Q: I'm a Diet Coke junkie. Despite having 0 calories, could this habit be sabotaging my weight-loss efforts?
A: In a word: no. While drinking diet soda every day isn't exactly good for your health, the chances of it sabotaging your weight-loss efforts are slim. The common misconception regarding the role of diet soda and weight gain comes from a couple of studies that received a lot of media attention. One such study looked at more 6,500 participants and found that diet soda drinkers were 67 percent more like to have diabetes and 37 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome (a combo of symptoms that is basically where pre-diabetes meets heart disease). What's more, data from the Framingham Heart Study, the longest running heart disease study in the US, found a 56-percent increase in metabolic syndrome when people drank one or more diet sodas per day!
Another study published in 2008 also found an association between diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome. The interesting thing about this particular study was that drinking diet soda was linked to a higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome than drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. Drinking diet soda was essentially as bad for your health as eating fried food. I’m sure you’d agree that having a diet coke is much different than having a regular coke or a basket of curly fries.
How can we make sense of all this research?
There are two primary schools of thought: The first is that diet soda alone does not cause weight gain, but it has more to do with the unhealthy habits of diet soda drinkers—the sum of which leads to weight gain. That could be the case. The second school of thought is that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda mess with your body's chemical processing, causing you to eat more and consequently gain weight. The research in this area is inconsistent at best.
The stance I take with my clients trying to lose weight: If diet soda is going to be your one vice, that's fine. I’d rather have you drink that than a high-calorie beverage, but limit your consumption to one per day at most. If you're doing everything else with your diet and exercise correctly, you will lose weight. Having the occasional diet soda won’t stop you from achieving your goals or the body you've always wanted.
Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his ability to transform complex nutritional concepts into practical habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the upcoming 6 Pillars of Nutrition.