Trying to lose weight often comes with a constant stream of “don’ts” — don’t eat this, don’t drink that, don’t feel joy while eating ever again. Hear us, friends: It really doesn’t have to be that way!
Losing weight does require a balanced meal plan built on nutritious foods, which often means cutting back on things like french fries and pizza (le sigh).
However, no foods are truly off-limits. If you’re prioritizing weight loss, use this list as an “enjoy in moderation” guide. Eating these 14 foods in smaller amounts can help you hit your goal.
We love these tasty grab-and-go snacks, but on their own they don’t offer much nutritional value. They also don’t do much to keep you full and feeling satisfied (which is why it’s so easy to eat more than the recommended serving).
Instead of relying on these solo, try making them more well rounded by adding some healthy fats or protein — i.e., a swipe of nut butter and fresh fruit or a few slices of avocado.
Sadly, these portable delights are often full of sugar (especially refined or added sugars).
They also frequently contain added fiber. That might sound good in theory, but too much fiber (especially from non-natural sources) can leave you gassy, bloated, and a little too regular.
Keep an eye out for bars with more than 7 grams of fiber per serving and any mention of added sugars or sugar alcohols. Shoot for a total of 25 to 35 grams of whole-food sourced fiber per day, spread out over three meals and two or three snacks.
White rice isn’t necessarily bad — some studies have connected white rice to weight gain and obesity, while others have found no link. What we know: White rice is not as nutritionally dense as brown rice.
It’s also relatively low in fiber and protein, which makes it easier to down a larger portion and won’t keep you satisfied in the long run. Swap it for brown rice or riced cauliflower, both of which pack a bigger nutritional punch.
It’s annoying, but calories still count in liquid form. It’s easy not to think about that glass of orange juice or that cream and sugar in your third coffee of the day, but unfortunately, those things add up.
In fact, a 2019 study found that sugary beverages significantly contributed to college students’ calorie intake, with the average student consuming a whopping 480 calories per day from sugary drinks.
Extra sugar and calories are often lurking in drinks you think of as healthy, like smoothies and energy drinks.
If you’re buying a bottled beverage, read the nutrition label. At the coffee shop, ask for just one pump of that sugary syrup in your latte or skip the whipped cream topping.
Just being aware of the places sugar hides can help you make more informed choices that support your weight loss goals.
Unfortunately, the same goes for diet drinks. While these drinks are free of (or extremely low in) calories, studies have linked diet soda and the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks to weight gain, obesity, and higher mortality rates (😳).
Additionally, a 2016 study found that drinkers of diet beverages often compensate for “saving” on calories by eating more unhealthy foods. Instead of diet drinks, reach for sugar-free sparkling water, low-sugar fruit juices, and good ol’ H2O.
With such pretty labels promising “low fat,” “organic,” and “weight smart” meals, it’s no wonder we head straight for the freezer aisle on days we’d rather not cook.
The truth? Those labels work overtime to distract you from a hidden secret: boatloads of sodium, added sugar, and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.
The link between processed foods and weight gain is clear. If a food is highly processed and contains a ton of hard-to-pronounce ingredients, it’s best to leave it on the shelf.
*Drops to knees and dramatically screams “Whyyyyy?”*
The simple, starchy truth: Potato chips are high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates (aka the bad kind), and calories. A 2011 study even called out potato chips as contributing to more weight gain per serving than any other food.
We all have that one (or multiple) fast-food Achilles heel, don’t we? This writer’s happens to be Shake Shack (I’ll take five ShackBurgers, plz).
On the one hand, it’s totally possible to order a decent meal from a fast-food joint if you check the nutrition info and choose accordingly.
More importantly, though, no matter how you slice it, fast-food options typically contain lots of sodium, sugar, and calories. They’ve also been linked to serious long-term health effects and, surprise surprise, weight gain and obesity.
You probably already know to avoid sugary cereals like Lucky Charms and Cookie Crisp. But did you know that the size of the cereal box can have an effect on weight loss?
According to a 2015 review of studies, people actually eat more when eating from larger packages (and on larger plates). Opt for smaller boxes and smaller bowls, but mostly try to eat intuitively.
No one’s saying you have to eat your cereal out of a teacup, but maybe ditch the giant serving bowl.
Beer and sugary mixed drinks are the worst culprits here, but alcohol in general adds a lot of unnecessary calories to your day (ever hear the phrase “drink your dinner”?).
You’re also more likely to overeat after having a few. If you do want to have a drink, opt for liquor (vodka, tequila, whiskey) on the rocks or with low calorie mixers like club soda. And per usual, indulge responsibly!
Yogurt can be a great healthy snack as long as you’re checking the ingredients list to see how much sugar has been added. Flavored yogurts can sometimes have more sugar than some cookies and candy bars (😬).
Plain Greek and Icelandic varieties tend to have more protein and fewer carbs. If you need a hint of sweetness, try mixing in some chopped fruit.
Look, no one really eats dessert with nutritional value in mind, and we totally support enjoying dessert in moderation.
That being said, ice cream is a slippery slope when it comes to unintentionally downing high amounts of added sugar, fat, and calories. (Friendly reminder: One pint often contains four servings of ice cream.)
There are tons of delicious and healthy desserts out there. Try blending up frozen bananas and topping them with some dark chocolate chips for a treat similar in texture and flavor to ice cream.
But if you’re screaming for ice cream, go ahead and have some — just try to keep it to the recommended 1/2 cup serving. Eating what you’re really craving will help you feel satisfied, not deprived, on your weight loss journey.
Bagged popcorn might promise to be “all natural” or “low fat,” but the packaged varieties are usually loaded with butter, salt, artificial flavors, and other preservatives.
Homemade popcorn, on the other hand, is a great snack when you’re craving something crunchy since it’s relatively low in calories (30 to 35 calories per popped cup!).
Start with undressed kernels and pop ’em on the stove or in an air popper. Then, try sprinkling them with garlic powder and Italian herbs for a tasty savory option. Or drizzle with honey and add a shake of cinnamon if you want an alternative to kettle corn.
Salad is usually the gold star of healthy food options, but that’s negated when you coat it with a high calorie or processed dressing.
Some of the worst offenders: ranch (ugh, we know), thousand island, honey mustard, Caesar, sugary vinaigrettes, and really just about anything bottled in the condiment aisle.
You’re better off making dressings at home. It might sound time consuming, but you can make dressings in batches and keep them in jars for weeks of use.
Try any of these delicious recipes you can whip up in a pinch. When in doubt, just give your plate a sprinkle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Yum!
Weight loss 101
Nutrition obviously plays a huge role in weight loss. But it’s worth noting some other key points:
- Determining a target weight should be a team effort with your doctor, dietitian, or certified personal trainer.
- Your health pro of choice can help you put together an optimal meal plan and fitness routine to reach your goals.
- No foods are truly off-limits, but some should be enjoyed in moderation.
- Remember: There’s no magic food that will or won’t make you lose weight.
- Weight loss takes time and consistency — it may take months or even years to hit your goal. Stick with it and don’t forget to pause and appreciate your progress throughout your journey.