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One of the hardest things I've ever done

By Mike Wilber, Special to CNN
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
When taken at face value, diet soda seems like a health-conscious choice. It saves you the 140-plus calories you'd find in a sugary soft drink while still satisfying your urge for something sweet with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. But there's more to this chemical cocktail than meets the eye. <!-- -->
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</br><a href='http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20645166,00.html' target='_blank'>Health.com: The 25 best diet tricks of all time</a> When taken at face value, diet soda seems like a health-conscious choice. It saves you the 140-plus calories you'd find in a sugary soft drink while still satisfying your urge for something sweet with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. But there's more to this chemical cocktail than meets the eye.

Health.com: The 25 best diet tricks of all time
HIDE CAPTION
10 reasons to give up diet soda
It confuses your body
It could lead to weight gain, not weight loss
It may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes
It has no nutritional value
Its sweetener is linked to headaches
It'll ruin your smile over time
It makes drinking more dangerous
It's associated with depression
It may be bad for your bones
It may hurt your heart
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Wilber decided that he was going to give up soda to become healthier
  • His acid reflux and energy swings have disappeared since making the switch to water
  • Follow Mike's journey training for a triathlon on Twitter @TriHardMike

Editor's note: Mike Wilber is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the "Sassy Six" on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

(CNN) -- I was introduced to pop -- soda for you Southerners -- at a young age.

My parents used it as a treat, like birthday cake. As I got older, I remember having pop around the house all the time.

As a kid, my drink of choice was Mountain Dew. I loved the taste of an ice cold Dew on a hot summer day. A lot of my favorite memories are associated with its sweet taste.

Fit Nation team member Mike Wilber gave up pop as part of his journey in training for his first triathlon.
Fit Nation team member Mike Wilber gave up pop as part of his journey in training for his first triathlon.

As I matured, my taste changed to Diet Pepsi and, more recently, Diet Coke. I enjoyed starting my day with a Diet Coke before the first period class arrived. It was part of my relaxation routine -- a comfort drink, so to speak. The taste, the sound, the "fizz." I would tell people, "I need my caffeine."

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Fit Nation team works out with Hawks
Fit Nation team starts journey to tri

I was aware of all the health problems that have been linked to drinking pop. It never stopped me. The empty calories, the dangers of sugar and artificial sweeteners couldn't sway me. I had to have it.

After my first dose in the morning, I crashed a few hours later. I experienced huge energy swings throughout the day. I had acid reflux disease. But those couldn't be because of what I drank, could it?

This habit had a trickle-down effect to my children. I had it in the house at all times. My girlfriend kept it in her house as well. But it wasn't a habit I wanted my two teenage girls starting up. I wanted to be a better role model. My words don't hold much value if I am drinking what I tell them that they cannot, I thought.

Then, on December 30, that all changed. After I was selected to be part of the CNN Fit Nation team, I decided to take a look at all aspects of my life. What can I do to make myself healthier? I asked myself.

How the 'Sassy Six' came to be

That day, I decided to do the unthinkable: I quit drinking pop.

Don't assume this has been easy for me. I struggle with the thought of it. I miss it and can still taste it six weeks later. Giving up pop has been one of the most difficult things I have done, and yet it's also one of the healthiest.

Although I miss every aspect of drinking a Diet Coke every day, I know my body feels better. I feel less dependent on this comfort food. If I'm having a bad day, I don't have to run upstairs and grab a Diet Coke. I definitely have more energy, and my body doesn't ache.

I have not had an issue with acid reflux since I quit. Is that a coincidence? I think not.

Now I have to retrain my brain. Water has become my drink of choice. I know ... water is boring. But I have come to appreciate how good an ice cold glass of water actually tastes.

The desire to change myself into a healthier version became more important than the desire to drink pop. It took me a while to realize that I needed to make that change. I wish I had listened to my body sooner!

I challenge you to do the same. Will you give up pop with me? Or make another small change in order to be healthier? Tell me your plan in the comments below, and share your success with me on Twitter @TriHardMike.

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