Getting It: The Terror Squad

by Rachel on April 27, 2010

For many people, dieting is an ongoing process. If you yo-yo diet or “try everything” this is definitely true, but even if you have to work at maintaining, you’ll probably go through a lot of trial and error.

I’ve found that we all sort of go through dieting levels. It reminds me of that scale the Department of Homeland Security came out with a few years ago to let us know when to freak out. I decided to create my own method to asses your risks — just consider this the Department of Diet Insecurity.

What does it all mean? More than the Department of Homeland Security’s bogus scale did, that’s for damn sure!

Your diet is at a level red when you realize…”Oh shit!! I cannot eat like this anymore!” You realize that you feel sluggish; maybe you see yourself in a picture and you barely recognize yourself. And then you start to wonder what happened? Oh…college, Wendy’s, and a desk job happened. If trans fats were currency, you’d be so money. Severe risk of heart attack!

Once you’ve resolved to get things under control, you do a little research and figure out how many calories you need and then you start counting. And then you discover the wonderful world of fake foods! (This level is pink, because these foods are always marketed toward women.) “Omg…I can eat alllll this and not go over my daily calories?!” Yep you can eat alllll that aspartame and fat-free cheese and you can cook your way through the Hungry Girl cookbooks. And you can wonder why you’re still craving sugar, why a Diet Coke won’t cure your 4 PM energy crash, and why you can’t seem to lose more weight.

The yellow level is when you decide that you need to go for healthier foods…so you go for healthier processed foods. Amy’s Organics, frozen veggie burgers, lots of goodies from the Trader Joe’s frozen section, and pretty much anything and everything from Whole Foods. Hey, as long as it looks healthy, right? Vitamin Water? Why not?!?! Multi-grain bread? So what if it’s made with white flour?! You still haven’t quite tuned into the whole sugar, sodium, and, well, nutrition thing…but you’re definitely into organic foods. Because organic Cheez is way better than non-organic Cheez!

Eventually it begins to kick in: oh…veggies! You start to focus on whole foods and not just Whole Foods. You try kale chips. You start cooking things from scratch. Suddenly, your freezer isn’t so full and you’re keeping things very simple. Sometimes that means a few extra scoops of Haagen Dazs “Five” ice cream, but hey…it’s the thought that counts.

Your diet is so local, so organic, and so sustainable and your devotion to the farmers’ market is unparalleled. “That lettuce came from upstate? Um, I want local food, you son-of-a-bitch.” Your love for all things “green” borders on obsessive, but you sleep well at night knowing you don’t eat anything you don’t grow, catch, or kill yourself.


OK so here’s the thing — it took me a long time to work my way through all those levels. Seven years ago (wow, I feel old) I was so deep into level red and had no idea. And then I started working my way though the other levels.

I’m telling you this not because I’m trying to make fun of people who are at those levels (although I will mock anyone who eats Cheez)…but I just wish someone had told me to stop dicking around on the pink and yellow levels and spend more time at purple, aiming for green. Unfortunately, diet foods and healthy junk foods have better marketing than vegetables, so no one was really helping me achieve this.

What’s cool now about being at a lower level is that I can really get into the nitty-gritty of what works for me. At first, it’s easy to just think “calories.” But when you start to realize that there’s way more to healthy living and even weight loss than “calories in, calories out,” you start to pay attention to how things like sugar, dairy, and flour affect your body and you can decide how you really want to eat.

Will I ever be on the green level? I mean, maybe, when I can afford it, when I have access to great local produce year-round and can pack my Prius with reusable bags filled with greens that most people consider weeds. But while I would totally grow my own garden, milk a cow, and probably even shoot something, I know that this isn’t an attainable lifestyle for me right now.

So…it’s aspirational. Even sometimes the purple feels aspirational too, when I’m reading ingredients lists and wondering when the hell cinnamon raisin bread got so complicated. But just like there’s probably never going to be a time when the U.S. is totally free from any risk of bad stuff happening, for most of us, we’re never going to have a “perfect” diet. But we can try our hardest to stay away from the top half of the scale. And maybe that will also help the number on the other scale. Who knows? And who cares?? The point is, check in with your eating habits and ask yourself if you’re at risk of a major (heart) attack…or if you have a pretty bomb (ass) diet.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa April 27, 2010 at 8:34 am

Wow. Just…wow. You defined each level perfectly (at least as it relates to me). I’ve worked through every level and I’m at a point where I can comfortably say I’m at purple…aiming towards green. I think my lowest weight was when I was at pink (but I was so controlled that when I look back on pictures from events, I remember I got mad at myself for eating something I couldn’t “count” – aka something that wasn’t packaged – this was NOT okay). I feel my best now. And my Amy’s and Lean Cuisine frozen meals have stayed frozen in my fridge for months now. They’re not my “in case I’m too lazy to go grocery shopping” stash, but no longer my dinner every night. Great post :)


2 Melissa (It's a Veggieful Life) April 27, 2010 at 8:42 am

I’m somewhere between yellow & purple, heading toward purple. Good post! I was sooo into pink level when I did WW points. Ick!! Hopefully we won’t panic if the level increases. We’ll just take a deep breath and head back toward green! :)
.-= Melissa (It’s a Veggieful Life)´s last blog ..Happy Birthday Baby Boy =-.


