Image by NIOSH - Nat Inst for Occupational Safety & Health via Flickr
Yesterday I wrote about the aspartame controversy, asking the question "Is aspartame really sweet poison?" After reading some of the numerous websites that state that aspartame intake may cause fibromyalgia symptoms, you might be left wondering if aspartame is affecting your health negatively. So what is the average person living with fibromyalgia supposed to do when faced with questions like this? My suggestion is to become a fibromyalgia scientist. Here's how:
- Make a list of all your symptoms, for example: pain, fatigue, problems concentrating, headaches, etc.
- Next to each item, rate the severity of the symptom using a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being no symptoms and 10 being symptoms so severe you are bedridden and unable to function.
- Now plan how you will eliminate aspartame from your diet. Carefully review all the foods you eat that contain aspartame, like diet sodas, Equal or Nutrasweet packets, sugar-free pudding mixes, sugar-free drink mixes, sugar-free ice cream and Popsicles, sugar-free gelatin mixes, sugar-free cookies, etc. Decide what you will substitute for these products.
- If your main source of aspartame is diet sodas, take into consideration how much caffeine you are ingesting per day. If you consume a lot of caffeine, you might experience caffeine withdrawal if you stop drinking caffeinated diet soda abruptly. Consider tapering your consumption over several weeks or substituting another caffeine containing beverage like coffee or black tea.
- For each day you stop or taper your aspartame usage, go back to your list of symptoms and rate each one. Be sure to add any new symptoms that emerge during your experiment. Also indicate on your logs any other significant changes to your medications, lifestyle or diet that might be affecting your symptoms. Ideally, you will conduct your experiment over the course of four to six weeks, assessing your symptoms daily.
- At the end of four to six weeks, review your logs. Do you see any improvement in your symptoms? Did any symptoms get worse? Did any new symptoms emerge?
- Consider sharing your logs with a friend or family member. Having two or more sets of eyes on the data you have collected might help you see changes or trends that you missed.
- At this point, if your experiment is inconclusive, you might consider adding the aspartame containing products back into your diet to conduct your experiment in reverse. Again, rate the severity of your symptoms every day your symptoms. After four to six weeks, look for improving or worsening symptoms, new symptoms and other trends.
For the aspartame experiment above, I would suggest using the My Target and Symptom Log forms. On the My Target form, Bruce advises that you set targets with an 8 or higher confidence rating to ensure that you set yourself up for success. If you can not set your confidence at 8, consider changing your target.
Once you try it, you may find that this approach is helpful in a variety of situations, like when you start a new medication or make lifestyle changes. As you experiment and find what works for you, using logs to document changes in your symptoms can really help you determine if something helps or hinders you. I'd love to hear from you if you choose to undertake the aspartame experiment or if you devise your own experiment using this example as a template.