Sweet Poison

Millions of people struggle to make it through each day.  Some were born with their handicap.  Others were victims of accidents.  But some of us were victims of insatiable greed, and because of it we suffer.  The greed was not my own - well, maybe partially.  My greed was in wanting to be able to eat foods that tasted sweet and fattening without suffering the consequences.  And because of the greed of many others - greed for vast amounts of wealth - I was able to indulge myself, at a great price.  My suffering is both physical and emotional.  What caused my suffering and current condition?  Aspartame poisoning.

Aspartame (commonly known as Nutra Sweet or Equal) was approved by the FDA in the 1980's as an additive safe for use in foods which would not be heated.  Everyone in America received a Nutra Sweet gumball in the mail to prove how good Nutra Sweet tasted and how safe it was.  Several years later aspartame's use was extended to include both hot and cold foods and beverages.  For someone like me, someone who had been dieting for most of her life, aspartame seemed to be the answer I had been looking for.

Anyone who's ever been on a diet knows the litany - sugar is bad; sugar-substitutes are good.  In fact, our whole society, whether overweight or not, has been led to believe many things about what should and should not be eaten.  For those struggling with their weight, there can be a great sense of deprivation and longing - longing not only to be able to eat the foods we want to eat, but a longing to simply fit in.  Add to this the constant barrage of information proclaiming that thinner is better, and desperation quickly takes hold.  Add to this the supposed wisdom and expertise of the diet industry and you have a recipe for disaster.

When I look back at pictures from my childhood I'm always a little surprised.  While my memories are of being fat - fat enough to have begged my parents on numerous occasions to send me to summer camp for fat girls - the photos now tell me a different story.  No, I wasn't skinny by any stretch of the imagination, but neither was I obese.  I've always been big, tall, and if I were a boy you might say stocky.  Graceful and willowy?  Not exactly.

It seems that during the 70's I started struggling with my weight.  I began eating more, actually craving more food, but I never seemed satisfied no matter how much I ate.  I think it's important to note that the foods I craved were highly processed.  I have since come to learn that it was around this time that MSG (monosodium glutamate) was approved by the FDA and was widely used in many of the foods I craved.  It was also around this time that I began having migraine headaches.

During the years that followed I continued my battle of the bulge.  Part of me had become convinced that I would never be free from what I felt must be an addiction to food.  There would be short periods of time when I'd “go natural” and only eat non-processed foods.  I would lose weight, but inevitably I would return to highly processed, chemical laden foods.

Then there were the diet pills, diet supplements, and diet foods (foods manufactured specifically for dieters).  My life became consumed by food - not eating what I so desperately wanted, while eating what I was told to eat by people who were selling the products to those of us who didn't fit into society's weight standards.  I always felt deprived, a victim of my appetites and my body's apparent traitorous ways.  It was never long before I returned to the highly processed, chemical laden foods and the rollercoaster would start all over again.

I would have periods when I was not overweight, but on the whole I was usually at least 15 pounds overweight, if not much more.  So when NutraSweet hit the market I thought I would finally be able to eat the types of foods I wanted to eat but without the sugar and calories.  To me, partly because of the way NutraSweet's products were marketed, I felt that these were “free” foods and that I could indulge in them without guilt.  I continued to go on diets, only now my diets were heavily laced with NutraSweet.  Even that didn't seem to be helping me.

I would stay on a very strict diet, using the sorts of foods and products that the diet industry claimed were the keys to success, but success always seemed to be out of my grasp.  In fact, I seemed to be gaining more weight than I ever had before.  I felt like a complete and utter failure.  But after having that diet mentality ingrained into me, I didn't know any other way to lose weight.  So I continued on my quest for the perfect diet and the perfect diet products, all with an eye to find the perfect me.

