How Fake Sugar Causes Weight Gain

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | February 23, 2018

“Diet drinks are associated with weight gain, new research suggests”

Over the summer, we all saw this headline in The Washington Post. So, could it be? Have we been misled by commercials and advertisements with claims that we could drink all we want and still lose weight? They’re “calorie free” after all! As it turns out, these diet drinks are too good to be true.

Conflicting research suggests that short-term weight loss attempts were successful when individuals switched from high sugar beverages to diet beverages. However, the findings were from observational studies and have not been scientifically proven yet. What we do know is that there’s a strong link between weight gain and the consumption of diet beverages. People who consume them regularly tend to be overweight or obese and gain unwanted weight as a result.

There are a number of possible reasons why people who consume diet drinks gain weight, despite drinking these products to lose weight or control weight gain. Recent studies found that the artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas, flavored teas and other sweetened beverages trigger sweetness receptors in the brain. This conditions the brain to expect an influx of more sweetness, therefore, causing a subsequent sugar craving after the consumption of an artificially sweetened diet drink. When you succumb to these sugar cravings, you gain more weight.

In one double blind randomized clinical trial, researchers found that participants who switched from diet drinks to low fat milk, coffee or tea gained less weight over time.

As a nutrition professional, I would like to challenge you to ask yourself a few questions about your “fake sugar” intake, especially if you often drink diet beverages.

  1. Why are you consuming this product?
  2. Aside from beverages, where else are you taking in fake sugars? (Yogurt? Gum? Ice cream?)
  3. What is your health goal for taking in artificial sweeteners?

These are important questions to ask yourself before trying to change to a healthier option. If safe weight loss and weight control are your ultimate goals, then it’s time to look beyond “calorie free” and “sugar free” diet drinks.

We don’t need research to tell us that synthetic and artificial ingredients of any kind don’t belong in a healthy whole food diet. Think about what you want to achieve and how you can make that happen by focusing on your own habits and changes that will improve your overall health and wellbeing.


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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