Will Drinking Diet Soda Help You Lose Weight?

August 15, 2014 Updated: August 15, 2014

Do you believe that drinking diet soda will allow you to “have your cake and eat it too” while still controlling your weight, or even shedding a few pounds? This is certainly what the soda industry wants you to believe.

Last year, Coca-Cola Company rolled out an ad campaign encouraging people to unite in the fight against obesity. The ads drew fire from consumers, consumer advocates, and obesity experts alike.

Most people saw the campaign as little more than an effort in damage control, considering the overwhelming evidence linking soda consumption to obesity.

Soon thereafter, Coca-Cola Co. launched another ad campaign, this time assuring you that diet beverages containing the artificial sweetener aspartame are a safe alternative to regular soda.

Now, the soda industry has taken their propaganda to the next level by publishing a study that claims to confirm what the industry has been saying all along—that drinking diet soda will help you lose weight.

Actually, the industry-funded trial claims diet soda drinkers lose weight faster than those who don’t drink ANY soda at all! Talk about going for broke. As reported by Time Magazine:

“The small study, funded in part by the American Beverage Association, divided 300 diet soda drinkers into two groups. One group could go on drinking the sweet stuff, while the other cut out diet soda entirely.

The study found that the drinkers, with intensive coaching, lost an average of 13 pounds over 12 weeks, while the abstainers, with the same coaching, lost only 9 pounds…

‘The most likely explanation was that having access to drinks with sweet taste helps the [artificially-sweetened beverage] group to adhere better to the behavioral change program,’ concluded study author Dr. Jim Hill…”

Funding Research—The Best PR Money Can Buy

This study comes like a knight in shining armor, “just in the nick of time,” to rescue the soda industry’s rapidly dwindling sales.

Growing awareness of the health dangers associated with soda, both regular and diet, has pushed beverage sales into a freefall. Sales of carbonated beverages in general fell three percent in 2013, while diet Coke and diet Pepsi both dropped by nearly seven percent.

Purdue University researcher Susie Swithers has strongly criticized the featured study, saying it is “fatally flawed, and leaves us with little science to build on.”

For example, it does not contain any information about what the non-diet soda drinkers were actually consuming. While water was suggested as the ideal beverage, did they actually drink water, or did they compensate with fruit juices and regular soda instead?

Susie Swithers’ own research shows that diet drinks promote heart problems, and that animals fed artificial sweeteners develop a disrupted metabolic response to real sugar. Earlier this year, she told MedicineNet.com:

“[Like diabetics], they become hyperglycemic. Their blood sugars go up higher than they should. They also make less of a heart-protective protein. If drinking diet soda interferes with this system, then over the long term you’re taking something away that protects your cardiovascular health, and that could be what’s contributing to these effects.”

Furthermore, with so much evidence weighing against the safety and effectiveness of diet soda, whether for weight loss or any other disease prevention, the featured industry-funded study really offers no scientifically relevant evidence at all that might shift the balance in diet soda’s favor. As Swithers notes, “this paper tells us nothing about the long-term health consequences that should be our real focus.” What the study CAN do, however, is create media buzz and splashy headlines where the words “science,” “study,” and “proven weight loss” are favorably combined, and that is worth more than anything a PR firm might cook up.

Industry Funding Dramatically Increases Odds of Favorable Research Results

The misuse of science to further a preconceived commercial agenda is so rampant today that it can be quite tricky to determine what’s what. One key factor is to determine who paid for the research, because when industry funds the research, it’s virtually guaranteed to be favorable. Quite simply, an independent researcher has far less incentive to come to any particular conclusion—good or bad.

I’ve previously said that we’ve left evidence-based decision-making behind, and we’re now in an era of “decision-based evidence-making.” What I mean by that is that the preferred business model of an industry is created first, followed by “scientific evidence” that has been specifically created to support the established business model.

This is yet another perfect example of this. After two failed marketing campaigns (the latter of which was designed to look like a public service announcement rather than a classic advertisement), the beverage industry turned to “science” in an effort to win back customers.

As I discussed in a previous article, the Calorie Control Council is an association that represents manufacturers and suppliers of low-calorie, sugar-free, and reduced sugar foods and beverages. It is, of course, a staunch defender of aspartame’s safety and effectiveness for weight management and diabetic control, and is quick to dismiss any research that suggests otherwise.

The group recently denounced research showing that post-menopausal diet soda drinkers raise their risk of heart attacks and stroke, stating that such findings “do not support the majority of the scientific evidence on the topic, and are at odds with statements from the American Heart Association.”

What many don’t realize is that the Calorie Control Council has strong ties to the Kellen Company, which is instrumental in creating and managing industry front groups specifically created to mislead you about the product in question, protect industry profits, and influence regulatory agencies. Unfortunately for anyone who has fallen for the false advertising, diet soda actually tends to promote weight gain, and numerous studies that were NOT funded by industry attest to this.

The List of Studies Refuting ‘Diet’ Claims is Long

Research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks and other “diet” foods tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and stimulate fat storage and weight gain. Artificial sweeteners basically trick your body into thinking that it’s going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn’t arrive, your body signals that it needs more, which results in carb cravings. Most people give in to such cravings and end up overeating on other foods and snacks.

This connection between sweet taste alone and increased hunger can be found in the medical literature going back at least two decades. But artificial sweeteners also appear to produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote weight gain.