Beth Stebner
Updated Mar 18, 2015 @ 4:46 pm
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We’re sad to report it but here’s reason 7,392 why we need to stop drinking diet soda. *Sobs*

When you pick up a Diet Coke, you’re probably like us and think something along the lines of, “this tastes so delicious and it’s fewer calories and no real sugar!” Applause emoji.

But there’s some really bad news for we proud diet soda drinkers — according to a new study, people who chugged zero-calorie soda over the course of nine years gained nearly three times as much belly fat as those who didn’t. We are definitely not saying that gaining weight is a bad thing, but if there’s ONE particular thing we’re ingesting that’s doing that to our bodies . . . yeah, we should probably just cut it out. Of course, this is in addition to all the other terrible things diet soda is doing to our bodies: like increasing the risk of diabetes, and reproductive issues, and rotting our teeth. WHY IS EVERYTHING WE LOVE SO BAD FOR US?

The alarming study that discovered those belly fat findings was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. It followed 749 people age 65 and up over the course of nine years, finding that the more diet soda a person drank, the more fat they gained around their midsection. So like, it’s real. We’re sorry.

The bottom line? You shouldn’t think of diet soda as a sweet freebie (there are always consequences!) According to Dr. Helen Hazuda, the paper’s senior author and professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, regular sugar has “caloric consequences,” meaning the body knows when you’re full and tells you to stop eating. But with artificial sweeteners, that’s not the case. Because there aren’t calories in diet soda, your body gets confused when it senses the sweetness without any calories, which can mean packing on extra pounds.

So what’s a gal to do? Here are a few pointers to kick that diet soda habit to the curb (and hey, while you’re at it, why not say sayonara to regular soda, too?).

Swap out diet soda for sparkling water with fresh fruit
Craving a sweet treat with some serious fizz? Why not make your own treat by adding a handful of fresh fruit (raspberries, strawberries, lemon and lime slices) to a glass of seltzer? Word to the wise: be careful with store-bought flavored waters, as many of them contain artificial sweeteners.

Juice it up
Speaking of seltzer — if you want a sweeter drink than just flavored water, try mixing juice with seltzer. Everyday Health recommends mixing three parts seltzer with one part juice, like cranberry or grape.

Tea for all
One of my favorite drinks of all time is a nice hot cup of tea — could be green jasmine, could be Earl Grey for a little extra caffeine kick. And there are plenty of fruity teas that are plenty sweet without needing extra sugar or Splenda. Don’t know where to start? Try getting a sample pack of teas at your local grocery store, or if you want to pamper yourself, splurge on a sampler from Tea Forte or Adagio.

Get fermented
Kombucha, which is basically tea that’s been fermented with a probiotic culture, is perfect for you if you’re trying to be healthier. The low-calorie drink is slightly fizzy, slightly tart, and is full of gut-healthy bacteria that can help you stay trim and even ward off infections.

Learn to love good old-fashioned H20
When all else fails, learn to love water. As a New Yorker, I’m spoiled with some of the best tap water in the country, but you can also invest in a filter like a Brita to get some cool, crisp water any time you want it. Bonus points? This is the cheapest option and can save you lots of money over time.