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My Love Affair with Sweeteners

The original title of this article was “How I Cured My IBS” but a couple of pharmaceutical companies would not appreciate what I have to say, so it seemed appropriate to re-title my story as “My Love Affair with Sweeteners.”

I grew up in the Midwest. When I was 16, I spent the summer caring for my German grandmother who used a wheelchair for mobility in her home in San Francisco. What an adventure I had! Five cents and any bus, streetcar, trolley or other form of public transportation would take me from one end of this fascinating city to the other. (I know, I know. In this day and age, a teen exploring a big metropolitan city alone would not be safe, but it was a simpler time, or a more-naïve time and I ran footloose.) At that time, the mid 1970s, Tab diet cola was the beverage of choice for teens like myself. Tab? Yes, Tab. Tab was the Coca-Cola Company’s prequel to Diet Coke. You would see the hot pink aluminum can everywhere. The Coca-Cola Company marketed flavored Tab, too, and 3 or 4 flavors I remember were available in the San Francisco area: Lemon Lime, Orange, Root Beer, and Black Cherry, each in their own vividly colored can.

In our junior year of high school, back in the days when gasoline was $0.52 per gallon, my best friend, Vicky, and I would sneak off campus for a trip to McDonald’s, Mickey D’s as we called it.  Our order was always the same: “A quarter-pounder with cheese and a Tab, please”. Tab was sweetened with saccharin, the small pink packet you find on the table in restaurants. By the time we graduated from high school (and mind you that I thought I was fat then but looking back I would love to be that nice, comfortable, average size again), I had subconsciously chosen sodium saccharin as my first choice for sweetener. My father used a liquid version of saccharin, Sweet 10, to add a few drops in each cup of his daily coffee habit.

Saccharin, in this case Sweet ‘N Low, was the first “sugar substitute” I tried. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are man-made or synthetic, hence the current label of “artificial” sweetener. Goggling the word artificial, you find this definition: made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural. Over the years, other types of sugar substitutes were marketed with the explanation of how bad the one we were using was for us. Kind of like the “eggs are high in cholesterol” debate: No, they aren’t, Yes, they are… My love affair with sweeteners was as engrained in me as my constant battle to lose weight.

Along came aspartame, an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. Wikipedia tells us that aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/ phenylalanine dipeptide, a.k.a. chemical-based, manufactured, and “artificial.” Fatty acid methyl esters are used to produce detergent and biodiesel. Equal was the most common brand of aspartame available. Our post-college days found me and my friends talking about the effects of Equal, such as headaches, cravings for more sugary foods and drinks. I had none of these symptoms, or at least was so far in denial that I would never have admitted it if I did. Giving up my little blue packet of Equal was not going to happen.

Sucralose was discovered by researchers, i.e. man-made, chemical, and artificial. The Splenda brand, in the little yellow packet, became my best friend. I wasn’t the only one either as, in the turn of the century, Splenda took over a larger percentage of the U.S. $1.5B artificial sweetener market from Equal. Incidentally, saccharin (remember the pink Sweet ‘N Low packet), had been listed since 1981 as a substance reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen (a substance known to cause cancer), but was delisted in 2000 from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens. Now we fast forward again to current time and are talking about the little yellow packet again, noting that in February 2016, The Center for Science in the Public Interest downgraded Splenda’s safety rating from “caution” status to “avoid” status.

You may be thinking, “Thanks for the history on artificial sweeteners but wasn’t this article about IBS?” Well, you are right. Since the time I was in 8th grade, I had suffered with stomach and intestinal problems. The doctor performed tests and labelled my condition a spastic stomach. I was told not to eat or drink highly acidic foods, like citrus fruit and chocolate. No more OJ in the morning and carob from the “health food” store became a substitute for chocolate cravings. A few years later, the doctor advised me that the list of foods to avoid included dairy because of the lactic acid. Well, it would’ve been nice if you’d told me that initially as I was the typical glass of milk during dinner kid who woke up in the morning with terrible stomach cramps. I missed about a third of my junior year of high school because of this pain which could easily have been avoided.

Fast forward to my 20s and 30s and I could occasionally enjoy a grapefruit or orange but not cow’s milk, cottage cheese or even later as yogurt became more mainstream, I was unable to enjoy that either. Other foods upset my digestive system, and the reaction was often spontaneous, but I never paid much attention to what or why. I simply knew I was identifying the restroom location in any building I entered long before I might need it.

