Did you know that the biggest predictor of weight gain is dieting? Sounds backward, right? It’s no secret that the food you eat has a big impact on weight loss. By having a go-to list of foods not to eat when trying to lose weight, you can kick start your weight loss journey in the best way possible.
Figuring out the right foods to eat for weight loss is difficult. Between the myriad of weight-loss diets and promises, knowing how to fuel your body is tough. Weight loss is a process that takes consistency, time, and effort.
List of Foods Not to Eat When Trying to Lose Weight
Burning more calories than you consume results in weight loss. While this sounds so simple, weight loss is much more complex. Although some foods are obvious no-no’s when trying to lose weight, other foods appear healthy. If your goal is to lose weight sustainably, here is a list of 16 foods not to eat when trying to lose weight.
1. High Fiber Snacks
Fiber keeps you feeling fuller for longer, supports healthy bowel movements, and benefits weight loss. So, why avoid high-fiber snacks? Well, how you get your fiber is important. High-fiber bars and snacks are high in fiber, but they can also contain a ton of sugar and fat.
Some of the worst high-fiber bars contain about 9g of sugar. That’s equivalent to four tablespoons of sugar. The best sources of fiber are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Opt for high-fiber snacks from whole foods like:
2. Rice Cakes
While rice cakes tend to be a low-calorie snack, they are not ideal for weight loss. Rice cakes are a simple carbohydrate with a high glycemic index (GI). Foods with a high GI give you a burst of energy by causing your blood sugar to rise quickly.
Research shows that high GI foods lead to increased hunger and more activity in the craving part of the brain. In other words, high GI snacks can create the perfect cycle of cravings and weight gain—the opposite of what you want for your weight loss.
Granola can be part of a tasty breakfast, but it can also hide a ton of extra calories that could quickly push you over your daily calorie intake. Some granola contains a lot of sugar and fat that’s difficult to spot in the “healthy” packaging.
Foods high in sugar will give you energy but can leave you crashing and reaching for a snack later. Swap out granola for plain oatmeal if you’re trying to lose weight.
4. Low Fat Foods
Low-fat foods can feel like the obvious option for your weight loss shopping list. The problem with these foods is that they usually contain added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients to make up for the lower fat content. It’s common to think of low-fat spreads, cereal bars, and fat-free frozen yogurt as a healthy alternative. But these foods can end up having as much sugar as their fat-containing counterparts.
5. Fruit Juice
Most fruit juice contains little whole fruit. Whether it’s orange, apple, or cranberry juice from the grocery store, it’s usually highly processed and lacks nutrients. Like many people, you may reach for a glass of orange juice in the morning, but juices can contain as much sugar as soda.
Unlike fruit, you don’t benefit from the fiber and nutrients with fruit juice. One study found that fruit juice has an average fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per liter. For soda, the average is roughly 50 grams per liter. So, there’s not much in it. A healthier choice is to eat the whole fruit instead of the juice.
6. Diet Soda
The word “diet” is misleading. If you’re trying to cut back on calories by choosing diet sodas, it may not actually be helping with weight loss. The problem with diet drinks is they are artificially sweetened. Several studies suggest a tendency toward weight gain and artificially sweetened beverages.
There’s a concern that drinking sugar substitutes will make you crave more sugar. Also, some studies show the negative side effects of artificial sweeteners like aspartame. When it comes to your drink of choice for weight loss, your best bets are:
- Unsweetened tea
- Fruit-infused water
7. Cereal in Large Packaging
You know those cereal brands in a big colorful box you eat as a kid? Maybe there’s even a special toy in the box that makes breakfast time extra exciting. In comparison to pancakes and waffles, cereal seems like a healthier choice, right?
While you can start the day healthily with cereal, it seriously depends on your brand of choice. Many kinds of cereal you find in the grocery store are ladened with refined sugar, processed carbohydrates, and fat. That means a bowl of cereal will leave you feeling mildly satisfied for a short while.
To find a weight-loss-friendly cereal, read the food label for the following:
- Check the sugar content
- Look for high fiber
- Vitamins and minerals
- Whole food ingredients (e.g., oats, rye, bran)
8. Sweetened Yogurt
Yogurt is nutritious and rich in healthy fats and protein. However, you’re hit with additional sugars when you reach for sweetened yogurt instead of plain. Excess sugar intake can contribute to weight gain. Even fat-free yogurt may be overcompensating for flavor with a ton of added sugar.
If you love the sweetness of flavored yogurt but don’t want the extra calories, go for plain Greek yogurt with a handful of berries. Be mindful of your portions, as it’s easy to turn a yogurt snack into a meal without even knowing it.
9. Processed Meat
One study found that eating processed meats was associated with almost an extra pound of weight gain over four years. Weight gain isn’t the only reason to avoid processed meat. There’s also evidence that eating processed meat increases the risk of bowel and stomach cancer.
