Now I’m an adult. I no longer drink sodas for breakfast. It’s been a long time coming.

The year was 1988, a simpler and more innocent time. Women had big hair. Gasoline was less than a buck. Morton Downey Jr. was on the television, and Night Ranger was on the radio. All was right in the world. It also was also my freshman year in college, on my own for the first time living in a dorm 240 miles away from Mom and Dad.

College freshmen being college freshmen, we stayed up way past anything resembling a reasonable bedtime. But every morning the bell tolled for thee, and it was time to saddle up and make that long, icy walk across the Virginia Tech Drillfield to attend an 8 a.m. class. As the late nights started to catch up with me, I decided I needed a little boost in the morning. I turned to Coke because it was cheap, readily available and packed a nice one-two punch of sugar and caffeine. Coffee? No thanks. I’m not one for hot drinks.

I think I also liked the idea of being able to have soda whenever I wanted. My parents never kept much soda in the house when I was growing up, so the prospect of drinking as many Cokes as I wanted, whenever I wanted was appealing. It was a small step in solidifying my independence, or so I thought in my 18-year-old brain.

The Coke tally was under control at first — one, maybe two before lunch, and then another one in the afternoon. As college wore on, my Coke intake increased at a steady rate. By the time my senior year rolled around and I was news editor of the college newspaper and staying up until 6 or 7 a.m. twice a week, I was gulping down a dozen a day.

This bad habit continued well past graduation. I reined in the can tally somewhat to five or six Cokes a day, but that monkey remained on my back for years. In my late 20s my wife and I noticed that I had gained much too much weight. Very few people go through life with the same body they had when they were 18, but my weight gain was beyond anything I could accept. Then one day I finally got it through my thick skull that perhaps the Cokes were part of the problem. Do the math: 150 calories per Coke multiplied by six per day equals 900 calories — that’s not food, that’s just freakin’ soda pop! Richard Simmons would not approve of this!

Following my mathematical revelation, I made the switch to Diet Coke. Zero. Zip. Nada. Goose egg. There wasn’t a calorie to be had, and still all the caffeine I needed to get me through my day. So for the past eight years I started every morning with a few Diet Cokes, and pounds came off. I firmly believed I had beaten the system.

That all changed last month when my wife, my codependent Diet Coke addict, announced that she was hopping on the wagon. She read a medical report about all the questionable chemicals that are in diet sodas. That’s the trouble with being married to a health care professional — they’re up on all the latest news on what’s bad for you.

So she switched to unsweet ice tea for her caffeine fix. She urged me to come along for the ride, but I resisted. After all, I had a passionate 18-year love affair with the Coca-Cola corporation. We had always been there for one another. How could I just throw that away?

Two words: Artificial sweeteners. As I stare down the barrel of 36 in a couple of weeks and then — eeek! — turning 40 soon enough, I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. Some research suggests artificial sweeteners are bad news. There’s enough to worry about without adding more to the list, especially when there’s a perfectly acceptable substitute standing at the ready. Tea’s been around for thousands of years. It’s stood the test of time. If tea were hazardous to your health, we’d know about it by now. Like the old saying goes, a billion Chinese can’t be wrong.

So now I start my day with unsweet ice tea, and I’ve finally left my adolescent Coke habit in the past. It was getting pretty embarrassing anyway. It’s one thing to see an 18-year-old drinking a Coke at 7 a.m. Kids are kids. They don’t know any better. It’s quite another to be a 35-year-old drinking a Coke at that hour. At this age, it’s just goofy.

I’d love to be able to kick caffeine altogether, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, not with two small kids in the house. Maybe that’s why the Chinese love tea so much. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why there are a billion Chinese in the first place. A little caffeine goes a long way toward shaking off the morning fog and jumping in to another kid-packed day. All the tea in China seems like a much better plan than all the Coke in my fridge.

David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at davespates@tds.net.

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