Wondering what not to eat trying to lose weight after you’ve gone on a diet? The next time you’re hard at work trying to drop some pounds, it can be tough to get through the day without craving some of the foods you used to eat. Whether it’s due to stress or a lack of willpower, you might find yourself going for that bag of chips or container of ice cream. This can derail your efforts and may even cause you to put weight back on — but there are ways to deal with these needs after weight loss surgery.
There is a lot of advice out there about what you should be eating to lose weight. Proponents of one diet say their way is the only way, and that all others are fads that won’t work. But it turns out there’s some good, old-fashioned common sense that will tell you what not to eat if your goal is weight loss.
What Not To Eat Trying To Lose Weight
Losing weight requires a mix of eating nutritious foods, cutting calories, and being physically active, but if your kitchen is stacked with diet-sabotaging junk foods, it makes it that much harder for you to shrink your waistline. Although the foods on this list seem innocuous, many of them have empty calories and slow down your metabolism, making it harder for you to lose weight.
To best keep you on track, check out our roundup of the worst foods for weight loss you should never have in your kitchen. And be inspired to make better choices, be sure to stock up on any of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Okay, so you probably already know that potato chips are fattening and can often hide dangerous levels of sodium, but what’s surprising is that out of all the foods that can cause you to gain weight—soda, junk food, ice cream—the potato chip is the worst offender. According to a Harvard study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, potato chips are the food most strongly associated with weight gain over four years.
The second food Harvard researchers found to cause the most weight gain? Potatoes. And more specifically, french fries, which were associated with an additional 3.35 pounds of weight gain. According to Walter C. Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, “the venerable baked potato increases levels of blood sugar and insulin more quickly and to higher levels than an equal amount of calories from pure table sugar.” Patrick J. Skerrett, co-author of the book and former editor of the Harvard Health blog, adds, “french fries do the same thing, but with an added blast of fat.”
Not only are french fries extremely caloric—a large serving of McDonald’s french fries is 510 calories—but they’re also made through a dangerous process. French fries are deep-fried and highly processed. Deep-frying carbohydrates has been shown to yield a dangerous, carcinogenic chemical compound called acrylamide, which is associated with abdominal obesity.
Fatty Red Meat
Continuing on with another of the top weight-gain-inducing foods from The New England Journal of Medicine study is red meat. The China Health and Nutrition Survey of over 16,000 participants shows that what distinguishes between meat that causes abdominal weight gain and meat that keeps your metabolism moving is how visibly fatty the cut is. So, when you’re trying to lose weight, avoid those fatty ground beef blends of 70% lean 30% fat.
Eating bacon, sausage, and hot dogs may be putting your life at risk. The same Harvard researchers associated processed meat consumption with an additional 0.93 pounds of weight gain over a 4-year period. Weight gain isn’t the only reason you should cut back on your processed meat consumption. The food has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cancer, and hypertension.
Sodium is a big culprit here, not to mention the sugar…and calories…and fat…and everything else. These sweet treats are often oversized and come at the end of a decadent dinner out already, so they can add on almost a thousand extra calories (or more!) to an already over-the-top meal. Eating out at restaurants can be viewed as a treat, and if it’s dessert you’re really there for (say, the place is known for their 7-layer chocolate cake), a better way to balance your meal is to pick your dessert first. A new study found that choosing your dessert first can actually help you eat less calories overall! To balance the meal, adjust your main meal to be healthier (opting for grilled fish instead of fried fish, for example, or choosing a side salad instead of French fries), and then share the dessert you really want with a partner.
Relax, we’re not telling you can’t enjoy the occasional glass of wine or beer, but it’s no secret that overdoing it on the booze can dampen your weight-loss goals and pose risks to your health. Consuming alcohol has actually been shown to trick your body into eating more, too. In fact, the University of Liverpool found that as few as two drinks can significantly increase the amount of food we consume because it alters our perception of food and enhances how delicious they seem. Another report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that drinking alcohol can cause people to eat an extra 384 calories a day. So if you want to imbibe, be sure to take sips of water in between alcoholic drinks and try to avoid sugary cocktails.
Sugary, Refined Cereals
Sweet squares and fruity puffs do nothing to keep you healthy or shrink your waist, and many cereals pack more calorie-dense sugar into one bowl than you’ll find in a Boston Kreme Donut! Switch to something more filling if you want to lose weight, like overnight oats. According to a study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, having oatmeal for breakfast results in greater fullness, less hunger, and fewer calories eaten at lunch compared to a serving of corn flakes, even though the calories for the two breakfasts are the same.
