What we eat is a huge part of losing weight. Combine a healthy, balanced diet with regular exercise, and you’ll start seeing the pounds come off. Eat the wrong foods and ultimately no amount of exercise will get you the physique you’re looking for. We try to spend more time talking about what you should eat on a diet because that’s a lot more fun than talking about what you can’t eat on a diet. But let’s face it, there really are some foods you should absolutely avoid at all costs when you’re trying to lose weight. Here’s our top-10 list of what not to eat on a diet:
It’s an important mineral our bodies require to function properly, but most Americans consume double the recommended amount of sodium in any given day. We aren’t supposed to have more than 1,500 grams per day, yet many foods pack almost all of this in one serving. Fast food, frozen foods, snacks, and boxed side dishes (think rice-a-roni) are the worst for adding absurd amounts of sodium. Low-fat foods also have a tendency to increase the sodium content to counteract the poor taste.
What to eat instead: Cook at home, and use your own spice blends. This allows you to control the amount of salt you add, while still adding good flavor. In all reality, pre-made frozen pasta dishes or boxed rice sides don’t save you that much time that creating it yourself.
Sweeteners in any form are a dieter’s worst enemy. Not only are they an example of what not to eat on a diet, but something you should avoid altogether. Whether it’s “natural” sugar in the form of table sugar, honey, maple syrup, or any artificial sweetener, your weight loss will be hindered. You’d be shocked at where sugar hides in products. Ketchup, sauces, and fruit juice tend to have far more sugar than they should. And don’t ever be fooled by the allure of zero calorie artificial sweeteners! They might not add calories, but the health risks aren’t worth it.
What to eat instead: The American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 37.5 grams of added sugar per day for men and 25 grams per day for women.[i] The important word to note is added. Naturally occurring sugar in fruit doesn’t count, although it’s still a good idea to not go completely overboard on that either.
It’s impossible and arguably unhealthy to go entirely without carbohydrates. However, you also need to not eat too many of them. Your body converts carbohydrates into sugar, which spikes your blood sugar ad eventually causes you to crash with low blood sugar. The energy slump will drive you to eat more sugary, carb-laden foods, creating a vicious cycle.
What to eat instead: Not all carbohydrates are created equally. Complex carbs go through your body slower, keeping you full for longer. The more fiber in the carb source, the better choice it will be. Veggies and fruits are fiber-rich carbohydrate options. Another strategy is making sure to eat your carbs in conjunction with protein and fat to further slow the digestion process.
Foods labeled as “low-fat” are diet destroyers for a number of reasons. First of all, while they do have lower a lower fat content than the original, studies have shown people tend to eat up to 30% more of a food when they know it’s low fat.[ii] Second, fat adds flavor to food. Removing it leaves things bland and tasteless. In an attempt to add that flavor back in, fat free or low fat foods have sometimes extraordinary amounts of sodium and sugar.
What to eat instead: If you’re going with something fat-free or low-fat, check the label for excess sodium or sugar. Sometimes you might be lucky and the numbers won’t be too bad. But most of the time, you’re better off eating a smaller portion of the full-fat version. Also, it’s time to get rid of the stigma surrounding fat. Not all fat is bad, and so long as you’re eating healthy fats, there’s less you need to be concerned about.
Unfortunately, alcohol is just never going to be diet-friendly. No matter what you mix it with, the alcohol itself is considered a toxin to your body. It slows your body’s ability to burn fat, impairs your judgment (after a few drinks, who wouldn’t cave in and get that plate of wings?), and adds completely empty calories to your diet.
What to eat instead: Especially while you’re actively trying to lose weight, you’re really going to be better off sticking to good ol’ water. Once you’ve reached your goal weight and are in maintenance mode, occasionally enjoying a cocktail won’t completely ruin your progress, so long as you make a smart choice and don’t overindulge.
Figuring out what to eat and what not to eat on a diet is a huge learning curve for most people. Simply staying away from these five foods and you’ll be well on your way to replacing bad habits with healthy ones.