Friday, April 3, 2009

The Artificial Sweetener Crutch

I've been doing this South Beach-ish thing for about two weeks now, and the first week I dropped eight pounds. The second week I dropped one pound. Successful, sure, but something is happening. Something that seems vaguely familiar...

On the official South Beach Diet, artificial sweeteners are allowed, but no sugar, honey, etc. There is a rule, though: 75 to 100 calories per day can come from sugar-free sweets, such as jello, Fudgesicles, sugar free candies, and Splenda-sweetened "ricotta desserts" with recipes found in the book. In fact, there are whole sub-forums online devoted to recipes for "legal" Phase 1 desserts: things like brownies (made with cocoa, peanut butter, dry milk and sugar free syrup), ice creams, cookies, even peanut butter cups... all considered fine on Phase 1 in limited quantities, all sugar-free and flour-free. It's kinda crazy. I mean, I get that everyone loves sweets, and it's hard to just stop eating sweets altogether, so these things get people through a "diet" that is highly restrictive of their usual junk.

But isn't the whole point to get *off* of junk?

I am not knocking other people's choices. Let me just talk about *me,* here. Obviously, I have a problem with food. It doesn't matter if you give me real Pringles or Fat Free, Olestra-soaked, intestinal-distress-causing Pringles; I will eat the whole can. And either one is bad for my body. Same goes for sugar: fake sugar, real sugar, doesn't matter. I'll overdo it. You'd think I would have learned my lesson the first time I did South Beach, in 2003.

I was cruising along, doing great with the "diet." In a few months, I lost almost 40 pounds, and then things fell to pieces in a matter of weeks. I still have my old journals with what I was eating in them, and it is pretty obvious how it happened.

I started including a *lot* of sugar free stuff in my daily menus. First, just a few sugar free Jellos. Hey, they have almost NO calories! Then, some diet Coke here and there, and Crystal Light... you can drink a LOT of that stuff and never reach the 75-100 calorie a day "sweets" limit. Then the Fudgesicles. At 40 calories each, I could have one every day. Then I started doing the crazy thing where you search the recipes and make up "legal" concoctions that seem like a "cheat." My favorite? I would take a square of sugar free chocolate, melt it with a spoonful of natural peanut butter, and spread that over a sugar free Fudgesicle. It would harden into a mini ice cream bar. The problem? They triggered me to eat more, and more, and more. It started with one a day, plus all that diet Coke and jello (all still within the "legal" calorie guidelines) and then I just flipped out. Because whether it's a box of chocolate covered Dove ice cream bars or a bunch of sugar free Fudgesicles covered in sugar free chocolate, it's all the same to me, and I will eat the whole box.

So I couldn't get a grip back then, and I couldn't understand what was happening to me. Then I started eating stuff like REAL cake and cookies, and that was the end of that. All the weight came back, and brought a whole lot more weight with it.

This time, since I was "tweaking" South Beach to my own needs, I decided to avoid the artificial sweeteners and just eat WHOLE FOODS. Real food. Not fake crap. I am doing this to get healthier, not just to get skinnier. I decided that the only "sweet" I would allow myself on Phase 1 would be agave nectar because it is natural and not fake, and I would stay within the 100 calorie guideline. Oh and sugar free jello, because it never has triggered me. It was working beautifully.

But oh, then the Fudgesicles called to me, and I started having one once in awhile. Legal, of course. And the sugar free coffees... I had one, and then I wanted one EVERY DAY. Legal! It's just milk and artificial sweeteners, after all. Lots of people drink it with success and lose weight. But I am not lots of people. I have a moderation problem with certain foods... and suddenly, I am having deja vu as I try to figure out "legal" ways to make sugar free desserts.

A few days ago I mashed a Fudgesicle into a bowl of ricotta with cocoa and natural peanut butter. Good heavens, was it good. I wanted more and more, but I didn't do it.

Last night I wanted to go buy a box of sugar free chocolates, but I didn't. I mixed cocoa and a Fudgesicle and Splenda into a bowl of plain yogurt. And every day for the past week, I've also GONE OUT to get a sugar free, flavored coffee.

This is turning into *something else.* It is turning into the "Failed South Beach Diet" experience of 2003, and that was NOT the point of doing this. The point is to be healthy and NOT obsessed with food. And that was happening last week, until I started using the artificial sweetener crutch. This week, my mind has been turning more and more to getting artificial sweets. Obsessing about them.

Hey, maybe Splenda and Fudgesicles and diet root beer work for some people, but not for me. Not in these quantities. Maybe a little treat on occasion, or a sugar free coffee once a week (or less) if I am on the road or something, but I cannot continue to lean on them as part of my daily intake.

So today, I'm veering even further away from "official" South Beach Phase 1 and tweaking it even more to my needs and desires. Back to the bit of agave nectar in my morning tea... back to the occasional jello. Fudgesicles, chocolates, and coffees? Gone, for now. And in about a week I will start adding fruit and grains back into my intake. Then, if I want a sweet, I will have the kind nature intended: a big, juicy strawberry, or a nice fresh pear. I want nutrition. I want real food. Not a crutch.


Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome insight, Lyn. You're really working it. I'm so glad for the progress you are making in your head and heart about all this stuff. Personally, I don't really find that artificial sweeteners trigger me (as a fellow no-sugar, modified SBer), but then again I've never included a lot of them in my diet because I simply don't like them. (So maybe they just never had a chance to trigger me!) These days, when I have a treat, I'm more likely to have a very small amount of real dark 70% dark chocolate, or a small amount of honey in some hot cocoa. But the sweets are definitely limited...the rest of the time my sweets are simply fruit.

Anyways, keep up the good fight! It's a pleasure to follow what you're doing.

WarMaiden / Sarah

Andra said...

I'm feeling you! That's why I refuse to "go on a diet." I rebel against the idea that some foods are legal and some aren't based on point value or sugar free-ness etc. I am eating healthy foods and exercising while dealing with my issues and it's helping, I'm losing weight, I'm changing. No crutches, no fake food. Artificial sweeteners are poison and I avoid them like the plague. When I need a treat, it's planned and it's something real and special that it savored and enjoyed for what it is, a special treat. Great post, Lyn!

Ceres said...

Hi Lyn,
thank you for your comment on my un-updated blog a long time ago.
I fell off the radar for quite some time. I have been struggling with various issues, but I have recently gotten out of my cave again. I read all your posts since December, when I started struggling so much that I didn't even go on Blogger. You're still my hero for all the effort you're putting into this, and your perseverance despite the many obstacles. I am sorry that I wasn't there when you were struggling. I want you to know that you have been in my thoughts all this time, and I am not proud that I couldn't find it in me to log on once in a while and relate.

About this post: I think that the fact that you caught yourself in the act shows how much you've learned, and how much you are determined not to make the same mistakes again. I totally agree on artificial sweeteners; they are a crutch, and they won't teach you how to change your habits and your overall relationship with food, which is what we all need to succeed in weight loss. Plus I don't trust the fact that they are basically processed chemicals. Like you, I think we should only eat real, whole foods. You might be interested in the book "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan (although I'm sure you're already heard of it). There was also a very nice essay in the New York Times some years ago, which was basically a summary of the book. It was called "Unhappy Meals", here's the link:

Be well :-)

Anonymous said...

Good for you for catching that so early! I do not eat any artificial sweetners because I believe they are so hard on our bodies over time. Now, if I get something with a sweetner in it I can just taste the chemical and I can't eat it. It's a preference that I developed and it led to weight loss.

You are on the right track for permanent weight loss with this thinking!

Pubsgal said...

I hear ya. I don't know that cutting all sugar-free sweets forever would work for me; it would give sweets, sugar-free or no, a "forbidden fruit" status in my brain, and I'd obsess. What I am struggling with is something similar, though: the game of "what can I eat without getting a high blood glucose reading on my meter?" There are things that don't affect my blood glucose levels adversely, but don't help me with achieving optimal health, either: nuts (healthy of themselves, but too many calories in mass quantities), sugar-free candies, half-and-half in the get the idea. And now that I can tolerate a little regular dark chocolate in my food plan, it's hard to resist making that little bit a habit instead of a once-in-awhile treat. Seems like there's always something, doesn't it?

spunkysuzi said...

I have to admit that sweetners are my last crutch. I don't drink diet pop but i do love sweetners in my tea and oatmeal. But i'm trying to cut back by half this week and see how it goes. I know they're bad for me but i'm not quite ready to go no sweetners!
You always give me ideas :) Love ya!!

Anonymous said...

Artifical sweeteners can cause an insulin response in some people even though there is no blood sugar effect.

This happens to me. Anything really sweet causes my insulin to spike *even* though technically there was no blood sugar spike to provoke it. The insulin response causes cravings and so on... you know the rest of the story.

I treat all sweet treats the same because my body responds the same no matter where the sweetness comes from.


antgirl said...

It's good to learn them triggers. Instead of obsessing on what I *shouldn't have* [I don't use the word can't anymore], I concentrate on loving what I do eat and that eating well is a real treat and the real pampering. :)

Tamzin said...

Great to see you really focusing on whats important, Health!! and not only that, but realizing that some "cookie cutter" (pardon the pun) formula diet is not what is going to work for you as a unique individual. Thats awesome.


Anonymous said...

You are sounding so great and so much happier than a few weeks ago! I think the artificial sweeteners are really another one of those foods that's been invented in the past century that are going to turn out to be harmful to us. By the way, if you haven't already read the books Real Foods (by Nina Planck) or In Defense of Food (by Michael Pollan), I think you might find them interesting -- they very much reinforce the conclusion that eating processed, artificial foods is harmful to our bodies.

Best, Becky

~TMcGee~ said...

I think you and I have the same reactions to foods, Lyn. I have a VERY hard time stopping at one treat whether it's "legal" or not. You inspired me to try your version of the modified S.B. (I half heartedly did it once before and lost almost 20 pounds doing it).
I'm ready to do my best and just do it with a whole foods approach.

new*me said...

yep! That's why I strayed from Atkins in July because I NEEDED the food God intended for me to have like fruit and real oats ;)

These days I allow myself an occasional sugar free coffee but more like once a month instead of several times a day. Artificial crap is just not good for anyone ;)

clickmom said...

