Do diet sodas help in weight loss efforts?
Do Low-Calorie Sweetened Beverages Help to Control Food Cravings? Two Experimental Studies. Maloney et al. (2019)
A new study has recently come out regarding the effects of a craving stimulus, followed by diet soda consumption, in habitual diet soda consumers and non-diet soda consumers.
It is evident that diet soda consumption is a commonly used weight loss strategy utilized by many dieters to reduce overall intake. In theory, diet soda is an effective replacement for regular soda as it contains zero calories. With that being said, there is also a lot of myths out there regarding diet soda consumption. There are plenty of anti-diet soda proponents claiming diet sodas result in weight gain despite having zero calories, due to “chemicals,” “insulin,” “hormones,” “toxins,” or by harming “gut health.” All of these claims have proven to be faulty. As mentioned before, in theory, if every single day you were consuming full sugar soda and then you suddenly switched the diet soda; there would be a good reduction in overall calories consumption. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone.
Now that some of those misconceptions are out of the way, lets discuss the premise of this study.
Within this paper, there are actually two experiments.
The first experiment was aimed to assess ad libitum (at will) eating in an experimental and control group when exposed to a craving stimulus. These two groups were also broken up into habitual diet soda drinkers or, non-consumers. The participants in the experimental group were first given a chocolate bar to hold, smell, and look at. The control group was given a wooden block, wrapped in a chocolate bar label, of the same dimensions and were asked to do the same. Following this sensory exposure, participants were shown side-by-side images of beverages with diet soda beverage images in the rotation. This image portion of the study was used to assess if habitual diet soda consumers looked at the diet soda images than the non-consumers. However, this also served a very important purpose. Following the image portion of the study, participants were then given a buffet of food complete with diet sodas as a reward for their participation in the image viewing. What the participants were unaware of was their food consumption at the buffet was being tracked and that was the real meat of the study. This allowed for more transparency for ad libitum consumption so there was no guilt of eating too much when you know your food is being monitored.
The results from the first study showed that in the non-diet soda consumer group, when exposed to the chocolate bar stimulus, consumed more total calories at the buffet. In the habitual diet soda consumer group, total calories consumed were lower in the chocolate bar stimulus group. This is due to the participants gravitating towards diet soda at the buffet, and then subsequently consuming less food.
This experiment contained only diet soda consumers. Same protocol as before with two groups along with craving stimulus or none. However, the results of this portion of the study contradicted the first. The total food consumed was higher in the craving stimulus groups regardless of diet soda consumption.
Why might this be?
It is important to consider that not everyone consumes diet soda for the same reasons. Some may consume diet soda as a weight loss strategy. There might also be some who consume diet soda as a weight maintenance strategy. Along with those two, there may also be those who consume diet soda as a way to reduce over all sugar intake based on their believes about sugar. Think about it, if some of these diet soda consumers drank diet soda more for the taste and were not concerned about body composition; it would make sense that intake still went up when exposed to a craving stimulus.
Practical take away
It appears that diet soda consumption can still be used as a tool in one’s diet reservoir to reduce overall caloric consumption. The best-case scenario would be someone drinking diet soda as opposed to the sweets they wanted to have. Along with this assumption, it is reasonable to say the bigger culprit here to higher energy consumption is craving stimulus. This can be in the form of many day to day experiences (e.g. walking past a restaurant, seeing food come straight out of the oven). If you were able to avoid some of these stimuli, maybe by not carrying junk food in the house, you would probably be more successful in reducing overall caloric consumption.
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