Nobody ever starts a diet to gain more weight. Yet that’s exactly what could happen if diet soda is part of your calorie-counting plan. Wait before you put that bottle to your lips – diet soda could actually be making you fat.
It sounds contradictory – diet soda linked with weight gain. However, according to a study by Purdue University, diet sodas – and their artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose (to which chemists add three molecules of chlorine) and saccharin – are associated with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain. A whopping 30 percent of Americans consume diet beverages, believing that a calorie-free drink will offset a calorie-filled meal and keep them slender. Unfortunately, this may not be the case.
So how does something lacking calories make you fat? Blame it on the artificial sweeteners, which are hundreds, or even thousands, of times sweeter than plain sugar, activating a genetically programmed craving for still more sweet substances, as well as the desire for starchy carbs such as bread and pasta.
Additionally, when you consume artificial sweeteners, your metabolism is tricked into expecting sugar and calories. It responds by generating insulin, the fat storage hormone, creating more belly fat and obstructing the body’s ability to burn fat. And sweeteners may block the brain cells that give you that full feeling.
Aspartame stimulates the appetite, but does nothing to satisfy it, causing you to eat more in order to feel full. The body doesn’t receive the payoff it was expecting, and spirals into confusion about how many calories it needs, leaving it less able to regulate how much food to consume – and leaving you vulnerable to overindulgence. This confusion puts the brakes on your metabolism, so you burn fewer calories daily.
At the Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, waistlines and diet drink consumption of 474 people were studied every 3.6 years for almost a decade. The waistlines of diet soda drinkers grew 70 percent more than those who abstained. People who imbibed two or more servings a day had waist girth increases that were 500 percent larger than those who steered entirely clear of the artificially enhanced sodas. The bottom line: if you gulp two or more diet drinks daily, you’re five times more likely to explode zippers than people who completely pass up the beverage.
A widening waistline can also be a red flag indicating excessive amounts of visceral fat, a harmful type of fat that settles around your internal organs and is associated with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A not-so-little middle is a much more precise predictor of heart threats than your body mass index. If drinking diet soda can increase your circumference by 500 percent more than those who abstained, maybe it’s time to put the cap back on the bottle.
In another Texas Health Science Center study, it was determined that every diet soda that participants consumed increased their risk of becoming overweight or obese. For each diet soda that participants drank daily, they were 65 percent more apt to become overweight over the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese. Drinking a diet Coke – or any diet soda – may actually be much, much worse for you than downing a sugary regular Coke.
An even darker side to diet soda is that it’s very addictive. This has been attributed to your brain’s blurred ability to react to both real and artificial sugars. Again, it relates to your brain receiving artificial sweeteners, yet craving the real thing, prompting you to have more of the diet soda – in essence, to continue pursuing a “high” that can never quite be attained.
If you want to kick the diet soda habit, do it slowly to prevent headaches and bodily stress. Don’t go cold turkey – plan to devote two weeks to reducing your intake. After every soda, drink 8 ounces of water to rehydrate, and drink 8 ounces of coconut water around 3:00 PM to reduce the midday energy drop. Take two Emergen-C’s in 6 ounces of water every morning to prevent headaches that accompany tapering off of the beverage.
And the final thing to do after two weeks have passed? Pour the remaining diet soda down the drain.