Losing weight is a common goal of people all around the world.
Whether you want to lose weight to improve a particular health condition, increase your mobility, or for other reasons, you’re probably already aware that weight loss can be challenging to achieve.
Let’s look at a few foods and drinks to avoid when you’re on your weight loss journey, as well as some healthy alternatives.
4 foods to avoid to lose weight
Some foods to avoid for weight loss are more obvious than others. Ice cream, cookies, fast food, and fried food are classic examples of foods to avoid when you want to lose weight, but what about some of the less obvious choices?
1) Sugary breakfast foods
Eating a filling breakfast is a great way to start your day with healthy energy and keep you full until lunchtime.
Unfortunately, many of the more popular breakfast foods (at least in a typical Western diet) are packed with sugar, made with refined grains, low in fiber, and low in protein.
Eating diets rich in simple sugars like sucrose (table sugar) and fructose (the kind found in refined sweeteners like high fructose and regular corn syrups) is associated with a greater risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes (1).
Insulin is a hormone that helps lower your blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes stems from insulin resistance, which is when your body doesn’t respond to insulin effectively.
When you have insulin resistance, your body will produce more insulin to try to counteract the rise in your blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance often results in weight gain and can make losing weight more difficult.
Sweetened cereals, flavored yogurt, muffins (even the seemingly healthy ones like blueberry muffins), waffles and pancakes made with enriched flour, some breakfast or meal replacement shakes, and fruit/grain bars are all examples of potentially high-sugar breakfast foods that are best to avoid if you want to lose weight.
2) Sugary beverages (even fruit juice)
Like high-sugar breakfast foods, sugary drinks can quickly provide enough added sugar to exceed the daily recommended amount. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sweetened coffee, and sports drinks are associated with greater weight gain in adults and children (2).
Drinks with added sugar are especially problematic for your health, but drinks with natural sugar aren’t ideal for weight loss, either.
Fruit juice, even 100% juice without added sugar, is still concentrated in sugar and provides many calories without filling you up with protein, fiber, or healthy fat.
While fruit juice in moderate amounts can be fine in a balanced diet, you may want to cut back on fruit juice when trying to lose weight.
3) Fat-free processed foods
Fat-free foods used to be recommended for weight loss, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. While cutting back on fat can be a useful weight loss strategy for some people, cutting it out completely isn’t a healthy way to approach long-term weight loss.
There are plenty of naturally fat-free foods, such as most fruits and vegetables. However, processed fat-free foods can be problematic if you have weight loss goals.
Fat-free processed foods often have added carbohydrates, such as added sugar and thickeners, to make up for reducing the fat content.
For instance, fat-free brownies might not have fat, but they are likely very high in added sugar and low in nutrients, which doesn’t make them a healthy, filling food.
4) Sugar-free processed foods
You might be attracted to the idea of sugar-free foods and drinks, such as diet sodas, sugar-free candy, and other sugar-free processed foods.
If they’re free of sugar and low in calories, they have to be good for weight loss – right?
The answer might surprise you.
According to studies, sugar-free products sweetened with artificial sweeteners might not help you lose weight long-term (3). These artificial sweeteners don’t seem to satisfy the pleasure centers in our brains like real sugar, and they might even lead to further sugar cravings and increased appetite.
In addition, sugar-free foods are often low in beneficial nutrients and aren’t very filling, like sugar-free candy and sugar-free soda. Some types of sugar alternatives, like sugar alcohols, can also cause stomach distress after eating, like stomach pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
4 healthy alternative foods to eat
Now that we’ve covered some foods to avoid when you’re aiming to lose weight, let’s offer some healthy alternatives.
1) High-protein and high-fiber foods
Instead of low-fiber, high-sugar breakfast foods, aim to fill up on protein and fiber at all meals, not just breakfast. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats can help make you feel full without spiking your blood sugar and insulin levels.
If you’re looking for ideas for filling breakfasts, here are some healthy choices:
- Avocado toast using whole wheat bread with a side of an egg
- Vegetable omelet topped with shredded cheese
- Oatmeal with berries, almonds, and a drizzle of maple syrup
- Smoothie made with plain Greek yogurt, banana, berries, and milk
2) Non-sugar-sweetened drinks
Water is the best thing to drink, whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. If you’re looking for something else to drink but want to avoid sugary drinks, consider:
- Unsweetened tea (green tea, black tea, herbal tea, etc.)
- Sparkling water
- Unsweetened or lightly sweetened coffee (black coffee, plain latte, or coffee with cream and light sugar to taste)
- Fruit-infused water (a lemon wedge in your glass or water bottle is an example)
3) Healthy fats
You might think of fat as a weight loss foe, which is not the case. Fat has more calories than the other macronutrients (carbohydrates and protein), but the right kinds of fats are important for your health and might even help you lose weight by making you feel more satiated after you eat.
Other foods rich in healthy unsaturated fats include:
- Vegetable oils
Saturated fat isn’t considered as heart-healthy as unsaturated fat, but it’s usually fine to have in moderation. Many foods high in saturated fat can also be high in fiber and protein, which help promote a feeling of fullness.
Some examples include unsweetened reduced fat or whole milk yogurt, cheese, unsweetened coconut, and leaner cuts of meat.
4) Foods with natural sugar (in moderation)
Whole foods with natural sugar are better for weight loss than sugar-free processed foods. Just because the sugar is natural doesn’t mean it’s healthy to eat large amounts of it, though.
Whole fruit is one of the best ways to satisfy your sweet tooth because it’s also a good source of fiber and is packed with beneficial nutrients.
If you want to sweeten foods, consider honey or pure maple syrup instead of refined table sugar or artificial sweeteners, but bear in mind that they are still high in sugar and calories.
Other tips to successfully lose weight
Avoid fad diets
It might be tempting to go on a restrictive diet to lose weight. Fad diets most often end up in more weight gain because they aren’t sustainable in the long run. Instead of fad diets, focus on small, realistic changes you can sustain.
Don’t gauge the scale as your only measure of progress
Making healthy lifestyle changes to lose weight can also benefit your health in other ways. If you aren’t losing weight at the rate you’d hoped, try not to be discouraged.
Look at other aspects to assess your progress, such as improvements in your blood sugar or cholesterol levels, having more energy, or your clothes fitting more comfortably.
For weight loss, strive to eat a balance of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Aim to avoid processed foods that are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners when making changes to your diet. Instead, eating whole foods is ideal – the problematic foods for weight loss tend to be processed foods.