Keeping to a healthy diet is one of the biggest challenges you may encounter on your fitness journey. A big reason for this is because dietary choices need to be made multiple times every single day.
If you hit the gym 3 times a week, that is 3 times in 7 days when you have to work hard to make gains. However, if I you eat 4 meals a day, that is 28 opportunities that can help or hurt your progress.
So a good diet can often be your biggest strength or your toughest adversary. For these reasons alone I’m a big fan of making a healthy diet as simple and easy to follow as possible. The easier and simpler it is the greater the chance of making smart choices on those 28 weekly opportunities.
I’m not a big fan of nutritional guidelines that claim the best way to eat is to avoid certain “bad” foods while force feeding yourself other “good” foods. I’m also not a fan of counting calories, writing down every single gram or reading food labels. All of that stuff takes energy and may even be unnecessary.
We humans are lazy, plain and simple. We are convenience seeking creatures by nature. In many ways, this has been our health and fitness downfall because it’s easier to keep our bodies parked in front of the TV than it is to get up, drive to the gym and workout.
I say we take this lazy tendency and use it to our advantage whenever we can. Instead of setting up our nutritional environment to make it easier to eat poorly, let’s set it up so it’s easier to eat well.
My plan is simple. I place most of my effort and attention in what I like to call my nutritional environment. If I can keep that in good shape then my diet tends to automatically take care of itself with minimal effort. A “nutritional environment” is the different kind of food resources you have within the areas you spend most of your time. These areas usually include your home, car and office. To do just that, I use a3-light system to set up my nutritional environments. It works just like this:
Green Light Foods
Green light foods are foods that you both enjoy and want to eat in a pretty good quantity. These foods are nutrient dense and support whatever you deem to be a healthy and nutritious diet.
Preferably, your nutritional environment is to be stocked with green light foods that are ready to eat. If fruit is a green light food then you should have it right on the kitchen counter in a fruit basket or already chopped up in the fridge. If grilled chicken is a green light food then have it all cooked up, sliced and ready to go.
Yellow Light Foods
These are foods that you want to eat sparingly and have little trouble doing so. These are foods you have in your nutritional environments but in small quantities and preferably out of sight. This way, you can still have your treats but it has a natural self-regulation system so you don’t eat too much.
So if Oreo cookies are a yellow light food then you would have a small package of them tucked away in a cabinet somewhere. If ice cream is a yellow light food then maybe small ice cream sandwiches can be hiding in the back of your freezer. A chest freezer in a low traffic area, like the basement, would be even better.
Red Light Foods
These are foods that you want to eat in small quantities but you have trouble doing so. If you can’t help but polish off the entire bag of potato chips in 2 days then that would be an example of a red light food.
Red light foods are foods you keep out of your nutritional environment, but not necessarily out of your diet. By doing so, you still allow yourself to have the occasional treat but you make it more difficult to do so.
If you have that bag of salty potato chips on the kitchen counter then you have the opportunity to eat a lot of chips every time you walk into the kitchen. Each time you walk by those chips you’ll either indulge or you’ll use a lot of your limited energy to resist the temptation. In either case you’re losing out. Try to remember the old expression “out of sight, out of mind”. If you keep these red light foods out of your constant vision, you will avoid being tempted to indulge in them.
If you allow yourself to split a small bag of chips with a coworker once a week you still get to enjoy your chips, but the quantity you consume is easily kept in check. You still get your chips plus you don’t have to work hard to keep the portion size on the smaller side. It’s a win-win!
Keep in mind that you’re the only one who can decide what foods fall into each category. One person’s red light food might be your yellow light food or even possibly a green light food. It may take some time to figure out what foods fall into each category. You may also experience a food going from a yellow light food to a red light food. The key is to keep awareness on your nutritional environments so you can eat well with minimal effort and stress.