Do Diet Foods Lead to Weight Gain?


As I was casting about for a subject to write about this morning, I ran across an article published in Time magazine that asked this question a couple years ago.  It grabbed my attention because it reminded me of a brief piece I wrote almost 20 years ago titled Will the Real Diet Food Please Stand Up.

The Newsweek article cites studies that suggest our bodies may learn to associate certain tastes with higher or lower calorie levels.  So when we eat something that tastes like it’s higher in calories, such as a diet soda, our bodies expect to get the calories.  And when they don’t, they go on the search to get them.

The lead author of one of the studies also noted, “A zero-calorie drink could produce a metabolic response if it is sweet. It can condition you to develop a preference for sweet things, which can lead to weight gain or metabolic syndrome. So something that is sweet could produce a metabolic effect even if it doesn’t have a whole lot of calories.”

I don’t know if science has uncovered any more evidence to back this up in the two years since this study was published.  I do know that many of the women who come to Green Mountain seem to live on foods that have been reduced in calories in some way.  Of course, they choose these foods in an honest attempt to help them lose weight, or at least not gain more.  But we’ve always encouraged real food in moderate amounts because we’ve seen (and experienced ourselves) how much more satisfying the real thing is.

Real foods also come with something else that’s as important as the calories they contain:  Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber.  Of course, those are real foods that aren’t overloaded with low-nutrient ingredients like sugar or foods that have had their life processed out of then.  Then again, I wouldn’t call that real food.

I’m not sure a diet soda here or there would have a hugely negative effect on a well-nourished person.  But that’s something many of us who struggle with weight aren’t.  Still, when it comes to a refreshing drink, my choice is water.

What’s your drink of choice (non-alcoholic, that is)?

For more reading about real food, check out this post.

8 responses to “Do Diet Foods Lead to Weight Gain?”

  1. Gina says:

    Great post. Thanks for the TIMES article, very interesting.

    My favorite drink of choice is water, Zevia (naturally sweetened soda drink) or coffee with a bit of soy milk!

  2. I think about this subject often and I agree with you- I’ve switched a good portion of my “fake” lower cal foods for real, higher cal foods and I’m much much more satisfied and have managed to lose a couple of pounds. thanks for the post.

  3. Did you make that marzipan?? If so, you are extremely talented! My drink of choice is just water. For me, there’s nothing that quenches my thirst better. I refill my 32-oz water bottle 2-3x daily and can definitely say I stay hydrated! 🙂
    .-= Nutrition to kitchen’s last blog post..Shrimp Penne with Mushrooms and Wilted Arugula =-.

  4. Great post, and such an important topic. I advocate real food all the time. I think a diet soda here and there isn’t a big issue, but most people can’t stop at just one. I’d rather someone have a smaller piece of real cheese than a larger portion of a low-fat cheese, which will be less flavorful. The key is moderation. My favorite drink is water – not something you need to worry about having too much!
    .-= Nutritioulicious’s last blog post..Sandwich Thins =-.

  5. Marsha says:

    No, Tram, I did not make the marzipan. I am not that talented! LOL

  6. FLG says:

    Hmm, very interesting. I must be a small anomaly 😀 Well, I don’t eat diet foods, but I do drink Coke Zero! It’s my preferred form of caffeine 😀 It’s probably better not to drink it, but when you think about all the things it would be better not to have/do, well, sometimes I’d rather live dangerously 😉

    Oh, and while I drink Coke Zero everyday, my drink of choice is water.

  7. Whenever I think about eating a diet of only diet foods I can’t help but think that the end result will be malnourishment. You can eat tons and tons of that stuff and barely get anything good out of it.

    My favorite drink is water! It’s pretty much all I drink besides milk.
    .-= Mary :: A Merry Life’s last blog post..Hip, hip, hurray Monday! And photos! =-.

  8. @Marsha

    BTW, I’m pretty disappointed that you didn’t make the marzipan!
    .-= Mary :: A Merry Life’s last blog post..Hip, hip, hurray Monday! And photos! =-.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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