It's a well-known fact that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is bad for your health. But the results of a new study may reveal just how bad those drinks are.

(Spoiler alert: very, very bad.)

The American Heart Association published the study on Monday. In it, a team of Harvard researchers showed evidence that people who drink two or more sugary beverages a day (like sodas and sport drinks) were significantly more likely to die early compared to those who drank much less frequently.

The good news is that you can break a habit -- whether it's health or work related, or just about any habit in your life. You can learn to purposefully design your own habits and gain more control over your life. I know, because I had to learn to make these types of changes in my own life (including breaking a soda habit).

And the study makes a great case for ditching the soda habit. Analyzing data gathered on over 100,000 men and women over the course of about 30 years, the researchers concluded the following:

  • Men who drank at least two sodas a day had a 29 percent higher risk of death (compared to those who drank less than one soda per month);
  • Women who drank at least two sodas a day had a 63 percent higher risk of death;
  • Men and women who drank two or more sodas a day were 31 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease; and,
  • Among women, intake of sugary beverages was linked to increased risk of death from both breast and colon cancer

Additionally, the researchers found that the risk of death increased with the amount of sugary drinks a person consumes. 

But what about artificially sweetened drinks, like diet cola?

Some data from the study indicated that replacing sugary drinks with drinks that were artificially sweetened did lower the risk of death, but high consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was also linked with a higher death rate, especially among women.

So, let's say you want to break a habit like drinking too much soda. Where do you begin?

How to break the habit

As someone who grew up drinking soda and sweetened juices, these beverages were more than something I enjoyed--I had an emotional attachment to them. The thought of having to give them up was a bit overwhelming. 

My emotional reaction to the alternative was also strong: I hated drinking water, so I couldn't see replacing my habit with that--even though the rational side of me knew that would be best. 

And then, I remembered a piece of advice a friend gave me years ago:

If you expose yourself to anything long enough, you'll start to like it.

That principle can apply for good or for bad...but I decided to try it out with my drink choices.

As a compromise, I started drinking seltzer water. It wasn't flavored, but it gave me the feel of something different, something "better" than normal water. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy the taste at first. But I pushed myself to keep going because I knew it would benefit me in the long run. I got rid of all the sugary drinks and stocked up on seltzer water at home and in the office.

But I knew I needed more than my rational brain; somehow I needed to get my emotions involved, too.

So, I decided to try all different kinds of seltzer water. No sweeteners, mind you, just a variety of different brands. As I tried more and more, I eventually found that each brand had a unique flavor. I also learned that I preferred the taste of water out of a glass bottle instead of a plastic bottle (which recent research indicates is probably better for me).

As I got accustomed to particular flavors and brands, it made drinking those favorites more enjoyable--the same way I used to seek out my favorite soda. Eventually, I stopped missing soda and sugary drinks. I even began drinking more "normal" water, which was no longer repulsive to me.

Nowadays, I still have an occasional Coke (usually when out to eat). But I've gone from being a regular consumer of sugary beverages to the "less than one per month" club that was mentioned in the study.

So, if you're trying to break the sugary drink habit, find a healthy alternative. In fact, find lots of healthy alternatives, so that you can develop a new favorite.

And do it quick--because the other stuff is probably killing you.