Can I gain weight from soda alone?
March 15, 2008 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Based on calories alone and ignoring any other nutritional deficiencies, could I gain weight off of drinking just soda and nothing else?

Since current nutritional science links calories to weight gain, shouldn't a high calorie soda made with HFCS cause weight gain even without any solid content? And a low calorie diet of something like celery would cause weight loss even though it does have solid content?

Do I have something misunderstood or is it all a vague science?
posted by destro to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
yes. weight gain and weight loss are directly related to calorific intake.

take in more than you burn off, you gain weight.

burn off more than you take in, you lose weight.

it doesn't matter whether those calories come from soda or chocolate or pizza or salad.
posted by netsirk at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

In very round and basic terms, a pound equals 3500 calories. Burn 3500 calories more than you take in, you gain a pound. Take in 3500 calories more than you burn, you gain a pound.

If you burn 2500 calories per day at your activity level, and drink 3000 calories worth of soda, you will gain a pound per week. (500 calories per day x 7 days = 3500 calories = 1 pound.) At 150 calories per 12 oz. can, that's 20 cans per day.

Obviously there are all sorts of variables and every person is different, but it seems to be true in my own experience, although I have never dared to try an all-soda diet.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, the energy from simple carbohydrates (ignoring the metabolic disaster that fructose in high concentration causes) will be stored as fat, so yes, one would gain a lot of weight (fatty acid synthesis and storage coupled with water retention).

That diet is deficient in amino acids, so no muscle gain no matter how hard you train.

However, the nutritional deficiencies will cause problems. Your brain needs glucose and glucose only to function. Glucose deficiency will cause your body to produce other molecules by eating the rest of the body to feed your brain. So... you may lose weight from a corn-syrup only diet.
posted by porpoise at 11:12 AM on March 15, 2008

Well netsirk has the answer. I just don't understand your confusion: calories are potential energy that you either burn off or store (and thus get fat). You can be fat and malnourished, (existing on soda will do this) but those are two different things.
posted by ob at 11:13 AM on March 15, 2008

Since current nutritional science links calories to weight gain

Isn't this kind of like saying that current science links breathing to staying alive? Current science links the sun to sunlight?

Theoretically I guess if you drank enough soda you could gain weight while consuming nothing else, but in practice I think you'd probably start getting diarrhea or vomiting or something from consuming nothing but sugar which would negate the calories.
posted by Justinian at 11:25 AM on March 15, 2008

Note also that orange juice has roughly the same number of calories as soda, although you do tend to drink a larger quantity of soda than juice.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2008

There are really only five ways I can think of that a body "looses" weight:
1) pooping
2) peeing
3) sweating
4) vomiting (tears/phlegm being trivial)
5) burning energy

So you will gain weight if what you are taking in is more in bulk and/or in calories than what you can get out.

Obviously, by drinking only liquids you will poop all the current solids out without replacing them -- weight loss on almost any liquid diets will seem dramatic at first for this reason. But still you will be peeing and sweating (hopefully not vomiting since that's not good) like normal, so after the initial solid dump weight loss it's really all about burning energy. If the calories you are drinking are higher than what you are burning you will gain weight again. And once you reintroduce solids your weight will be even higher.

As far as burning energy is concerned, sugar is sugar, no matter if it's liquid or solid. That's not vague science.
posted by dness2 at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, I'm curious about this fatty acid synthesis because I'm still wondering how high calorie low weight food items like sugar are turned into a larger mass then they went in as.
posted by destro at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2008

Huh? A pound of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup has about 1800 Kcalories; so you'd have to eat about two pounds of it to gain one pound of fat.
posted by nicwolff at 12:52 PM on March 15, 2008

Okay, I'm curious about this fatty acid synthesis because I'm still wondering how high calorie low weight food items like sugar are turned into a larger mass then they went in as.

