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08/20/19

Alcohol vs. Diet Soda — The Results Are In

The results are in. Diet soda is worse than alcohol… according to a bunch of people who answered a question posted on the Internet.

If you’ve been following me for more than a week you probably know how I feel about alcohol and how I feel about diet soda when it comes to health and dieting. In short, alcohol is worse than something that’s “neutral” on the health-o-meter. No, I’m not going to share a bunch of studies showing you a comparison with a substance that can be considered a very real poison vs a can of sugar-free soda. Part of the reason is that I don’t think they exist, and the other reason is that whichever side you fall on will determine if you believe it anyway. And that’s part of the problem and what we’re going to talk about. Another part of the problem is when I said literal poison, some of you thought of the diet soda and not the literal poison: alcohol

I do want to be clear that I am not anti-alcohol as much as I am “limited consumption”. Ironically, when I saw this original discussion online that sparked all this taking place I was ready to grab a drink.

I’m going to write this next part with the assumption that you’re in agreement with me. 

Alcohol is worse for health/dieting than a diet soda. So, if this is the case why did so many people respond to this person saying diet soda is worse than a mind-altering substance that has calories, encourages overeating, messes with their sleep, and makes them text their ex’s? That’s something I sat and thought about.

It all starts with emotions and personal bias. We are influenced to think and feel a certain way based on what benefits us. It’s innate, it’s primitive, it’s what us humans are wired to do. With food, we are influenced to eat so we can survive and reproduce. The meaning of life is deep, huh? We know even though that was helpful when we were living in caves it’s fortunately not a real worry for most of us in this obesogenic environment. I’ll save you a google (it means the world we live makes it easy for us to be obese). Some of these thoughts are conscious and many are subconscious. In this case, we may be talking about a little of both.

When we see a question like “what’s worse, alcohol or diet soda?” We instantly think, whether we realize it or not, which one we want to be worse. Not which is worse. We don’t take an objective view of the question. Instead, we start imagining what each is, how we feel about them, what we were told about them (no matter who said it), and even what memories each provides. You can imagine why we’re so good at convincing ourselves that the wrong choice can be good. This is true for everything. Snack foods after a long day, friendships with people we don’t like but have a history with, financial decisions that literally put a stable retirement at risk, and many more. 

Us humans are not the best at making rational choices but we’re damn good at making emotional ones. We dive headfirst into the choice we want to be right no matter what the truth is, and many times no matter what the long term ramifications are. We should be viewing our current lives through the eyes of our future selves. #deep

The next reason, which I briefly touched on earlier, is where this information is coming from. 

In the case of alcohol vs diet soda, you are going to find a lot more sensationalist and clickbaity articles talking about how bad diet soda is. Not many people are putting out articles about how bad alcohol is for the same reason you’re not seeing articles about how dangerous it is to jump out of a plane without a parachute. It’s kind of one of those “no duh” situations that don’t need to be said. Again, because I’m coming down kind of hard, I’m not anti-alcohol. A little bit is fine but it is still a substance that affects us negatively while diet soda doesn’t according to the real research. Sure, some people have specific intolerances or give certain people a reaction, but thinking that means diet soda is bad is like me thinking a puppy is bad if it makes me sneeze. It’s not the diet soda or puppies fault. It’s our body. 

There are websites, Instagram pages, and even “health coaches” whose mission is to spread fear about the supposed dangers of “fake sugar” and they are great at what they do. No, not teaching us facts. They’re great at influencing our thoughts. They hit us in the emotions; they tell us what we want to hear, and make us feel bad for even considering a lab-created sweetener. Insert naturalist fallacy. I know I’m being one of “those guys” and just sharing an opinion here but this one is based on logic and current research (the real stuff). All of which says the following:

Diet soda is fine in the amount any human can consume. In other words, the amount you’d need to become sick would kill you due to overhydration before you’d have any short-term or long-term effects of the aspartame. Think gallons per day. That amount of water wouldn’t be healthy which brings me to another quick point. The danger is dependant on the dose. Two Advil is great. Two hundred is not. 

So why do these people spread the wrong info? 

Because they are consuming information and analyzing it with the emotional side of their brain too, and truly do not know better. They believe it just as much as the people they are sharing the ideas with. These sources are much better than the scientific community in sharing information. Facts aren’t fun. Research isn’t easy to read. Scientists in many cases aren’t as charismatic as a “health blogger”. In addition to that, they’re probably not nearly as passionate about getting followers and being paid to post. It’s as simple as that. There’s very little emotion tied to scientific literature and that’s a good thing. It’s not nearly as exciting, and it’s not even close to as entertaining. For those reasons, good science gets overlooked for, what I’d call bs.

But what if I’m wrong. What if diet soda is actually a poison like alcohol. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt. We’ll say fake sugar and alcohol are both unhealthy substances, but I’ll ask this question. If the actual sweeter is bad does it still benefit most people? That’s an interesting thought. Can something bad actually be good for the world? The answer is yes.

To get to my point, allow me to explain how I think: I don’t think we should ever look at something in a “vacuum”. Everything affects everything, and we have to consider what happens because of a specific decision.

For example, what’s better: A bagel or a sweet potato?

Well, the potato has more nutrients so obviously, it’s the better decision…or is it? What if someone hates eating it and gets sad after. What happens when they’re sad. Do they want to eat more? Are they stressed? Do they sleep poorly? What if the bagel had the same macros and satisfied this person. Does it now become a better choice in that scenario? Probably. Now you understand why we are fans of allowing our members to choose the foods they want if it makes sense.

So, let’s think of what happens when the average person consumes alcohol and what happens when they consume diet soda.

Alcohol

  • Contains calories- sways the energy balance equation in the wrong direction resulting in fat gain or a stall in weight loss causing frustration.
  • Influences poor food choices- again, swaying the energy balance equation in the wrong direction. Alcohol calories + high calorie highly palatable lower quality foods. Double whammy.
  • Poor sleep- increased stress, affects hunger hormones, influences “lazy” decision making, affects workouts, and affects overall mood which affects those around you.
  • Reduced muscle protein synthesis and fat oxidation- body composition can be affected, and you may not be as efficient at losing body fat. That kind of sucks.

Diet Soda

  • You replace a high-calorie drink with 0 calories- this has no effect on energy balance and you still make progress towards your goals

Some say diet soda influences a craving for more sweet foods but it’s not quite that simple. Research is still learning how artificial sweeteners can influence cravings and taste preferences. For some people, artificial sweeteners might lead to them craving more sweet-tasting foods. For others? Not so much. But for this example, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt again and pretend it does for everyone. Is that worse than the effects of alcohol? I don’t think so.

While the original question, what’s worse, alcohol or diet soda received a lot of responses for the wrong answer, I thought it was worth addressing. We have a lot of work to do around food, health, and fitness, and it requires us to remove emotion. When we think emotionally it means we’re removing logic and we’re not doing ourselves any favors when we do that.

Mike Doehla
Founder and CEO