Then sometime in my 40s, I saw a TV commercial with a group of people at a party and squiggly lines were drawn on their stomachs. The commercial talked about IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Hmmm, I thought. I wonder if that’s what I have? At my annual physical, I ask my internal medicine physician and my hopes are dashed. No, no, she tells me, IBS is constipation not the diarrhea you experience. Like a deflated balloon, I left disappointed and without any relief from my unpredictable unhappy intestines. My friends are now at this age when they think doing a “cleanse” is a great idea and I cringe at the thought. Why would I need a digestive cleanse when my body does that for me naturally any time it wants?

Now I’m in my 50s and it’s time for my first routine colonoscopy. Oh, joy! Of course, I am so worried about the product you have to drink the day before that I won’t even think about scheduling one. My doctor advises me to consult with a gastroenterologist and see what they say. Low and behold, one conversation with this amazing doctor and I have a diagnosis: IBS-D. Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Diarrhea. But I had been told…. Well, that doctor didn’t know what she was talking about. Here’s a Low FODMAP diet that should help you. Fiber supplements will help, too. Fiber for diarrhea, really? Yes, really. Oh, and by the way, let’s get you on my calendar for your colonoscopy. Oh, well, okay… I think.

So what’s a FODMAP? Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols. That just sounds like more chemicals, right? These are short-chain carbohydrates that if not digested properly ferment in the large intestine or bowel, resulting in chronic gastrointestinal symptoms such as recurrent bloatinggas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation. Check, check, check and check. So, I’m off to study the “Eat This – Not That” list. And no one mentions to me that this diet might be needed only temporarily. I presume I’m looking at having to give up onions and garlic forever! The 5 fiber caps I down each morning, with lots of water for fear that I might choke if they start to dissolve before entering my stomach (I recall that Mama Cass Elliott died from choking on a sandwich and how embarrassing would  that be?), work for me and most of my problems are gone.

When I have to have the colonoscopy, though, I have to stop taking the fiber 5 days beforehand and that immediately causes me to have explosive diarrhea again. By the time I get to drink the lemonade flavored potion, my system has cleaned itself out and it’s no problem for me. Actually, the symptoms I experience routinely are what the average person experiences with the liquid laxative requirement. I am happy with managing my symptoms on my own from there.

Then we see the deluge of commercial for medications to treat Crohn’s disease and IBS. In one, a woman is being seated at a table in what appears to be a nice restaurant to enjoy a nice meal. She hasn’t even sat down yet and her stomach takes over and you can tell from her expression she’s not feeling so great. Why would this be, I think? She hasn’t even eaten anything. Well, smells play a big role in my IBS, too. I literally cannot walk into a candle shop without my stomach revolting. So, the fragrance of cooked food can irritate me, also. And next TV introduces us to Irritabelle, your irritable bowel sidekick, an actress dresses in a nude unitard who joyfully plops down on your desk or next to you on the sofa whenever you think about going to a meeting or going out with friends to eat. Hmmm. Okay, stressful situations and the unknown may also be a trigger. Good to know.

What did it for me was when I recognized I was leaving my home around 8:00 p.m. most nights to go to the drive through for the $1 any size Coke Zero. Was I addicted? I think so. Why else would I do this? I decided in March 2017 to stop drinking diet soda. Then I took it a step further and, for no particular reason that I can remember, I decided to eliminate all artificial sweeteners from my diet. I went through the frig, the freezer and the pantry cupboards throwing things out, one by one. When I was done, I could not believe how much of my daily diet included this crap! Splenda in my coffee or iced tea, diet juices, diet flavored water, diet soda, sugar-free syrup, sugar-free jam, sugar-free candy, ice cream, o my goodness, the list went on and on. I had been eating CarbMaster yogurt from Ralph’s (a Kroger store) because at Weight Watchers they told us it only had 4 carbs per container, but it, too, is artificially sweetened. I read up on artificial sweeteners and decided I had had enough of that.

I had tried stevia years before and complained that it tasted bitter. You too? Well, stevia became my new best friend. Stevia was often coupled with erithryol, so I read about erithryol and all of the cautions about man-made erithryol versus plant-based erithryol. I read, too, that most of the erithryol sold or used in foods in the U.S. is man-made. So the plant-based erithryol is okay for daily human consumption, but not so much the chemically manufactured kind. So, I started reading labels looking for stevia without erithryol. I also started to reduce how much sweetener I used in food and drinks so I was no longer craving sweet tastes.

