First thing every morning, Ellen Talles starts her day by draining a supersize Styrofoam cup filled with Diet Coke and crushed ice. The 61-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., drinks another Diet Coke in the car on the way to work and keeps a glass nearby “at all times” at her job as a salesclerk. By the end of the day she has put away about 2 liters.
“I just love it,” she says. “I crave it, need it. My food tastes better with it.”
Talles sounds a lot like an addict. Replace her ever-present glass of Diet Coke with a cigarette, and she’d make a convincing two-pack-a-day smoker. In fact, she says, she buys her 2-liter bottles 10 at a time—more if a hurricane is in the offing—because if she notices she’s down to her last one, she panics “like somebody who doesn’t have their pack of cigarettes.”
Most diet-soda drinkers aren’t as gung ho as Talles, but people who down several diet sodas per day are hardly rare. Government surveys have found that people who drink diet beverages average more than 26 ounces per day (some drink far more) and that 3% of diet-soda drinkers have at least four daily.
Are these diet-soda fiends true addicts? And if so, what are they addicted to? The most obvious answer is caffeine—but that doesn’t explain the many die-hard diet drinkers who prefer caffeine-free varieties.
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