Despite the existence of many different diets that promise fast and radical results, in the end, weight loss comes down to the basic equation of calories in/calories out. Burn more than you consume and you will lose weight. It’s really that simple. Studies show that it doesn’t matter what type of diet a person follows as long as it meets this requirement. That said, there are foods that make it harder to ensure the right balance of calories in/calories out for weight loss. The following items are better avoided when you’re trying to drop a few pounds simply because they pose an extra challenge to the process that you don’t need.
1. Carb-only snacks
Carbs are necessary to produce the energy you need to power through your day. But when you eat crackers, dry cereal, bread, or rice cakes by themselves, your body converts the carbs to simple sugars that get sent directly into your blood stream at levels higher than needed. This is what you understand as a “sugar rush.” In response, your body produces extra insulin to help absorb the excess sugar. The problem is that this process will tip you back into a low blood sugar state. Hunger pangs will seem to come out of nowhere and clamor for more carbs to compensate, fueling a vicious cycle that always leaves you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
Instead: Choose snacks with a nice combination of carbs, healthy fats, and protein. This mix of nutrients delivers steady, long-lasting energy rather than a quick burst. You’ll stay full longer and save yourself a lot of snack calories. Thinking about how to balance your snacks also helps to incorporate them into an overall healthy diet, rather than feeling guilty about splurging. Great snack choices include whole wheat toast with nut butter, whole grain crackers with cheese, and avocado with baked pita chips.
2. Frozen meals
Frozen meals are usually prepared with fresh ingredients, but they need to last a long time in your freezer. As a result, these meals are often packed with sodium. It’s a natural preservative, but it will cause your body to retain water and look bloated. This can be a discouraging state of affairs for someone who wants to lose weight – even if you do drop pounds, you won’t necessarily look like you have. Frozen meals also tend to be pretty small yet calorie-dense. In this case, our eyes often trick us into believing that we haven’t had enough food, even though the calorie count was significant.
Instead: Freeze your own leftovers. Simply double the recipe whenever you cook a favorite meal for dinner, and place the extra in a freezer-safe container for up to six months (depending on the food). You can also wash and chop veggies or cube meat to freeze in meal-sized portions so that you save time on prep work when you’re ready to cook. Just watch the salt and you’re golden.
3. High-fiber snack bars
This one’s tricky, because you do need fiber in order to facilitate digestion and keep you feeling full for longer. The thing is, fiber should be spread out throughout the day. High-fiber bars may deliver 24-hours’ worth in one go – up to 25 grams of it. A heavy blast of fiber all at once is likely to cause stomach upset and/or constipation. If you are trying to increase your fiber intake, it’s best to do so very gradually.
Instead: Focus on eating produce, any kind, at most meals and snacks. Fruits and veggies are naturally high in fiber, so you won’t have to go to special measures to get enough. Other great choices for fiber include whole grain bread, bran cereal, oatmeal, nuts, and brown rice.
4. “Low fat” foods
Another mistake that can derail weight loss efforts is relying on foods that are labeled “low fat.” These products are troublesome for a couple of reasons. First, research suggests that people tend to eat up to 30% more when they know a food is low fat. Second, removing fat from food requires some sort of compensation to keep the meal edible. Unfortunately, what is usually added is salt and sugar. Considering that doctors now think that sugar is a much bigger driver of obesity than fat, this is sort of like cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Instead: You don’t need to deny yourself fat entirely, even when you’re trying to lose weight. Instead, focus on getting most of your daily intake in the form of healthy fats. Delicious options for this include avocado, olive oil (infused with herbs or garlic for added flavor), hummus, and nuts. Choose leaner meats like white chicken, turkey, and fish, but don’t worry about having a steak every now and again as long as you can reduce fat somewhere else to make up for it.
Probably the single biggest indulgence you could forgo to get ahead in your weight loss journey is soda. Just one regular cola has more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar. That makes it very difficult to cut back elsewhere to compensate. Consuming liquid calories also doesn’t cause you to feel as full as when you eat something, so it is very easy to overeat later. Diet sodas are better than regular in terms of sugar, but still put you at risk of overeating later.
Instead: Switching to diet soda is helpful if you really can’t shake the habit, but sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice is even better still. Other drinks like protein smoothies, almond milk, or plain old ice water can actually support your weight loss journey rather than just not derail it.
Truth be told, a lot of people put too much effort into restrictive diets with crazy rules. As long as you live thoughtfully – reducing sugar wherever possible, making sure your meals include a balance of nutrients, and getting in 20 minutes of cardio each day – you’ll be on the right track to shed pounds. Indeed, diets often fail because they don’t resemble a normal diet at all. The kind of diet that will actually help you lose weight is one you can feel comfortable maintaining for the rest of your life.