Most of us already know drinking soda is bad for you but does soda cause belly fat too? Life can already feel hard giving up your daily soda and it’ll be heartbreaking to hear drinking diet soda can be almost just as bad.
Belly fat isn’t only not physically unappealing, but it can also mean some serious health problems for you. Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is the fat deep inside your stomach that wraps around internal organs like your liver and pancreas.
When visceral fat starts to build up around your organs it can cause those organs to not function properly. Visceral belly fat is associated with increased heart disease, chronic inflammation, and type 2 diabetes.
Soda is still a very popular beverage in the United States with 30% of Americans drinking at least one sugary beverage per day and another 20% drinking artificially flavored diet drinks (1).
You’re going to want to make sure you read this entire blog post to find out if drinking diet soda causes belly fat too or if it’s a healthier alternative.
Does Diet Soda Cause Belly Fat
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily sugar intake to just 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men (2).
The main driving factor for these recommendations is sugar is just not good for you. When you drink soda in large amounts the sugar is turned into fat in the liver. Your liver in turn begins to become overloaded and turns that sugar into fat. This accumulation of sugar in your liver can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease according to this 2010 study (3).
The sugar in most sodas today is in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), and there is a well-known association with fructose and an increase in visceral abdominal fat (4).
This 10-week study found those who drank sweetened beverages had an increase in abdominal fat, but soda drinkers had an even higher amount of visceral stomach fat than them (5).
Subcutaneous fat is the abdominal fat right underneath your skin. This fat is less dangerous than visceral abdominal fat because it doesn’t surround your internal organs.
This one study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found those who drank sugary drinks had a weight gain of 27% more stomach fat over a 6 year period than those who never or almost never drink them (6). The study looked at over 1,000 participants finding daily soda drinkers and the weight gain was an average of 2 pounds of visceral fat.
So if you’re a daily soda drinker you can fully expect your belly to get fatter year over year you drink it. I used to love orange soda growing up (who didn’t??) and would try to drink it daily but thankfully my Mom wouldn’t let me. Fortunately, I was able to eventually kick the habit as I grew older yet I remember how bad the cravings were even at that young of an age.
The researchers also noted the increases in abdominal fat over the years were higher in those who were already overweight or obese. If you’re overweight or obese it’ll be extremely counterproductive to be drinking soda as it’ll put your risk of increasing stomach fat much higher than everybody else.
Why Diet Coke Makes You Gain Weight
Many people opt for diet soda to get their soda fix after finding out how sugar is causing their belly fat. But diet drinks can surprisingly cause weight gain too.
Sure, artificial sweeteners like aspartame are technically zero calories, but will soda cause weight gain or lose stomach fat is the real question. Researchers theorize artificial sweeteners in diet drinks trigger the sweetness receptors in the brain preparing it for an influx of calories (7).
After zero calories arrive into your body there are still cravings for these calories causing you to eat more. The artificial sweeteners inside diet beverages confuse our bodies and weaken the link in our brains between sweetness and calories.
This study found artificial sweeteners in diet drinks are associated with a drop in the hunger regulating hormone leptin (8). Leptin is a hormone in your body that will naturally tell you when your stomach is full and you shouldn’t eat anymore. But when you’re drinking a diet soda your body keeps telling you you’re hungry!
This 2015 study by the Journal of American Geriatrics Society found people who drank diet soda had weight gain 3x’s the amount of stomach fat over a nine-year period compared to those who didn’t drink any (9). The study followed 749 people aged 65 or older finding non-drinkers had a weight gain of 0.8 inches around their waist while soda drinkers weight gain of an average of 3.2 inches.
Many health experts also believe if your body has anything sweet in it there could be a release of insulin.
An animal study found mice fed artificial sweeteners had changed gut bacteria in ways making them more susceptible to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance (10). Maintaining a healthy balance of good gut bacteria is a foundation of weight loss (11).
Having an increase in both glucose intolerance and insulin resistance is the driving force behind developing type 2 diabetes and obesity (12).
JAMA Pediatrics published a 2016 study following 3,000 pregnant women and their infants finding mothers who frequently drank diet drinks were 2x’s as likely to have babies that were overweight or obese after one year (13).
And to put a nail in the coffin for diet soda this study in Diabetes Care found drinking diet soda daily led to an increase in metabolic syndrome (14). The researchers found those who drank soda were more likely to be obese, have a bigger waist circumference and have high triglycerides leading to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
One more study found drinking 2/3 of a diet soda prior to eating caused the pancreas to release a lot more of the fat-storing hormone insulin (15). When your body takes in sugar (or anything sweet like artificial sweeteners) it releases the hormone insulin to bring your elevated blood sugar levels back down to normal.
A consequence of insulin is the storing of body fat combined with the loss of lean muscle. Constantly elevated insulin levels can also lead to type 2 diabetes.
If you’re having trouble with weight loss then go here for some of my favorite ways on how to stop eating so much food all the time.
Your Brain On Diet Soda
Yep, the effects of diet soda and weight gain in your belly are bad but it’ll also mess with your brain chemistry leading to headaches, anxiety, poor memory and insomnia.
This study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the main artificial sweetener in diet soda aspartame to be a neurotoxin altering brain chemicals, nerve signals, and the brain’s reward system (16).
This 2013 animal study found rats drinking diet soda had damaged cells and nerve endings in their brain responsible for motor skills (17).
