The Great Unsweetening

If you missed it, you can read part one of this story here.

I have often shared on my blog that I am an “all or nothing” thinker.  So it might come as no surprise that when I decided to cut back on my use of sugar substitutes I decided to cut them out completely.  Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to do it any other way.

I think in the back of my mind I had the idea that I might eventually get used to the less sweet taste if I just went without.  Kind of like how I am used to not salting my food anymore.  And maybe I just wanted to see if I could do it.  Just for one day.  Totally abstinence.  Zip, zero, nada.

Let me give you an idea of what my day might have looked like with artificial sweeteners in it.

It would start with a glass of Orange Sunrise Crystal Lite for a little morning hydration, followed by two or three mugs of tea with a packet of sweetener in each.  That’s four servings before breakfast.  Then during my morning workout I would drink up to 16 ounces of a zero-calorie sport drink or Crystal Lite iced tea.  (I just prefer the taste to water and will drink more if it has some flavor to it.)  After lunch I might have a piece of sugar-free gum or a sugar-free mint.  And then in the afternoon, between two to four more cups of hot or cold tea.  All with sweetener.  Dessert most nights is sugar-free Jello pudding.  And then there might be more gum.  And more gum.  I’m up to well over ten servings of the fake stuff.


So last Sunday morning I woke up and went cold turkey.  Water for my first drink of the day.  Unsweetened tea.  No gum, no mints, no sugar-free Werther’s candies, no pudding, no fun.

The tea tasted almost bitter to me.  I drank it, but I didn’t enjoy it.  My most disappointing cup of the day was my beloved coconut cocoa flavor.  With sweetener it was delicious.  Yummy.  Without it was not.  Bland.  Nothing to look forward to or savor.  Sad.  And that first evening all I could think about was the pudding I wasn’t eating.  So I ate an apple instead.  Then grapes.  Then cheese.  Hmm.  Maybe deprivation and resentment were rearing their ugly heads and whispering sweet nothings in my ears.  As in… sweet… nothing:(

But I got through the day.  And that was that.  I had done what I set out to do.  And not enjoyed it.  But I got up the next day and did it again.  Why?  Because I could.  And because I still wondered how long it would take to get used to the taste of unsweetened tea!  Day two went pretty much like day one.  So I decided to try another day.  Why not, I thought.  I’ll tell you why not!  Because it became pretty obvious that my lack of sweeteners was sending me to the pantry, time and time again, to find something satisfying.  My online calorie tracking showed the proof in the sugar-free pudding:  my little unsweetening experiment had resulted in my highest calorie intake days in ages.  (Okay, not counting the little cereal binges of recent weeks past.)  So I jumped off the no-sweetener band wagon and stuck my feet firmly back into the land of fake stuff.

But wait.  All is not lost.  Because this “all or nothing” thinker… hold onto your hats here…  has suddenly found herself subscribing to the previously inconceivable and unmanageable concept of moderation.  In my world of black and white I see room for shades of gray.  And yellow.  And blue.

My new plan is to go without sweeteners when it pains me the least.  I can drink water instead of Crystal Lite.  I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either.  I can sip my three morning mugs of tea sans sweetener too.  My taste-buds are still half asleep, after-all.  But later in the day, when I am trying to keep the snack monster at bay, I am going back to what satisfies me.  Artificially sweetened tea.  And gum.  And pudding:)  And I’ll keep researching the variety of sweeteners to find which might be the least objectionable and questionable.  I’m not picky.  Just give me a little sweetness to fill my life:)

Are there just some things you won’t sacrifice for the sake of healthier living?



Filed under food, making a change

58 responses to “The Great Unsweetening

  1. I am totally with you on this one! TOTALLY! Several years ago, I gave up diet drinks (which I was hooked on!) and haven’t looked back. And I haven’t opened anything in a pink, yellow or blue packet in years, but there are some artificially sweetened items that, like you, I’d be much worse off without. One of those is yogurt. I’ve tried, but plain yogurt just doesn’t work for me. No matter what I put in it, well, to me, it’s just nasty. So, yes, I eat and love nonfat yogurt (Dannon Light and Fit is my fave) and make no apologies for it.

