Diet Soda and Weight Gain

by sockii

Could diet soda actually be making you gain weight? Before you grab another can of "zero calorie" soda, consider the conflicting evidence and potential hazards.

Is diet soda actually making you fat, instead of helping you lose weight?

It sounds illogical and on the surface seems to make no sense at all. People generally drink diet sodas because they are actively looking to lose weight, or at least avoid unwanted, "empty" calories that could start to pack on the pounds. Yet more and more critics and scientific studies are beginning to suggest there are real concerns about the use of sugar substitutes and the consumption of diet sodas in particular. The evidence may not be conclusive yet, but there is certainly enough to give one reason to pause and think. Additionally, many individuals and scientific studies have reported health conditions and concerns related to the consumption of artificial sweeteners beyond simple weight loss or gain.

My goal here is to simply present some of the current arguments which raise questions about the consumption of diet soda, and how it might actually be contributing to obesity and other medical conditions. I'll also provide you with a chance to chime in with your own experiences and opinions.

The arguments and evidence against diet soda

Why some people suggest diet soda can actually lead to weight gain
Glasses of sodaIn one study which made the rounds in 2011, researchers followed 474 diet soda drinkers in the 65 to 74 age range for almost 10 years. Their findings were that the waistlines of the diet soda drinkers grew 70% more than the non diet soda drinkers! "Specifically, drinking two or more diet sodas a day busted belt sizes five times more than people who avoided the stuff entirely." (Source) But why could that be the case? There are numerous suspected causes and potential reasons to link diet soda and weight gain:

Diet soda may actually intensify your cravings to eat more.

There are several theories and studies which suggest how this could be the case. One is that consumption of too many artificial sweeteners (in soda and otherwise) can interfere with the bacteria in our gut, how they process food and send signals of fullness and satisfaction to the brain. When these signals are interrupted, we keep eating more because we don't realize we've reached a point of being full. ("The strange reason diet soda makes you fat", "Could diet soda make you fat?")

Diet soda may cause an insulin "spike" and contribute to the development of diabetes and heart disease.

Although these findings are controversial and refuted by some, studies in mice fed a diet high in aspartame (the artificial sweetener found in most diet sodas) had higher blood sugar levels than those fed a normal diet. ("New study is wake-up call for diet soda drinkers.")  It is suggested that the artificial sweeteners actually increase our appetite for sweets by triggering the body's normal response to consuming sugar while not actually "delivering the goods", so to speak. Other studies have linked artificial sweeteners with metabolic syndrome, a set of risk factors for developing diabetes and heart disease such as abdominal obesity and high blood pressure. ("Metabolic Syndrome Tied to Diet Soda in New Study.")

Aspartame may exacerbate depression and anxiety - which can cause us to overeat.

"Emotional eaters" are often prone to coping with anxiety and depression by seeking comfort in food, even binge eating. Some studies suggest that aspartame can adversely affect those already suffering from anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. ("Can Drinking Diet Coke Cause Depression?")

Diet soda creates the mental "excuse" to indulge in other ways.

It's sort of a running joke you hear in the media so often: an overweight person goes to a restaurant or fast food establishment, orders a "Supersized" burger and fries, and washes it down with a diet soda. But it is true that a person might use drinking a diet soda as an excuse to eat a larger meal or other sweets when they don't need to, and end up negating any calorie savings that would have been enjoyed from drinking that diet beverage.

Diet soda is simply not a cure-all for weight loss.

If an individual has physical, emotional or mental conditions that predispose them toward weight gain, drinking diet soda isn't going to fix those underlying issues. Whether or not you believe some of the possible scientific evidence against diet soda, it is clear that the consumption (or non-consumption) of sugar-laced beverages is only one factor in dietary moderation that needs to be addressed.

Diet soda and artificial sweeteners may be linked to other serious health concerns.

"FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risks", says one study. "On Overdue Ban on a Dangerous Sweetener", others suggest, pointing out the long-standing controversy and history of the FDA approval of aspartame. "Aspartame is not the only thing in diet cola that can kill you", proclaims another headline in an article about another dangerous chemical found in many regular and diet sodas alike.


 Image credit: arker at

Your consumption of diet soda

How much diet soda do you regularly consume?

More about diet soda, obesity and health risks

Videos and interviews discussing the health "hazards" of artificial sweeteners and diet soda

Are artificial sweeteners toxic?

Books exploring this subject in more detail
Are Your Diet Sodas Killing You? Results from My Aspartame Experiment

How safe is aspartame? Found in packets of NutraSweet® or Equal® in most restaurants, the artificial sweetener is ingested by an estimated 200 million worldwide. It is found in ...

View on Amazon

Aspartame (NutraSweet): Is it Safe?

Just how safe is the artificial sweetener aspartame (more commonly known as NutraSweet), currently used in some 6000 products and consumed by hundreds of millions of people? You...

