I Drank Diet Soda Every Day for a Week—Here’s What Happened
One writer says her week of drinking diet soda daily may have helped kick the habit for good. A nutritionist weighs in.
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Save for the occasional soda at a birthday party or a friend’s house, I wasn’t much of a soda fan as a kid. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, the only soda (or “pop,” as we called it there) that I felt much fondness for was root beer—particularly when it was paired with vanilla ice cream in a float. You just can’t beat a classic.
During my college years, my typical mixer of choice was more likely to be juice flavoring than soda. Or, much to my liver’s dismay, just the addition of a squeezable water flavoring into whatever budget-friendly adult beverage we had on hand. (Yikes…it was college, OK?)
My diet soda habit, on the other hand, began just a few years back when I made the swap to the caffeinated beverage in an attempt to stop drinking so much coffee. Unfortunately, the whole moderation thing didn’t stick. Now I find myself reaching for a Diet Coke more frequently than I’d like.
Admittedly, drinking diet soda every day was less of an assignment than a habit I’d already established. But during the past week, I was forced to examine my relationship with the fizzy drink and really pay attention to the way it affects my body.
Is diet soda healthier than regular soda?
Before I started this experiment, I was curious whether diet soda was really a healthy alternative to regular soda. “The short answer is that all soda, diet or regular, should be avoided,” says Angela Gasbarre, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian in Denver, CO. “Nutritionally, soda doesn’t provide any benefit to us.”
If you’re trying to kick a soda habit, Gasbarre says making the switch from regular to diet is going to be an improvement. “From there, you’ll want to gradually decrease the amount you drink over a few weeks until you replace the diet soda habit with healthier options, such as water or seltzers,” she says.
What are some of the health effects of drinking diet soda?
The research backs up Gasbarre’s point. The Harvard School of Public Health states there’s sufficient scientific evidence that decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Because the artificial sweeteners found in diet soda can cause cravings for sugary, high-calorie foods, it often ends up canceling out the potential to cut your overall calorie intake.
Research shows that the gut microbiome may be the secret key to unlocking better health and disease prevention. But drinking diet soda may also be holding you back from achieving a healthy gut.
“Artificial sweeteners and diet products are not good for our gut health, as most disrupt the balance of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria,” Gasbarre says. “Nonnutritive sweeteners promote the growth of the ‘bad’ bacteria and can alter glucose metabolism.”
Though I didn’t observe any effects on my gut health or cravings during my weeklong experiment, there were some other major impacts I noticed from my diet soda habit. Spoiler: I think it’s time for a breakup.
What drinking diet soda every day for a week did to my body
I drank less water
I normally do a decent job at staying hydrated. If I don’t, the sweltering Texas heat humbles me pretty quickly. But during a week of drinking diet soda daily, I found I wasn’t refilling my Hydro Flask with water as much throughout the day. I assumed it was because a person can only have so many beverages on their desk at a time, but as it turns out, there may be more behind it.
According to a 2012 study, drinking diet soda can influence how the brain processes sweet flavors by affecting dopamine—the neurotransmitter that plays a role in pleasure and motivation. In other words, this beverage that’s purported to satisfy a sweet tooth may actually trigger a sugar craving even worse. So it made sense that rather than reach for my water bottle, I found myself more likely to get another Diet Coke from the fridge.
I felt more bloated
Throughout the week, I noticed I was a bit more bloated than usual. While it wasn’t too significant to the point of discomfort, the difference made itself apparent when I went to pick up a bridesmaid dress from a fitting and the zipper felt a little more snug than it did days before. Since a 2017 study found that the carbonation and artificial sweetener content in diet soda can cause gas and water retention, this wasn’t all too surprising. (The same study found diet soda also increased the body’s production of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” that tells the body it’s time to eat.)
My teeth felt more sensitive
Because I’m currently in the process of aligning my teeth with Invisalign, I wasn’t sure if the increased sensitivity I experienced during my week of drinking diet soda daily was due to the drink or not. But a quick look at the research suggested it certainly wasn’t helping matters.
According to a 2013 study, Diet Coca-Cola was found to be more erosive than its sugar-laden counterpart. A separate study published in 2019 concluded that the commercial sweeteners in both regular soda and low calorie soda have an effect on surface tooth enamel. So if you’re someone with sensitive teeth, drinking diet soda may not be doing you any favors.
How drinking diet soda every day made me think differently
I’m a strong proponent of the 80/20 rule: A diet approach that includes eating as healthy as you can 80% of the time, and enjoying less healthy options 20% of the time. And while I do a pretty good job at this on the food front, I realized I was writing off my Diet Coke consumption as a healthier alternative without fully examining how it was making me feel.
While I can’t promise I’ll ditch my beloved fizzy beverage for good, my examination inspired me to cut back and think of soda more as a special treat rather than my caffeine lifeline.
Science Direct: Altered processing of sweet taste in the brain of diet soda drinkers
Obesity Research & Clinical Practice Carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages induces ghrelin release and increased food consumption in male rats: Implications on the onset of obesity
National Library of Medicine: Effect of a Common Diet and Regular Beverage on Enamel Erosion in Various Temperatures: An In-Vitro Study
CNN: Diet, sugary sodas alike linked to heart disease factorsHarvard School of Public Health: Sugary Drinks