Artificial Sweeteners Are Ruining Your Body

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

Artificial sweeteners are basically toxic substances to the human body.

If you think about how humans have evolved, the bodies we have now are designed for the way the world was thousands of years ago. So, we get motion sickness when we are on boats because our balance is thrown off and our body assumes we’ve been poisoned and forces us to vomit it up (since boats weren’t around back then that’s our bodies very logical conclusion.) We also respond to emotional and mental stress the same as we were equipped to handle stress back then. Stress in prehistoric times often came in short bursts, like when we had to run from predators, so our fight-or-flight system was activated and it helped us kick ass for a short period of time. However, now many people have chronic stress that lasts for days, months or years and our body is still responding in that fight-or-flight manner but it’s destroying us (I have at least two stress related conditions; IBS & brutal jaw pain from clenching it.)

Something else our bodies aren’t equipped to do? Digest artificial food. Think our body know’s what the hell to do with a Twinkie? No. So most of it gets all garbled up in our insides (this is obviously extremely scientific) and we are left feeling like crap.

Over the last few years I’ve transitioned into a mostly real foods diet. If I don’t know where it came from on earth I try not to eat it. I’ll still eat snack bars and other prepackaged foods so long as I can truly identify all of the ingredients on the list. Clearly this doesn’t happen 100% of the time but I strive to keep a nice 80/20 balance in what I eat.

One thing I’ve been really, really bad about is artificial sweeteners. A typical day I’d consume them at least 2-3 times.

  • Breakfast: Stevia in my oatmeal and zero calorie caffeinated drink mix with aspartame
  • Snack: Sometimes a protein bar that has artificial sweeteners in it
  • Throughout the day: a couple no sugar added popsicles with aspartame & more of the caffeinated drink mix
  • Night: Protein ice cream I make with a couple packets of some Stevia variety
  • Weekly: Low calorie ice creams, a couple of sugar free mints when I’m on campus, the occasional diet soda…

It’s pretty bad.

For the last few weeks I’ve had intense bloating and cramping. When I was about 20 I started having these episodes where I’d get sharp shooting pain and my stomach would distend out so much I couldn’t even keep my pants zipped up (and of course this always happened out in public.) After a few hours it would usually settle down, but one time it got so bad my Mom took me to the ER where they diagnosed me with IBS mostly because they couldn’t see anything else wrong with it.

A few years ago I started cutting way back on dairy, gluten, and processed foods and I felt so much better. I rarely had any issues, but about 2 weeks ago I started having daily stomach pain. Nothing in my diet really changed, but I did try a new brand of Stevia out about the same time and I’m pretty confident that, along with my overall excessive consumption, artificial sweeteners is the culpurit.

I woke up Tuesday ready to do whatever it takes to start feeling normal again. I spent some time looking up fun healthy new recipes to try out. I’ve been totally averse to salads lately (they never fill me up!) and I can’t remember the last time I really tried a lot of new stuff so I wanted a diet shake-up.

IMG_7733I’ll confess: Tuesday I cut out all artificial sweeteners except for a little of the caffeine drink in the morning and I still felt horrible after eating lunch and dinner (leftover curry.) So, maybe it’s carbs? Or maybe I’ll just never eat solid foods again?

Yesterday I came home after class and made this incredible Aloha salad. I added some miso to the tempeh when frying it, made up the delicious avocado & tahini sauce, and went to town.

IMG_7747Less than 20 minutes later my stomach was in knots again.


At this point I’m trying not to stress out to much about it because I know that will only make it worse. It’s still really, really frustrating. If my symptoms don’t get considerably better in the next 2-3 days I’ll either (1) go to the doctors (2) try the BRAT diet or (3) try the FODMAPS diet.

Have you ever had chronic digestive issues?
Do you have any food allergies? 

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56 Responses

  • Wrote a blog post on sugar substitutes because I feel really strongly against them! Both physically and mentally! I think when you use they you’re really hurting you’re body image by telling yourself you want more “sweet” than you can “afford” and it feels like part of a diet mentality.

    Sorry your stomach is a mess. There are so many things it could be and it’s hard to narrow those things down without an elimination diet! Fodmaps might be a good place to start!