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Sweet Deception: Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Most people believe that sucralose (Splenda) is a perfectly safe artificial sweetener. Big business and the FDA have fostered that dangerous misconception. The truth is Splenda ...

View on Amazon

My anecdotal experience

Why I've twice given up diet soda and aspartame - and am determined to avoid it now at all costs

Diet soda bottlesTwice in my life I've made the conscious and determined decision to give up diet soda completely - and I am only annoyed at myself for falling off that wagon once because I know it does not do good things for my health and well being.

Weight has always been an issue I've struggled with, so as a child and through my teenage/young adult years I was primarily a diet soda drinker. By the time I was in graduate school, I was easily drinking a 2-liter bottle of diet soda a day, or its equivalent in cans/fountain drinks. I actually had my taste buds "trained" that I preferred the taste of it to regular soda (except when I was traveling outside of the U.S. and got my first taste of cane sugar-based Coca Cola - now that was soda I could really enjoy, yet I also found I was satisfied with one such small glass bottle a day.)

My mother then shared with me an email going around at the time. Yes, it was one of the variations of the chain letter up on Snopes today outlining a long list of health concerns supposedly linked to aspartame consumption: cravings for carbohydrates, cancer, memory loss, numbness in extremities, headaches, tinnitus and lupus, just to name a few. My mother was also a heavy diet soda drinker at the time and felt it could be contributing to her migraine headaches (which we both suffered from), numbness in her fingers and hands, and other health concerns. We both gave up diet soda cold turkey that day...and I honestly can say I didn't really miss it. I switched to drinking regular water with lemon, club soda and (sweetener free) flavored seltzer waters, and was actually perfectly happy with that for years.

I did drop perhaps 10-15 pounds after a while without changing anything else consciously about my diet, and I did find that the frequency of my migraine headaches decreased. That said, over the following five years or so my weight started creeping up again to a new high, which eventually led me to join Weight Watchers and lose 70 pounds in a year. And, for the record, I did so without switching back to diet soda or using any aspartame-containing food products.

After maintaining a good weight loss for about seven years, I found over the past couple years that my weight was starting to slowly creep back up again; I blame getting "fat and happy" with my sweetheart now that we're living together and I can cook for him every day! Last year to try to combat that I did start drinking diet soda again for the first time since I'd given it up almost two decades ago...and found I still gained more weight instead of losing any. With reading these more recent studies bringing in to question how artificial sweeteners could be affecting our health, I resolved to give it up again, and this time for good!

I can say it's been about two months now since I went "diet soda free", and without changing much else about my diet, and even getting through the winter holiday months of excessive food and treats, I've dropped about seven pounds. I'm not having much luck losing more than that yet, but I do feel better for it and now I think diet soda tastes terrible when I have had any test "sips" of it. If I am craving a soda, I stick with a small regular Coke - usually I find it too sweet to drink more than perhaps half a can or small bottle anyway.


Image credit: globochem on Flickr.

What do you think?

Do you think diet soda actually can lead one to GAIN weight?
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No way!
AmeriBev on 02/25/2015

Contrary to this article, diet soda, and the low calorie sweeteners it contains, is not a culprit driving weight gain and obesity. The fact is diet soda has proven time and again to be an effective tool when it comes to managing calories. Consider this research, for instance: a randomized clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 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: It’s also important to note that no single food, beverage or ingredient is uniquely responsible for weight gain or obesity, and it’s overly simplistic and misleading to suggest so. Bottom line is soda – both regular and diet – is safe and can be enjoyed as a part of a balanced diet and active life.
-American beverage Association

Are you a diet soda addict?

Then this might be the book for you...
My Life as a Coke Addict: Diet Coke that is

“Hi, my name is Jeff, and I’m a Coke addict. (a Diet Coke addict to be specific) It has taken me 46, 47, 48, (good God will I ever finish this darn book?) 49 years to get here a...

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Other diet and weight loss articles by the author

My examinations of the Weight Watchers plan

While my experience with Weight Watchers about 10 years ago was a very positive one, I have not been as thrilled about the program in recent years since they made changes to their Points calculation formulas. If you're interested in learning more, please check out my articles linked below:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: The Problem of 29
Is Weight Watchers' PointsPlus not working for you? The problem of so many people at 29 points On February 9, 2011 Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff took ...

Weight Watchers 360 Plan for 2013
It's another end-of-the-year, which means changes to the Weight Watchers weight loss plan - as usual. 2013 marks Weight Watchers 50th anniversary, and to cel...

Weight Watchers Points Plus 2012
With the arrival of 2012, so came modifications to Weight Watchers PointsPlus weight loss plan. The changes this time were modest compared to the whole scale...

Updated: 01/31/2017, sockii
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