I’ve been tossing this question back in forth in my head for years. Do diet drinks make you fat? It probably seems like an obvious “yes” or “no” answer, just like it did to me. The real answer to the question of whether diet drinks make you gain or lose weight is a big, fat maybe.

Why Diet Drinks Don’t Make You Fat

The short answer here is no, diet drinks don’t make you fat. A Diet Coke or Crystal Light with zero calories and no sugar cannot add to your waistline on its own. Now, understand that zero calories doesn’t translate to anything healthy ; artificial sweeteners, syrups, and other ingredients add nothing to your body’s better functionality. An occasional diet soda is okay here and there, but I wouldn’t down a whole 6-pack a day of the stuff.

Why Diet Drinks Do Make You Fat

While diet drinks themselves won’t widen your waistline, the fact is that these low-cal beverages can encourage you to gain weight in other ways. Zero calorie labels can make us think we have some free pass to consume more calories;Seinfeld did an episode about supposedly non-fat yogurt encouraging people to eat more because, well, “It’s non-fat!” Words like zero sugar, no calories, or non-fat do not mean the same as healthy.

Beyond encouraging us to eat more calories, diet drinks can also sharpen our sweet tooth. Those artificial sweeteners can send you running for the real sugars by intensifying cravings, which undercuts the very reason you drank diet soda in the first place! Note that this isn’t true for everyone—my partner drinks one Diet Coke every day to no effect on her sugar cravings—though it’s definitely risky for people with a strong sweet tooth. God knows that Diet Coke would be my gateway to Oreos and strawberry cake in no time.

Baby Steps

If you’re drinking diet soda because it seems to supports your weight loss, stop now. Zero health benefits in something means it’s doing nothing for your health. An occasional diet drink now and then, even once a day, is okay; otherwise, stick to natural solutions like water at every turn. If you still feel the intense soda cravings every day, try Freakonomics Radio’s episode on temptation bundling to tie this vice to a healthier choice. Earn your soda.

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