Society has a place for obsessive people. I believe that artists, scientists, lawyers, writers and countless others would never create or solve major problems were it not for their inherent obsessiveness but nothing is more boring that to be on the outside while someone is else is obsessive. Even if I might share an obsession (I did say might) like finding the perfect shoes, purse or spouse, listening to the endless and often nonsensical loops of others’ mental tapes in their quest for perfection can be an act of unselfish devotion. Give me the summary please…unless of course you want to listen to me.
In any event, once I am off a subject, substance or person, I am usually done and find it hard to recreate why I wanted it in the first place. There has only been one substance for me, however, that keeps me hanging on and that is Diet Coke (or its aspartame sweetened caffeinated soda counterparts). What is it about Diet Coke that is so addictive? I last blogged in 2010 about my week of detox only to find myself back on it and trying to dry out in 2013. How did it happen? I am a smart, high functioning individual yet I have been swilling chemicals down my throat for over forty years. I have been letting myself be ruled by an addiction to the point where it dictates when I shop and where I will go on vacation depending on the accessibility of my drug. Do I have a secret death wish?
Maybe I would have given it up years ago if only one doctor had said that it could be the source of some of my strange health issues :wacky erratic heart beat, fainting, aches and pains, weight gain despite low calorie diet and failure to get into Atkins inspired ketosis while drinking aspartame and a genetic immune deficiency disorder, but when I told many doctors over the years of my very bad habit of drinking 15-20, 20 oz bottles of the stuff every day, most said that Diet Coke was completely safe and that I only needed to watch my caffeine intake. In fact my immunologist is a Diet Coke addict herself. I never lied or was in denial (so often hallmark of an addict) in fact; I often came to appointments defiantly swilling a bottle in my hand just –in case.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my obstetrician even berated me for having switched to real coke for the sake of baby. He suggested that Aspartame was preferable to weight gain. I did not believe him and stayed off Diet Coke for my pregnancy. At that time, my only experience with Diet Coke withdrawal had been in my 20s and my short lived attempt to be free from addiction had precipitated a weight loss of ten pounds within the first two weeks. The flu-ish (low grade fever, sore throat and body aches,) feeling that I got after all of my attempts at detox, I either attributed to caffeine withdrawal or the state of pregnancy.
I dared to believe that Diet Coke might be a player in my inability to lose weight. For the past two years, I would chart my calories and show my doctors that I was exercising and eating at a rate that would place me well below my current weight using the calories in and calories out model. I suspect that some of these doctors did not believe that I was telling the truth. I mean let’s face it overweight people are just food addicts right? Addicts are inherently dishonest? One kinder doctor suggested that my weight gain (yes weight gain on 1500 calories, 30 minutes of weight lifting and30- 50 minutes of cardio a day) might be a result of my approaching menopause but suggested that I consult an endocrinologist. Three months ago, for the first time, a doctor, an endocrinologist actually told me that there was enough evidence to link artificial sweeteners to weight gain. But I wasn’t quite ready to give it up yet. I needed to mull this over…yes obsessively.
There seems to be widespread knowledge that studies show that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be fatter than those who don’t. The key is the studies do not differentiate between artificial sweeteners, however, it is very difficult to find a diet soda without some small amount of Aspartame.
The mechanism is not understood. It is widely believed that the artificial sweeteners create a sense of false security and that people tend to eat more. It is also theorized that people develop a sweet palate and eat more. It wasn’t until I heard an interview with Robert Lustig speaking about the poisonous nature of sugar on the radio, when it hit me that perhaps my body was reacting to Diet Coke in much the same way that many people (according to Lustig) react to sugar— my body may be using calories differently because it perceived that sugar was actually being consumed. No longer calories in and calories out …perhaps my body was storing calories right away as fat because of some kind of insulin fluctuation. More research will have to be done and I hope that there will be funding available for it.
I can only say anecdotally that I after my first week of detox from aspartame in 2010, I was finally able to induce ketosis (which I had been absolutely unable to do on Diet Coke). In three weeks I lost five pounds eating more food than my usual 1500 calories. My face looked less puffy and I did not crave sweets. Aches and pains disappeared. My heart beat was no longer erratic when I exercised. (My cardiologist was convinced that I had developed a sudden rhythm problem these last months but I knew that it was my Diet Coke intake that had increased). I believe that something in Aspartame may also affect the autonomous nervous system in some individuals. I have long noticed a correlation to Diet Coke and symptoms of vasovagal response in myself. I have heard that many parents of epileptics are told not to give their children aspartame. Moreover, In 2016, when I switched to Diet Pepsi after they announced that they would stop using Aspartame, I was fine for months, until I started getting major dizzy spells again. Would you believe it? Pepsi had put the Aspartame back after only ten months-without any media.
I will not cite the numerous books and studies that I have read on Aspartame. Since GD Searle and Monsanto held the patents to Aspartame (which were subsequently sold to The Holland Sweetener Company and Anjinomoto or shared by a few companies after expiration of patent), many studies were just not done on its safety. It may very well be that ALL artificial sweeteners cause some of the same results. However, I dare you to go out and find a diet soda without Aspartame! In any event, for years many main stream publications were very careful not to say anything against Nutrasweet. For instance in 2013, I looked at every old Atkins book that I could find for the passage that I recalled that mentioned that Nutrasweet was not as effective for inducing ketosis. All I could find were veiled references to artificial sweeteners with notes that Atkins products only use sucralose. This has changed a little since the popularity of Keto diets which seem to be very clear about not using Aspartame—remember Monsanto does not own the patent anymore.
For my conspiracy minded friends who are convinced that Ajinomoto might hire assassins to get me, I will just say that I hope they will consider its public relations and put as much money into developing new product. I hope that we will seeing more unbiased and multi funded studies of Nutrasweet or Aspartame specifically.
This post first ran on Open Salon under the name of Snarkychaser May 4th 2013. When Salon announced that the site would shut down, I transferred this in case any Diet Coke addicts needed a positive story. with updates from the last 11 years.