This amazing guest post was written by Jenni + Mimi, Registered Holistic Nutritionists and founders of The Naughty Nutritionists! They’re passionate about helping you incorporate delicious foods into your lifestyle without dieting. You can take their free Diet Review Quiz here that examines your current diet and gives you realistic strategies to help turn that ‘diet’ into the lifestyle that works for you.
Have you thought about drastically reducing carbs to lose weight? Taking a break in between your meals? Cutting calories? Or even eating only raw foods?
The world of dieting can be confusing. You have sisters, cousins or friends telling you to go on one particular diet, and social media telling you to go on another type of diet. Fitness enthusiasts preach ‘move your body’, whereas food enthusiasts tell you to ‘change the way you eat’. There is a lot going on out there, and sometimes it’s hard to navigate through all that noise and know exactly what’s going to help you lose weight.
Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t have to be confusing. There are a lot of big concepts in the world of nutrition and weight loss, but there are also some simple strategies too. That’s why we’ve made it easier by boiling it down to the 5 foods you should limit in your diet if you are trying to lose weight. You may also find benefits with incorporation an all natural stress reducing supplement to your diet. We suggest this B-Complex stress support by Thorne.
Before we tell you what those foods are, a couple of other things should be considered when thinking about weight loss. Human beings aren’t simple, and food and exercise are not the only influencers on the way you lose weight.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRESS MANAGEMENT & SLEEP FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Think about how much our world has changed from the time of our ancestors. We definitely don’t live like we used to – food used to be scarce, stress was better regulated, people moved a lot more, and had less lingering worries. While our lifestyle has evolved, our basic biological processes, such as our stress response hasn’t.
What does stress have to do with weight gain?
Simply put, when we’re in times of stress a group of different chemicals are released into our bloodstream, two of which are adrenaline, and cortisol. Adrenaline will surge, and it has a tendency to suppress appetite as well as put a halt on our digestive processes. This is so the body can use up all of its energy and nutrients for our ‘fight or flight’ response (it takes quite a bit of work fighting off predators, you know?). After adrenaline is used, cortisol lingers around the body, signaling the digestive system to start working again so that nutrients can be replenished. That’s why we tend to feel hungry, or want a meal that is nutrient dense when the deadline is over, or the task is accomplished.
But, the thing is, most of us are constantly in a state of stress, and our stress hormone, cortisol is wildly unregulated. Like we said, society has evolved, but our biological processes are still stuck in the dark ages.
Cortisol is responsible for assisting in the control of blood sugar levels, managing electrolyte balance and influencing blood pressure. When your body is in a constant state of stress, and there is excess free-floating cortisol, symptoms can involve:
- Excess weight, especially around the abdomen
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Mood swings
- Increased thirst or urination
We know that it’s not easy to just stop being stressed out. We have demanding jobs, goals we want to achieve, there’s a lot going on in the world, our family and social life is busy, and so many other factors that influence our day to day. Which is why it’s good to know that there are a few things that can help manage your stress, help suppress that ‘cortisol induced appetite’, and assist with weight loss; exercise and sleep being 2 incredibly important factors in stress management and weight loss.
What exercise & sleep does for the body.
Physical activity has a direct effect on your brain, your emotions, and even your nighttime Zzz’s. When you move your butt, you are automatically increasing oxygen flow, and blood supply which helps you feel more alert, and transports nutrients throughout the body. Not only does efficient blood flow have a calming effect, but exercise also releases ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, allowing for a state of euphoria to take over. You may experience an improvement in your mood right away, or it might take awhile to get there, but all in all, exercise helps with stress management.
You’ll also notice that stress management and physical activity can better improve your quality of sleep. We don’t have to tell you just how important sleep is for quality of life; you probably know because you’ve had an early wake-up or a late night and felt horrible the next day. Sleep repairs the body and is vital for your nervous system functions, metabolism, detoxification, immune system, memory and muscle repair, so when you aren’t getting enough it’s no wonder your body has a hard time coping. And, stress has a direct impact on how you fall asleep at night, how long you sleep for, and if you go through the sleep cycles, and hit that REM (deep sleep) the way you are supposed to.
Making sure that we are managing our stress, exercising, and eating a diet high in healthy, whole foods, is so vital for losing and maintaining weight loss.
