Creeping Through the Back Door: How Zero-Calorie Soda can Make You Fatter than Regular Soda

We don’t need to go there, right?

You know about our obesity epidemic, and how adolescents in particular suck down soda by the near-gallon, which contributes to insulin resistance and many other weight-related health problems.

A study in JAMA, for instance, concluded that women who consume sugar-sweetened drinks (including fruit juices) had increased weight gain and risk for type 2 diabetes, thanks to the massive calories and sugars.

Likewise, a study in the journal Hypertension showed that for every extra sugar-sweetened beverage you drink, you significantly raise your blood pressure. Excess sugar and calories provide one culprit, but let’s face it: people who drink soda every day aren’t exactly eating clean protein and leafy green vegetables with their Mountain Dew or burst training to blast fat.

I’ve yet to discover a study that mentions any health benefits from drinking soda. Most are surprisingly grim. They show, for instance, that phosphoric acid leeches precious minerals from your bones, that you’re more likely to indulge in that sticky taffy pudding thanks to the soda’s overly sweet taste, and (despite a few pathetic attempts to add vitamins) soda offers absolutely no nutrients.

A 12-ounce soda packs about 140 calories. But get real: long gone are the quaint days of tiny glass Coke bottles with real table sugar. Today people consume high-fructose corn syrup, 64-ounce Big Gulps throughout the day, soda machines still populate elementary schools, and many chain restaurants provide complimentary soda refills.

And wipe off that halo effect with the diet sodas. I see people become holier-than-thou about sugar-saturated sodas and then later pop open a can of Diet Coke. Artificial sweeteners trick your taste buds into craving sweet things instead of feeling satisfied with the natural sweetness of, say, fresh blueberries.

Think diet soda keeps you thin or help create fast fat loss? Guess again. A study at the University of Texas made some shocking discoveries. Researchers found people who drink just one diet soda were 65% more likely to be overweight, that two or more diet sodas raised your odds of becoming obese, and – are you ready for this – people who drank diet soda had a greater chance of becoming overweight than regular soda drinkers.

How could those zero-calorie sodas add up around your waistline? One reason involves mental trickery as you “make up” the calories you save on less-than-healthy foods. For instance, say you switched from regular Coke to diet soda, and you pop four cans a day. You saved over 600 calories, which could “buy” you a Starbucks low-fat apple cinnamon muffin, right? Those calories creep back in the back door.

A more recent study, also at the University of Texas, found that diet soda increases your risk for diabetes and obesity. Waistlines of diet soda drinkers increased 500% over 10 years compared to non-diet soda drinkers. Again, you could attribute these gains to the halo effect.

Are you getting my point with these studies? Nothing good comes from drinking soda, diet or not.

Kicking the canned sodas can be brutal. If you can’t imagine getting through your day with at least three Diet Cokes, here’s a simple technique I’ve found incredibly successful to soda addicts. Dissolve a packet of EmergenC in seltzer or sparkling water. The carbonation gives you a soda-like texture and satisfies your addiction without the calories, artificial sweeteners, and sugar. Before long, you’ll wonder how you could ever suck down those nasty, health-robbing Diet Cokes.


Brown IJ, et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Sugar Intake of Individuals, and Their Blood Pressure. Hypertension. 2011; 57: 695-701

Schulze MB, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. JAMA. 2004 Aug 25;292(8):927-34.

© 2012 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies.  She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Watch for The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, Dec. 2012. Visit JJ at to get her 3 free training videos on the secrets to achieving fast & lasting fat loss.