Wellness Wednesday: Can Changing the Way You Think About Food Help You Lose Weight?


"This is good for me.” “Doughnuts are bad.” “I need a cheat day.” We often attach value judgments to the foods we eat with hardly any thought at all. The relationship we have with food as humans can seem more than a little polarized, whether we are talking about “all-or-nothing” approaches to dieting, determining the quality of foods with a categorical “yes” or “no” or deciding that foods are either “good” or “bad”.  This sort of black or white language and thought pattern often lead to feelings of guilt, discomfort and restriction when anticipating a food choice. It can also lead to changes in eating behavior that might make you prone to turning a chance to indulge and enjoy more indulgent foods into a more slippery slope situation where overconsumption is likely. If you want to ditch the guilt and develop a long-term, healthy relationship with food, a mind shift may be necessary. Enter the Spotlight System.

Go, Slow or Whoa????

Go, Slow or Whoa????

The Spotlight System was originally developed by psychologist Susan Albers as a way to deter emotional eating and categorical thinking about foods. It categorizes foods as either “green light”, “yellow light”, or “red light”. Proponents of this system suggest that this non-binary system of classification may make it easier to look at foods objectively. The system itself is pretty self-explanatory. Just like a traffic light, it is supposed to suggest whether to “go”, “slow down” or “stop” in reference to foods you are considering.


“Green light” foods are things like fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. These are foods that you can consistently feel good about eating, and foods that are generally accepted as being part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Yellow light” foods are the in-between foods. They aren’t out and out terrible for you, but they might not be the best choice when measured against those in the “green light” category. They include things like popcorn, pretzels, heavier entrées like lasagna and fried chicken.

“Red light” means stop. Red light foods are those with little to no nutritional value. These are foods such as sugary beverages, chips, candy and cookies. While they can definitely be enjoyed on occasion, consistent consumption of these foods do not typically serve long-term nutrition goals. When dealing with these foods, approach with caution and include them as an always available, but only occasionally enjoyed treat. Taking the urgency and guilt out of eating these foods may help you consume less of them at a time. After all, under this system, no food is forbidden, and can be available for you any time you choose to have a more indulgent day of eating.


Let me be clear, however. This system does not state that you can eat all the yellow and red light foods with abandon, multiple times per week.  Even overconsumption of green light foods can cause weight gain, and portions remain important. What this system does is allows you to detach from the mental cycle of being either “on a diet” or “having a cheat” day and therefore hopefully detach from the tendency to think that treats mean you “blew it” and should now continue to eat unhealthy foods that do not serve your goals.  Thought shapes language, which shapes behavior. Change your thoughts, change your language, and change your behavior. Food is fuel. It’s up to you what you put in the tank or how fast and far you go.