The Traffic Light Eating Method: A Diet Goldmine—or Landmine?

Good diet isn’t about following the principles.

The healthiest individuals we all know aren’t cardboard cut-outs of perfection.

In reality, you could be shocked how they eat.

That’s as a result of as an alternative of following another person’s weight-reduction plan recommendation, they’ve developed a private meals checklist primarily based on their very own dietary quirks.

You couldn’t predict their lists in the event you tried.

They keep in mind not simply diet, but in addition their particular person style preferences and the way meals make them really feel.

This strategy leaves room for ice cream and tortilla chips and gummy bears—and doesn’t require them to eat “healthy” meals they’ll’t stand (or aren’t in a position to tolerate).

And you realize what? The methodology works actually properly.

It permits these people to eat nutritiously, take pleasure in their meals, and really feel “in control” round meals—with out feeling restricted or disadvantaged.

The better part: Anyone can do that. (In reality, we’ve been efficiently utilizing it with our shoppers—over 100,000 individuals—for greater than a decade.)

Introducing the site visitors mild consuming methodology.

Before we proceed: If seeing the title of this methodology makes you A) recoil in anger, B) roll your eyes, or C) search for the again button, hear us out.

Yes, it’s somewhat controversial. The motive: Some corporations use a similarly-named strategy to supply a set of meals guidelines that apply to everybody.

This isn’t that.

Using our system, you’ll outline your personal “green light,” “yellow light,” and “red light” meals primarily based on how they give you the results you want. (And spoiler alert: “Red light” doesn’t imply dangerous.)

As you’ll see, nutrition-quality is a crucial component in selecting meals—but it surely’s not the one one. Your likes and dislikes, habits, targets, and physiology all play a job, too.

Let’s stroll by it.

Green mild meals = anytime, anyplace meals

These are meals you eat usually and with ease. You can eat them usually, slowly, and in affordable quantities.

Whole meals often make up most of this checklist, however it could additionally embody meals that you just take pleasure in purely for pleasure, in quantities that work properly for you.

Nutrient density isn’t the one standards right here: Your “green lights” are meals that you just take pleasure in, align together with your tradition and life-style, and make your physique and/or thoughts really feel good.

And, whereas we encourage conscious consuming, inexperienced mild meals are ones you don’t need to assume an excessive amount of about. You simply eat and luxuriate in them: easy as that.

Yellow mild meals = “sometimes” / “maybe” / “small doses” meals

Your “yellow lights” are meals you would possibly eat often, with a level of warning or mindfulness.

Maybe they set off a little bit of indigestion (however not a full-scale emergency journey to the restroom).

Perhaps you favor to take pleasure in them in small, bite-sized doses. Or solely on sure events, like out at a restaurant with buddies.

It’s price noting that yellow mild meals don’t need to be “problem” meals.

They could be nutritious meals you incorporate into your weight-reduction plan, typically.

Maybe you’re “meh” about eggplant, however you’ll eat it when your accomplice cooks it, or it’s a part of a restaurant dish.

Or you’ll eat tofu as soon as per week on “meatless Mondays.”

Or you prepare dinner okra, however solely on the weekends when you’ve gotten time to make it excellent.

We’d contemplate these yellow mild meals.

As you possibly can see, “yellows” may be any kind of meals. Alcohol and sure “junk foods” would possibly wind up on this class, however heck, so may kale.

Red mild meals = meals you usually keep away from, reduce, or make much less accessible

Red mild meals aren’t dangerous. They’re simply meals that you just select to not eat (at the least more often than not).

Red mild meals might not give you the results you want as a result of:

  • They don’t assist you to obtain your targets
  • You at all times overeat them
  • You’re allergic to them
  • You can’t simply digest them
  • You simply don’t like them

Ultra-processed meals typically fall into this class since many people discover that, as soon as they begin consuming them, they’ll’t cease. Some individuals even name them “trigger foods,” as a result of after taking a single chew, they blink, and the sofa is roofed in Cheeto mud and empty ice cream cartons.

Again, this doesn’t imply you keep away from these meals on a regular basis.

For instance, you won’t need to hold the freezer stocked with cheesecake, however maybe you’ll fortunately take pleasure in a beneficiant slice on an important day.

At the identical time, so-called “healthy” meals can wind up on the crimson mild checklist too.

If broccoli makes you gag, put it on the crimson mild checklist. (Because who needs to eat meals they hate?)

If apples trigger you to interrupt out in hives, that’s a crimson mild.

If plain, baked rooster breast makes you’re feeling like a disadvantaged dieter, you guessed it—crimson mild meals.

Worth reiterating: Putting one thing in your crimson mild checklist doesn’t imply you possibly can by no means eat it once more. In reality, except you’ve gotten extreme allergy symptoms, it may be price experimenting with from time to time.

You would possibly develop to like one thing you presently dislike. Or turn into higher at consuming it sparsely.

Hold up: Couldn’t the site visitors mild system promote disgrace, guilt, or disordered habits?

Our reply: It depends upon how you employ it.