And the side effect of this lifestyle change?  No more diarrhea! No more IBS-D! For 40 years, I had been drinking and eating artificial sweeteners and the resulting symptoms had dictated my life. For 40 years. But no more. I keep thinking I should let my gastroenterologist in on this discovery, but I am sure he’ll remind me it’s time again for my next colonoscopy, and I’m in no hurry to do that, so mums the word! Sometime this year, in 2018, I will schedule it, but I’ve got two-thirds of the year remaining, so what’s the rush? I no longer need to take daily fiber, so a couple of days before my procedure, I plan to enjoy a diet soda (or two!).  Maybe you’ve decided to take better care of your digestive system, too. If so, nix the artificial sweeteners and take back some control of your life.

 

My disclaimer: None of the information I refer to in my story is fact-based. Please do your own research if you are interested in what I’ve told you here in my story. All I know is that this worked for me.  I wrote about it because I hope it helps others, too.

 

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More In The Studio

My latest studio exercise from the class I’m taking through  http://www.coursera.org is to learn and paint in the style of Jackson Pollock, humorously nicknamed “Jack the Dripper”. His No. 1A created from oil and enamel on canvas in 1948 is shown (at left below). My exploration resulted with this interpretation of his process (at right below):

Jackson Pollock No. 1A, 1948, oil and enamel on canvas

Jackson Pollock Exercise by Carla Bange, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pollock started out inspired by American Indian sand paintings, which can be seen in his impressive The She-Wolf (see it here: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78719 ). Once he relocated to New York, he focused on his “poured paintings” which are much more recognizable as his work. I learned that he used enamels, like house paint, which probably helped his action paintings which he created by moving around all sides of a huge canvas spread across his barn floor. My efforts, using thinned down acrylic paints, resulted more in drips and drops than flowing strings of paint. I really enjoy watching Ed Harris, the actor. So when he did such an amazing job portraying the artist in Pollock, the movie released in 2000, I was already familiar with the sweeping gestural movements of Pollock’s brushes. I was, however, unaware that he embedded trinkets in his work, such as nails, coins, buttons, and even cigarette buttes in his work Full Fathom Five (see it here: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79070).

Next up was Mark Rothko. Art History 101 and 102 courses were my favorite classes in college. We were required to attend an art show, a play, a musical, and to write critiques. I’m not sure any of us truly knew what we were doing critiquing famous works but I imagine reading our papers was very enlightening, as well as entertaining, to the instructors. Standing in the Sheldon Art Museum on the University of Nebraska – Lincoln campus looking at a Mark Rothko original for the first time stayed with me over 40 years later! At the time, I felt the need to equate the work to something familiar and recognizable. Was it a landscape or a sunset, a field or the sea? Now I understand that abstract art is less about a relating it to something concrete and known and more about relating it to an emotion and feeling.

I used similar colors in the studio exercise I made with acrylic paints on a 24 x 36 inch canvas. When I stood back I realized that I had neglected to try to round the corners of my shaded rectangles which float on a red background. Rothko didn’t let others watch him work, so it is uncertain how many coats of paint he applied or what techniques he used for his smudged edges.

I did try my hand at using oil paints in the Rothko style, but on a much smaller scale. I found the streaking nature of thinned oil paint to be disappointing to work with. The upside is that I can say I tried it!

Look for more from the class as I continue to explore in upcoming blogs…


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It’s Vintage!

When my mom moved back to Omaha to live with my sister and her family, the enormous task of cleaning house ensued, and the constant questioning, “Do you want this? or this? or this?” or “Maybe your sister wants this.” Many of the items brought forward for decision-making including the handmade items I had gifted her with over the past half century. Some I passed on. Some I had long forgotten, had a good laugh over, but still passed on. A couple I had forgotten and kept with a big Cheshire cat grin.  These two are ones I kept, had professionally dry cleaned, chose new mats and frames, and waited.

