Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke Zero

In 2003, at the age of 25, I had to admit that I often struggled mightily to catch my breath after climbing just one flight of stairs. I had no cardiovascular strength of which to speak and everytime I looked in the mirror, I saw an image reflected of my obese, chain-smoking mother Gloria, who at 40 years of age looked not a day under 50. It was a frightening counter-example to the kind of healthy, vibrant adult life I wanted to live and I vowed to turn things around. I adopted the faddish but successful Atkins diet to kick start what would eventually turn out to be a 60-pound weight loss. I also began exercising, slowly at first, not much more than a little yoga and the occasional treadmill sprint, but it was enough. In the ensuing months I lost the weight and have kept it off for nine years.

One of the greatest challenges I faced after the end of the Atkins-era was a wholesale lack of knowledge of how to eat properly. I was a child of the 80s, raised by busy working parents on a steady diet of convenience foods: Dunkin' Donuts for weekend breakfasts, white bread bologna sandwiches with sugary juice boxes for lunch, and McDonald's for dinner. Soda was served in cans all day and snacks usually involved some form of potato chip or the now-defunct Jell-O Pudding Pops. I never met a carb I didn't adore, knew naught of portion control and if my sister and I were bored, a trip to the fridge or pantry usually followed.

The twin influences of determination and a temporary job processing conference registrations at the American Dietetic Association, commenced a long overdue education of the ins and outs of a sensible meal plan. One of the first, yet toughest things to relinquish, was a long-treasured adoration for soda pop, more specifically Dr. Pepper, Strawberry Crush and my old friend Coca-Cola Classic. One of the first rules of a weight loss plan: don't drink your calories. And the calories of my favorite sodas are as empty as they come. More than once I was given the advice to simply switch to diet. But why would I do that? I drank soda because it tasted GOOD and Diet Coke, that chemically-developed can of nastiness, never held any appeal. Thus I resigned myself to a carbonated beverage-free life, chalking it up to a necessary health sacrifice.

And then in 2007, it happened: Coke Zero. Fully of the opinion that this impostor was just another shitty variation of the same Diet Coke I'd been rejecting for years, I had Zero interest (Get it? Ha!) in sampling the new product. I was further turned off when I came across the following information on Wikipedia:

"Coca-Cola Zero or Coke Zero is a product of the Coca-Cola Company. It is a low-calorie  variation of Coca-Cola specifically marketed to men, who were shown to associate 'diet' drinks with women."

Bah! There's nothing that turns me off faster than sexist marketing and I managed to go nearly five full years without being pulled in by Zero's siren call, its claims to taste almost exactly like its parent product. How could this be? If I could enjoy the taste of Coca-Cola Classic without sacrificing flavor or adding inches to my waistline then why, by cracky, had the company waited so long? Fool me once New Coke (1986), shame on you. Fool me twice....

And what I'm dealing with now is a full-blown Coke Zero addiction. I have never been able to drink coffee (a writer who drinks no coffee nor smokes cigarettes? Clearly I am up to no good) as it makes me feel dizzy and nauseous. I was more than used to dealing with high school all-night study sessions or morning commutes au naturel. Yet suddenly I could not board the daily train to the office without a 12-ounce bottle in hand.

But here's the rub. Although I have come to adore Coke Zero, to depend on the caffeine jolt that it provides my 34 year-old body, I know the absence of calories hardly makes the beverage GOOD for me. If I wanted to identify most of the ingredients listed on the back of the package, I'd need to consult my chemist boyfriend for a little help. My friend and fitness trainer Rob has absolutely savaged me for buying into the hype. Dammit, the hype is tasty!

So what's a girl to do? Can I go back to the woman I was, an imbiber of tap water and unsweetened iced tea (or at least I was until I discovered Splenda, but that's another obsessive food post for another time)? Now that I have been to the top of Coke Zero mountain, am I capable of complacently return to the valley of hydrating liquids with no additives? There seems to be Zero chance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seasonal Attitude Disorder

I am really trying to be enthusiastic about the holidays this year. On November 30, 2011 Eddie and I signed our final divorce papers and I was just emerging from a bout with cervical cancer. The complicated and conflicting emotions involved included being grateful for my life while wondering what on earth I was going to do with the rest of it. I was at a loss and that pretty much sapped my close-of-2011 energy. I was lonely, depressed, afraid and reclusive. I sat out December altogether and spent a low-key New Year's Eve with close friends.

2012 has had its ups and downs but by and large, I am healthier and more whole than I can ever remember. The cancer is in remission, memories of an unhappy marriage began to recede and occupy their rightful, proportionate place. I grew professionally as I settled into a day job as the head writer for a housewares company, formulated new and interesting friendships, even took a couple shots at romance again. As the record currently stands, these forays into attachment did not end happily, but there was a time I believed I could never risk my heart. So there's a simple pride in having put myself out there.

More than five weeks ago, as regular readers of this blog are aware, L'il Red (my beloved bike) and I were involved in a somewhat hellacious accident involving an unwise yellow-light decision and a moving SUV. I was thrown from the bicycle, landing squarely on my tailbone and sacrum (the base of the spine) in the process. Both of these bones are fractured but despite the weeks of discomfort behind me as well as the months of recovery ahead, I know it could have been much worse.

And dammit, I like to think of myself as a tough gal but continuous pain, drug side effects and the limiting of my range of motion are conspiring to upend this self-image. I hurt without medication. I struggle to eat and sleep when taking it. And no matter the state of physical discomfort, the holiday season is here to make me feel more pathetic and alone than I might otherwise. It's frustrating because I was bloody determined not to be a humbug this year.

I have a pre-lit Christmas tree in my living room, a gift from the most recent boyfriend. When I find myself in the throes of pain, or sleepless from its relief, I turn on the four foot tall symbol of holiday cheer. Admittedly is is tougher to scowl when surrounded by glittering lights, but this kind of reminds me of those lamps doctors recommend to patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The light takes the edge off but it's no real substitute for the sun you know? Likewise the flickering tannenbaum brings a fleeting comfort but it doesn't replace the real sense of belonging, togetherness and celebration that the holiday season portends, and for which I yearn.

I'm writing about these feelings because I wish to master them. Know thine enemy and all that. I feel myself slipping into the usual Christmas despondency and the hope is that by recognizing it, I can hold it at bay. Growing up the eldest child of abusive and neglectful parents, the 12 Days of Christmas usually involved a rundown of why I didn't deserve the blessings bestowed and what I had done to disappoint my progenitors throughout the calendar year. I am 34 years-old now. I don't need or deserve to hear these voices this year - from my lips or anyone else's.