    I think this is a great example of paying attention and carefully experimenting to find what works for YOU. This too, is an example of “mindful” eating.

    • Karen

      I love you you put such a great spin on my little experiment, Sharon. I’m with you on the yogurt. I rarely eat it but when I do I like the sugar-free but sweetened kind. With Uncle Sam cereal mixed in for crunch.

  2. May I make a suggestion for a sweetener that isn’t as bad for you? Xylitol. Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol sugar which you probably get if you eat things like mushrooms and raspberries (no it won’t get you drunk, it is just a different kind of molecule). A lot of sugarfree gums use Xylitol. Look for them if you need gum to appease you. They use it because Xylitol helps prevent cavities even if it isn’t in gum. It is probably good for you in 20g or less a day. It encourages the formation of glutathione (which is good for you, it helps reduce free radicals). But if you take too much it can stress the liver. So I wouldn’t reccommend it if you are a heavy drinker (I know you aren’t) or if you take NSAIDs a lot.

    BTW all alcohol sugars (sorbitol, inositol etc) can cause intestinal discomfort if you take too much. So start small and build up over time.

    • Karen

      I remember you talking about that in gum once long ago. I wonder how else it is packaged and will need to check it out. I, unfortunately, prefer to choose my gum based on flavor. My favorite right now is Mint Chocolate Chip:) I just looked at the pack and it has like 5 kinds of sweeteners in it! And, yes, too much sf gum or candy causes certain intestinal discomfort for me. (And maybe those around me.)

  3. I love how you tested this Karen AND learned about you along the way & that little snack monster rearing its ugly head!

    I also like the moderation approach! I know people that are off sugar sweeteners but once again, as I have said before, it is just not the way I want to go long term. I do a lot of “right” things so in moderation, I can fit the other stuff in including sweeteners mixed with Stevia & yes I have tried truvia.

    I was going to mention the bloating with the comment above on alcohol sugars but she did.. I get major bloating from them so if you try that, be careful.

    Great job Karen!!! Proud of ya!

    • Karen

      Yep, I’ve had that bloating thing! There are certain artificially sweetened things that I only indulge in after dinner:)

  4. I totally gave up the artificial sweeteners, but I’ll never give up the occasional REAL dessert. I love it too much! I also can’t warm to the use of applesauce in baked goods in place of oil. For me, it’s better to eat the real thing on occasion than to eat a sub-standard version and try to tell myself it’s just as good.

  5. I’ve been trying to work on having less sugar in general. I’ve been doing better with cutting down on the artificial sugar (although there are times where a Diet Coke still calls my name!), but I’m trying to even cut down on the “real sugar” (other than natural ones like fruit) as well. It’s kind of tricky!

    • Karen

      I wish that manufacturers didn’t put sugar in so many foods! So tempting. Sigh. I think the reason I am so dependent on the fake stuff is from my efforts to give up the real sugar stuff.

  6. I will not sacrifice my salt or sugar (in my tea/coffee) for the sake of healthy living. I tried to go without them but I did not succeed and the food and drink tasted blah without these. So I am not sacrificing salt and sugar (in my tea/coffee).

    • Karen

      Salt was easier for me. At least, salt I add with a shaker. But I do get a lot still in processed foods. Like cheese. Too much, according to my doctor:(

  7. CHEESE! cannot, will not, never ever give up cheese. i luff it.

    luckily i don’t drink sugary/sweetner drinks

  8. I have occasionally tried to go cold turkey on the sweeteners too. But I’m afraid my beloved Splenda is here to stay. I do try to minimize it somewhat.

  9. JourneyBeyondSurvival

    Hooray for Medium! Sometimes I think it’s the only place where we can fully experience anything. Excellence skips out on many of the subtle nuances to enhance speciality.

    I’m serious.

    Stop laughing.