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Like Soda
Many sodas are laced with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). According to researchers at Princeton University, HFCS can cause as much weight gain as regular table sugar. In an animal study, 100 percent of the rats who consumed HFCS became obese, a result not seen in other diet experiments. The study also found that rats who consumed other forms of sugar gained less weight than those who were fed HFCS, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. Swap soda for water, smoothies, tea, or coffee. For some hydration inspiration, check out the detox waters for weight loss!
Read: Low-calorie doesn’t necessarily mean low sugar. Most diet sodas use artificial sweeteners that give your body the same reaction to refined sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to excessive long-term weight gain; a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who drank diet soda regularly had nearly three times the amount of belly fat over a 9-year period compared to those who didn’t drink diet soda. Researchers believe that drinking these no-calorie sweeteners confuses our bodies by making us expect calories that aren’t there. The result is what they call “metabolic derangements” like poor insulin response and elevated glucose levels, which can lead to fat storage and a host of illnesses like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Eating highly-refined, white bread should be avoided at all cost while you’re working to lose belly fat. Studies show that eating whole grains can lower visceral fat deposits in your belly, while eating refined grains leads to more. Try revamping your favorite recipes with whole wheat flour or almond flour for food that won’t sabotage your waistline.
You can’t eat chocolate and expect to lose belly fat, right? Wrong! Dark chocolate has a whole host of benefits that actually aid in weight loss. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, is a common culprit for our expanding waistlines, with sky-high calorie counts and heaps of sugar contributing to visceral fat growth. Considering that an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that the food that was associated with the highest energy density, and thus the most with weight gain, was chocolate bars, it’s probably best to leave these out of your weight loss diet.
If you’re a sucker for a packaged, salty kick, chances are that’s part of the reason why you might be struggling to lose weight. And it’s not just because salty foods are contributing to water weight. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that salt actually confuses the biological processes that tell you when you’re full.
“Our body has biological mechanisms to tell us when to stop eating, and fat activates those mechanisms in people who are sensitive to the taste of fat,” lead author Russell Keast said in a statement. “However, when salt is added to the food, those mechanisms are blunted and people end up eating more food. This can cause you to eat more fatty foods, and over time, your body adapts or becomes less sensitive to fat, leading you to eat more to get the same feelings of fullness.”
“Although juicing and juice cleanses are highly popular right now, the process used to make juice strips the most filling nutrient – fiber – from the sugary liquid,” explains Janel Funk, MS, RD, LDN. “This leaves you with a calorie-containing beverage that spikes your blood sugar, leading to a crash that leaves you hungrier,” which won’t help you with weight loss. “Studies have shown that our bodies aren’t any more satiated with the calories in juice as opposed to those from food, so stick with water for thirst and hydration and eat whole fruits and vegetables with their fiber intact,” Funk suggests.
“Traditional granola bars are often made of just sugar and hydrogenated oils and are void of protein (the stuff that fills you up),” shares Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The Well Necessities. “They are often lower in calories than a traditional meal and do not serve as a meal replacement. The flavor is just enough to whet your appetite, but leaves you far from satiated.” Instead, if you want to lose weight, swap your granola bar out for one of the best protein bars for weight loss
Your muffin top is aptly named: A typical blueberry muffin carries nearly 400 calories and a third of the day’s fat. Plus, many commercial muffins are also spiked with waist-widening soybean oil and trans fats, an ingredient that’s been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. Worst of all, muffins are “made almost completely of sugar,” offers Hayim. “This sugar is rapidly digested and absorbed, leaving your body starved for more.” Skipping the pastry case at Starbucks is a no-brainer if you want to lose weight.
Bagels and Croissants
“Although both of these options appear to be nice in size and satisfying, they are made up of white sugar and flour. They have [barely any] fiber or nutrients,” says Hayim. “As a result, your blood sugar leaps high and then comes crashing down, causing you to feel hungrier than before you started these treats.” And when you’re always hungry, you’re not going to get any closer to your weight loss goals.
“It’s no surprise doughnuts are made almost completely out of sugar,” says Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. “Doughnuts break down into simple sugars [in the body] quickly, causing the body to release more insulin. When there is a lot of insulin, too much of the sugar enters your [fat] cells, leaving none for your blood. The result is actually a low blood sugar that makes you feel hungry shortly after consumption.”
Drive-Thru Fast Foods
Keep on driving right along if you want to lose weight. “These highly-processed foods are filled with things like preservatives, trans fats, HFCS, and salt. The reason you should care about this is because preservatives and trans fats interrupt our stomach’s ability to communicate with our brain,” explains Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh. “Satiety related hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain aren’t produced, and therefore, the brain loses its ability to recognize that we are full, so we just keep eating more.”