What is a Food Protocol? And 5 Reasons You Should Write One Today.
What is a food protocol? It is a set of eating guidelines that you create for yourself to meet your weight loss, nutrition, or health goals. It includes specific foods you will eat (or not eat), how many meals you’ll eat per day, how much water you will drink, and more. Learn the 5 reasons you should write a food protocol and I’ll share a step-by-step system to write your own.
5 reasons to make a food protocol, and how to write one you will stick to.
What the heck is a food protocol? It is simply a set of guidelines you create to help you reach your weight and nutrition goals.
In this post I’ll share:
What is a food protocol?
5 reasons to make your own personal food protocol
How to write a food protocol
I’ll share my own protocol as an example
How to implement your protocol
How often to evaluate your protocol and how to know if it’s working
What is a food protocol?
A food protocol is an agreement you make with yourself about the types of foods you will or will not eat in order to reach your weight loss or health goals.
It's a set of guidelines that YOU create for yourself based on your goals, your personality, your likes and dislikes.
It includes food you will eat on a daily and weekly basis, those you want to limit to special occasions (possibly ice cream or cookies!) and the foods you NEVER want to eat (maybe because of an allergy or they trigger cravings, etc.)
I’ve always had guidelines for myself but never heard it called a protocol until I heard Brooke Castillo talk about it on her Life Coach School podcast (which I highly recommend, btw). She also talks about protocols in her book If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
If you've ever dieted, you've followed a food protocol.
Have you ever joined Weight Watcher's or Jenny Craig? Have you tried a Whole 30, the 21 Day Fix, or a keto diet? If so you've followed a food protocol.
Following someone else’s food protocol, like one of these popular diets, is ok for the short term, but wouldn’t it be smarter to create your own? To write a set of guidelines just for you, based on foods that make you feel good and help you reach your goals?
I really believe the best plan is the one YOU create for yourself. And I’ll show you how to do that in this post.
5 reasons to make your own personal food protocol.
It is a personal plan, created by you, to help you reach your weight loss or health and nutrition goals.
It forces you to think about how the foods you eat affect your weight and health, and how they feel in your body.
It helps you be intentional about your food choices on a day to day basis..
It eliminates “food drama” when making your weekly meal plan or when choosing what to eat.
It is a living, changeable document that you can adjust to meet your needs and goals.
This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Why do I need a food protocol?
A food protocol is simply a written plan to help you achieve your goals.
If you're a person who wants to lose weight, you need a food protocol.
If you have any condition that is affected by the foods you eat, like Type II diabetes, you need a food protocol. (Obviously write your plan based on your doctor's advice.)
If you want to eat healthier, or cut back on sweets, or go gluten-free, you need a food protocol.
If you want to change your diet or improve it, you need a food protocol.
A food protocol is an act of self-care.
Your food protocol should come from a place of self-love, not restriction or punishment.
It should be made with your goals in mind, but also be realistic. It should meet you where you are right now. If you eat fast food five days per week and hang with Ben & Jerry on the regular, making a raw vegan protocol probably is not a great idea. Change up just one or two things at a time. As with anything in life, baby steps is a great way to approach change.
How to write a food protocol.
Start by grabbing a notebook and pen and find a quiet place you can sit, think, and write without distraction. Read through these questions and answer them in your notebook. From your answers you will draft your food protocol.
As Stephen Covey said many years ago, "begin with the end in mind."
What is your goal?
To lose weight? To have energy to keep up with your kids or grandkids? To keep your blood sugar balanced? To heal your gut? Ease joint pain?
Write a few sentences about your personal weight loss and nutrition goals.
Now that your goal is clear, let’s talk food. I like to think of classifying food like a traffic light:
RED LIGHT FOODS are foods you never want to eat.
YELLOW LIGHT or CAUTION FOODS are those you want to limit.
GREEN LIGHT FOODS are the ones you want to include in your diet every day.
The cool thing is YOU get to decide where foods fall on our virtual traffic light.
Green light foods: What foods do you want to include in your diet on a daily or weekly basis?
For me it's a wide variety of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. I want those foods to be the basis of my diet. I also want to eat good quality proteins and plenty of healthy fats like avocados, coconut, and olives, to keep me full and satisfied. Cheese is definitely on my plan. Rice and grains like steel cut oats and quinoa are there too.
The cool thing is you get to decide what foods you want to eat on a regular basis that will help you reach your goals.
Jot down some foods you want to eat from these categories:
grains and cereals
prepared foods (frozen pizza, frozen entrees, crackers, snack items)
restaurant or fast food
Yellow light foods: wHAT FOODS DO YOU WANT TO LIMIT TO SPECIAL OCCASIONS?