THE BASIC RULES OF WEIGHT LOSS, AND WHY THESE 5 FOODS DISRUPT YOUR BODY’S ABILITY TO LOSE WEIGHT
Sugar is as sugar does, and it does a lot! There is often this thought that we need to do so many different things for weight loss, or be on so many different diets, but when we examine the North American diet, there is one thing that stands out the most that contributes to weight gain.
The average American is consuming nearly 82 grams (19 tsp) of added sugar daily. The AHA recommends no more than 25 grams/day for women and 36 grams/day for men and that is the upper limit, so it’s pretty clear that we are eating WAY too much sugar!
What excess sugar does to the body.
Sugar not only has a tendency to change our brain chemistry and leave us thinking that we need more of it, but it also changes our biological chemistry. Consuming sugar for a long period of time, and in excess has a direct impact on the balance of our hormones that control the functions of our body, especially our metabolism and digestive processes.
Excess sugar consumption increases glucose in the blood, and signals the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin’s job is to allow glucose to enter the cells in our blood, which use this glucose as energy. But, when there’s constantly too much glucose in the blood, insulin can’t do its job properly, and this has an effect on how we store calories, as well as on our hormone leptin, which helps suppress appetite.
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The long-term effect of all of this can be leptin resistance or insulin resistance (and consequently diabetes), making it much easier for the body to store glucose as fat, and making it incredibly difficult for the body to suppress appetite, and turn off that ‘need’ for sugar.
Since we find sugar to be one of the hardest things to cut from the diet, but one of the biggest culprits in weight gain and obesity related illnesses, we have listed 5 foods that can have some of the highest levels of added sugars in them. We’ve also listed healthier alternatives to these 5 foods.
THE TOP 5 FOODS TO AVOID IF YOU ARE TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT
1) SUGARY DRINKS (EVEN JUICE & DIET SODA)
Sugary drinks are one of those things that we have in our diet that we don’t even think about. Thirsty? Grab a pop, or a juice. We pack them in our kids’ lunches, they’re in the vending machines at work, we’ve been conditioned to drink this way since childhood, really. But most drinks that taste sweet tend to contribute to weight gain, even fruit juice and diet soda.
The common misconception that fruit juice is a healthier choice because it’s made with fruit and has added vitamins, such as Vitamin C, is just that, a misconception. The one thing that fruit juice does contain (and plenty of) is sugar. It’s not really thought about, but think about it this way:
When we take a whole fruit, such as an orange, and eat it, we are also eating all its fiber, which allows the glucose and fructose (fruit sugar) to be released into our bloodstream at a much slower and consistent rate. Processing and manufacturing, strips all that fiber from the fruit leaving us with just the fast release of sugars into the bloodstream.
Try to avoid: pop (even diet), fruit juice, store bought smoothies, fruit drinks, flavoured water/ enhanced water, flavoured sparkling water.
Recommendation/ Try this instead:
If you have been drinking pop or juice for your whole life, this transition might be a hard one, but it will be a vital one. There are some great ways you can make water, or hydration seem just as fun as the sugary pop or juice you’re accustomed to.
- Smoothies are great alternative to juice, because they contain all that beneficial fiber, are delicious, but can also be made with protein packed ingredients, such as nuts and seeds, to help balance those blood sugars and control cravings.
- Water might seem boring, but it’s the best option. You can buy a diffuser water bottle and add some fresh fruit to it to get that sweet flavour, without the artificial sweetener that’s added to some store-bought fruit waters.
- If you are transitioning and feel the need for a sweet drink, try buying enhanced water made with stevia and eventually adding water to your enhanced water.
2) COMMERCIAL CEREAL & GRANOLA BARS
Have you ever done some deep investigating into commercial cereals? Pick up that box of honey nut cheerios and look at the nutrition label, there’s about 9g of added sugar per 2/3 cup. Now, if you’re sitting down for breakfast, chances are you’re having more than 2/3 of a cup, probably double that portion (because, c’mon, it’s not really that filling), so just starting your day off you’re already at 18g of sugar, 4.5 tsp, and almost hitting your RDA for added sugars. Now you still have to get through the rest of the day trying to limit your sugar intake, but sugar is hidden everywhere!