The thought behind the PN site visitors mild system isn’t to label meals or comply with a specific system “perfectly.”

The function, slightly, is to construct consciousness about which meals work finest for you, and which of them don’t. So you may make knowledgeable selections for your self.

But not all site visitors mild methods are created equal.

Some packages on the market use the site visitors mild system too, however they use it in a different way than PN.

They use it primarily based purely on their interpretation of dietary worth, to point which meals ought to make up the majority of your weight-reduction plan (inexperienced), which meals it’s best to eat sparsely (yellow), and which meals it’s best to eat sometimes and in small parts (crimson). And the checklist is the very same for everybody.

Our strategy is totally different, for a few causes:

First, we don’t need to recommend that sure meals are “bad” or off-limits.

The information we’ve seen (and our expertise working with shoppers) tells us that restriction typically results in extra problematic consuming behaviors, not much less.

And whereas we do provide tools to help people make more healthful choices, our huge intention is to assist shoppers make enhancements and changes that really feel proper for them.

What’s extra, when used as an awareness-building software, we’ve discovered the site visitors mild consuming methodology can really assist individuals transfer away from disordered habits, and expertise a better sense of self-efficacy, flexibility, and delight with their meals selections.

That can really feel life-changing.

When you realize which meals work properly for you, which of them are “meh,” and which of them trigger undesirable points, meals selections turn into simpler.

Plus, you possibly can adapt your site visitors lights at any time. They evolve with you.

Better nonetheless, you make selections primarily based on YOU. Your physique, your thoughts, your well being. Not another person’s weight-reduction plan, meal plan, factors, or guidelines.

Your dietary selections turn into much less inflexible and extra versatile. Food turns into much less worrying, no more.

A particular observe for coaches

If you’re a coach, we extremely encourage you to begin gathering details about your consumer’s meals preferences proper from the beginning.

In PN Coaching, we do that as a part of our consumer consumption. We be taught from the start about our shoppers’ likes, dislikes, allergy symptoms, intolerances, and so forth.

It’s necessary to know your consumer’s start line earlier than making any dietary suggestions.

After all, there’d be no level in recommending meat to a vegetarian, or peanut butter to somebody who’s allergic to nuts, or seafood to somebody who lives within the desert, or one thing “soooo tasty” to somebody who’s present process chemotherapy and might’t style a darn factor.

Personal preferences aren’t the one issue to contemplate.

If you’re a diet coach, you’ll nonetheless need to train your consumer which meals are most nutritious and will probably be best suited for his or her targets.

(Our food spectrum infographic could be a actually useful gizmo for that.)

Over time, your consumer might develop extra appreciation for healthful meals.

If their weight-reduction plan presently accommodates plenty of highly-processed meals, they may not have many entire meals on their “green” checklist proper now. But tastes can change. Many individuals discover that as they begin to eat extra minimally-processed meals, they discover them extra palatable.

For instance, in case your consumer categorizes all greens as a “yuck / barf,” maybe you possibly can assist discover a vegetable or two that matches their yellow mild (and possibly ultimately inexperienced mild) checklist.

(To assist your consumer develop a style for veggies, take a look at: What to do when you don’t like vegetables.)

Want some examples? Here’s what our site visitors lights appear to be.

Again, there is no such thing as a set traffic-light checklist for each individual. While on the whole, entire meals akin to greens, fruit, and lean proteins are a good suggestion, in relation to particular meals, you may need a unique checklist.

To assist you to higher perceive how that works, listed here are a couple of private examples from people at PN.

Let’s begin with the authors of this text.

Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition and Performance at PN

Image shows "Brian's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Chicken thighs, salmon, Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, sirloin, shrimp, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, onions, peppers, cauliflower, bananas, strawberries, apples, oranges, potatoes, pasta, whole grain breads, black beans, avocado, roasted almonds, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coffee Reasoning: Enjoys a diverse and omnivorous diet. Has no major eating restrictions, and is willing to try most anything! Yellow: Broccoli, blueberries, milk, wine, beer, guacamole, ice cream (especially french vanilla), chocolate chip cookies, green tea Reasoning: Enjoys broccoli, blueberries, and milk, but large portions cause digestive upset. Enjoys wine and beer with spouse and/or friends, but mindful of overall consumption. Likes guacamole (and french vanilla ice cream / chocolate chip cookies) too much, and can over-consume if not mindful. Drinks green tea for its health benefits, but much prefers coffee! Red: Reese’s peanut butter cups, potato chips (especially if combined with friends and alcohol), fresh brownies Reasoning: Will definitely overeat Reese’s and fresh, moist brownies (but not ones with cake-like texture)! Will mindlessly munch on chips.