    • Erica House says:

      It is SO part of a diet mentality and I never thought of it like that before! Looking back on when these issues started getting worse for me it was about the same time I started marathon training again. When I trained for #1 I ended up going to a GI because I had such severe digestion issues. I hope my body just needs to adjust to the stress of the higher miles again and maybe it will start to get better (so far no problems today!)

  • Allie says:

    I was always experiencing bloating and cramps after I ate. A couple of my friends told me about whole 30 and I’m halfway through! While the whole no sugar added is hard at first I feel great! And I have no more bloating or cramps after I eat. I definitely recommend checking it out, they have a lot of great resources on their website!

    • Erica House says:

      I’ve read the Whole 30 book before and loved it! As a vegetarian it would be kind of hard, but it’s a GREAT healthy eating kick starter. I can definitely do with cutting out added sugar.

  • Carla says:

    I know I keep asking but do you know my FAVE SARAH KAY HOFFMAN?! She’s amazing and amazingly helpful with all this.
    Im so so lowlow sugar because of how it and the fakes make me feel.

    • Erica House says:

      I’ve interacted with her a few times on twitter but I don’t read her blog regularly. I’m adding her blog to my feedly now!

  • Sheelagh says:

    Ugh I am so sorry you are dealing with this — if it helps at all I can totally relate. I have been distended-bloaty-stomach central over here since October. A few months ago I tried Whole30 — felt better for a week then back to the bloating. Sometimes I’ll even wake up in the morning after not eating for 12 hours and be bloated — no fun! And I know it’s extra sucky when for the most part you feel like you’re eating lots of good, whole foods and still feeling discomfort. I’m with ya :( I have noticed a connection for me between eating “too much” food and feeling icky. I put quotes around “too much” because by anyone else’s standards they’d be very respectable portions, but for me that extra handful of nuts or small second serving of soup can put me over the edge. On those days really small, snack type meals throughout the day rather than 3-4 bigger meals can help. But that’s just me. I do think experimentation is the name of the game and you’re doing the best you can. :) Keep at it and keep us posted on what you discover! If you find something works I would love to try it out and see if it works for me to!

    • Erica House says:

      I hate that you can empathize, but it’s always nice to know others can understand your pain :) I’ve also found that eating tiny portions helps. I don’t know if I’m having an issue with one particular food group, but just an over taxed digestive system. With mental stress, physical stress from running 40-60 miles a week, an not always making the best eating choice (in terms of what would be easy to digest) I think my stomach is just like “I’M DONE.” I’m going to try just eating bland for a while, giving myself lots of time to eat/digest, and sticking to smaller portions.

  • Lindsay says:

    So…I have this issue with soy. Well, with gluten, dairy, nuts and sometimes eggs as well. But, maybe try to eliminate soy from your diet for a while and see if that helps? I swear, if I eat one type of food for a while, my body randomly turns on it and it causes me intestinal distress. I miss pizza so much. That had nothing to do with soy. What was I on about? Oh. Edamame. I love it, it does not love me anymore. Yep.

    Clearly, I am super coherent this morning. I’ll just leave it at that. I feel like you need a hug. Want a hug? No? Salem would.

    • Erica House says:

      Lol I’m totally taking your electronic hug right now :)

      I REALLY hope I don’t have an issue with soy because I like it – and eat it so often! I think my stomach just can’t handle big portions or weird food combinations right now. Like, if I just eat tempeh alone I’m totally fine, but put it on a salad with fruit and my guts like ‘HAHAHA no.’ Why does eating have to be so difficult for us?! /EndPityParty

  • OrganicallyMo says:

    I am like Lindsay above and cannot eat soy. My IBS was acting up so bad in the beginning of the year that I tried the FODMAP diet for a few months and that really helped me out.

  • I think it’s just a good reminder that even the “health foods” we buy are still packaged and processed in some way

    • Erica House says:

      Yep. I feel like my stomach wants just one real food at a time. You want rice? Eat plain rice. You want steamed veggies? Eat just that. I think our bodies were likely designed to digest one food type at a time. I doubt our caveman ancestors were sitting down to 2-3 course meals. Probably just eating whatever they had just killed/picked from the ground.

