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Diet Soda No Smoking Gun continued...

"One possible part of the explanation is that people who see they are beginning to gain weight may be more likely to switch from regular to diet soda," Fowler suggests. "But despite their switching, their weight may continue to grow for other reasons. So diet soft-drink use is a marker for overweight and obesity."

Why? Nutrition expert Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, puts it in a nutshell.

"You have to look at what's on your plate, not just what's in your glass," Bonci tells WebMD.

People often mistake diet drinks for diets, says Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and nutrition consultant to college and professional sports teams and to the Pittsburgh Ballet.

"A lot of people say, 'I am drinking a diet soft drink because that is better for me. But soft drinks by themselves are not the root of America's obesity problem," she says. "You can't go into a fast-food restaurant and say, 'Oh, it's OK because I had diet soda.' If you don't do anything else but switch to a diet soft drink, you are not going to lose weight."

The Mad Hatter Theory

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "It's very easy to take more than nothing."
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

There is actually a way that diet drinks could contribute to weight gain, Fowler suggests.

She remembers being struck by the scene in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in which Alice is offended because she is offered tea but is given none -- even though she hadn't asked for tea in the first place. So she helps herself to tea and bread and butter.

That may be just what happens when we offer our bodies the sweet taste of diet drinks, but give them no calories. Fowler points to a recent study in which feeding artificial sweeteners to rat pups made them crave more calories than animals fed real sugar.

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