It’s the same concept for most store-bought granola bars. They are loaded with added sugar, even if they have the words ‘natural’ on the front of the box. While raw honey and real maple syrup are better alternatives, they are just as big of culprits to blood sugar spikes as is high fructose corn syrup and white sugar. Breakfast cereals and granola bars can seem like healthy alternatives, but they end up affecting how much sugar you are consuming in the day.
Try to avoid: the biggest cereal brands, especially kids’ cereals, granola bars coated with chocolate or yogurt, granola bars high in sugar and low in protein.
Recommendation/ Try this instead:
We’re not saying avoid all cereals, there are some brands out there that are low in sugar and high in fiber, but always check the label and sugar quantity before your purchase. Here are some great options for healthy breakfast and snack alternatives that won’t have you missing the granola:
- Overnight oats or warm porridge
- Homemade granola with nut butter & coconut milk
- Smoothie with added nuts/seeds
- Homemade Larabars
3) WHITE FLOUR (white bread & pasta even whole wheat bread)
White flour is a carbohydrate, and carbs get converted to glucose for your body to use as energy. If the carbs you are eating are simple and release quickly into your bloodstream, then there is a similar effect on your blood sugars as eating regular sugar.
White flour is no exception, the processing that flour goes through to become white flour means stripping the grain of nutrients, protein and fiber (all the things that help control blood sugar levels), to bring out the grain’s sweetness and create those pasta noodles, or loaf of bread we are accustomed to in North America.
Try to avoid: white bread (even most whole wheat breads), white pasta, pastries; such as cakes, cookies, muffins and sauces containing wheat.
Recommendation/ Try this instead:
Try consuming whole grains, and better yet, sprouted and fermented grains. As they are high in fiber, protein, easier to digest and will promote blood sugar balance, as opposed to blood sugar spikes.
- Sprouted/ fermented bread
- Whole grain or gluten-free whole grain pasta, such as spelt, kamut, buckwheat, quinoa, lentil/ bean or brown rice
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley, buckwheat
- Lentils, beans and legumes
- Spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of pasta noodles
Check out the Best Healthy Breads to buy here!
4) FRUIT YOGURT
Usually we recommend making the switch to full-fat Greek yogurt when we are recommending a healthier diet, but sometimes this gets mistaken for consuming yogurt with added fruit. If you were to pick up a pack of fruit yogurt and examine the label, you will notice that there’s around 20 grams of added sugar per serving, that’s your whole RDA right there in one snack. Fruit yogurt is loaded with sugar, and it’s what makes it so appetizing.
Try to avoid: All fruit infused yogurts, yogurt drinks, parfaits (restaurant/ takeout), and most fast-food smoothies.
Recommendation/ Try this instead:
You don’t need fruit infused yogurt, because you can create that delicious taste on your own without all the added sugars. Try these options instead:
- Full fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit & a drizzle of raw honey (add some homemade granola)
- Homemade fruit compote
5) SUGAR-FREE & ARTIFICIALLY SWEETENED FOODS
Sugar-free sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside have been found to be ineffective for weight loss. You’d think because they contain 0 calories they wouldn’t affect your weight, but a Canadian Medical Journal analyzed over 37 studies and discovered that these artificial sweeteners can be linked to weight gain.
There are several reasons why artificial sweeteners may be linked to weight gain, one being that the consumption of these sweeteners usually coincides with the consumption of highly processed foods, but more studies are being conducted on the effect that they have on gut bacteria, the brain’s response to the sweet taste and therefore craving for more similar sweet tastes, and the idea that less calories consumed can equal to consuming more calories elsewhere.
Try to avoid: 0 sugar foods, fat-free foods (which usually compensate with sugar or artificial sweeteners), adding artificial sweetener to coffee/tea & diet products.
Recommendation/ Try this instead:
It’s almost better to consume the natural sugar counterpart, because at least you are eating more of a whole food that your body can recognize. If you are trying to get off artificial sweeteners, switch to whole leaf stevia, and eventually limit your sugar intake, added sugars, until you no longer crave that sweet taste as often.
So, there you have it, our top 5 foods to limit or avoid for when you are trying to lose weight. Remember that limiting sugar, giving up refined sugar, and switching to whole grains, full-fat food is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. Try to remove or limit one of these foods at a time, day by day, week by week, until your diet is better managed without them. Also, adding plenty of whole foods containing healthy protein, healthy fats, fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet will assist with weight loss and make sugar seem less rewarding.
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