Get this: You could be on the same weight loss diet as your friend, eating the exact same foods and number of calories, but if she’s drinking water with lunch while you’re downing a diet soda, she could lose more weight than you.
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It’s not so big a surprise when you consider previous research on diet drinks: Just last year, a study of more than 460 adults found that drinking just one can of diet soda daily significantly increased belly fat. In a different study, each can of diet soda consumed was linked to a 41% greater chance of being overweight.
We don’t yet know why diet soda has this effect, though researchers speculate its extreme sweetness could cause us to crave more sugary foods over time. Diet drinks may also stimulate appetite: Its sweet taste tricks the body by delivering sweetness but no calories, which could leave us hungry to get those missing calories from somewhere else. Diet soda’s renown as a “free food” could play a factor, too: One study suggests that people who drink diet sodas end up eating more calories throughout the day, most likely because they think they’ve “saved” calories and can afford a treat or two.
So how can you ditch the diet drink habit for good? Start with small steps. “I recommend water over diet drinks whenever possible. Water is pure hydration, and when you drink water, your body doesn’t need to filter out any additional chemicals,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, owner of Nutrition Starring You. (Try one of these 25 sassy water recipes to take your water up a notch.) “If you are really trying to kick the diet sodahabit, try diluting it with plain seltzer at a 1:1 ratio, then work your way down to seltzer only. You can also try seltzer with a splash of juice—you get to keep the bubbles and a bit of flavor, too.” Or try these expert-approved ways to kick a diet soda addiction in just 1 week.
Whatever you do, don’t rely on diet soda as a weight loss strategy. The evidence shows it just won’t work.