And the results weren't pretty...
I’m not a big soda drinker. I never really have been, at least not in my adult life. Paradoxically, this is because I love soda. The sweet, sugary taste setting my taste buds ablaze; the bursting bubbles in your mouth lighting my inner cheeks up like a Christmas tree; the fizzy burn of the carbonation delivering a tingling bite. There’s nothing quite like a soda to cool you off on a hot day, in my book. As long as it’s used sparingly.
When I drink soda too much, it invariably loses its magic. It becomes another drab taste and all of that magical wonder is stripped from it. But it can also cause a slew of health issues, as well. The glycemic index of a food, or in this case, a drink, is how quickly it raises your blood sugar. High blood sugar has been associated with an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, and a slew of other illnesses that can stem from those.
And for soda, this number is rather high for someone trying to keep their blood sugar under control. According to Harvard Health Publishing, soda typically has a glycemic index of 59. As they say in a write-up about the glycemic index:
Foods low on the glycemic index (GI) scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. Foods high on the glycemic index release glucose rapidly. Low GI foods tend to foster weight loss, while foods high on the GI scale help with energy recovery after exercise, or to offset hypo- (or insufficient) glycemia. Long-distance runners would tend to favor foods high on the glycemic index, while people with pre- or full-blown diabetes would need to concentrate on low GI foods.
The glycemic index of foods is broken into three categories, with GIs of under 55 being considered low glycemic index, with foods in the range from 56–69 being considered medium glycemic index, and foods 70 and above being considered high glycemic index. And while soda typically falls in the medium range of glycemic index foods, it’s got a lot of things going against it.
Soda is high in fructose, whereas normal table sugar contains roughly equal amounts of fructose and glucose. The difference between the two is that glucose fuels every single cell in the human body, including the brain. It’s the energy we operate on in our everyday lives. But fructose can only be utilized and stored by the liver.
Whenever you drink too much fructose, the liver becomes overwhelmed and it converts the fructose into fat for storage in the body. This is why soda has so greatly contributed to the obesity epidemic and it can even give you fatty liver disease.
There are also strong associations with higher rates of cancer and heart disease in soda drinkers, meaning that soda wreaks havoc on virtually every part of your body.
So, don’t ask me why I decided to go on a soda diet back in 2019. Perhaps it was because I’d seen the movie Supersize Me back when I was a young teenager and I was impressionable. But I knew it would make for an interesting one-man study, something I’d eventually be able to write about.
I made a plan. I’d drink soda every single day for a month and see what changes happened to my body. My minimum would be two 12 oz cans, my maximum would be a two-liter, and I’d just drink soda at liberty.
I’d then go back to eating normally and whatever changes that happened would be undone and I could write about my experience. I had no idea what I was in for…
Soda is an extremely addictive substance once you get past the first few days of drinking it constantly. I can attest to that first-hand. So what I thought was going to be a one-month experiment ended up with me drinking soda every day for two months while I tried to kick the habit again. It should be noted, here, in my life, I’ve quit alcohol, I’ve quit caffeinated coffee, and I’ve quit cigarettes after years of smoking. But soda? Now that was a challenge.
Over the course of just two months, I started to notice some immediate transformations to my body that were impossible to ignore. I gained a ton of weight in my midsection. My formerly sculpted physique and Spartan abs were soon replaced by an odd, amorphous basketball center mass. And this wasn’t just plain old obesity. My arms, legs, and neck were still as thin as usual.
I was astonished at how quickly my body transformed. And the reason for this is the process I described earlier. When the liver converts excess fructose into fat, the most convenient storage place is the belly area right next door.
But worse than this, I was weak. I had zero energy the whole time. It’s as if my body was draining itself of all its energy trying to process the sugar overdose I was bombarding myself with. I couldn’t focus on anything. My attention span was shot. My muscles were weak and waking up every morning was a chore.
This held firm both on days I’d drink caffeine-free soda and the classic caffeinated sodas we most commonly think of when we hear the word soda.
Once I made it past the quitting part and got my impulse to gulp new soda down my throat under control, then came the eating normally as I waited for my body to go back to normal. There’s only one problem. It never really did. At least not for a very long time.
At this point, you may have noticed a discrepancy in my story. I decided upon this experiment in 2019, it’s early 2021 now, what gives? Well, my friends, that’s how long it’s taken me to undo the damage that was done, at least physically.
The truth is, no matter how hard I pushed, no matter how much time I spent in the gym (and I’m a bit of a gym rat), no matter what kinds of weight-loss diets I tried, I couldn’t lose the mid-section glut that I’d put on. I downloaded the app called Zero that tracks your fasts and tried the fasting method, sometimes fasting for up to 72 hours at a time. No dice.
It wasn’t until I did something totally unrelated that the weight started to fall off. I decided to go (mostly) vegan. My decision was unrelated to my physique. After watching in horror as the Australian wildfires of 2020 ripped through the nation, I read a story about how many animals had tragically lost their lives. Billions of animals died.
It pained me. But it also motivated me. That’s it. I decided to quit eating meat. Not only because I value life, but also because I know how much our agriculture industrial complex contributes to climate change — the very same climate change that was making the Australian fires much more destructive.
And, as if by divine providence, that’s when I saw an ad for Huel. It’s a nutritionally complete shake that I was able to mix with water and guzzle down on my busy days writing and editing. It’s a time-saver. And best of all, it’s vegan and environmentally conscious in terms of packaging.
I ordered a bunch and decided to go on about my busy life. But as the months went by, I began to finally shed the weight I’d long been holding onto. You see, Huel has only a glycemic index of 16. That’s extremely low.
And it was then that I figured out just how important of a role in weight, metabolic health, and global health sugar truly plays. I used to think, “What’s the harm, it’s just a few excess calories that I can burn off easily with a jog or some time on the stationary bike.” But I was dead wrong.
I made the switch back in June of 2020 and never looked back. I’ve also never been in better shape, my focus has never been sharper, and my conscience has never been clearer. On many days, I live on nothing but Huel. And now, like the sodas of before were, having a “normal” meal out at a restaurant or ordering takeout is the treat I reward myself with.
I guess the big takeaway here is that I had no idea the amount of damage that could be done by something as freely-available (and readily consumed) as soda. I had no idea that it could be so much more detrimental to my health than other things that I imagined were far worse. And I had no idea how hooked I’d get.
But alas, this story has a happy ending. I’ve come full circle and I feel great, and now I write this so maybe if you read it, you’ll think twice before indulging in sugary drinks. They can wreak total havoc on your body. Just remember, the glycemic index is important.