Whether you’re shedding extra pounds for a photo shoot, an upcoming vacation, or just because, when there’s a will to lose weight, people will find a way.
One popular strategy: swapping sugary soft drinks for zero-calorie diet soda.
While the science behind whether diet soda can help you shed pounds has been debatable, new research from the University of Colorado and Temple University found that people drinking diet soda lost an average of 13 pounds in 12 weeks—4 more pounds than those who drank just water. Before you go to Costco and get a 12-pack of diet pop, take a look at exactly how the study participants lost the weight.
The research included approximately 300 men and women who already drank at least three diet sodas a day. Participants were divided into two groups: one that drank 24 ounces of a non-nutritive sweetened beverage (NNS) daily without a restriction on water, and another that drank 24 ounces of water daily, but no diet soda. The participants attended 12 weekly group meetings led by registered dieticians or clinical psychologists to help them with weight loss. By the end of the 12–week study, participants had increased their level of physical activity from 4 to 5-6 hours per week, on average.
After 12 weeks, the diet soda gulpers lost an average of 13 pounds compared to an average of 9 pounds for the H20 drinkers. The diet fizz group also felt less hungry, while hunger in the water group slightly increased. Lastly, reductions in LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol were significantly greater in the diet soda group than in the water group. So, why exactly did diet soda drinkers lose weight?
“It probably has more to do with satisfying a sweet tooth than any particular mechanism for weight loss that a diet soda offers,” says Colette Heimowitz, vice president of nutrition at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. and author of The New Atkins Made Easy. “Further studies will be needed to ascertain the mechanism(s) that may be responsible for the weight loss advantage.”
While diet soda may contribute to weight loss efforts, it won’t hydrate you the same way that water does, and hydration is essential for maximum athletic performance.
“My personal opinion is that 24 ounces a day is a bit excessive," says Heimowitz. "I usually recommend limiting to one diet soda daily, and on occasion two daily, in order to encourage the consumption of other things to hydrate with, like water and unsweetened green tea. Longer term studies are needed to determine health impact of 24 ounces of NNS daily.”
Basically, the participants in the water group probably didn’t lose as much weight because they ate more sweets as a result of giving up their daily fix of diet soda for 12 weeks.
Heimowitz shares her tips on avoiding cravings for high-calorie foods: “Eliminate added sugar, don’t go too long between feedings, and concentrate on consuming a combination of adequate protein, high fiber foods, and healthy fats. On the occasion that you want something sweet, substitute with a NNS.”