Overweight and Drinking Diet Cola? You May Gain Even More!

Diet Pepsi

Diet soft drinks have been around for decades. You would expect them to help people lose weight. But the world’s obesity epidemic is just getting worse.  There are many factors that lead to weight gain, but could the consumption of diet drinks, which have far less calories than sugary beverages, actually be a negative factor?

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reviewed the eating and drinking habits of  24,000 adults. They divided them into three groups: normal-weight, overweight, and obese. Diet beverage consumption looked like this:

  • 11% of normal-weight people consumed diet beverages
  • 19% of overweight
  • 22% of obese

Next, the researchers compared total caloric intake of each of the three groups. Normal-weight people who consumed diet drinks consumed less total calories per day compared to normal-weight people who consumed sugary drinks. This would be an expected result. For overweight adults, the results were surprising. Drinking diet drinks increased caloric intake by 91 calories. For obese adults, the increase was 161 calories!

Please note, the study has its limitations. It is based on 24-hour recall, meaning participants list everything they consumed in the previous day. They may forget things. These types of studies are prone to inaccuracies. However, they are used often, and they do tend to provide qualitative indications, even if they are not accurate.

But back to diet drinks. There is a growing scientific body of evidence that artificial sweeteners cross some wires in our brain-body communication. Our taste buds sense sweet and messages are sent to the digestive system to expect sugar. When none arrives, confusion ensues. This may lead to a “request” for more energy from other sources, such as solid food.

Bottom line: sugary drinks or diet drinks are not something to be consumed regularly if you want to lose weight, or to keep from gaining. How about water?

  • pittgirl0813

    very very intriguing! just cut soda out of a diet altogether, it causes more grief than it is worth!

  • soren

    “Drinking diet drinks increased caloric intake by …”.
    Isn’t it pretty obvious there is a problem with infering causality here?
    Maybe people with a bad diet try and make up for it by drinking diet products? One could even be tempted to view that as more plausible than a diet drink driving high energy intake.
    It seems your interpretation of this study is incorrect and needs moderation.

    • Cactus_Wren

      I was myself wondering, when was it announced that correlation necessarily == causation?

  • overseaschinese

    Either consume less or keep moving (exercise more!). Don’t complicate matters.

  • Healthy

    Gosh!!! Cola does not have anything good in it. It doesn’t metter wether you gain weight or not. It is generally bad for you in any form. Keep yourself away from soda! Drink water or freshly squeezed vegetable and fruits if you want to be healthy.

    • overseaschinese

      Cola actually is made out of rather natural ingredients. What’s not so good is the phosphoric acid, caffeine and lots of sugar. The carbonation is OK, so is the caramel (to a certain extent). The market should learn how to drink the essence of what a cola flavour is, which is just a mixture of a variety of citrus oils, essential oils, herbs and spices.

  • http://www.healthy-lifestyle-trainer.com/ Mike Luque

    You’re right about self reporting studies being somewhat flimsy in their accuracy, but seeing that this study involved 24,000 participants, some of the lack of scientific rigidity is balanced by sheer numbers. Everything will tend towards the true mean with a large enough sample size.

    • soren

      In case you refer to my comment, a large sample size has nothing to do with causality which is an issue of interpretation.
      A large sample size also does not guarantee against confounders (eg epiphenomena not measured or controlled for) Which can also totally invalidate a conclusion.

      • http://www.healthy-lifestyle-trainer.com/ Mike Luque

        Hey Soren, No, I actually wasn’t addressing you directly. I was speaking about the 4th paragraph of the article.