Ditching the (Fake) Sweet Stuff

Welcome to May, party people! Over the last month, I set two wellness goals. The first – ditch artificial sweetener. Ugh, I know. Please remember this is a judgment free zone. The second – make a behavioral change to reduce stress and hopefully improve sleep. Seems simple enough, right? However, April was a challenging month.

Because both of these goals were unique, individualized journeys with some unintended side effects, I think it’s best to explore each one separately. Let’s start with that Sweet ‘n Low, my preferred sugar replacement since…I don’t know, my teens?

As we saw in March, I’m on a mission to get real. If I eat whole foods to avoid unnecessary consumption of chemicals in processed foods, why on earth was I still dumping half a packet of Sweet ‘n Low in my coffee every morning? To give credit where credit is due, I had cut down my 2 packets a day habit from my work-life to half a packet a day habit.

Morning coffee for me is more about ritual and comfort than actual energizing. I exercise first thing in the morning, so I’m usually pretty energized after 7 miles on the road or an hour of intense TRX training. I like my ritual. I like my two favorite mugs. I like sitting down on the couch with a freshly brewed cup of coffee sweetened with chocolate milk and Sweet ‘n Low and a good book. I like easing into my day with this cup of coffee, pulling myself together before the world tears me in so many different directions. My primary emotion about making a change to my morning routine was trepidation. It may seem silly, but I didn’t want to do anything to screw with the morning ritual I loved so much.

But, in the name of health and wellness and not peppering my body with crap that does nothing to nourish, I started on April 1st with my first unsweetened cup of coffee. I was shocked that taste-wise, I was going to be just fine. Coffee is delicious and I eat sugar pretty infrequently, so my taste buds were primed for this change and I didn’t even know it. What a pleasant surprise! I gathered all my little pink packets and gave them to my mother along with her Tupperware. I was free!

Though my taste buds were onboard, my body needed to go through a detoxification process. I developed a slight rash on my face and began to break out with an intensity I hadn’t been treated to since leaving my highly stressful job. Having just read Food and Healing, I had learned that this can be one manner that our bodies purge toxins, so I wasn’t too surprised and was prepared to experience something of this nature.

The other, more severe, symptom of withdrawal and detoxification was an increased intense craving for sweets. Throughout the month of February, I slowly weaned myself down to a pretty admirable sweets consumption for a rabid sweet tooth. All that hard work went out the window this month. If I baked cookies, I didn’t eat a cookie or two, I ate 6. I wanted donuts in the morning, ice cream after lunch, and carrot cake after dinner. One morning I took three See’s candy out of the freezer to defrost while I went on a run. WHAT???

I read several articles about the negative effects of artificial sweetener and had seen that increased cravings for sugar was one of these effects, but I was in no way prepared for it to be part of the detoxification process. I felt powerless to my cravings and had to dial in to find a way to challenge the hold sugar was taking on me. It was helpful to diminish the power of these cravings by naming them as a symptom of withdrawal and not a permanent change to my lifestyle. It was also helpful to me to return to my intentions. Quitting artificial sweeteners was one way I could love myself and be a better wife, daughter, sister, and friend. In taking care of my body, I can have better health and be more present with the people I love.

Though it required a conscious effort, shifting my mindset and evaluating these cravings rather than simply giving into them dramatically alleviated the amount of time and energy I gave to worrying. As the attention I paid to these cravings lessened, so did their intensity and frequency.

Ditching artificial sweetener was a bit of a battle, but liberating myself from an addictive chemical substance was worth the fight.