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Diets and diet soda both make you gain weight, warn researchers

Step away from the diet Coke.
Step away from the diet Coke.
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If you hope to lose weight by following a stringent diet washed down with diet soda, you might want to come up with a new plan. The newest studies indicate that drinking diet soda, as well as following strict diets, actually make you gain weight, reported NBC News on Jan. 16.

Conducted at John Hopkins, the study revealed that overweight and obese people who drink diet beverages consume more calories from food than heavy people who consume sugary drinks.

“When you make that switch from a sugary beverage for a diet beverage, you’re often not changing other things in your diet,” explained lead researcher Sara Bleich, associate professor in the department of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study revealed that one in five overweight or obese American adults regularly drinks diet beverages -- that includes soda and low-calorie juices, teas and other artificially sweetened beverages. That amount is double the quantity of adults who maintain healthy weights.

What's the reason that these beverages containing zero-calorie sweeteners fail to result in weight loss and even trigger the consumption of more calories? Researchers reveal that consuming artificial sweeteners, whether in food or in beverages, triggers your brain's reward centers. The problem: In contrast to consuming real sugar, your brain and body expect more, leading to a vicious cycle of hunger and more food.

And the dangers come from more than weight gain. In an 11-year-long Harvard Medical School study of more than 3,000 women, researchers discovered that diet cola is linked to double the risk for kidney function problems.

In addition, the University of Minnesota reports that in their study of almost 10,000 adults, even just one diet soda a day is linked to a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, associated with symptoms ranging from belly fat to expanded waistlines.

And going on strict, regimented diets fails as well, say researchers. In an exclusive interview on Jan. 17, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt told me that "almost all deliberate attempts to lose weight lead to eventual regain, so they're pointless at best."

In particular, she noted, researchers have determined that although diets can lead to short-term weight loss, they almost always result in "regain in the long run. At worst, diets can be harmful, resulting in eating disorders and regain above the original starting weight for some people."

Author of "Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life," Sandra says that losing weight requires lifestyle changes, not diets.

"My advice to people who want to lose weight is to be aware that whatever you do to lose weight, you'll need to keep doing it for the rest of your life to have any chance of keeping the weight off," she says firmly.

"For people who feel out of control around food (from anorexia to overeating), mindful eating approaches can help, but it doesn't lead to substantial weight loss for most people."

And instead of searching for the perfect diet or counting every calorie, Sandra emphasizes taking steps that lead to weight loss.

"We'd be much healthier as a society if people would take half the energy they put into calorie restriction and redirect it toward building daily habits of exercise and eating vegetables. We're focusing on the hard problem, weight loss, while ignoring the easier lifestyle changes that would greatly improve health for many of us," she adds.