Food Health

Burying Aspartame

imagesMy first diet soda memory is of the vending machine in the basement of my sorority house in 1972. Diet Doctor Pepper, which I purchased one can at a time to consume while sitting on the floor of somebody’s room or other, playing Yahtzee or Bridge. The empty cans were used for cigarette butts. I would go to the basement before both lunch and dinner, and that was my drink of choice during most meals.

I am not sure when I switched to Tab, but I can confidently say that by the time I moved to New York City in 1976, Tab was my constant companion. One of my roommates hoarded her Tab under her bed, so I became a common thief, often going under the bed at odd times when my supply was empty. I’m not proud of that, but an addict will do what she needs to do when she needs a fix at 1:00 a.m. Sorry Gail.

I have no idea when I switched to Diet Coke, which I have now been drinking for more than thirty years. I took it on the Concorde with me when I traveled with H2 (Husband #2) to Europe, where they only served regular Coke in the early eighties. I took it in my purse to the finest restaurants, where I would ask for a glass of ice and embarrass H2 by flicking the tab on the top of a can and pouring it at the table while everyone else downed glasses of 1969 Burgundy.

I’ve never had a glass of alcohol. Never even had a beer. When you tell people you have never had a drink, they look at you kindly because they think it’s code for you being an alcoholic. But Diet Coke was my drink of choice, and aspartame my addiction. No water either. No coffee.

My name is Christine, and I’m an Aspartame Addict.

I recently ran the numbers. Forty years. Five to ten cans a day. 73,000 to 146,000 cans of diet soda consumed by the now sixty-year-old me. I may have spent a quarter of a million dollars over the years on Aspartame-loaded drinks. Wow. Gives a girl a moment to pause. Water is free.

My diet sodas have been with me through thick and thin. I drank diet soda the day Sarah was born. I drank it on my wedding day — both of my wedding days. I drank it at my dying mother’s bedside. I drank it at all of Sarah’s graduations. I drank it when others were drinking coffee, I drank it when others were drinking alcohol, and I drank it when I was happy, sad, scared, or enraged.

It’s odd, really, because I’m not a stick-to-things kind of girl. I’ve moved more than 100 times in my sixty years. Two husbands. Scores of jobs, or as I like to call them, professional projects (I figured out in my thirties that I was a short-distance runner, and have been a consultant type of professional ever since). I change cars every two years, and I give away handbags as if they were Halloween candy. Carrying the same handbag day after day makes me crazy. What I’ve written here may make it look as though I have trouble with commitment, but I’m forever committed to my child, my friends, and my country. That never wavers. (I write that because I’m feeling defensive, but it’s true. Promise.)

The daily commitment I have kept is my loyalty to diet soda and aspartame. For more than forty years. Every day. Every meal. Every important moment.

A year or so ago, I started to read things that made me anxious. Articles about aspartame and memory loss, which I know I have. Articles about aspartame’s formaldehyde effect on the liver over the years. They also say it causes joint pain, and I have that, too. The list goes on.

A friend and I had lunch a few months ago. She’s in amazing shape. You know, that yoga kind of in shape. She told me if I were to do only one thing to help myself, it should be giving up Diet Coke. Since then, people have started to say more and more things about it. Concerned friends and family have suggested I might like to regroup on the DC at every meal.

My beloved Cousin Alison (sister of the fabulous Cousin Pam, and fabulous in her own right) is a Physician’s Assistant. When I was in Colorado in March, she gently suggested I look at my aspartame consumption. “It’s really, really bad for you,” she said, looking at me intently.

A lot of voices out there sending me a message.

I’m not sure why an article on a friend’s Facebook Page hit me so hard. It was about a woman who had many of my symptoms and gave up aspartame, and voila, three weeks later she was cured, as if God’s hands had touched her. I knew it wasn’t true, but for some reason it hit home. When I read it I was finishing up the last of the Diet Coke in the house. I didn’t need to go out that day, and something — I have no idea what — made that moment the one that said it was time to stop. For good.

It’s two weeks later. My name is Christine, and I’m a recovering aspartame addict. Fourteen days clean. Two days after the last can, my head hurt. Bad. Whenever I moved it in any direction. My eyes, too. My hands started shaking. I was disoriented. Confused. I didn’t leave the house except to drive through Dunkin’ Donuts’ drive-through window and get water and lemonade, which I mixed together. I was really, really sick. And I didn’t want to tell anyone, because I didn’t want to publicly commit to my commitment.

I’m feeling better now. My sugar cravings have all but disappeared. I crave protein. I feel better. I’m sleeping better. Actually, I should rephrase that. I’m actually sleeping for the first time in years. Last night, according to my Fit Bit, I slept almost eight hours.

I am not more focused however. I had to do a Google search to find two of the words in this blog post. I am confident that will change as time goes by.

I went to BJ’s this morning and didn’t buy Diet Coke, and I felt sad. Really sad. That DC can has been my companion through more of my life than almost anything else. I know this is a ridiculous way to feel about something that may actually have damaged me irreparably, but I want to say a fond farewell. It was a constant in a life spent struggling with consistency. It refreshed me after hundreds of tennis games, when I’d throw back my head and down half a can in one gulp. I held it while I read great books that took me to places my real life never has. It sat in coolers next to me during two cross-country trips that I took alone in my car. It has been part of many a phone conversation, sipped between laughs and tears. It was my friend. And, it was my enemy.

Like many toxic relationships you know must end for the betterment of your body and soul, the end doesn’t mean you won’t miss them. DC is one of those. I bid you a fond farewell DC. Thanks for the memories, at least the ones I can still remember.


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