Are there foods you don't want to eat often, but still want to include occasionally? These are your YELLOW LIGHT FOODS. You can also think of them as special occasion foods or treats. Brooke Castillo calls them "exception foods," meaning they are an exception to your normal protocol.
I like YELLOW LIGHT because it’s a simple and effective description. I approach these foods with caution, knowing that eating too many of these foods might give me food cravings, or weight gain, or a tummy ache.
For me YELLOW LIGHT FOODS are highly processed foods like tortilla chips, cookies, and candy. Also fast food. And ice cream, sigh. Sometimes I want to eat those foods, and that's fine. But I don't eat them everyday.
How frequently (and how much) of your YELLOW LIGHT foods will you eat?
I include YELLOW LIGHT FOODS once or twice a week, but that’s just the frequency that works best for me. You get to decide how often to include these foods in your protocol.
The goal is not to be super restrictive. Instead think "how much of this yummy food can I include while still meeting my goals?"
Look at the list of food categories above. Which foods belong on your YELLOW LIGHT list?
RED LIGHT FOODS: What foods do you NEVER want to eat?
If you are celiac, anything containing gluten is on your RED LIGHT FOOD LIST.
If you have food allergies or health conditions affected by diet likely you have some foods to add to your RED LIGHT list.
Or, you might not put anything in this category. At the moment I don’t have any RED LIGHT FOODS.
Are there any foods that make you feel bad or give you digestive trouble? Some people don't tolerate fried foods, or legumes. Other people (like me!) have massive cravings when they eat lots of processed carbs.
Jot down any RED LIGHT FOODS in your notebook.
Your protocol can include eating behaviors, too. These questions will help you determine if you want to add any guidelines around your eating.
What do you want your typical eating day to look like?
Will you have 3 meals and a snack? No snacks? Intermittent fast and then just two meals?
Do you want to add guidelines such as only eating when you are physically hungry, or only eat at a table?
How much water do you want to drink?
Will you include any supplements or vitamins? Which ones, and how often?
Sleep isn't technically food, but getting enough sleep is critical to a healthy life AND for weight loss. How much sleep is your nightly goal?
These questions will help you draft your protocol, but if you think of anything else you want to include, definitely jot it down.
Once you have your answers, write your protocol on a separate piece of paper, or in a notes app.
You know you have a good protocol if it makes you feel happy, focused on your goals, and seems doable.
Take a peek at my protocol.
Your protocol may look very different from mine, and that’s totally ok. I’m sharing it with you just to see what it looks like.
You will see there are lots of GREEN LIGHT FOODS. Most “real foods” (unprocessed plants, seafood, meats) are on the list, as well as cheeses, Greek yogurt, some grains. I include dark chocolate (70% and up) on a daily basis and sometimes I drink wine.
I feel better and have fewer cravings when I eat lower carb, so my YELLOW LIGHT FOODS are mostly processed carbs. I do have a few servings weekly (usually tortilla chips and fries), but try to avoid these foods as much as possible.
I don’t have any RED LIGHT FOODS at the moment.
You’ll see I added a guideline that is really important to me, which is waiting until I’m hungry to eat and stopping when I’m satisfied. Not full or stuffed, but satisfied. I’ve also added my water and sleep goals.
How to make your food protocol a part of your life, aka how not to forget it!!
It's easy to set goals or make grand resolutions for our life, but not so easy to follow through with them. Here are some practical tips for keeping your food protocol front and center in your life.
Answer the questions in this blog post on paper to formulate your protocol.
Turn to a new page for your protocol and Write. It. Down.
Post your protocol were you will see it daily.
Take a picture of your protocol and make it your phone home screen or save it to your favorite photos.
Set a reminder on your phone to review your protocol monthly. If you are not sticking to your protocol or you feel it is not "working," try every 2 weeks.
How often to evaluate your food protocol?
Brooke Castillo suggests following your food protocol EXACTLY for 2 weeks before you evaluate it. You can't know if it is working (particularly for your weight loss goals) if you don't follow it, right?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating your protocol:
Are you sticking to your protocol? If not, what is your best guess as to WHY?
Are you losing weight if that is your goal? Maintaining if that is your goal?
Do you feel energized by the foods you eat every day?
Do you feel good emotionally about following your plan?
Are you sticking to the special occasion rules you set for yourself?
Do you feel in control of your eating or do you have cravings?
Is there anything you want to change or add.
I hope you see the benefit of writing a food protocol for yourself if you have weight loss, health or nutrition goals. Follow these simple steps to create a protocol and then get to work following it!
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