    • Karen

      I’m not laughing. But I am smiling:) And I am applauding myself just a bit for living in the middle ground on this.

  10. Moderation in all things, including moderation. I have tried the same thing with giving up diet soda, splenda in yogurt, etc – and had the same phenomeno of wanting “something” that tasted some way that nothing did without sweeteners or sugar. I know there ARE folks who never have either, and I salute them. But I don’t want to be absolutely rigid about anything. So I find one diet coke or sprite daily, and 2 packs of splenda in greek yogurt 3-4 times a week keeps me semi-happy. Could that be because I still have an occasion legitimate sugar fix?

    • Karen

      That sounds pretty moderate to me, Leslie. Much less than my new level of moderation. I do still wonder though how I would have acclimated to a less sweet tasting life if I had stuck with it longer. Oh well. On to my next struggle.

  11. Aw. In a couple of days it gets better, and you’ll taste the sweet stuff and think “Ick!” I too am a all or nothing person… I’ve found that doing without it for a week or so weans you off it, and you can then appreciate it in small doses. Good luck!

  12. Chocolate. It took me 55 years to develop a love of chocolate, and I ain’t going back now. I DO tend to be a black and white person too, except when it’s so undoable, and then I allow for shades of color, too. And it certainly is a ‘in moderation’ diet plan that works best for me. But I’m lucky: I can cut myself off now.

    You should really try this tea (well, for iced tea. never had it heated): Paradise (brand name.) It comes in tropical, passion, decaf tropical. It’s AWESOME all by itself. Never sweeten it. Drink it all afternoon and evening. 🙂

    Now that I think about it, yesterday I went without my blue packet in my one cup of morning decaf, and had ‘real sugar’ instead….then ate fudge frosting in the afternoon. Was that change related to my succumbing to the frosting? Now I have to stop and wonder…

    • Karen

      Oh, interesting thought, Sunny! I do find certain foods lead me to other foods and cravings, especially if I have them early in the day.

  13. Hi Karen, So glad you stopped by my SITS post. I can relate to the all or nothing mentality — it’s tricky finding the middle ground, isn’t it?

  14. Wahoo, you! 😀 I’ve done the same thing. I went from total Splenda overload to only that which I cannot do without. Really, I’m down to maybe 2 little packets a day, if that. My one food that absolutely requires it is Greek yogurt. Just MUST have Splenda. And oatmeal.

    I think too much is really bad, but I can’t think that a few packets a day hurt at all.

    Good job on coming in from the deep end. 😀

    And thanks for the kind comment on my blog. You must have rerad the original version on a reader since my revused–almost deleted–post didn’t contain the vision detail. Again, thank you.


    • Karen

      Oh yes oatmeal! I have not made the prepackaged (and pre-sugared) kind in years. So when I make any now, I have to add something for sweetness. Usually I go with SF maple syrup. Talk about “fake” food! My husband has this morning concoction of oats, flax, chia seeds, frozen blueberries, milk, and cinnamon. Every day I smell it and it just titillates me with the delicious aroma. But the one time I tried it I was surprised by how un-sweet it was!

  15. LOVE this! You sound so much like me, I’m such an all or nothing person too. I swore off all sweeteners but stevia and truvia…lately however some of my whey proteins, etc have sucralose, and I’m OK with that. I can’t be ‘perfect’ all the time. Sometimes I just like a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks, ya know?

    • Karen

      OMG yes! During my un-sweet time I was at Target and had a coupon for Starbucks and so wanted to get a skinny cinnamon dolce latte! But I didn’t:(

  16. This is a REALLY great post!! Love it! I used to be hooked on artificial sweetners. I am not so much these days. The only time I have them is with my one diet soda a day. Yes, I tried giving that up…but haven’t yet. It seems without I overeat.

    I always enjoy your posts, Karen;)

  17. Karen, it sounds like you have brokered a beautiful compromise with yourself. Cutting back on the fake sugar in the morning before your taste buds are paying attention will be great for you – and how smart to avoid deprivation with your afternoon snacks.