The results are in and I’ve found a bit of empty wall space to show them off. Made over 40 years ago. The first and only needlepoint canvases I made myself. Long before there were Michael’s Crafts Stores, Lee Wards out of Elgin, IL, was where I worked part-time during senior high school. One of my re-loved projects was from an introductory class which taught us a variety of needlepoint stitches and the other from a holiday DIY kit. If vintage is classified as anything over 25 years, then these two pieces certainly qualify:

 

Learning needlepoint stitches, the cat in blues and purples, Lee Wards Craft Store class, circa 1976

 

Poinsettia stained glass needlepoint kit, circa 1978

The Impressions We Make

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Since facebook has started bringing back memories of what we posted 3, 4, even 5 years ago, I am sure that I’m not the only one who has been tickled to see something we posted but had already forgotten. A few years ago I met my friend Rosie. I was gifting my mixed media paintings to the local area Starbucks Coffee shops, like these prints on canvas now availalbe in my Etsy shop:

Rosie saw one in our neighborhood Starbucks, asked about it and they handed her my business card. Rosie called me and asked if I would be willing to show her how to create her own mixed media art.  I was so excited to meet her and create with her. She made this gorgeous, colorful collaged Christmas tree. It came back to me on facebook as a memory from 2012.

My friend Rosie’s first mixed media collage – not quite dry yet so some areas of glue still appear white

A friend sent me a photo of the mini album I created for her when Margo was surprised by her now husband’s proposal. Remember this? she asked in the text. I laughed! Yes, I remember creating it, but more importantly, I was so warmed to know she still had it around and would share the pic with me.

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Margo’s Marriage Proposal Captured in a Heart-Shaped Mini Album

Another canvas I created came back to me recently in a totally unexpected way. I participate in an annual breast cancer fundraiser. At this year’s Think Pink Crafting Extravaganza, formerly known as Survivor Crop, and my 12th of 15 years participating in this wonderful event, breast cancer survivor Kendra spoke to us about her experiences; her journey with chemo and then radiation treatments was harrowing.

She spoke of how difficult it is for people to talk to someone when they are sick. People look away, pretend they don’t see you, fail to acknowledge your existence, mostly because they don’t know what to say or how to act around cancer patients. Friends fail to call, you’re sick, in pain, scared, and lonely, so lonely. Other people come into your life, like the wife of one of her husband’s co-workers. Sandy listened to Kendra and was a resourceful and caring sounding board. Sandy is one of the Think Pink Crafting Extravaganza organizers.

After talking to us as a group, Kendra visited with many of us as we crafted all day in our fundraising efforts. When she made her way to our table, she stopped to sit down by me. I had just finished a mixed media canvas using Simple Stories new Hope Collection of patterned papers and matching stickers. I call it Breezy:

Kendra talked about my Breezy painting and how it reminded her of the collage she has been gifted with.She told me how she had it hanging in her bedroom and when she was too sick to get out of bed she would look at it. She said it was fascinating because each time she looked at it she would find something new; there were layers and layers of messages and images in the painting. She said she loved it and how much it had helped her.

I asked Kendra who the artist was, but she didn’t recall. I asked her what the collage was of and she told me it was 3 women; it was breast cancer survivor art. You know how they say you can just sense where something is heading, the goosebumps appear on your arms and it becomes really quiet all around you as you focus in on just one person or one thing? Well, that’s what happened to me. I then asked where she’d gotten the painting and she told me that Sandy had given it to her.

For several years, I would make mixed media collages for the Silent Auctions at this breast cancer fundraiser. I recall creating one with 3 women on it and wondered if Sandy had bid on it and won it at one of the auctions? It was so rewarding to know that a collage I had created and donated to a previous year’s silent auction had been bid on and won by my friend, Sandy, and then out of the thoughtfulness of her heart, Sandy had gifted it to the lovely breast cancer survivor sitting next to me,telling me her story, Kendra.

I told Kendra that I thought I might be the artist and asked her if she would send me a photo of the canvas, and I’d also love a photo of her with the painting and she agreed.  I was close to tears, but it really didn’t hit me until the drive home that night. We raised almost $20,000 that day and the tears poured down my face driving home. It means the world to me to know that my art can have this kind of an impact on a total stranger.

My hope has always been that my colorful, whimsical and, sometimes. quirky view of the world through my art will touch emotions in others. Unbeknownst to be, I certainly had. I couldn’t be more proud, so I’m off to paint more! Happy Thanksgiving 2016 everyone!

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Kendra and the 3 Girls Survivor Collage

This gallery contains 3 photos