Camille DePutter, PN Coach and Adviser

Image shows "Cam's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, tofu, kale, broccoli, sweet potato fries, eggplant, red pepper, mushrooms, eggs, sashimi, berries, yogurt, ice cream, hot sauce, herbs, tomatoes, dark chocolate, coffee, whey protein powder, gefilte fish, brisket Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and flavors. Feels best on an omnivorous diet; tolerates dairy well; likes spice; loves to eat from the garden. Enjoys foods from her partner’s Ashkenazi Jewish culture. Yellow: dried and canned beans, white bread, bagels, bagged chips, candy, cocktail, glass of wine, parsnips Reasoning: beans and white bread products cause digestive discomfort in large or regular doses. Enjoys processed treat foods and alcoholic beverages but easy to over-consume. Not a big fan of parsnips. Red: mussels, yellow lentils, red lentils, oreo cookies, cheesies, chips with dip. Reasoning: Allergic to mussels. Extreme digestive discomfort from lentils. Will over-consume certain treat foods (indulges, but more rarely).

Now right here’s an inventory from Krista Scott Dixon, PhD, Director of Curriculum at Precision Nutrition.

Image shows "Krista's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: chicken, steak, bbq ribs, grasshoppers, snails, fish, assorted eggs, seaweed, kale, berries, coconut, avocado, white rice, oats, cob of corn, almonds, soybeans, tofu, dark chocolate, white potato, yam Reasoning: Appreciates a wide variety of foods and enjoys an omnivorous diet. (Will try anything once, especially while traveling.) Can digest/tolerate these foods well. Yellow: dried beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, popcorn, whole peaches, apples Reasoning: Can't tolerate beans or legumes well; intolerance to FODMAPs (okay in small doses); popcorn (triggers digestive issues in large doses); oral allergy to raw stone fruit and raw apples (okay if cooked). Red: Kimchi, wine bottle, milk carton, whole grain bread, watermelon, chips, milk chocolate, chili pepper, dried fruit, lobster Reasoning: Yeast and mold allergies, histamine intolerance, dairy intolerance, grain intolerance, intolerance to spice, dried fruit and melon, hates the taste of certain shellfish

What a few scientist? Here’s the checklist of Helen Kollias, PhD, Science Advisor at Precision Nutrition.

Image shows "Helen's Traffic Light Foods" and gives the reasoning for each. They are as follows: Green: Cup of coffee, green super shake, steak, trout filet, quinoa, wild rice, oranges, navy beans, spinach, oregano, feta cheese, broccoli, sweet potato, edamame, carrots, chickpeas, string beans, chicken breast, pork ribs, brussels sprouts, berries Reasoning: Enjoys foods of her Greek heritage; no allergies or major intolerances; pretty easy-going eater; aims to eat a nutritionally balanced diet without too many rules or regulations. Yellow: gin and tonic in a nice cocktail glass with ice in it and a straw, Tortilla chips and salsa, milk carton, pasta, baguette Reasoning: enjoys an occasional cocktail with friends. (If drinking at home buys a single can of tonic as to not over-consume.) Enjoys tortilla chips and salsa; can digest corn chips better than potato chips. Dairy may cause congestion if over-consumed; white bread / pasta doesn’t sit well in large amounts Red: Large bottle of tonic water. Whole green pepper. Sour cream & onion chips, ketchup chips, fish crackers. Chili pepper. Lamb Reasoning: Will over-consume tonic water, potato chips and crackers, and doesn’t feel good after. Hates raw green pepper. Doesn’t do well with spice. Not a fan of lamb.


Want to construct your personal checklist—or assist a consumer with theirs?

Start through the use of our Red-Yellow-Green Foods Worksheet.

To put your checklist into follow, right here’s a tip: Keep primarily “green” meals helpful and accessible. You’ll naturally eat extra of them.

And, if you wish to eat fewer meals in your “yellow” or “red” mild checklist, you may make your life simpler by merely not shopping for them. (That means it’s important to train much less willpower whenever you get residence.)

That mentioned, you can too select to eat meals that DON’T give you the results you want. Unless you’re deathly allergic, consuming out of your “red light” checklist is at all times an possibility.

Either means, you’re in management, and you realize what to anticipate. (Read: “If I go ahead and eat this red-light food, I might eat a whole lot of it versus choosing something from my green-light list. Right now, I’m okay with that.”)

When used as a strategy to get to know your self higher and make conscious selections, this technique isn’t restrictive. It’s liberating.

For extra perception into how this works, right here’s a take a look at how PN co-founder Dr. John Berardi chooses his foods, from lemon water (“green light”) to crimson peppers (“red light”).

Your relationship to sure meals will change over time—and that’s an excellent factor.

The solely fixed in life, and human beings, is change.

Your tastes might change as you age. Your priorities might change, too. Sometimes new allergy symptoms and intolerances kind. (And in the event you’re actually fortunate, some might go away.)

Don’t let your “traffic lights” outline you or hold you caught.

Instead, contemplate them a chance to get to know your self higher as you evolve and develop.

As Alice mentioned whereas in Wonderland, “I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

We’re all a bit like Alice. Might as properly benefit from the experience.

If you’re a coach, otherwise you need to be…

You will help individuals construct diet and life-style habits that enhance their bodily and psychological well being, bolster their immunity, assist them higher handle stress, and get sustainable outcomes. We’ll present you the way.

If you’d wish to be taught extra, contemplate the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.

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