Warning: Diet Soda Makes You Fat

The Truth About <a href=#DietSoda www.nuttynutritionandfitness.com” width=”424″ height=”225″ />Do you drink diet soda? According to a new study you probably shouldn’t, because it will make you fat. Or at least, fatter. This study found that older adults (65+) who drank diet soda had greater increases in waist circumference over a ten year period than those who didn’t. Quick! Start chuggin’ the regular stuff, because diet soda is most definitely the greater evil of the two. Right? Not quite. What the study failed to mention is that the participant’s diet was not controlled for. Meaning that, the group who drank diet soda, probably had poorer eating habits and consumed more calories than those not drinking diet soda. Thus they gained more weight, their stomachs got bigger, and it likely had very little to do with what type of soda they were drinking.

There is no plausible biological mechanism for how diet soda can make people gain weight directly. It has zero sugar and zero calories. If somebody were to live only on diet soda they would starve to death way before they ever developed diabetes. The problem with diet soda (and probably all artificially sweetened beverages) is that many people give themselves the green light to eat whatever they want when they drink diet soda. It’s as if diet soda is viewed as a negative calorie food. Drinking a diet soda does not undo the calories consumed in a cheeseburger or french fries. For an intelligent and hilarious explanation of the diet soda phenomenon check out this article.

Diet Coke causes weight gain
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In contrast, there have been a few published studies where diet soda has aided in weight loss. In one study participants were enrolled in a weight loss program and randomly assigned to either a group that was only allowed to drink water, or a group allowed to drink artificially sweetened beverages (including diet soda). The water group lost an average of 9 pounds where the diet group lost an average of 13 pounds. Shocking. It’s possible that the participants felt less restricted in their diet when they were allowed to drink diet soda, leading to better adherence to the diet overall. Interestingly, the participants in the diet soda group ranked their hunger lower than the water group. These results indicate that diet soda could actually enhance weight loss, as opposed to causing it. One important caveat to consider is that this study was funded by the American Beverage Association.

What about aspartame? Many people like to tell me that diet soda is worse for you than regular soda. Oh really? If you can show me some actual studies on that (from a peer-reviewed journal) I will believe you. Until then, I believe the abundance of research that shows that it is safe.  Even those claiming to be sensitive to aspartame always fail miserably in placebo controlled trials. It turns out, people sensitive to aspartame are actually just sensitive to living.

One problem I do have with diet soda is that when people get used to drinking something sweet (artificially or regularly sweetened) it can sometimes makes them crave more sweets (whether that be more sweetened food or more sweetened beverage). If you live on diet soda and never drink plain water, your tastes buds become recalibrated to desiring a higher threshold of sweetness . All of a sudden your cereal is not sweet enough, you are adding more sugar to your coffee, and you are left wondering why that cookie tastes so plain. Not to mention that artificial sweeteners have been in widespread use since the 1980’s, and obesity and diabetes have done nothing but skyrocket since then. Clearly, diet drinks are not the solution to long-term health.

My personal opinion is that if you really enjoy diet soda it’s okay to drink occasionally. However, it should be viewed as more of a “treat” than your every day go-to beverage. What should your go-to beverage be? Water. I know it’s not exciting or sexy, but it’s the truth. Stay tuned for my next article on how to make drinking water sexy.

13 thoughts on “Warning: Diet Soda Makes You Fat

  1. Great post! I have clients asking and even telling me that diet soda is much word than regular. These headlines get blown out of proportion. I agree it is important to look at all of the (peer reviewed) studies done to get a better idea of it all. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Brittany! Yes, totally. If someone doesn’t want to drink diet soda I think that’s a good choice, but to claim that it’s worse is not exactly accurate.

  2. Yay I’m excited for how to make drinking water sexy! And I LOLd at the people who are sensitive to living. Lol

  3. Preach! A lay article on the dangers of diet soda was taped on the soda machine in one of the cardiovascular units at the hospital where I work. I wanted to rip it off right away, but that would be rude! Shoulda tho!

  4. I can’t tell you how many girls I saw in high school and college walking around with their candy bar and diet coke. Live and learn. Thanks for the info.

  5. As noted here, studies contradict the claim that diet soda is a unique risk factor for weight gain, and instead indicate these beverages can be part of an effective weight loss and management plan. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, concluded that those who consumed diet beverages in place of caloric ones consumed fewer calories than other control groups, including those who consumed only water: http://bit.ly/Ik4zjC. Moreover, a paper published in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that weight loss maintainers use a number of dietary strategies to accomplish their weight loss, including “increased consumption of artificially sweetened beverages.” Bottom line: the body of scientific evidence confirms diet soft drinks are safe and can be a helpful diet tool. –American Beverage Association

    1. I agree that they are safe. From personal experience counseling people I think there are some individuals that can follow a healthy diet while including diet soda, but there are many that cannot, that is why I don’t routinely recommend them.

  6. Thanks, Heather, for the first sensible, intelligent and fact-based article on diet soda that I’ve seen in 25 years. Aspartame hysteria always got on my nerves, too. You did a good job putting that to rest.

    Another good thing about diet soda is that it doesn’t cause tooth decay.

    1. Thanks Dave! I really appreciate your kind comments!
      That’s another good point, no tooth decay with diet.

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