Yah, this used to confuse me too. The answer is that your mother lied to you by omission: you aren't only what you eat, you are also what you breathe. The fats in your body contain large dollops of hydrogen and oxygen that entered your body through the lungs (energy to transform them into fats comes from the food).

A lot of the hydrogen and oxygen leaves the same way, after you use the energy in the bonds holding it together.
posted by tkolar at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

The can of Coke in the living room is 355 mL and has 140 calories. If 3500 extra cal = 1 extra pound, then 3500/140 = 25 cans of Coke. Since 1 mL = 1 g, 25*.355 kg = 8.875 kg ~ 19.5 lbs of fluid drunk to gain one pound, assuming all else is constant. So you're gaining quite a bit less than you're taking in, and not the other way around.
posted by epugachev at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2008

But yeah, most of that weight is calorie-free water, so the relevant number is the 39 g of sugar. And .039 kg * 25 = .975 kg ~ 2.14 lbs of sugar for 1 lb of fat. So what nicwolff said.
posted by epugachev at 1:37 PM on March 15, 2008

Best answer: tkolar: Fats are stored in the body as triglycerides (C55H98O6). If the input is fructose (C6H12O6), it is clear that we aren't adding extra oxygen or hydrogen.
posted by ssg at 1:45 PM on March 15, 2008

Hmm. It was explained to me quite convincingly once that fructose/glucose/etc. both fueled and provided spare parts to the triglyceride manufacturing process, but that at least as much of the final contents of triglycerides came from the lungs as from sugar intake.

However, I have been completely unable to find a source on-line that makes a similar argument, and on the face of it it makes a hell of a lot more sense to be producing triglycerides solely from sugar fragments rather than building them up out of raw materials. So, umm, I withdraw my answer as hearsay.
posted by tkolar at 2:44 PM on March 15, 2008

My understanding is that high fructose products don't make you feel full, so you eat more of them. Celery on the other hand is low in calories, but it makes you feel full, so you eat less.
posted by drezdn at 3:03 PM on March 15, 2008

And don't forget that the body will "spill" out calories that it can't convert into fat or energy.

You'd probably go nuts on day two and start trying to eat the furniture.
posted by gjc at 3:41 PM on March 15, 2008

You gain weight when you take in more calories than you burn. It doesn't matter whether those calories come from solids or liquids. If you burn 2000 calories a day, and you take in 4000 calories a day, it doesn't matter whether those 4000 are coming from skim milk, ice cream, chicken breasts, or twinkies; you'll still get fat.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:01 PM on March 15, 2008

Addressing the confusion in the original question: "Shouldn't a high calorie soda made with HFCS cause weight gain even without any solid content?"

The high calorie soda has dissolved solids. Take a spoon full of sugar, mix with water. It dissolves. Your body efficiently recovers that dissolved solid.

OR! Take your soda and let it evaporate; Put it in a pot on your stove and boil all the liquid away. What will remain in the bottom of the pot is the solid caloric content of the original soda.


Correcting another confusion in this thread: When you lose weight -- burn fat -- you don't poop out any of the "waste". You exhale it as CO2. Fat is composed of carbon atoms, and the only way your body disposes of "usable" carbon atoms is by respiration. There are of course "unusable" carbon atoms, like those in fiber (i.e. celery), which never leave your digestive tract. This is what your poop is made of, but those carbon atoms never visited your thighs/butt/waistline/sugartitties.
posted by u2604ab at 10:34 PM on March 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So, the weight that I would gain from a pure sugar and water diet would be some amount less than or equal to the mass of the sugar? (ignoring water retention)
posted by destro at 10:54 AM on March 16, 2008

Best answer: You'll gain less weight than the weight of sugar you consume: a little less than half as much of the weight of sugar you consume that goes beyond your energy consumption. In very round terms, sugar has 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. Once you've fulfilled your energy requirements, when you consume 1 kg of sugar, it can be converted to about 0.44kg of fat (you won't gain quite this much, because your body isn't 100% efficient).
posted by ssg at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2008

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