You should almost immediately begin to feel more mental clarity after your stop drinking soda and diet soda. It’s worth kicking this bad habit once and for all.
Imagine when you finally kick diet soda out of your life for good and having a headache, anxiety, and insomnia-free life. I’m not saying diet soda is the sole cause of these mental problems, but they’re definitely making the situation worse for you.
After all, we only have one brain and one body that has to last us a lifetime so why should we throw it away on diet soda.
Diet Soda vs Regular Soda
I know some of us out there will never completely give up soda because it’s just too addicting. So instead of 100% kicking soda and diet soda out the door, you may want to know which one is the lesser of two evils to be drinking.
Yes, both soda and diet soda are going to cause weight gain in your stomach but it’s good to know which one is going to cause the least amount of damage. The best comparison I can make is soda is like shooting your arm off while diet soda is like shooting your leg off.
Just because soda is well known to be bad for you it doesn’t mean diet soda is a better alternative. Diet soda is far from innocent and even though it contains zero calories it can still cause you to gain belly fat.
But if you had to choose one to drink occasionally I’d go with a diet soda. If you do want to drink regular soda then go with a smaller portion that uses real cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. You can find a bottled soda like Coca-Cola using real cane sugar in most foreign food stores. I’d also take this before had to help block the sugar from storing as fat…
Yes, diet soda uses artificial sweeteners that technically contain zero calories but if you aren’t able to regulate your calorie intake then it’ll cause more weight gain.
I would still rather shoot off my arm than drink it, but hey it’s a free country and people will do what they want to do. In an ideal world, both soda and diet soda would be banned from the Earth and thrown into the sun.
This also applies to other sugary drinks you find at the store including Gatorade, Vitamin Water, Monster Energy drinks, sweetened iced teas, and fruit juices. They’ll all cause your body to spike your blood sugar causing your belly to get bigger and bigger.
If You Stop Drinking Diet Soda Will You Lose Belly Fat
Drinking soda can be an addiction for us that can be extremely hard to kick that habit. Soda and diet soda have very powerful effects on our brain’s reward system. It trains your taste buds for heightened sweetness but most sodas also complete the high by giving us a caffeine boost.
You can try to only drink soda and diet soda in moderation, but at the end of the day, there really is no clear definition of moderation. I’ve found most people who try to have their soda in moderation end up saying “screw it” sooner or later and just end up back where they started.
You can gradually try to reduce your intake of soda to ease the symptoms of sugar withdrawal. So if you drink 3 cans a day then cut back to 2 and so on. I’ve found this method to work decently, but at the end of the day, you’re still allowing your body to get its soda fix, and sooner or later you’ll end up back to your old habits.
You can try eating more superfoods full of fiber filling you up so hopefully, you’re not as hungry for these sugary sodas. Or maybe say screw it and go totally cold turkey. We all know how that ends.
The true secret to kicking your soda habit for good can be found in the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg talks about the habit loop where your brain goes through the cue, routine, reward routine every time for all habits (good or bad) you have. So at lunchtime when you normally drink your diet soda you’re used to having the sugary and caffeine high afterward.
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches their members to change their routine of alcohol so they still get a similar reward. This method works a lot more efficiently than the other methods I’ve mentioned above.
After a long day of work when you’d normally start drinking alcohol, you should instead eat/drink something else that will give you a similar reward as if you drank alcohol.
For soda, the best thing you can do is if you’re used to drinking one at lunchtime is to replace it with an iced coffee sweetened with stevia to give you the sweet and caffeinated reward.
That’s just one example, but think about what similar drinks and foods (that are healthy) that give you the same reward as soda and just swap them out.
Healthier Alternatives to Soda
Instead of drinking this poison try swapping out soda and diet soda for healthier weight loss drinks.
One of my favorite replacements for soda is to fill a glass with cold club soda, add in some stevia and squeeze half a lime in. It tastes delicious and just like soda.
La Croix is another option if you’re craving a sweet soda-like beverage on a hot afternoon. I don’t 100% recommend them but they’re a lot better than popping open a diet Pepsi.
You could even try other stevia-sweetened soda replacements such as Zevia. I’ll admit isn’t the best option, but it’s a good alternative if you were going to drink soda instead.
Make sure you stay away from drinking fruit juice as an alternative fix for your sugar cravings. Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar that will also increase your waist circumference, elevate your blood sugar levels and lead to metabolic syndrome.
The Last Word
There’s no doubt that both soda and diet soda are going to cause weight gain deadly visceral and unsightly subcutaneous belly fat.
If you’re already overweight then you can expect drinking diet soda to make your belly fat bigger. Diet soda and weight gain can alter your taste buds to crave more of this heightened sweetness that will make it really hard to lose weight.
Belly fat may not only be physically unattractive but it can lead to many serious health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
To keep your pants fitting tight both soda and diet soda are two drinks you should try to kick out of your life for good. If you’re searching for the best methods to lose belly fat then you’ll need to get on a proper nutrition and training program such as my Flat Belly Formula system.
Check out these belly fat burning foods to discover what you should really be eating to slim down fast.
To ultimately drop soda and diet soda for good you’re going to have to change your routine pattern to this deadly habit. It may sound hard but if you’re able to drop this bad habit then you’ll be rewarded with a much flatter stomach.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.