During the years that followed I tried just about everything.  But with every diet there seemed to be additional weight gain.  For some reason my body just wasn't responding to conventional diet wisdom, so I tried something a little non-conventional - a high protein, low carb diet.  That worked quite well for me, but after a few weeks I knew that that way of eating was not going to be something I could maintain for the rest of my life, so I stopped following it.  (Even the more non-conventional diets still advocated using sugar-free products, some going to far as suggesting substituting aspartame sweetened drinks for part of your daily water intake.)  During my “off diet” times I continued to use products with aspartame, as well as using Equal instead of sugar, not only for sweetening my drinks, but in my cooking and baking as well.  By this time I was also quite addicted to diet sodas and was drinking extraordinary amounts of it each day.

At this point in my life it seemed like everything came crashing in around me.  The migraines that I used to get occasionally were now almost daily occurrences.  I couldn't seem to think straight, partially from having an almost constant headache.  Every inch of my body ached as if I had been run over by a Mack truck.  Fatigue was my constant companion.  By the end of the work week I was so tired that my weekends were a blur and by Monday morning I was still so tired and experiencing so much physical pain that I was beginning to miss work on a regular basis.

My life was about to take a turn for the worst.  I quit my job thinking that I could recuperate enough to re-enter the work force.  It was also around this time that I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  During my time of recuperation I learned as much as I could about fibromyalgia and did everything that I could to try and make my condition better, believing that I would always suffer from the condition.  But even in my “doing everything right,” I wasn't getting any better at all.  In fact, I seemed to be getting worse - until that fateful day when I learned the truth about aspartame.

The day before I quite using aspartame, a known neurotoxin, I felt so bad that it wouldn't have surprised me if I just fell over and died.  My first day off of aspartame I could tell that I was feeling better, even though I had a terrible headache from withdrawals.  Now, over two years later, I still struggle to get through my days.  No, I'm nowhere nearly as sick as I used to be and most of my 30-some symptoms are completely gone, but I struggle nonetheless.  My insatiable drive for perfection and my desire to satisfy my cravings without suffering the consequences has left me with possibly permanent memory damage and daily challenges that not only I, but my family must deal with as well - all because of a highly addictive substance that is readily available in our society.  It is also a very socially acceptable addiction and is in fact one that will glean most people praise for showing that they are trying to take better care of themselves.  But when did our bodies change so that we are supposedly better off eating highly processed, chemically laden food rather than eating something natural?  And why have we stopped thinking for ourselves and believe everything that we hear?  

Our lives have become so busy that many of us feel that we don't have the time to research things for ourselves, so we naturally fall back on advertising or advice from family, friends or doctors, taking that advice as gospel without putting any effort into the decision ourselves.  We have to take the reigns of our lives back in our own hands and take responsibility for our own choices.  But first we must make informed choices, especially when it is dealing with our health or the health of our family.  One thing that we should be very cautious about doing is blindly accepting information from pharmaceutical or chemical companies.  As with any company, they are in it to make a profit.  And wouldn't it be handy if the very products that they were selling created even more business for them?

A person suffering from aspartame poisoning is usually diagnosed as having fibromyalgia and is often put on a variety of drugs to help control the symptoms they are experiencing.  Nothing is done to get at the root cause because no one knows what the root cause of fibromyalgia is.  So more and more drugs are thrown at the person, often causing other side effects and problems, and the cycle continues and spirals out of control.  I feel very fortunate that I was only put on two rather innocuous medications, and then only for about 18 months before I stopped taking them when I found out that I was pregnant.

Another “side effect” of my having suffered from aspartame poisoning is that I no longer believe what I hear about just about anything - prescription medications, new food products, supplements, vaccinations, you name it!  Now rather than either accepting or dismissing something out of hand, I'll take the time to do some digging to found out as much about the product as I can - especially if the only thing that I'm hearing about something is how wonderful it is.  Are there other things that I rather spend my time doing?  Certainly.  We're all busy.  But I would rather take the time to research something and not suffer the consequences of ignorance again.  I thank God for His grace in bringing the truth to me.  Now it's up to me to not let it happen again - with God's help!

If you or someone you know is suffering from any of these symptoms please take the 60 day, no NutraSweet challenge and see if it makes a difference in your condition.  The only thing you have to lose is pain and poor health!