You already know you should limit how much junk food you eat on a regular basis in order to be healthy. Everyone deserves the occasional indulgence, but before you dig in there are a handful of foods you should steer clear of to avoid damaging effects on your body, skin, and waistline.

Artificial Sweeteners
In small doses (think: one teaspoon per serving), sugar is totally fine. But it gets a little dicey when you have too many artificial sweeteners. Here’s the deal: Sweeteners are way, um, sweeter than sugar, and they can reset your taste buds to crave sugary foods. As a result, you end up eating more junk. Plus, people who limit their artificial sweetener use find that they have more energy and don’t have as many cravings.

Most of us think it’s a healthy alternative to butter, but margarine has loads of trans fats, which increase your cholesterol. And it contains a lot of ingredients versus butter’s one or two. The calorie count is also similar to butter, but we tend to eat more of it because we think it’s healthier. Your best bet: Stick with small does of butter or use heart-healthy olive oil.

Diet Foods
Unfortunately, “diet” or “low-fat” doesn’t mean low-calorie. Diet bars and low-fat foods like yogurts usually have more sugar, salt, and unhealthy fillers to make them taste okay. Even worse, we typically eat double the serving we should because we’re not satisfied or think that it’s okay to eat more because it’s “healthy.”

That store-bought frosting from a tub might taste great on cakes and cookies, but it’s packed with problems. It’s one of the only items in the grocery store that still has trans fats, which are terrible for your health and waistline. Trans fat raises bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol, and causes inflammation, which can lead to belly fat and diseases ranging from heart disease to diabetes. On top of that, tub frosting is loaded with sugar, and high-sugar diets contribute to premature wrinkles. Yikes.

If you’re prone to skin problems and tempted to grab a bagel before you go in the morning, think twice. Bagels have a massively high glycemic index, which increases insulin and leads to increased inflammation in the body, which is shown to possibly accelerate aging and worsen acne and rosacea (google it).

Processed Baked Goods
So convenient, so tasty (if we’re being honest here), but so not worth it. Those pre-packaged mini muffins, doughnuts, and dessert cakes will add tons of calories and loads of unwanted sugar to your diet, plus they aren’t easy to digest. These foods are bad on so many levels, because they are filled with high sugar content and preservatives for a longer shelf-life – they can literally sit there forever. Sugar increases inflammation in the skin, which on top of irritating acne, can make you look puffy and bloated. Skip the wrapped stuff and grab fresh fruit for a sweet fix instead.

Soft Drinks
Dietitians and doctors all agree: Soda should be removed from your diet completely. One can of soda is like a can of water with 10 packets of sugar in it. The recommended amount of daily sugar is about six teaspoons or 24 grams, and soda has way more than that. Good old fashion H2O is still your best option. If you want to jazz it up, add a slice of fresh fruit for flavor.

Sugary Cereal
A bowl of Frosted Flakes or Fruit Loops might taste like nostalgia, but it’ll wreak some havoc with its high amount of inflammation-causing sugar and gluten content. For some people with sensitive skin, gluten can exacerbate breakouts, leading to increased redness and, yes, more breakouts. Opt for low-sugar, gluten-free options.

Jarred Tomato Sauce
It’s easy to forget sources of sugar when you’re making recipes that aren’t traditionally considered sweet, but they do exist. Tomato sauce is a big culprit. Make your own, because the store stuff has a ton of sugar.

Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is low in calories and has some good vitamins and minerals like riboflavin and vitamin B-6, but the extremely high sodium content will leave you bloated and at risk for conditions like hypertension. There are so many low-sodium, lighter soy sauce options, there’s no reason to buy the regular stuff anymore. We still recommends using the light stuff sparingly. A tablespoon of the low-sodium soy sauce is about 600 milligrams of sodium instead of 900, so it is less but not by much.
Getting in shape is a tough journey, make no mistake, and bad food habits are where problems live. Some of your poor habits are so deeply entrenched that there can seemingly be no amount of exercise that will ever be enough. You can change all that with sustainable choices in the kitchen, that’s pretty much where we all struggle. The key is to be realistic, you are not going to suddenly stop all unhealthy habits, it’s just not feasible. But you can start making some good choices today, and I mean right after you read this article!

