This week I celebrated my 38th birthday, and it was a good one. I took a new yoga class that busted my bottom and spent quality time connecting with girlfriends.

Two years ago I made the decision to give myself a “gift of health” for my birthday. At 36 I started a morning meditation practice using an app called “Headspace,” and at 37 I made the commitment to regularly practice yoga.  I am happy to say I have maintained both of these birthday gifts and have clearly seen the benefits.

This year instead of cultivating a new habit, I am giving one up and saying goodbye to diet soda. Yes, this brussel sprout, bean-loving dietitian also has been drinking one diet soda a day. While the majority of research on artificial sweeteners has proven their safety in reasonable amounts, there is something about my relationship with this habit that I feel I needed to change. Here are the primary reasons I decided to kick diet soda to the curb:

1I care about the health of my gut bacteria. Emerging (not strong) evidence exists that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the health of our gut bacteria. In a study done in mice, sweeteners changed the gut bacteria responsible for metabolism – or how we break down and store food. Even with criticism on the protocol and interpretation of this study, it begged the question: Why would I eat or drink anything that could potentially harm the bugs that work so hard to preserve my health?

2. I have a sweet tooth.  We are all born with an innate desire for sweetness, but we also train our taste buds with our daily food choices. The ongoing goal for my family and me is to train our taste buds to enjoy the flavors from nature’s candy – fruit.  The sweetness from diet soda is intense, and I am curious to see if removal of this concentrated sweetness decreases cravings for other sweet foods.

3. It’s an addiction.  It’s not pretty – I have gone to great lengths to get my hands on a diet soda when I have run out.  I don’t like the feeling of being enslaved to a non-nourishing food or drink. Therefore, I think the only solution is to break up with diet soda and not look back.

So how do you re-write a better habit? 

Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite researchers in habit formation, discusses a habit strategy called the “clean slate strategy.”  The clean slate strategy is a time in life that presents a fresh start or do-over. You might relate it to a New Year’s Resolution, job change, pregnancy, or move. Being aware of a clean slate opportunity presents the ideal time to initiate a new habit or quit an existing one.

Making it stick.

Making the habit stick is the toughest part.  First, you should find a good replacement – one that offers similar benefits. Because the diet soda gave me an afternoon caffeine kick, drinking two cups of green tea after lunch provided me with caffeine, but in a healthier liquid package. Secondly, it helps to share your goals with others for accountability purposes and support.

So there it is, a little dietitian confession, but more importantly, to garner some inspiration for those clean slate moments in life.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.