  18. I like it. Working towards moderation!?!?? What’s next??

    I was never a water drinker because I did not like it either. What I found helpful was to put a little lemon slices in it. I did that only a while before I was able to drink water straight up.

    • Karen

      I’ve been thinking about adding some citrus. Or cucumber. I don’t mind the water in the morning so much, but when I work out and the ice melts it is not so great tasting:(

  19. I can relate to the all or nothing mentality. Your new plan sounds much more doable. I bet it will work great for you!

  20. I tell people to just enjoy eating for the taste in anything. It is like a combo when eating – I have a work mate who drinks a 1.5 liter of soda every day and feasts on bags of lollies all day and this guy IS walking death.

    He is so slow to reply, he scuffs his feet and walks SO slowly, he talks slow and always has his body hunched over. He sleeps about 13 hours a day and still feels tired and complains about it.

    I look at him and thank God I am not him and that I am full of energy and whenever I even smell or see fat, sugary crap foods I think of this guy and how much I NEVER want to be like him. I think about how I will feel and look like if I eat sugary foods and it makes me want to never eat them, no matter how “nice” they might appear to smell or look. Just my theory I guess.

  21. Biz

    Being diabetic I am not sure I could live without artificial sweeteners, but thinking about it – I probably have the equivalent of 3 packs a day – with coffee and iced tea in the afternoon – not too bad!

  22. My morning and afternoon coffee is something I don’t want to go without. I sweeten it with fat free flavored creamer. I love my coffee. In reading this post I realized that I did give up some of my artificial sweetener, I used to drink 2-3 diet Rockstars per day and now I don’t drink any. Huge for me but I don’t notice that it is any big deal. I guess that is progress right? I still love my Fresca and don’t think I want to give that up. I try to balance it by drinking more water. Hopefully this is a decent balance. Thanks for testing this theory it really got me thinking.

    • Karen

      I never heard of Rockstars. Now Fresca I know. On the rare occasions I have a soda, that’s the one I go for. Sounds to me like you have a great approach.

  23. Well, I THOUGHT I wouldn’t give up sugar-free coffee mate, but that was before I gave up coffee (okay, it’s only been two days but I think I really need to do it for anxiety-sake). So, in essence I have given up two things…

    • Karen

      Coffee is a big one to give up. Hard! I stopped drinking it in college, along with diet soda, when I realized the caffeine was really affecting me.

  24. SEX – lol. Don’t you think that is a common thread among us weight watchers, so to speak – all or nothing thinking? If I’m not perfect then forget it? Yes, there is room for shades of grey. I think if we allow those shades into our lives, it becomes much easier all around. Great post.

  25. “suddenly found herself subscribing to the previously inconceivable and unmanageable concept of moderation.”

    I could cry for this statement. Seriously. Sometimes moderation works, sometimes it gets out of hand. You’re smart enough to recognize the difference and strong enough to fix any problems.

  26. I love this post! What a great experiment and very well-thought out conclusion. Glad you stuck with it long enough to find the solution that best works for you.

  27. Ann

    The only sweeteners I MUST have are the 3 pkts in my coffee in the morning. Other than that I have pretty much given them up. I have an occasional diet drink, but rarely. I think this has helped me reduce carb cravings. I didn’t use to like plain water and now I can’t get enough. I definitely advise all my pts to quit that crap.

  28. Isn’t it amazing when you discover how much sweetener you are actually eating? Bravo to you for trying to cut some out. I’m definitely not an all or nothing believer, so I’m totally on board with your new theory. Oh, and the one thing I refuse to give up? Butter. I don’t eat much anymore, but margarine is just no substitute. mmmmm

    • Karen

      I just saw a segment on TV yesterday (maybe) about the different products like butter and margarine and why to choose one over the other. The nutritionist liked whipped butter which I had never heard of. I got used to margarine ages ago and use the kind that lowers cholesterol. But when I go to a restaurant and am indulging, I LOVE real butter on hot bread. I eat a lot of cheese too. Low fat kinds though. Not as good but doable.

