Diet Soda Linked To Eating Disorders

The connection between soda consumption and higher rates of obesity is by now fairly well documented. Information from a new study now suggests that soda drinking and eating disorder pathology is also linked.

This study, published in the journal Advances in Eating Disorders, was conducted by researchers at the Yale University Department of Psychology in New Haven, Conn. The researchers evaluated the self-reported soda drinking and binge eating and purging behaviors of 2,077 adult community volunteers as well as each participant’s weight.

Thirty-four percent of the study participants reported drinking diet soda on a regular basis, 22% reported drinking regular soda, and 44% said that they did not drink any kind of soda on a regular basis. The regular soda drinkers reported a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than diet soda drinkers, and diet soda drinkers reported higher BMI than those who did not drink soda at all.

Concerns about weight relate to eating disorder behaviors

However, diet soda drinkers reported more concerns about their weight and their appearance. Regular soda drinkers were the group with the next highest levels of weight and shape concerns, while the group that did not drink soda was the least concerned overall about their weight and appearance.

Worries about weight and figure also corresponded closely with certain behaviors common to eating disorder pathology. Diet soda drinkers were the most likely of the three groups to report binge eating or purging, regular soda drinkers were the next most likely and non-soda drinkers the least likely.

Binge eating is an eating behavior commonly associated with binge eating disorder and with bulimia nervosa. People suffering from binge eating disorder compulsively overeat on a regular basis but do not take any steps to rid themselves of the calories they have consumed. In contrast, people with bulimia nervosa will also overeat, but will follow their binges with various purging behaviors such as vomiting, exercising intensely or taking laxatives.

Health consequences of binge eating disorder and bulimia

Binge eating disorder and bulimia are both serious chronic illnesses that can sometimes have fatal consequences. The biggest health concern for people with binge eating disorder is obesity, and serious secondary consequences from obesity may include hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, gallbladder disease, type 2 diabetes and musculoskeletal wear and damage.

Bulimia has its own range of potential health consequences. People who purge far more calories than they take in may lose so much weight that they become dangerously underweight and malnourished. Many people with bulimia also maintain their weight in the healthy range, but this does not mean that their overall health is unaffected.

Bulimia has detrimental effects on many different parts of the body. It can weaken the heart, leading to irregular heartbeats, weak pulse, low blood pressure and even heart failure. Purging can result in dehydration as well as the loss of important minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium. It can also cause stomach ulcers or even result in ruptures in the lining of the stomach.

Regular vomiting or use of laxatives can disrupt function in the intestines, leading to irregular and uncomfortable bowel movements, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal cramps and bloating. Vomiting can severely impact oral health and cause enamel erosion, tooth decay, sensitive teeth and gum disease. Other problems in various parts of the body include irregular or missed periods, dry skin, muscle fatigue, sore throats and anemia.

Not all of the disordered eating behaviors reported by participants in this study indicate the presence of a full-blown eating disorder. Nevertheless, the presence of higher rates of binge eating and purging does indicate that eating disorders are more present overall in this population, and that others in the population have a higher risk of their disordered behaviors developing into full-blown eating disorders.

Since this study indicates that overall regular soda consumption, and diet soda consumption in particular, is a risk factor for these elements of eating disorder pathology, there is reason to be concerned that soda drinking may be a risk factor for the presence of full-blown eating disorders in the general population.

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