Eat Five Or Six Meals
Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day. Often, in an attempt to slim down, going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie three-meal plan, but you can’t make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss.
A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds your body a steady stream of necessary nutrients and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like sweets and fats. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring your body won’t cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts. So make your meals mini and spread them out. If you have trouble fitting in extra eating times at work, prepare food ahead of time that you can zap in the microwave or eat cold. And stock your kitchen right.

Don’t Let Hunger Be Your Guide
The human body is a bit confusing: By the time it tells you it needs nutrients, it’s already deficient. In fact, those hunger pangs are your body’s last-ditch efforts to convince you to eat.
Stay ahead of the curve by eating before your stomach starts growling. If you’re pressed for time, consider the following: A meal can consist of a four-ounce chicken breast, a small baked potato and a salad, all of which can be made the night before and require minimal preparation time. Dining can also be as simple as a low-sugar nutrition bar, make sure to look for one substantial enough to replace a meal, or small protein shakes and bananas.

Power Every Meal With Protein
While eating anything raises your metabolic rate, protein boosts it the most. Chicken, turkey, beef, egg whites and cottage cheese are just a few of the choices you have for high-rev foods. Protein is also essential to building muscle, and the more muscle you carry, the more efficiently your body will burn the fat you’re trying to fry.
Muscle burns calories even at rest. Fat, on the other hand, just sits there. So the last thing you want from your weight-loss program is loss of muscle tissue. You can minimize this loss by getting enough protein delivered in relatively precise doses throughout each day. And for your body to put that protein to work for muscle building, you’ve got to log weight lifting time regularly.

Diversify Your Carbs
When planning meals, you may be tempted to stick to a few familiar sources of carbs. But your system works better when you keep it guessing, so don’t let yourself get caught in a rut.
Keep in mind, that’s not an invitation to gorge on candy. Foods like potatoes, brown rice, pasta and vegetables should make up the bulk of your carbs. As a rule, you shouldn’t eat more than two or three grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Many people overdose on carbs, thinking them “safe” simply because they’re low in fat. But your system doesn’t discriminate: It stores any excess calories, whether from protein, fat or carbs – as fat.

Alternate Carb Volumes
Once you’ve figured out your daily carb requirement, the tendency is to eat equal amounts of carbs at every meal. This approach works quite well in the early phase of a weight-loss plan because it trains your body to expect a certain amount of essential nutrients on a regular schedule. But over time, your body will achieve homeostasis, meaning it will adapt to the pattern and work just enough to maintain its current balance of lean mass to fat stores. To continue getting leaner, you must continue adapting.

Drink Up
You body cannot efficiently change carbs into energy without ample water. And, according to the Journal Physiology of Sport and Exercise, you can’t deliver essential amino acids to muscle tissue without adequate water, either. Not only will your workout sessions suffer, but insufficient liquids in your body will also hinder fat breakdown.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty-thirst signals the first stage of dehydration, which means you’re already too late. You must stay hydrated. Drink often throughout the day, and especially before and during a training session. If plain water bores you, try mixing up an easy batch of detox water, loaded with cleansing citrus. Try to get at least 10 cups of water per day, although up to a gallon is okay.

Start Right
Your first meal when you wake up and after working out should contain your largest carb intakes of the day. Your body’s glycogen stores are depleted when you wake up; replenishing them quickly is crucial to physical and mental functioning. A serious weight-training session depletes glycogen stores. Consume a mix of simple and complex carbs along with a protein within 60 minutes after a workout to restore your energy and ensure long-term muscle recovery.

Finish Light
Your last meal (or two, if you’re eating more frequently) of the day should emphasize protein rather than typical slow-burning carbs like pasta. The carbs you do ingest should be the “wet” kind contained in high-water, medium-fiber foods such as cucumbers, leafy green salads, tomatoes and steamed asparagus. High-fiber, low-water foods leaching water out of your system; wet carbs, on the other hand, allow you to maintain relatively adequate levels of water during the night since you can’t drink while you sleep.
Here’s a bonus tip: Get in the habit of eating fish as part of your last meal of the day. Fish makes for a lighter meal, and it’s a good way to replenish aminos while getting essential fatty acids.