If you want to gain weight, diet.

We were talking about this in Culinary Confidence yesterday, and I had this lightbulb moment: Everyone needs access to this information! So here’s the SparkNotes version…

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true: Dieting is one of the primary reasons why people’s weight climbs despite their best intentions, and it’s not the product of failed willpower.

How Dieting Triggers Weight Gain

When our body thinks it’s enduring a famine (physically because of calorie and carb restriction or emotionally because of mental restriction), the hypothalamus and pituitary segments of our brain receive signals from a variety of organs to communicate decreased energy sources entering the body, so hormone levels are adjusted as a way to counteract this decrease in food.

Long story short: When you diet, your hunger hormones go up and your fullness hormones go down, leading to that very familiar desire for all the high calorie, high sugar foods you’ve been depriving yourself of in the name of health.

So, now what?

Rather than restrict certain food groups or your food intake altogether, take a peek at the nutrition label for packaged food items and read the ingredients.

You don’t have to fret over the protein, fat, or carb ratios when the majority of your grocery cart is filled with rotating items from the perimeter of the store (a variety of fresh produce, fresh protein, and whole grains) because your body was designed to break down that material. But when it comes to the prepared foods that make our life easier, we need to be more selective of what goes into that beautiful body of ours.

Ingredients to Moderate

I’m not one for restriction but, in my book, making an informed choice triumphs over all. 

Now that you’re in the habit of checking your ingredients, here are 13 FDA approved ingredients to moderate. Looking for the cheat sheet? Click here.

Calling All Salty Snack & Baked Goods Lovers!

Artificial Colors: When dyes are derived from petroleum, beware. My general rule of thumb is to avoid them altogether because some studies show a link between artificial food coloring and allergies as well as hyperactivity in children (Bhandari). In fact, there are a variety of FDA-approved ingredients in our food that are banned in Europe — namely red 40, yellow 5, and yellow 6 (Advisory Board). Seeing artificial coloring in your food is a good sign that the food is highly processed and likely carries little to no nutritional value. 

High Fructose Corn Syrup/Aspartame/Sucralose: What do all these ingredients have in common? They’re different names for sugar. High fructose corn syrup is absorbed more rapidly into your blood than cane sugar. As a result, it heads straight to your liver and when a liver is burdened overtime, one can develop fatty liver disease, which, in 2021, will impact roughly 2 billion people. This triggers insulin, a fat storage hormone (Hyman). 

And that’s just high fructose corn syrup!

Aspartame has been linked to a ton of physical imbalances including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, seizures, stroke, dementia, intestinal dysbiosis, mood disorders, and migraines. A lot of diet sodas use this artificial sweetener, but it’s use isn’t limited just to pop! 

A 2016 study suggested a strong correlation between sucralose and leukemia and other blood cancers. The study was done on mice but urgently prompted researchers to continue with follow-up studies because millions of people are consuming sucralose in their food with regularity (Sofritti). 

Where are our meat eaters at?

Sodium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrite: This preservation (often used in processed meats) is thought to damage your blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart disease and diabetes (Zaratsky). This is why I recommend clients choose organic meat straight from the butcher whenever possible.  

Other shelf stable foods:

Sodium Benzoate: Used as a preservative in a ton of different shelf stable foods, sodium benzoate is considered safe on it’s own, but when mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it turns int benzene, a known carcinogen, strongly linked with cancer. (WebMD).

Carrageen: I honestly can’t pronounce this one (which is a good indicator for looking up the ingredient!), but what matters more is knowing that it’s found in dairy alternatives and low-fat dairy products to make them texturally creamier. Research links carageen to gastrointestinal issues, including Crohn’s and general abdominal pain as well as inflammation associated with heart disease, cancers, and diabetes. 

Enriched Wheat: While it may sound like a good thing, enriched wheat is a highly processed form of the grain with the bran and endosperm removed. These two things are removed to increase shelf life, but, unfortunately, the essential nutrients are stripped along with it (Lamb). Opt for “whole wheat” listed as an ingredient instead.  

DATEM/Mono/Diglycerides: These three ingredients contain trans fat which has a strong correlation with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (Olsen). Like many other offenders on this list, these ingredients are known for their ability to keep food from spoiling.

Natural Flavors: When this ingredient is listed, you can be sure that there is flavoring added to the food with the sole purpose of enhancing certain flavors, which usually means the food lacks in the nutrition you’re actually looking for. (Ex. The natural flavor of banana can be used to create the taste of the fruit without providing any of the potassium or other nutrients present in whole bananas.) While this is the least troublesome of the list, it’s a question I get asked often when clients begin label reading, so I wanted to clear the air!


While all these ingredients have FDA approval, there is compelling evidence to steer clear of them because of the burden these ingredients put on our bodies over time (many have been linked to cancers and chronic disease). 

The good news is that when we take a quality ingredient approach to health, we don’t have to take up space in our minds with calculations. Instead, we can let our intuitions be our guides and live a long and healthy life!

*For works cited list, feel free to email me!