for nearly three years drinking almost nothing but water. Had the occasional glass of the ubiquitous sweetened iced tea (unavoidable in the South) and, once in a while, some fruit drink crap. I had been drinking up to (and over) a six-pack of Cokes a day and was a real slugabed without a morning Coke.

But I noticed I was always jittery and if I went more than a half-day without Coke I got headaches. Yow! I had one night where I got really sick and couldn't keep anything, not even Coke, down. I started to get caffeine withdrawal headaches and decided, since it was unavoidable anyway, to go ahead and try kicking the caffeine habit. I had a week of bad headaches, no migraines, and that was it.

Shortly after quitting, I began to get kidney stones. I suspect that I had so much acid from the Cokes in my system that it was dissolving the incipient stones or my kidneys had slowed down to compensate. Anyway, I had very bad stones for a few years. (I still get the occasional twinge, but nothing like those years. Thankfully: Worst. Pain. Ever.)

The most notable change other than that was that waking up in the morning was instantaneous. When I woke up, I was up! No dragging ass until I got my morning stimulant. The transition from sleep to wakefulness was quick and refreshing. And a little startling, at first.

The worst change was that I was drinking so much water initially (up to six liters a day, some days) that I would wake up three times a night to whizz. I've since moderated the water intake (to about two liters a day) and can sleep the night most nights.

Another thing I noticed was that all those fruit drinks I used to like (Grape Fruitopia, Sunny D) tasted like crap. They were gummy and too sugary. I'd drink one and then need some water to wash out my mouth. Ick. I still don't drink them, even though I'm back to drinking Coke again.

But now Coke doesn't taste right. Too sweet, too acid and too gassy. I like to look for fountain coke machines (serve yourself, to the non-restaurant types) and find the one that's not calibrated correctly. Coke is supposed to be 5-1 carbonated water to Coke syrup. (Diet coke, by the by, is 5.5 to 1. Suckers.) Sometimes you can find a dispenser that's out of whack and get more syrup, which tastes better to me. But still, it seems to me that Cokes used to be much richer and fuller tasting than today.

And don't even get me started on all the new flavors they're creating. Vanilla Cherry Summer Splash Citrus Extreme Coke With Raspberry-Lime Twist? No thanks. They all taste like chemicals, as though some researcher in a lab found an ester that tasted like something, then they took it to a marketing focus group. The focus group was asked, "What does this remind you of?" If a majority said, "It's kinda like cherry," then the new drink was Cherry Coke! Cheap chemicals instead of real flavor.

When I was a kid (says the old curmudgeon) I used to get fountain cherry Coke at the mall. Real, syrupy Coke from a soda dispenser with real maraschino cherry syrup (one ladle) poured and mixed in. Heaven. The new Cherry Coke is like drinking solvent in comparison. (Actually, with all the acid and carbonation, it is a mild solvent.)

After three years, I did start drinking Coke again, but now I can feel the caffeine buzz clearly when I do. What's weird is trying to drink one of those energy drinks. I can take only a couple of swallows and BAM! I can feel the stimulant kick. Real hard. Haven't ever tried to drink a whole one; my head might unscrew itself, I suspect.

I try to stay down under two 20 oz. bottles a day, and that's only on Epic gaming day; many days I skip it and drink only water. That's about 90 - 95% of what I drink, outside of an occasional lemonade or sweet tea. No alcohol either. (Does this make me a Mormon?)

Memphis tap water is pretty good stuff, and compared to other cities is downright delicious. I keep a rota of three bottles of tap water in the fridge that I drink from all day. When one bottle empties, I refill it from the tap and place it behind the others. When the bottle started to cloud, I replace it. I carry the bottles around the apartment instead of glasses until they stop being cold.

When I can afford it, I like to drink nearly-frozen Ozarka bottled water. It's very clean and has an almost sweet aftertaste. Excellent stuff. It's real spring water, not filtered local tap water like AquaFina and Dasani, which really aren't worth your money.

And there you go. More than you likely wanted to know. Have a good day. Remember, it's hot out there today (heat advisory), so drink lots of water.

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