It started as a dare between friends. Just as he was about to take off on a spring day run through Jetton Park in Cornelius, Bobby DeMuro, a personal trainer, checked his Twitter account on his phone and noticed a relatively healthy friend lamenting her soda vice. In a flash, DeMuro responded with a challenge – Can the habit for 30 days – then he dashed onto the trails.
When he returned from his run, his friend wasn’t the only one who had agreed to his challenge. Over 150 people responded. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, a movement, fueled by social media but motivated by a desire for better health, was born.
“It turned me on to the power of social media and just how quickly a movement can take off but also how pervasive soda usage is here. People know it is bad, but they need a push to change their habits,” says DeMuro.
Now, NoFizz Charlotte, with its nonprofit status in the works, touts (and tweets) its mission of promoting healthy hydration by encouraging followers to choose water over soda. “Hydrating the Carolinas” is the organization’s tagline.
NoFizz Charlotte sponsors a free, monthly NoFizz challenge, which starts the first day of every month.
Participants registering at nofizzclt.org pledge to limit or completely stop soda consumption. They receive an e-mail packet with strategies for drinking more water, avoiding sugars and getting active. Participants are encouraged to aim for 60 ounces of water daily.
DeMuro also leads educational workshops at schools, after-school programs and businesses around the area. Since its official launch in May 2010, NoFizz Charlotte has guided over 5,600 people in forgoing their soda habit for water, says DeMuro.
One Facebook post, “Fell off the wagon today, after 2 weeks, so stressed out...will start again tomorrow,” prompts encouraging words from another participant: “You can do it!”
The 30-day soda-free challenges are really just the start of what DeMuro hopes will prompt people to make healthier decisions in their lives.
While some participants can give up their soda habit cold turkey, others may have a harder time with it. To keep participants focused, DeMuro will point to health studies and headlines showing the effects of overindulging in sweets.
He cites studies from leading research universities linking soda consumption with obesity, muscle atrophy, pancreatic cancer, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and other health maladies.
However, challengers of this stance have been getting attention, too. A national television commercial campaign, backed by the Corn Refiners Association, notes that high fructose corn syrup – used in soft drinks – is fine in moderation. The campaign’s web address: sweetsurprise.com.
DeMuro, who owns FusionSouth personal training firm in Davidson, says anyone confused by conflicting messages should pay attention to who is backing that particular health promotion. “Look at who is funding those studies. Look who has a stake,” DeMuro says.
For Sarah Young, a November challenge participant, it was information about artificial sweeteners that gave her pause.
“I don’t usually drink a lot of soda anyway, but I do like unsweetened tea with Splenda or Sweet’N Low,” says Young, a dental hygienist who lives in Cornelius. “Through the challenge, I learned that artificial sweeteners can make you crave sugar.”
After forgoing unsweetened tea and artificial sweeteners for a month, Young found she also suffered far less frequently from headaches.
Keep on moving
DeMuro, 24, says he’s never been a soda drinker. When he challenged his friend to can the soda habit for 30 days, DeMuro gave up bread instead.
At the start of 2011, NoFizz convinced dozens of mayors throughout the Carolinas to sign on to the 30-day challenge as a New Year’s resolution. He’d eventually like to take the NoFizz challenge to college campuses – and, ultimately, beyond the Carolinas.
DeMuro is also a former professional baseball player and a lifelong advocate of exercise. So his NoFizz teaching programs in school and after-school programs include getting youngsters up and moving. After all, he says, long talks about hydration “gets boring for them.”
At the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, where DeMuro leads a regular program, he and the youngsters play running games, basketball, and do calisthenics. It’s all a fun way of showing kids that it’s not that hard to be healthy and fit, DeMuro says.
Dr. John Hoctor, of Hoctor Chiropractic and Family Wellness in Cornelius, likes the whole idea behind NoFizz and readily agreed to serve on its board of medical advisors. Hoctor believes that giving up soda leads to people making other healthy choices in their daily routine.
“When people start doing good things for themselves, it becomes contagious,” Hoctor says. “There is a physical and emotional transformation as they switch from a person to whom things happen to a person who takes control of making their life happen.”
“This is about inspiring people to make simple and small adjustments and to do that consistently over time,” he says.
“Small changes – giving up soda, then let’s say fast food – lead to big changes down the road. We’re out there to encourage people to understand what their choices do to their bodies, and then they can make the decision about whether or not they want to give it up.”
Can’t kick the (soda) can just yet?
Bobby DeMuro says while some people stop their soda habit cold turkey, others need to take a more gradual approach – especially if they drink large quantities of soda daily. He offers these tips for moving away from soda and toward the goal of drinking 60 ounces of water daily:
If you’re drinking 12 sodas a day, “cut it to 11, then 10, then 9.” If you must have that soda with lunch or as an afternoon break, water it down – half soda, half water. “You still get the flavor,” plus you’re consuming more water. Those flavoring packets with powder to sprinkle in water botttles are fine to use. However, NoFizz participants are challenged to avoid those packets that include high fructose corn syrup or aspartame. Many participants do great during the work week, when they have their water bottle staring back at them on their desk. On weekends, though, they may fall out of the habit. Try to remain diligent on Saturdays and Sundays. Once you do make the switch to water only, start drinking early in the day so you get in 60 ounces.
Want to be a part of the February NoFizz Charlotte challenge? Visit www.nofizzclt.org for more information and to sign up.