Whether consumed on behalf of nostalgia or to fend off stress, comfort foods can provide, well, some much-needed comfort in times of trouble. But while effective in tamping down our troubles (even if it’s just for a moment), comfort foods can be destructive to our health in the long run.
Comfort foods are notoriously high in calories, are fatty and sugary, and are often completely devoid of any nutritionally redeeming qualities. While that’s the underlying current of most comfort food dishes, there are actually some that are more likely to cause weight gain than others—especially when eaten regularly and in large portions, says registered dietitian Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, MS, RDN.
Before we get into the worst of the worst comfort foods for weight loss, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to completely swear off these soothing foods when you’re looking to lose weight.
“Comfort foods are what they are — they meet some type of ‘felt need’ we have during the moment. While I don’t recommend binging or ‘eating your feelings’ by consuming sleeves of cookies or pints of ice cream, having small portions of these typical comfort foods can help ‘scratch that itch’ when you are actively managing your weight,” says registered dietitian Stacey Krawczyk, MS, RD of Foodwell Strategies.
“When we deprive ourselves of things we desire, often they become even more of an obsession and could cause us to over-consume them in the future,” says Krawczyk.
So rather than ditch comfort foods completely, “my advice is to consume the more indulgent comfort foods rarely and in small portions (but not say no to them completely!),” says Melendez-Klinger.
With that in mind, you’ll want to minimize your consumption of the following comfort foods to a bare minimum to lose weight. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
“One of the worst comfort foods for weight loss is a high carb meal like pasta. A high intake of carbs can mess with your blood sugar, causing you to feel hungry soon after eating and potentially leading to the increased chance of giving into cravings,” says Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist for Sprint Kitchen.
“One of the worst offenders is fettuccine alfredo,” adds Clair. “Generally, this dish is extremely high in calories and doesn’t offer any satiating protein.”
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“Some of the most damaging comfort foods include pre-packaged and processed pastries. These may remind us of simpler times in life, but their negative health effects aren’t worth the nostalgia,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements.
“These foods are loaded with fat and sugar, and they can be doing more damage than good in the long term. Most immediately, we see an increase in inflammation and gastrointestinal issues. These only cause greater stress as our physical health becomes compromised along with our mental health,” adds Best. For more, check out 13 Foods That Cause Digestive Problems.
“Comfort food dishes that have the highest likelihood of stifling weight loss or causing weight gain are ones that are highest in sugar, like ice cream and other desserts (cookies, cakes, muffins),” says Kylie Ivanir, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Within Nutrition.
Ivanir explains that high-sugar comfort foods are the worst for weight loss for two reasons.
For starters, “sugars are quickly broken down in your body and cause a spike in blood sugar levels. These spikes trigger a vicious ‘spike, crash, crave’ cycle that can lead to a higher caloric intake.” Another reason that high sugar comfort foods stifle weight loss is that “blood sugar spikes cause inflammation and insulin resistance.”
As an alternative, Ivanir recommends choosing comfort foods that are higher in protein and fats than sugars. “Sure, they are still high in calories, but at least it’s calories that will keep you fuller for longer, stop cravings, and curb your appetite so you don’t need to keep reaching for more,” she adds. See: 10 Tips for Healthy Comfort Foods.
“Ice cream is one of the worst comfort foods for weight loss. Not only is it detrimental because it is high in sugar and causes a serious ‘spike crash crave cycle’ but it also is very easy to overeat. Most people aren’t aware of how much ice cream they eat in one sitting,” says Ivanir.
Anam Umair, PhD, RD, who has a doctorate in therapeutic diet and nutrition and is a Registered Dietitian at Marham agrees with Ivanir. “The worst comfort food is a tub of ice cream—yes, a full tub, because you are unlikely to take a bite or two and leave the rest,” she says. “Ice cream is addicting and there is no going back once you take a bite. Ice cream is loaded with sugars, which can cause obesity, hormonal imbalance, and insulin resistance. Ice cream also contains dairy and many can be allergic and intolerant to it,” Dr. Umair adds.
Among the worst comfort foods for weight loss are “any snack that comes in a bag like chips and pretzels,” says Jamie Hickey, NASM, FMS, a certified trainer, ISSA certified nutritionist, and founder of Truism Fitness.
“It isn’t necessarily due to how bad the actual food is for you but how people will sit down with the entire bag and eat half or sometimes the whole bag! I have had clients tell me they call it a ‘snaccident,'” shares Hickey. “The amount of calories, fat, and salt you can ingest eating half a bag of chips or pretzels will derail any diet for days to come.” To support your weight loss efforts rather than derail them, think about ditching these Unhealthiest Potato Chips on the Planet.