Health: Not So Sweet: My 60-Day Detox From Artificial Sweeteners

Day 1: I’m scared, but totally ready to quit


I have been a diet soda addict for longer than I can remember. It is my caffeine hit when coffee won’t do it; my fizzy, no-guilt treat when I want something sweet without the calories. It is—or I should say was—a daily (sometimes more than three cans!) addiction.

And, oh, let’s not just stop with diet soda, shall we? My older sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6, which meant out went anything with sugar and in went everything sugar-free. Sugar-free Jell-O, sugar-free candy. I grew up with a taste for the artificial, loving it far more than the real deal.

And as I got older and the low-carb craze hit, I jumped on the bandwagon. If it was low-carb, I was eating it. South Beach Bars, no-sugar-added ice cream, sugar-less gum, light yogurts — all low-carb and all sweetened with either NutraSweet (aspartame) or Splenda (sucralose). And don’t forget my totally zero-calorie coffee in the morning, spiked with two pink packets of Sweet n’ Low (saccharin).

Oh, I loved it. Even despite the fact that I would sometimes be left incapacitated on my couch in high school, with headaches so terrible Advil couldn’t touch them. They weren’t migraines, and when I watched my diet as the doc advised, it all led back to one little not-so-sweet sign: artificial sweeteners.

So I tried to wean myself off them. For a few months I did, and the headaches went away.

But, little by little, my sweethearts won me back. And for a while, I was OK. It wasn’t until later, when I discovered that artificial sweeteners are fat soluble, which means they build up in your system over time, that I realized why the headaches took some time to return. And, since my first stint at giving them up about five years ago, I have been steadily increasing my consumption, headaches and all, of these super, low-cal sweeteners.

Recently, however, I have been reading more and more how awful these factory-made white powders are for you: headaches (no surprise!), fibromyalgia, hair loss, hair thinning, weight gain, symptoms of MS and, of course, cancer. The lists of possible effects are long and frightening. And although the FDA still stands behind the saftey of the products, I have, science aside, a feeling in my gut that these things—no matter how sweet they taste—are worse for me than sugar, the white devil of dieters.

So what is a low-carb-loving girl to do? Online advocates suggest a 60-day detox to cleanse your system of the chemicals in artificial sweeteners. So that is what I am about to embark on. And you’ll be listening to me gripe and complain and see what other sweet alternatives I turn up. Because, you’re right: Sugar isn’t good for your either. But, there are alternatives. It just takes a little bit more effort to find them—and a strategic plan to avoid the soda machine at certain times of the day!

So, in the weeks that follow, I’ll be blogging about just what’s in all of these artificial sweeteners, other alternatives, and some yummy products you can swap for your current low-carb favorites. And we’ll see if these damn headaches leave me alone, once and for all.

Are you addicted to artifical sweeteners, too? Email me! Or leave a comment below.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.