My list of trigger foods is about as long as a roll of toilet paper. Good for you for not only figuring it out but for doing something about it.

VenusEnvy said...

For the past month, when I want something sweet, I cut slice some strawberries into plain yogurt, add a couple tablespoons slice, roasted almonds and a dollop of honey. Omg.. It's so yummy and I can't wait til Summer when blackberries and blueberries taste good. It's really keeping my sweettooth in check. I don't crave sweets throughout the day luckily, but after supper I want something sweet. It's good to see you being so introspective. You are slowly learning what you can and can't have/do/eat and I think that's the key to long-term success, even if it doesn't seem that way in the process. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

What a great post! I tried the South Beach Diet briefly a few years ago and had a similar experience. In general, I avoid all artificial sweeteners. They scare me. I do completely understand that most of them are FDA approved and whatnot, but I just have a lot of doubts about them. When I was on South Beach, I struggled to rationalize the thought process that fruit and all of its real, natural sugars were “bad” and Splenda and its chemical reaction created sweetness was “good.”

Anonymous said...

Great advice and excellent post, Lyn. Thank you for making me think! This weight loss think is such a huge learning curve and it sounds like you are really listening to yourself and figuring out what works for you and what doesn't. That's an achievement in itself!


Christi said...

I too am now avoiding the artificial sweeteners... but for different reasons. I was a big dumb dumb and was drinking 6 water-mix-in crystal light type drinks a day (caffeine free)... ummm, yeah... I started getting severe migraines from all those chemicals : P It took 3 months of 6 drinks a day for me to start getting the headaches but it is 100% the drink's fault and I am already feeling better after cutting it out for only 2 days.

It's frustrating because you THINK you are doing something good for yourself, but in the end it's more harmful (in my case I was trying to get more water intake, in your case you were doing a healthier substitution).

Anyway kudos to you for recognizing the crutch!! I look forward to reading more of your blog!

- Christi

Sassle said...

Lyn, Can I ever relate. As I've already mentioned just eating the sugar free pudding sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. That's why I'm allowed one desert a day and it's either pudding or jell-o nothing else. Because I Sassle am a serious sugar junkie.

When I make pudding or jell-o I put it right away in individual servings because I'm trying to learn to eat normal which means one serving of whatever.

It's worked for me to do it this way so far, just one treat and that's it. I'm only allowed it at the end of the day and not before waiting at least 30 minutes after my dinner. I don't allow myself to rush to desert, it's my way of "training" myself.

I'm also learning to love fruit, strawberries and clementines are my new drug of choice.

Anonymous said...

First of all, congrats on the weight loss! And I'm totally with you...artificial sweeteners plague me! They always make me veer off my nutrition plans and I end up gaining weight because of it. Therefore I have tried to eliminate them completely, including diet sodas, fake desserts like fudgesicles, jello, etc. and it has helped tremendously. I'm like you, I want real food with real nutrition in it and not all these fake chemicals. You go girl!

Riley & Tiki said...

Way to go!!

R&T Mom

Ria said...

Good for you for having the confidence to tweak the "official" SB list to accord with what you know works for you! I try to avoid the artificial stuff too . . . all kinds of reasons.

Clementyne said...

I hear ya. Like you, I struggle with sugar cravings when I'm on South Beach or another very low carb plan. I don't eat artificial sweeteners because recent studies indicate that your body releases insulin in anticipation of the sugar. When sugar doesn't arrive, that extra insulin turns to fat.

I have found that having oatmeal in the morning greatly reduces carb cravings the rest of the day. I use a mixed grain oatmeal from Trader Joe's. Add a little agave syrup or xylitol (a natural sugar alcohol) and half a banana for sweetener. Then I fatten and protein it up with some whole milk and almonds. I avoid grains the rest of the day, for the most part. I eat about 2-3 additional servings of fruit a day to satisfy my sweet tooth. Other than that, it's lean proteins and lots of veggies.

Karyn said...

Good for you to stop the pattern before it went any farther! I'm proud of you!


You are an inspiration. Such a good point. We get comfortable...or complacent and start little by little edging back into the abyss of cheating. And really...we are lying to ourselves. Healthy is healthy. Period. I am just starting (AGAIN) and I am going to stay away from that pitfall by learning from past mistakes.

KK @ Running Through Life said...

Good for you for listening to your body and coming up with a plan that works for you! That is the key!

Jaci said...

I think what you're doing is right on track. The idea should be to get healthier as well as lose weight. It's an uphill battle, but one must find the triggers and eliminate them. Keep up the good work..

PatriciaW said...

I too dropped about 8 lbs, then noticed my weight loss dragging to a halt. And I too had "let in" the artificial sweetners. Getting rid of them. Natural or nothing.

The good thing is you're so much more aware that you see the changes immediately, and react.