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Will Diet Drinks Make Me Fat?

One of my most popular blogs to date is this one right here which discusses the pros and cons of incorporating artificial sweeteners into your diet.

However there has been some confusion over the following quote:

Long term artificial sweetener intake may actually cause weight gain.

In all honestly this is poor wording on my part (my bad) and it should have been written more like this:

Long term artificial sweetener intake may actually cause weight gain. But they will not, in any way, slow down your metabolism or inhibit the process of burning fat stores. What they might do is cause you to over consume on calorie dense sugary foods because your brain has been reprogrammed to think that sweetened products are actually calorie free.

So to clarify this point - you cannot over consume on a drink like Diet Coke and gain weight because the calorie threshold of these foods is basically zero. Remember:

No calories consumed = no energy in


No energy in = no weight gain

You’re more likely to get fat eating too much celery (but still pretty much impossible) because these foods actually contain a calorie content, even if it is a very small amount. I wouldn’t give it a go if I was you as your digestive system will definitely not thank you for it. But that’s beside the point.

Why the confusion is there

The reason I like diet drinks, and why I sometimes recommend them to clients is to create a positive relationship with food and drink. Just because it tastes good does not mean that it’s bad for you and that it will make you fat.

Just the same as if it’s packaged does not necessarily mean it’s bad for you. You may have to weigh up the cost:reward ratio to determine if it will indeed help you lose weight, but ultimately if your diet is on point, you'll be fine. More on this here.

Which is why you can’t rule out diet drinks as a tactic for fat loss. Take this study in which a diet in normal sugary drinks versus diet drinks showed the diet option as far superior in keeping fat at bay [1]. If a lot of your daily calories come from soda, fruit juice, lattes and alcohol; then what better way to fix this by having a Diet Coke?

It’s a no-brainer to opt for a diet drink in this situation.

Side note -yes I know that water is the most optimal option available. There’s no denying that. In an ideal world we would all drink gallons of water, exercise enough, sleep perfectly and never worry about how much ice cream we can put away of an evening. Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world with high calorie foods, temptations, finite will-power and Love Island. And so curving a craving with a diet option can help from a calorie in vs. calorie out perspective, but also from a long-term adherence perspective if it means a person can have something sweet tasting and stick to a diet.

For a lot of clients who get themselves in to a bad position with their diet - telling them to cut out everything out that they enjoy and have chicken, broccoli, rice and water forever (es an exaggeration, but also kind of true) will almost certainly cause them to lose motivation and give up in the long term.

In my experience an all-or-nothing approach almost always leads to failure.

So if it means having something sweet in the diet to substitute for something calorie dense is the difference between winning or losing at the game of fat loss – then this tactic is going to win every time.

“What about all of those scary health claims that say artificial sweeteners are baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad?”

If you look back to the first post, you’ll see that there are no major health concerns when consuming artificial sweeteners. Unless you count rats having the equivalent of 50 cans of the stuff per day and then dying of cancer realistic then good luck to you.

Using diet drinks as a tool

I’ll leave you with this. Start thinking of diet drinks as a tool in your dieting arsenal and not as a fat-loss elixir. So instead of thinking like this:

“I’ve just had a Diet Coke. Therefore I can treat myself to this pack of biscuits because the drink I just had contained zero calories and therefore I’m allowed to indulge”

think like this:

“I’ve just had a Diet Coke. I’ve therefore successfully substituted my normal bottle of 330ml Coke and have reduced my daily caloric intake by about 200kcal. I will now continue my diet without the need to binge on Hobnobs because my sweet tooth has been fulfilled... Go me.”

So what’s a diet coke to you if you find yourself consistently visit the vending machine? A bloody good idea that’s what.

Diet drinks do not make you fat. A crappy diet will make you fat!

For more sweet tasting advice, head on over to:

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  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22205311

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