Does Drinking Diet Soda Make You Eat More?

soda beverages drinks

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at lifestyle issues this week. I promise that I will return to cancer, but the two are so intertwined (that I couldn’t resist today’s post).

Don’t depend on diet soda to help you lose weight. A new study shows that overweight and obese people who drink diet beverages consume more calories from food than those who have sugary drinks, according to a new Johns Hopkins study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

“When you make that switch from a sugary beverage for a diet beverage, you’re often not changing other things in your diet,” says lead researcher Sara Bleich, associate professor in the department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bleich and other Johns Hopkins researchers used data from the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. For this study, they analyzed participants’ recollection of what they’d had to eat and drink over the past 24 hours.

They found that about one in five overweight or obese American adults regularly drinks diet beverages, which is about twice the amount that healthy-weight adults are drinking.

“On the one hand, that’s encouraging. People are being told if you need to cut calories from your diet, discretionary beverages are a great place to start,” Bleich says. But even though they’re no longer drinking their calories, they’re finding them elsewhere—often in sweet snacks, the researchers say.

Diet soda consumption has increased steadily since 1965, when just 3 percent of Americans were regularly drinking the stuff, the study authors write. Sales of diet soda actually declined 7 percent last year, but Bleich thinks that just means habitual diet soda drinkers are switching to the many flavored teas, juices and vitamin-enhanced waters currently on store shelves.

Our bodies fight to try to keep our weight stable, which is one of the reasons weight loss is so hard —and it could help explain why overweight diet soda drinkers may be consuming more calories from solid food.

Another potential reason: Some (highly debated) research has also demonstrated that when you feed your body sugar—even artificial sweeteners—your brain responds by wanting even more sugar, says Nicole Avena, Ph.d., a faculty member at the New York Obesity Research Center at Columbia University, who has done research on the idea of sugar addiction.

She says people often ask her if diet soda triggers those same changes in the brain. “The answer is, it seems to be that it’s the sweet taste that’s producing these changes in the brain, and affecting the brain’s reward system,” says Avena, who recently wrote the book “Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar): Science Explains How to End Cravings, Lose Weight, and Get Healthy.”

“You might be saving yourself a few calories right now … but it’s really just sort of a hold over until later on. It’s still going to affect the brain’s reward system, and make you want to eat sweet foods,” she says.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Now go drink something more natural!

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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