Tuesday, February 28, 2012


I found it! A piece of the artificial sweetener puzzle, that starts to explain where I think I went really wrong with my Diet Coke habit. It's from an article on slate.com about the power of habits.

You should read the whole thing, but the critical part for me is in the discussion of a lab monkey named Julio who got some yummy blackberry juice whenever he played a computer game correctly. The interesting part is right here:

"Previously, Julio had received juice as soon as he touched the lever. Now, sometimes, the juice didn’t arrive at all, even if Julio performed correctly. Or it would arrive after a slight delay. Or it would be watered down until it was only half as sweet.

When that happened, Julio would get angry or become mopey. And within Julio’s brain, Schultz watched a new pattern emerge: craving. When Julio anticipated juice but didn’t receive it, a neurological pattern associated with desire and frustration erupted. When Julio saw the cue, he started anticipating a juice-fueled joy. But if the juice didn’t arrive, that joy became a craving that, if unsatisfied, drove Julio to anger or depression."

Ok, now imagine that your body is Julio. Your body is trained that when it tastes sweet, there is a quick rush of calories coming. "Trained" may not even be the right word, this is the law of your genes, the law of your biochemistry, the law that governs the biochemistry of our primate kin. Sweet = calorie rush. When you're growing up as a kid this law makes sense, you have a piece of fruit, or some milk, or a slice of birthday cake and the sweetness tells your body to expect some calories.

In my case, at 14, I became the lab experimenter. I started varying the input. Sometimes when I fed myself something sweet, it meant calories: fruit, juice, cake, ice cream. But sometimes, when I fed myself something sweet, it was diet soda and no calories. And sometimes, there was a mix. My taste buds would get LOT of sweet (blueberry pancakes with splenda sweetened coffee), but the actual calorie load was more moderate than the sweetness would indicate (just like the watered down blackberry juice). As I got older and started having binge eating issues the messages would get REALLY mixed up... a "meal" would be artificially sweetened yogurt and a diet red bull, but a few hours later my body would get fed 3 doughnuts. And just like Julio, my body got confused and angry by all this mixed up stimulus.

I honestly think it's going to take a lot longer than the 60ish days I've been off artificial sweeteners to truly heal my biochemistry on this. But deep down, I know it's right. Even eating some real sugar now and then is better than habitually and repeatedly teasing (bullying?) my poor body with fake sweets.


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