  • Ooh noo, I hope you feel better soon! Cutting out sweeteners . . . . hard!

  • slimsanity says:

    I’ve never had food allergies or digestive issues, luckily. Cutting out sweeteners can be VERY hard. I struggle with it sometimes, too!

  • Jodi says:

    I can’t handle the fake sugars. They make me feel shaky. I do drink flavored waters with stevia in them, but it’s supposed to be a natural sweetener.

    • Erica House says:

      Stevia I do okay with. I didn’t have a problem until I switched to a new brand of Stevia and after a few weeks I looked at the ingredient list and saw the first ingredient was inulin. WTF? It’s a type of fiber! The brand I normally use, Truvia, has just stevia in it.

  • Helen says:

    I hope you feel better soon, Erica. It must be hard to deal with the bloating and everything. I haven’t had too much of a digestive issue yet but since my family on my mom’s side have digestive issues, I’m trying to watch what I eat. It could be hereditary.

    • Erica House says:

      Thank you :) I hope you continue to be problem-free! No one in my family has digestion issue (Well, dad has Celiacs) so I guess I just lucked out and got a weak stomach.

  • Kelly says:

    I was under the impression that Stevia is natural, and a better choice than Splenda or aspartame. I’m woefully allergic/intolerant to avocado. It’s tough because everyone thinks it’s the “second coming” of superfoods. The upside is, I stay away from Subway and other places that now have it on the menu, which is a good thing. I eat more whole foods I prepare myself. Do you journal what you eat? Or use an allergy app? That might help you zero in on the culprit. Sounds like artificial sweeteners might not be the main one…

    • Erica House says:

      Stevia is typically okay for me. I’ve never had a problem before until I switched brands recently. I looked at their ingredient list and the first ingredient was INULIN (a type of fiber) followed by stevia. I was so pissed! I’m so surprised to hear you are allergic to avocado – that must be so rare! I didn’t start eating them regularly until this year. I don’t think your missing out on much! I am starting a food journal today!

  • This is an interesting post. As a Type 2 diabetic, managing the condition well with medication, diet and primarily cardio exercise for well over a year and a half (and a little underweight for around that amount of time as well), I do play “chocolate games” with myself. In order to indulge some kind of hankerings for milk chocolate and occasional cola soda, I allow artificial sweeteners in to my life. Otherwise, it is high quality, preferably 72% to 87% cacao content, regularly-sweetened chocolate … And not much at one time. And no cola.

    That is SOME game … my glucometer hardly tells the difference. It obviously reads higher even with many of the types of artificial sweeteners, particularly Splenda and many of the sugar alcohols.

    • Erica House says:

      I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up artificial sweeteners (stevia at least) for good forever. I just need to cut WAY back on them, but I still love my occasional treat! I guess I could treat myself with the REAL stuff and my tummy would probably be happier for it. I may do that next time!

  • Ash Wilson says:

    I was recently diagnosed with IBS, although I’ve definitely been dealing with it my whole life. Over the past year I have cut out dairy almost entirely, and gluten 100%. I’ve noticed my flare ups are less intense/frequent since. I also take 50mg Dicetel when I get those sharp pains and bloating.

    From reading your comments to others, I definitely agree with eating smaller meals & bland foods. Your digestive tract sometimes needs a break, and has to get recharged. Back in May I had a horrible flare up that lasted over two weeks, and I could barely manage food. Low sodium gluten free soup broth, tuna, bananas, and gluten free toast with coconut oil was all I could manage. After that unintentional re-set, my belly was near 100%. My bloating went down and my bathroom breaks were minimal. I definitely suggest checking in with your doctor if this lasts any longer. Really hoping things turn around for you soon!

    • Erica House says:

      Yep – cutting out dairy and gluten was one of the best things I ever did! I’m feeling much better after 2 days of eating bland foods, one at a time (I think proper food combining is causing a lot of my issues.) Glad to hear you are feeling better!

      GF toast with coconut oil is one of my favorite things in life.

