Friday, July 12, 2013

It's Not Any One Thing

The press coverage of the recent Purdue University study regarding diet sodas and health may say a lot more about how people think about the topic of weight than it actually does about diet sodas.  Many of the stories treated the fact that diet drinks don't directly lead to large weight losses as if it were a gigantic shock.

The fact of the matter is that pretty much the first thing a person who is serious about weight loss in Los Angeles or anywhere else should do is cut out sugary sodas. These products have almost no nutritional value and don't make us feel particularly full, while adding far more calories to our diet than most soda drinkers realize. While they may be much sometimes be much healthier in terms of nutrients, most sweet fruit juices have similar issues.

Ideally, we would substitute mainly water for sodas, which have some non-sugar ingredients that might not be particularly healthy.  Even at their best, diet sodas are a compromise for people who complain they get bored drinking water -- ideally, they would be just an occasional change of pace, not a habit. However, it's  hard to imagine how they, by themselves, can increase weight gains though, of course, they can have their own health issues. (Excessive cola and diet cola drinkers alike really do seem to be more prone to kidney stones.) Moreover, it's possible there's something about diet sodas that causes people to eat more over time than they would if the were just drinking water, though that's far from proven.

All that being said, the breathless tone of the aritlces seemed to somehow equate consuming diet drinks with a serious weight loss approach, such as, say, weight loss surgery. It's hard for us to imagine why anyone who has even the slight familiarity with the difficulty of weight loss would imagine that simply drinking diet sodas would, by itself, cause significant weight loss in most people. The vast majority of obese people didn't simply Big Gulp their way to being overweight. While removing one source of additional calories is important, the human body and brain will find to persuade a person who is trying to lower their caloric intake to obtain the calories in some other form.

Frankly, if losing weight were as easy as simply cutting out sugary sodas or, for that matter, donuts or bacon, there would be no need for procedures like gastric sleeve surgery. The dynamics of weight gain are far too complex to be boiled down to one very particular dietary bad habit. It would be nice if journalists -- who are, as far as we know, as prone to weight issues as people in any other profession -- would be a bit more aware of the complexities of the situation.

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