Avoid eating processed meat like:
- Hot dogs
- Beef jerky
- Deli meats
Instead, eat lean proteins such as:
- Salmon and fatty fish
- Plant protein like chickpeas and lentils
10. Red Meat
Red meat contains high amounts of fats and calories. In particular, red meat contains high levels of saturated fat. You can also find saturated fat in butter, ghee, and cheese. Research shows that a diet high in saturated fats is more likely to cause obesity than a diet with lower saturated fat content.
It will probably come as no surprise that alcohol is not the best choice for weight loss. While drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, alcoholic drinks contain a lot of sneaky calories.
Although it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine occasionally, be mindful of what you’re drinking. Calories from alcohol are empty, which means they have no nutritional value. Drinking alcohol also reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy.
Alcohol impacts your weight gain by making you feel more hungry, leading to unhealthy food choices. After a few drinks, the last thing you’re thinking of is a salad. Whether you gain weight from alcohol depends on what you drink, how often you drink, and what you eat when you do drink.
Sometimes it feels like smoothies are the picture of health. While smoothies can have the right intentions, they often fall short. Typically, smoothies are full of calories, sugar, and fat with more adventurous ingredients like nut butter or juice.
The problem is that the calories and sugar can quickly stack up with smoothies. One study from the UK found that sugar content in fruit juices, juice drinks, and smoothies marketed to children was unacceptably high. Researchers suggest that manufacturers stop adding unnecessary sugar and calories to these drinks.
The best way to have a smoothie is to avoid store-bought ones and make your own from scratch using whole food ingredients.
13. Dried Fruits
While dried fruit is nutritious and offers a whole host of benefits, it’s still full of sugar. If you eat too much of any type of sugar, it’s not helpful for weight loss. Because a lot of dried fruits are sweetened, it’s not a great choice.
What makes weight loss confusing is that it’s easy to think of dried fruit as a go-to healthy snack. If you want to include dried fruits in your diet, try making your own at home with no added sugar.
Coleslaw typically consists of cabbage, carrots, and mayonnaise. While the cabbage and carrots offer nutritional benefits, the mayonnaise makes the classic side dish extremely calorie-dense. Just a small serving of coleslaw can pack over 200 calories and high levels of fat. Instead, opt for a salad with a salad dressing on the side.
Cheese contains protein and calcium, but it’s also a calorie-dense food. In other words, even a small amount is relatively high in calories. Cheese is also usually high in saturated fat and salt. Remember that the type of cheese you eat is important as well. Something like cream cheese isn’t nutritionally rich.
16. Nut Butter
Reading food labels is essential when it comes to nut butter. Some brands contain plenty of sugar and, in some cases, high fructose corn syrup. Nut butter is naturally high in fat already, so the calories can add up quickly when you’re not paying attention.
If you love peanut or almond butter, try to find a brand or variety that just contains nuts and no added extras. Next, make sure to moderate your portion size as this is crucial for weight loss.
What Should You Eat When Trying to Lose Weight?
Navigating the world of weight loss is tough. Often, the key to weight loss is making small changes that add up over time. By understanding how your food affects your body and weight, you can begin to make decisions that have a greater impact.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a quick fix for weight loss. It takes time and energy. Healthy and sustainable weight loss requires a different kind of approach. It’s important that you look at your diet and lifestyle as a whole. Weight loss and management often occur through combining healthy foods and staying active.
There is no one magic food that helps with weight loss. Instead, a balanced and healthy diet with a variety of nutrients is the way forward. Choose foods that are nutritious and leave you feeling full for longer, like:
- Vegetables (non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, kale, and cucumber)
- Lean proteins (fish, egg, and legumes)
- Whole grains (brown rice, barley, and bulgur wheat)
- Healthy fats (nuts and seeds)
Building Long-Lasting Habits for Sustainable Weight-Loss
While some foods are obviously unhealthy, others are masquerading in the health food aisle. It’s probably not the best choice when it feels like you need a scientific degree to read a food label.
By choosing unprocessed and mainly whole foods, you can cut out a lot of unnecessary calories, sugar, and fat. You don’t need to go on an extreme diet or cut out an entire food group to start your weight loss journey. Rather, begin developing healthy habits and find out more about what’s in the food you eat.
When loading up your plate, think about having half vegetables, quarter lean protein, and quarter whole-grain carbohydrates. Things like alcohol, cakes, and sweet treats can easily derail weight loss, so be mindful of your intake. By focusing on nutritious foods that fill you up and do not leave you wanting to snack, you can support your weight loss.
Eating foods high in fiber will help to calm your cravings and keep you feeling full. Try to avoid unnecessary sugar and calories by keeping your pantry stocked with go-to healthy staples.
Remember that when shopping for foods for weight loss, it’s not just about calories. You want the foods you do eat to offer nutritional value too. You can still enjoy your meals and diet on a successful weight loss experience while cutting out empty calories that don’t fuel your body properly.