To Diet Soda or Not To Diet Soda, That is the Question

To Diet Soda or Not To Diet Soda, That is the Question

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark, the scene of Shakespeare’s  Hamlet

Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark, the scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet's mother at Elsinore Castle

Hamlet's mother at Elsinore Castle

My wife Jody and I recently went to Sweden for the wedding of dear friends. Before driving to Mullsjö (pronunciation here), we celebrated our 42nd anniversary with a visit to Denmark’s Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, north of Copenhagen. In English, it’s known as Elsinore, the spot where Shakespeare placed his tragedy about Hamlet. There were actors roaming the rooms and halls doing scenes from the play. It was a warm, sunny day that called for a cool drink – and therein lies the question.

These days, most of us know we should avoid added sugar and even its cousin, highly-processed grain. Sugar is flooded into most soft drinks, iced tea, sports drinks, fancy coffees, etc. But what about “diet” drinks, with artificial sweeteners? After all, they have no calories, so they can’t contribute to weight gain, right?

Wrong. Think of it this way: have you ever met or heard of anyone who has lost weight by drinking diet soda? Likely not, and the studies back that up:

  • The 2008 San Antonio Heart Study of 5,000+ adults – diet beverages increased the risk of obesity by 47%
  • The 1986 American Cancer Society survey of 78,000+ women found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to gain weight
  • And many others… including problems with cardiovascular disease and myriad other health issues.  

For a much more complete discussion, see Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code, Chapter 15.

Surely, drinks with “natural” sweeteners such as stevia or agave nectar (sounds heavenly), with fewer calories than beet-derived sugar will be acceptable? Unfortunately, no such luck. They still cause bloodstream spikes in glucose and insulin, and as Dr. Fung so eloquently points out, obesity and Type 2 diabetes are diseases of insulin resistance contracted gradually over years, not calories.

What to do? Don’t do what I did. Before studying and training to be a health coach, I thought it was time to lose a few pounds, so I dropped the sugar drinks and bought diet sodas by the case. I tried for months to like them and realized that it wasn’t an issue of taste – I just didn’t feel well after drinking them. And then once when my supply was fully depleted, I was forced to drink some plain seltzer water. Bingo! No more feeling lousy. I learned about the futility of diet drinks as a weight loss tactic much later.

Here’s my take: avoid all sugary and artificially-sweetened drinks. Go cold turkey if you can, and be prepared to battle the devils in your glucose-driven metabolism for a while. (Hamlet, in Act II, Scene ii: “…and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape…”)

Or use diet drinks to wean yourself off the sugar drinks as part of a conscious plan. Use them for a short time, then wean yourself from them. How? Establish a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

Specific: to help me lose 20 pounds, or to help lower my insulin intake by 90%, etc.

Measurable: I drink 4 regular sodas per day. Starting Saturday, I’ll switch to 4 or fewer diet sodas. On days 8 – 21, I’ll transition to water – seltzer and mineral water are OK.

Attainable: I can do this; diet drinks and seltzer are easy to find, and this goal is within my reach.

Relevant: Yes, it’s both meaningful and worthwhile to me. It’s not being forced on me, and I can commit to it. I want those specific benefits.

Time-bound: One week of diet drinks, two of transition.

Then get a seltzer maker and crush some fresh lime into your drinks. Yummy!

Iced coffee.jpg

By the way, we sat outside the castle and enjoyed a cool, refreshing iced coffee before walking to the train station.

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