  • Domi says:

    I feel your pain…I have been struggling with stomach issues for years, and they’ve been getting progressively worse lately. (Or maybe it’s that I’m getting healthier, so I notice the effects more? Either way, it’s more bothersome.) Dairy, soy, legumes, and bread/pasta seem to aggravate my worst symptoms. I’ve also cut out all artificial sweeteners already for general health/GI reasons, but yesterday I decided to nix stevia too, as I’ve had crazy breakouts for a few months that just will NOT go away even with Rx’s, which makes me realize it’s got to be due to some hormonal/digestive problems.

    Long story short, you’re not alone. Thanks for sharing and the encouragement to keep kickin’ the sweet stuff to the curb!

    • Erica House says:

      Ugh I’m very familiar with the effect of diet/stress on breakouts! I found my skin cleared up a lot after eliminating most dairy, which I see you’ve already done. Hopefully you can find your trigger soon!

  • Enid says:

    I’ll just start with the list of foods that I can’t have exceeds the list of foods that I can have. I’ve used over 30 different probiotcs, elimination diets, cultured foods and finally got a handle on what it was for me (carbs, grains and legumes- all the healthy shit!). Luckily I’ve never had artifical sweeteners (execpt the sugar alcohols) be an issue for me, but I only know that because I added them into my diet elimination style. Good luck figuring it all out!

    • Erica House says:

      Wow. So did you just start making a list anytime you ate something and had a negative reaction to it? Where do you get your carbs from?

  • My biggest IBS trigger is stress. It’s crazy how powerful the brain is.

    • Erica House says:

      Yes! I read Happy Belly a few months ago and it talked about how stress can effect the belly, so the belly being imbalanced could effect mental states as well. It was such an eye opener for me!

  • So, I’ve really struggled with stomach issues over the years – I’ve cut out bread, dairy and artificial sweeteners and they didn’t help! Turns out, I was eating too much fiber in my diet. Now that I’ve been monitoring my fiber intake (watching out for the avocados, black beans, apples, etc. – aka all those healthy foods I love) my stomach issues have been a lot better.

    • My workaround is that I take anti-gas enzymes before the fact for those sometimes nightshade vegetables; and for avocadoes and hummus; or nearly anything made from beans… and even sometimes seeds (like quinoa) …

      I also take dairy enzymes.

      Many times not enough of either …

      This is a middle-aged and older thing, you will discover it too :-)

      • Erica House says:

        Ha. Well I am very middle aged then! I need to start taking enzymes proactively more often and see if that helps my issues more than medicating them after they start.

    • Erica House says:

      In all the reading I’ve been doing I keep seeing too much fiber is a common trigger for stomach issues. Crazy since one of the most common health messages we hear is “eat more fiber!”

  • Lauren says:

    Ugh that all sounds frustrating. I was diagnosed with IBS too after terrible stomach pains for months a few years ago where I was convinced something was seriously wrong with me but yours sounds a bit more severe. I don’t think I could give up artificial sweeteners for good but your plan to cut back sounds like a start. I notice mine acting up when I eat like crap or with too much sugar, dairy, gluten, etc. It’s annoying because I feel like I can’t cut out everything all the time but tend to reset with clean eating and it usually helps. I drink lots of water, cut out coffee for a few days, and take probiotics. Sorry this isn’t really help, just commiserating a little bit!

    • Erica House says:

      I appreciating the commiserating! It’s something SO frustrating that effects you every waking moment and unless someone else has struggled with it they just don’t understand how bad it can be.

  • Cindy says:

    I can’t have soy, peas, peanuts and all nuts other than almonds. I don’t eat red meat and I’m a very picky (plain) eater, so it can be a pain going out or when my flatmate wants to be creative in the kitchen. I also found that on the current antidepressant I am on I can’t tolerate any artificial sweeteners other than stevia. I get completely queasy if I try to have a diet coke (which I miss, even though I know it’s bad for you!)

    I haven’t had the stomach issues; however when I was a teen I couldn’t do tomato sauce without extreme nausea. I basically quit pizza for over a decade until I found that it was a combo of acid reflux (all I needed was an antacid) and worry that I was going to end up with issues like my dad had- he had a sour stomach for a few years that was magically cured w/ Zantac.

    I hope you’re feeling better soon!

