It's GO Time! Try the Traffic Light Diet

Healthy Eating

A simple approach to food choices:

  • Foods your body needs more of
  • Foods your body needs less of
  • Foods your body does not need at all

The Traffic Light Diet (sometimes called the Stop Light Diet) was developed by Leonard H. Epstein and colleagues for use in their family-based childhood overweight research. This group of scholars in the 1970 has been responsible for a large portion of the best research on childhood weight issues for over the past decades. Perhaps because of the ground-breaking nature of their research, the Traffic Light Diet has become broadly recognized, and many have improved upon it over the years.  

I am a Master Certified Health Coach under Dr. William Sears, MD, a renowned pediatrician with over 45 years of experience and one of the few doctors who still see nutrition as a part of health and strength. I learned about Traffic Light Eating from him during my training at the Sears Institute. It just makes sense to me.

Traffic Light Eating is easy to understand and is customizable based on personal preference in each category. The word “diet” has been hijacked and turned into a negative, restrictive, eating plan, so I teach the Not-a-diet-Diet. There are no rice-cakes on my watch! I love food: health-boosting, life-giving, real food. My goal is to incorporate foods that your taste buds will love as much as your body does! Once you learn this, you will learn more of what your body needs. There are GO Foods or what your body needs less of, SLOW Foods, or what your body doesn’t need, cannot use, therefore stored, and STOP and Think, or what we call Special-Occasion Foods.

We all know what we should do when we enter an intersection on the roadway with a traffic signal. 

  • If the light is green, we GO! 
  • If the light is red, we STOP!
  • If the light is yellow, we SLOW! Use caution and consider all the other factors.

The Green light and Red light are fairly simple! Where we get into trouble is when the light turns yellow! There are a great many things to consider before moving forward when we see a yellow traffic signal. Are there cars in the intersection? If you hit the brakes, will the person behind you hit you? Is the car in front of you stopping? Is there a police officer or traffic light camera? 

If you are a licensed driver, you have most certainly been-there-done-that. This mental picture offers us a visual for making day-to-day, and meal-by-meal choices.  

Let’s break it down and parallel the traffic lights into easy to understand food categories:

Green Light or “GO” Food

It must be all three of these:

1) grown / farmed, (not manufactured)  

2) very colorful (think colors of the rainbow) 

3) whole food that can be eaten raw

Green Light foods are grown, not manufactured (or GMO). They are very colorful like the colors of the rainbow: reds, blues, purple, yellow, orange, and of course the all-powerful greens of all shades. And they can generally be eaten raw. See my salad pictured here. How many colors and how many types of GO Foods do you finNote: Many black, brown, beige, tan, and white foods are found in the yellow and red light category. The higher calorie, ultra-processed, and often less healthy food are found in this color group. (Hamburgers, hot dogs, buns, onion rings, French fries, white bread, white rice, etc.  You get the idea. 

A bowl of saladDescription automatically generated

Yellow Light or “SLOW DOWN” Food

This is good food, but there are other factors to consider, so pay attention to QUALITY and QUANTITY in this categoryIn other words, proceed with caution, consider the quality, and factor in portion control.  They contain a wide variety of vital nutrients for your body to function efficiently. So, buy quality, (organic is usually best) from this category and control the amount of them you consume. Too much of a good thing, is still too much.   

A close up of a plate of food with rice and vegetablesDescription automatically generated

Here you will find:

  1. Fats
  2. Proteins
  3. Carbs (Grains, Starches, etc.) 

Pasta, rice, bread, tortilla, quinoa, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils, soy foods, dairy, cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry, lamb, and red meat. These foods provide the necessary nutrients in the amount your body requires, but most of us need LESS of these. The quality of food in this category is actually most important to your body, so there will be disclaimers to come as we unpack this category and cover each more thoroughly.  Until then, remember both yellow and green light foods make us strong, healthy, and smart if we make wise decisions about how to buy them, how to cook them, how to eat them, and the amounts of them we consume. To keep these foods healthy, they require quality, moderation, and portion control.  

Red Light or STOP (and Think) Food

Red light foods are usually devoid of nutrients, high in calories, high in sugar, highly processed, and contain many artificial ingredients and colors.

Candy, cakes, cookies, chips, donuts, pastries, pies, white breads, white rice, fatty meats, ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs and other processed meats, ice creams, frozen yogurts (even many conventional flavored yogurts)

These are special occasion foods, so if every day is a special occasion, there may be a problem, but enjoy your birthday cake and anniversary desserts. Enjoy a reasonable amount of alcohol (responsibly) while on vacation and have the occasional cookie or candy bar. Just don’t make this your lifestyle and expect to maintain your girlish figure or your manly physique.


Consider asking yourself some questions BEFORE buying or eating anything questionable (from the list above, like I needed to say that):

  • Will that (food item) make me strong, healthy, and smart, or weak, sick, and dumb? 
  • Do I want that more than I want to reach my goal of a long and healthy life?  
  • Will my body be able to USE that for energy, or STORE it as fat?
  • Do I really need that?  Do I really need that right now? 
  • How will I feel after I eat that?  
  • Is there a better choice? 

The choice is ultimately yours but be in control of the choice and know what your are choosing, because to say YES to something, often mean saying NO to something else. So, if you want to gain, lose or maintain a proper healthy weight, girlish figure and manly physique, eat a few RED and eat some (quality) YELLOW, but eat A LOT of GREEN!  


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