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So, uh, what’s the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

February 22, 2011


A few days ago, when I was babysitting my two little sisters, I took them out to lunch at Teddy’s Kitchen, a small diner that’s walking distance from our house.

The Greek waitress brought us our steaming plates, and we dug into our meals.  

Then, halfway through, my five-year-old sister dropped the bomb.

“Sven, you’re fat,” she casually announced, as she munched on her grilled cheese sandwich.

“How sweet of you,” I murmured, fiddling with my half-eaten omelette that all of a sudden looked unappetizing.


How did it happen?  

I’ve never, ever been fat. Raised by a single dad, our pantry was always stocked with Pringles, Ring-Dings, Yodels, Dunkaroos, and Gushers. Perhaps for that reason, I never over-indulged myself in snack food. It was always there, but when something isn’t forbidden, it makes it a lot less attractive. I should add that I’ve never had a strong appetite to begin with. I rarely finished meals, and never really had any desire to stuff myself. I coudn’t even finish a can of soda until I was in high school.

I remember one of my old Little League coaches, Salvatore Lentini, seeing me when I was 14 or 15, and prodding me with his thick finger like I was the runt of the litter—“Hey, when-a you-a gonna put some meat on those bones? Huh? Aye, Marone“—before giving me a light slap on the back of the head.     

In fact, for most of my life I’ve been borderline-sickly skinny, and every time I started to put on a little weight, my two lung collapses—one in 2004, the other in 2005—ensured I remained rail thin heading into college.

Fall 2005: Back When Svee Was Skinny

Then, somehow, after four years of crappy cafeteria food,  and late-night nacho binges, I emerged from college a healthy 160 pounds—more than normal for my height. Sure, I had filled out a little bit, but that was expected, given my previous Ethiopian-like physique.  

But about a year and a half after graduation, I went to the doctor for my first physical in almost two years.

“Okay, you’re at 185 pounds,” he said, cooly handing me a sheet of paper.

I glanced over the report; according to my “Body Mass Index” of 25.8, I was considered “overweight.”

I had to re-read the sheet a couple of times. “Excuse me? There must be some mistake.”

“No,” he explained. “I can assure you there is not.”

I left the clinic in a daze, at first in denial, then wondering what went wrong.

I soon came to the conclusion that it was probably due to a combination of a) stress from working 24/7 on a political campaign, b) a refusal to cook for myself, which resulted in my becoming a regular at Bravo Pizza in Allston, and c) physically exerting myself twice over the past twelve months (played basketball on November 20th and went on a run in June 2010).

Fall 2010: The Debut of the Double Chin

Then I finally admitted to myself that, for a while, there had been signs. First, towards the end of the campaign, a button popped off my dress pants (I know, is there anything more cliché?).

About a month later, I was at Macy’s getting fitted for my very first suit when Bob, the guy taking my measurements, asked me what my waist was.

“32,” I said, with forced confidence.

“Okay,” he eyed me suspiciously. “Let me just take a look to make sure. ” He wrapped me with the measuring tape. “Looks like you’re a 35.”

“Oh, uh—why don’t we go with 32—I plan on losing the weight anyways.”

He chuckled. “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that before—trust me, go with 35, you can always use a belt.”

Finally, just last week, I had devoured a bowl of chili, a cubano sandwich, and four beers at John Harvard’s in Harvard Square. As the meal winded down, I leaned back, stretched out my arms, and took a deep, satisfied breath.

“Christ,” my friend Scott muttered from across the table. “Your gut.”

“What?” I glanced down, only to see a bloated flab of skin, which had emerged from underneath my tight sweater and now spilled over the waist of my blue jeans.

I fumbled with the sweater, stretching it over my stomach and tucking it into my pants. “Must, uh, be from all the carbonation—all those beers—jeez I’m stuffed, ha-ha.”

Miami 2011: Pale, Bloated, Unable to Resist Nachos


The thing is, I’m not even that fat. Still, I can’t help feeling that way.

But this is Amerikuh, after all, so I can’t just sit around and do nothing about it. Self-improvement, individualism, and perfection is the name of the game. We’re never good enough, but the least we can do is try.  

Thus, in a quest to eliminate a disturbingly rapid post-college expansion of the breadbasket—and taking a cue from the anorexics from college—I’ve decided to start exclusively drinking “Diet” sodas.

My first test came this past Saturday, when I found myself in the liquor store with a little bottle of spiced rum, needing an appropriate mixer. I approached the refrigerator and—no, instead of going with the usual Coke or Pepsi, I was going to choose the healthy alternative. I settled on “Coke Zero,” the “zero calorie” option. I instantly liked the taste; there was something peppery about it—it had pizzazz, more zing than a regular “Diet Coke.”

Which brings me to the point of this post: I began to wonder, what’s the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

Well, after some research, I have discovered that Coke Zero and Diet Coke are pretty much exactly the same—they both use the artificial sweetener aspartame, and both have zero grams of sugar. Coke Zero does have an additional sweetener, called acesulfame potassium.

The best part? The fact that I thought it tasted better was pure manipulation on the part of a corporation that simply changed Diet Coke’s label, gave this product a new name—Zero—and launched an ad campaign that tageted males. This apparently appealed to my masculinity.


It’s been believed that men are more reluctant to buy Diet Coke because the word ‘diet’ is associated with women. Therefore, the product, ‘Coke Zero’ has been marketed to associate with masculinity.

God Bless Amerikuh.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2011 2:12 pm

    hahhaha i miss your wee svee body! but nothing exudes american virility like your double chin and gut. tough choices in these times.

  2. Hannah permalink
    March 8, 2011 5:05 am

    Even though I disagree with the substantive conclusion of this story (coke zero is disgusting, diet coke is okay), I really liked it. I’ve been laughing out loud at it.

    Here is a story you once wrote me::

    Finally, how could I avoid ogre? He was waiting in front of my house in his
    jeep as I pulled in from the airport. He did the “ogey walk,” which we
    think is a type of mating dance (words can’t describe it, you have to see
    it), then proceeded to tackle me to the ground and hump my leg. He’s
    actually lost a lot of weight and gotten pretty jacked, which could end up
    being a bad thing…the other day, when i was over, he smashed in his
    entire kitchen wall when he got into a fight with his mom, and she ran out
    of the house crying…haha just another day at the ogre household.

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