    • I have been on omeprazole for gastro-esophageal reflux disorder. I not too infrequently get an attack of GERD in the mornings. Doctor told me I have to avoid this, because it seems to somewhat correlate with having high (at the outer edge of normal) fasting blood glucose readings in the mornings. Chicken-and-egg causal relationship for this. This is probably a pointer as to having an endocrine imbalance and even a blood lipid imbalance, as I have had a bad stomach for decades. And have been a cholesterol patient for almost two of those decades. Had to eat a lower acid/low fat diet/fried-food-avoiding diet for those same number of years (during which I had not taken stomach drugs, beyond the first year with prescription Zantac)

    • Erica House says:

      Strange about the antidepressants and sickness with artificial sweeteners! I’ll have to look more into that connection. I’m not surprised tomato sauce gave you such an issue – it’s SO acidic! Thankfully acid reflux has only happened to me once before and it was horrific. It’s great you’ve been able to find a cure for it so you can still enjoy delicious pizza :)

  • Tori says:

    I’ve always had a sensitive stomach but I’ve learned to manage it by avoiding certain foods and it’s so much better. I can’t tolerate soy or whey protein at all and I avoid most dairy, especially yogurt which makes me extremely bloated (I find this kind of strange since yogurt is supposed to be good for your digestion). I also avoid eating too much fiber at once and cut out unnecessary gluten. I feel so much better when I do these things, but occasionally I still have issues, especially when I am stressed out. When this happens I try to give my system a break with mild, easy to digest foods, lots of green juice, and ginger. Also drinking a lot of water and staying well hydrated always helps!

    I know how badly stomach issues can suck, especially when you’re trying to train for a race. I hope you feel better soon!

    • Tori says:

      Oh, legumes and cruciferous vegetables are the other two things I don’t tolerate well. Avoiding all of these for a while usually helps me feel better!

    • Erica House says:

      I think I’ve read that there is a link between dairy and inflammation for some people. I’m surprised I tolerate soy/whey protein so well as virtually everyone I know can’t! Ginger has been my LIFESAVER this week! That and peppermint tea.

  • Krista says:

    Inulin could definitely be the culprit! It’s a harder to digest fiber. If it’s only been a day or two without it, maybe give it few more days for it to pass (not sure if you’re constipated or not). Hope you feel better soon!

  • Gen says:

    My grandmother’s advice to “eat something dry” whenever I complained of a tummy ache has really helped with my current IBS! I used to also feel really sick after delicious salads, and I think the fiber in the veggies was tough on my irritated digestive system. I cut our raw veggies except in smoothies and started all my meals with a handful of GF cereal or crackers. For some reason, this settled my stomach so well! Once I felt that I hadn’t had IBS issues for a few months, I reintroduced salads, but even now, I enjoy spinach and salads slightly wilted to break down some of the tough cellulose.
    Good luck! IBS is such a drag! I still have episodes. A few nights ago I ate too many blackberries and paid for it the next morning… I guess I’m really sensitive to plant fiber!

    • Erica House says:

      Grandma’s are always so wise! A few days last week my stomach felt so off the only thing I craved was simple carbs. I ate a box of GF crackers with cream cheese for dinner one night and it was heavenly. Zero issues and I’ve gradually been reintroducing regular food into my diet.

  • Long time reader, first time commenter- Love this post, Erica and something I can definitely relate to! Cutting down on artificial sweeteners did my body a huge service- although the hardest part has been the protein powder but that is something I’m working on!

    • Erica House says:

      Thank you for reading! It is hard to find protein powders that don’t have a lot of artificial ingredients in them. There are some really great high quality brands but they are usually out of my price range!

  • I am so against artificial sweeteners!! I developed Grave’s disease many years ago by trying the “South Beach Diet” which was just all kinds of wrong. It was discovered and treated immediately and I haven’t had thyroid issues since but that was my cue that “diet” or “low cal” anything needs to be looked at carefully. Never mind I shouldn’t have been dieting anyway as I was not overweight, just a fad I bought into. I’d rather have real sugar and other things in moderation. Sorry you’re having stomach issues!

    • Erica House says:

      Wow. Forgive my ignorance but I had no idea Graves disease could be caused by dietary issues! Thanks for reinforcing my decision to stay far away from artificial sweeteners!