  29. oh yeah, I also refuse to give up cheese. Because really, what is life without cheese?

  30. Karen, this resonated with me today because I’m going through something similar with this Somersizing plan. With it, I have greatly reduced carbs and all sugar and caffeine. The first week it was so easy that I was completely shocked when out of nowhere, the cravings for sweets bowled me over. And over and over. I haven’t given in, but the scale has been showing me higher numbers every day and I realized that in less than 7 days, in addition to my normal mealtime foods, I’ve snacked my way through 2 1/2 (8 oz) blocks of cheese, almost an entire container of pimiento cheese, and 11 of the 12 miniature cheesecakes (sweetened with somersweet) that I made. Holy. Frickin. Cow. I did the same thing you did–replaced what I was really craving with a crap ton of calories in foods that I’m technically “allowed” to have. So I’m really feeling you right now, sister! And I applaud you for being able to bend to moderation. I think I’m going to have to go back to that myself, b/c this is so not working for me any more. Ugh. I will say, though, that I still stand by SomerSweet as a sweetener. Truvia is another good one that’s natural (and has the benefit of being calorie free) that easier to buy, but it doesn’t taste quite like sugar to me and SomerSweet does. SomerSweet is all natural, has 5 calories per teaspoon, 2 grams fiber. It behaves just like sugar in recipes too–it even caramelizes! I used it to make caramel sauce this evening (which I drizzled over two of my cheesecakes and drank several spoonfuls of straight up–doh!) and it’s so good! My hubby hates artificial sweeteners but he said he couldn’t tell any difference between it and the real thing. The downside, besides having some calories, is that it’s pricey. I think I paid $26, including shipping, for two 16-oz containers.

    • Karen

      I will definitely check it out. Did I already comment on your blog that I recently read her latest book? She is all about cutting out toxins in the environment and what we eat. While she sometimes makes sense to me, it is a very extreme approach that I don’t think I could do.

  31. Good luck! Be prepared for withdrawals!

    I love the picture- took me a minute to realize it’s a smiley face!

  32. What? Moderation, middle ground, where did the real Karen go? LOL! Awesome personal experiment Karen.

    I do like Stevia in place of the fake stuff but that’s just me.

    Okay I have a confession I still buy the spray bottle of I can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! I use it a couple times a week. I like it on my popcorn or toast. It has so many fake things in it and preservatives but I can’t seem to give it up.

    Maybe we need a support group for fake food addicts!

  33. Great post, Karen. I congratulate you on your experiment and am especially glad that you’ve found a way to enjoy the things that allow you to maintain the kind of lifestyle that’s for YOU 🙂

  34. Well at least you now know what would happen if you gave it up. I can’t even imagine what my day would be like without my sugar-substitutes. Good post Karen.

  35. Artificial sugar will keep sugar cravings present, you need to do your best to remove them completely out of your diet. Many studies have shown huge detriment to the body from over use of articial sweetners. is nothing to be afraid of, use it in it’s most non refined state (honey, agave nectar) and in moderation. Taste food. I’ve been a trainer for over 10 years and the first thing I do to allow my clients to successfully lose fat and body weight is remove all artificial sugars from their life. The result? 100s and 100s of centimeters lost by them.

  36. Stay away from Splenda & NutraSweet(neurological problems anyone?). No artificial sweetener is good for you (trust me, I’ve researched it for a couple of years trying to find ways I could keep it in my life; I can’t based on every horrible thing I discovered). If I absolutely have to use it, I use a bit of the pink packet (your mama was right, hoho). I do use a dab of alfalfa honey in my chocolate coconut tea; it helps bring out the flavor. Keep us posted on what you learn.

    • Karen

      I never heard of alfalfa honey. It amazed me how that tea taste different without sweetener. I tried it with (bee) honey this week since I had a sore throat and did not like that as much as the artificially sweetened. Sigh. It’s almost the end of tea season anyway.

  37. Happy Fun Pants

    For what it’s worth, I think the fact that you negotiated your wants and needs IS healthier eating.

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