I grew up in Australia. Like most girls (anywhere really), I went through a very body-conscious period in my life. I was hyper-aware of the food I consumed, and yes, I calorie counted to control the intake as well. One of the things I also tried – as a means of managing calories – was artificial sweeteners and the foods that were sweetened by these products. They were the so-called “diet” foods – low calorie or no-calorie foods. We also had low fat or no-fat food offerings.
Before I continue, I have to say that I loathe using the term “diet”. The meaning of the word diet is “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” or “a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves”. A diet does not specifically have to mean losing weight and yet, the moment anyone mentions diet, we naturally assume it is for the purpose of weight loss. For the sake of clarity, though, I’m going to put aside my annoyances and use the word “diet” foods to describe that group of foods that have been modified to help us “lose weight”.
One of the problems with eating “diet” alternatives is that they lack satiation. In my opinion anyway. I always came away feeling like I wanted more. If it replaced a dessert, I wouldn’t feel satisfied. It was like wanting a slice of chocolate cake and getting a cracker. Okay, maybe not that bad, but close enough. Anyway, it didn’t make sense to keep eating these alternatives when they made me feel like I’d been cheated.
The issue with this is that it makes me want to go out and look for something else. Something else that had better make up for the lack of enjoyment I derived from the “diet” food I just ate. Sometimes, the drive for it goes into over-compensation. Where a slice of plain chocolate cake might have done the trick if I’d just had it in the first place, now I want a slice of chocolate cake with frosting and a side of ice cream, if you please. So yeah, the lack of satiety was self-defeating.
Diet Food Doesn’t Work?
The other thing I noticed was when I returned to Malaysia to work. Despite the fact that there wasn’t much offering by way of “diet” food, and Malaysians were eating full fat, full sugar foods, the general population was, on the whole, slimmer than the bunch Down Under. Of course, there are plenty of other factors unaccounted for and it was a pretty anecdotal observation. Nevertheless, it raised a thought in my mind. Could it be that “diet” foods don’t actually work?
I didn’t think much else about it but I had come to the conclusion that “diet” food was not for me. If I choose to indulge, I will whole-heartedly indulge and make up for it in other ways. There was no point in doing things in halves if it didn’t help you achieve your intentions.
Artificial Sweetener Study
Recently, I read about the publication of a study on how artificial sweeteners affect weight loss.
Artificial sweeteners can make you feel more hungry, despite their calorie-free or low-calorie content, research finds.
They have an appetite-stimulating effect on the brain, causing people to eat more and actually increasing the risk of putting on weight.Psyblog
Wow… so not only do artificial sweeteners not help with weight loss, they actually sabotage efforts to lose weight.
This is not the first study to reveal these effects. There are studies dating as far back as the 1980s that have suggested this (Blundell and Hill, 1986, Rogers and Blundell, 1989) and plenty of other studies along the way that support the same findings.
How it Works
The study was performed with the artificial sweetener sucralose. However, based on the mechanism of action described by the researchers, any artificial sweetener will have the same effect. It has to do with the brain’s expectation of calories based on how sweet the food is. Artificial sweeteners provide sweetness without the expected calories. When the balance is out for long enough, the brain recalibrates and increases appetite.
Artificial sweeteners can actually change how animals perceive the sweetness of their food, with a discrepancy between sweetness and energy levels prompting an increase in caloric consumption.Professor Herzog
Sadly, despite the fact that we’ve known for so long that something wasn’t adding up, artificial sweeteners are still widely used for weight loss/weight management. Unfortunately, we’re a society that wants the easy way out. Maybe there are easy ways, but this one is not it.