Obligatory Title Explanation: Food, Glorious Food from the musical Oliver, as performed at the “Hey Mr. Producer” concert
While digging through my underwear drawer this morning, I found something I wasn’t expecting. Get your mind out of the gutter right now. I’d forgotten about this secret stash, safely nestled between the A-cups of bras I don’t quite fit back into yet. (I’m not sure why, when I live alone, I feel the need to hide things, but a girl’s gotta have a little mystery . . . even if it’s only from herself). Ladies and gentlemen (do I have any gentlemen readers? If the “eating disorders” and “musical theatre” tags don’t bring them surfing in, maybe the “underwear drawer” one will . . . ), today I found my secret stash of Splenda.
I’ve mentioned once or twice (maybe more . . . sorry) that I gave up artificial sweeteners in pursuit of understanding “real food”. Forgive me for the repeats, but my brain is just getting back to normal . . . still a little bit in broken record mode. To understand just how big a decision this was, you need to understand just how much of a problem my sweetener use was.
- I had a secret stash. (first red flag?)
- I carried at least 10 packets of Splenda with me at all times, just in case Starbucks was out
- I visited Starbucks at least once a day to *ahem* commandeer enough Splenda to get me through the next day
- A venti coffee had both sugar-free hazelnut syrup (aspartame) AND 8 packets of Splenda
- I argued regularly that Splenda was healthy, because it was not made from chemicals, like aspartame and the rest, but chemically altered from sugar
- My very small bowl of breakfast shit sometimes had up to 30 packets of Splenda on it . . . you gotta do something to make shit taste good
- Diet Dr. Pepper (aspartame) was considered a staple in my diet
- I chewed at least a pack (15 pieces) of 5 Flare gum/day (aspartame)
- Dinner’s bowl of shit was covered in sugar-free ketchup (made from Splenda)
- Sometimes, for a “snack”, I would eat Splenda and cinnamon mixed together, “Fun Dip” style
- My tongue had a permanent layer of chemical residue
Even though artificial sweetener isn’t as bad as, say, cocaine, its use has been linked to all kinds of health problems including headaches, depression, cancer, chest pains, anxiety, and there is even something called “Aspartame Disease“, which can mimic fibromyalgia, MS, and Parkinson’s. Not that I cared about any of that. I would have cared, however, had I learned that Splenda actually does have calories . . . they just package it in such small amounts that they can call it “zero calorie”. In reality, 1 cup of the stuff has nearly 100 calories! FML.
Anyhow, I hadn’t gone a day without artificial sweetener in more than 5 years . . . since the first month my last stint in treatment. It wasn’t allowed in our facility, but after the first month I started sneaking it back in. Small scale shit-disturbing, but shit-disturbing nonetheless.
When I decided this summer that I did NOT want to add another hospitalization to my list, I started allowing my therapist (I need a good code name for her . . . I’ll come up with that later) to add things to my meal plan. Quite frankly, I couldn’t remember how most foods tasted, so I had to trust her completely. (I also didn’t know the calorie content of most non-diet foods, because I point-blank didn’t eat them) Chick peas blew my mind. Quinoa was the best thing ever. Meanwhile, I was still holding onto my 30-calorie-for-100-g sugar-free fat-free yogurt. Mmmmmmmm. Then, I decided to brave Greek yogurt. HOLY FUCK!!!!!!! I had never had anything like it. It actually tasted like, well, something with flavor!
I started thinking back on my life growing up. Milk was always skim. Cheese was always light, and usually came in fat-free plastic-wrapped slices. Peanut butter, popcorn, juice, soda . . . everything was diet, light or “lite”. I didn’t get enough fat in my diet by at least half. While most kids are handed a stick of rhubarb to dip in sugar, my dipping cup was filled with Splenda. I realized I really didn’t know what “real food” tasted like. I made the decision: If I have to gain weight anyways, and will have to eat food to do that, I might as well learn what food is . . . not what Michael Pollan refers to as “food-like substances”.
I figured, as well, if I was going to eat real food, I should stop covering it with artificial flavoring. Nowadays I use honey, agave, maple syrup and the occasional packet of Stevia (low-calorie extract of a plant . . . all natural). Yes, they have calories, but because real food has flavor, it doesn’t need as much sweetener to make it palatable.
I can’t tell you if I feel better on this “real food” meal plan, because pretty much anything feels better than starvation. But food tastes pretty freaking awesome. I couldn’t get over how much better even an apple tasted when my tongue wasn’t numbed out by sweetener.
So now you know the story of my “real food movement” and ban on artificial sweetener. Now I can stop repeating it and I can stop repeating it.