3 Alison April 27, 2010 at 8:51 am

I have totally been dabbling in yellow, making excuse for why I can’t move up (too expenesive, don’t know how to be creative, etc.) but then reading this gave me a little kick in the butt to stop being so lazy and start LOOKING for ways to be creative. Plus, stocking up on veggies and beans is definitely cheaper than buying the packaged crap. Plus, I’d rather have a little extra meat on my bones than shovel junk into my body that doesn’t help me. Thanks! :-)


4 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

Melissa — My lowest weight was at pink too!! And ya know, not worth it. Toootally have a few frozen meals getting freezer burn now, but it’s what I call “break glass in case of emergency” food. I can’t believe I used to eat them every day!

Alison — Seriously, purple IS cheaper…you can make your own versions of the processed stuff pretty cheaply and it’s worth it!! (And freeze it too, for the convenience factor.) Hmmm maybe shoot me an email with your favorite “yellow” foods and maybe I can come up with some cool recipes/suggestions to share with everyone! Pink and yellow are the hardest levels to break!


5 Amy B @ Second City Randomness April 27, 2010 at 9:27 am

I like to think I’m in purple, with one toe in the yellow (why lie to myself?). And you’re right- my freezer has slowly cleared out and I’m positive the majority of my food has a super short ingredients list.

However, I do have a question because I love how you laid this out- my parents are in the red/pink. Any thoughts on how I can bump them to at least a yellow? Without being completely insulting of their lifestyle? Or using the phrase, “quite frankly, I’m worried this will make you die.”
.-= Amy B @ Second City Randomness´s last blog ..Return of the Veggies =-.


6 Sarah Van April 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

Seriously, have you been looking over my shoulder all of my diet life??? That was kinda scary. I need about 5 easy go to recipes in that purple zone that I can go to when I am pacing around the house trying to figure out what I want to eat. I love food and eating is like a drug for me – it makes me feel sooooooo good.


7 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

Ok Sarah! I have some easy, go-to purple recipes that I rely on…

1. Frozen salmon patties just satueed on the stove-top and eaten with couscous and steamed broccoli
2. Pesto turkey burgers (also works with chicken)
3. Any kind of “bowl” — I used to do this a lot last summer as a way to use leftovers. Basically whatever protein I had, sliced up and sauteed with whatever veggies I had, with some spices. Picking a taste “theme” works well (like Mexican, Mediterranean, etc.) This shrimp recipe is a good example of how it looks, but I don’t usually follow a recipe when I do it.
4. Pasta with ricotta, dried fruit, and nuts You definitely don’t have to follow a recipe on this one, but the idea is to use what you have…I’ve added in squash…you could use a different cheese too!
5. Pumpkin oatmeal — really, any pimped-out oats are my lazy, go-to recipe.
6. Stuffed peppers — works with any protein.
7. Apple and fennel quesadilla — really, works with any apple/cheese combo.
8. Egg protein plate.

So I think the thing that makes these so easy is that they all come from basic grocery staples that I buy every week or know I have on hand! So I think stocking your fridge with versatile things like eggs and basic proteins, buying fresh veggies each week, and keeping your pantry filled with a couple go-to grains, canned beans, and canned diced tomatoes (clutch) will help you get more creative when you don’t know what to eat.

And when in doubt, add a little pesto, cheese, or bacon. ALWAYS saves the day.


8 MelissaNibbles April 27, 2010 at 11:01 am

I think I’m a purple. I’d like to be a green, but I have bills to pay. Also, I don’t know about your area, but the farmer’s markets where I live are INSANELY expensive. They charge $5 for a thing of strawberries and meats and fish are super expensive as well. I noticed that the more trendy it was to go to farmers markets, the more the prices went up as well. I’m sure it has to do with the cost of farming, but it’s now more expensive than the grocery store.


9 Suzanne April 27, 2010 at 11:23 am

Spot on as usual! I’m leaning more towards purple, but I think I sink back to the yellow level every now and then. Green is totally aspirational, at least at my age & (lack of) income level… hopefully one day I’ll get there!


10 Emily April 27, 2010 at 11:24 am

I am just graduating from the pink stage, and I have to say its largely due to sheddingit! Diet soda’s be gone!


11 loreejo April 27, 2010 at 11:24 am

Rachel, quite possibly one of the best posts you’ve done! And you’ve done a lot of great ones! I’m on green, negotiating towards purple! It’s a matter of putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. It FEELS more expensive, but I truly think it’s not. It takes me longer in the grocery store but I think this is just a short period of transition until I learn my new go-to foods and brands. It’s a few high quality food purchases that are extremely satisfying, and as you said, some time in the kitchen, but not that much. I once read that “real food isn’t expensive—processed food is just cheap”. Cheaply grown, cheaply made, cheaply paid workers, etc. I’ll do frugal any day, but I ain’t into cheap stuff! I’m worth more than that!


12 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 11:32 am

@Loreejo THANK YOU for the compliment on the post! And I LOVE the idea that “real food isn’t expensive, processed food is just cheap.” YES! I think I’m going to turn that into a blog badge to remind people every day. I always tell that to my mom that when we talk about her Wal-Mart obsession. Wal-Mart is cheap and we all know why, so I don’t think it’s fair to call other things expensive.

I think the hardest part about getting to that green zone is the expense and that’s why I try not to preach about it or even feel guilty about not doing it 100%. But more and more, when faced with the option, I’ve been able to say, “It’s ok. I’ll give other things up.” Why do I eat eggs all the time? Because even organic, cage-free, grass fed, and God knows what else eggs are still $4 for a dozen…so yeah, if I can’t afford high quality meat, I’ll try for something high-quality that I CAN afford. It forces you to assess where you want to spend your money too. A pound of grass-fed local beef is the same price of a movie ticket, but I’m OK with not going to the movies. How much “green” you can do is a matter of how much you want to sacrifice (or even can sacrifice) and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to or being able to go all the way.

@Emily — Your comment gets the “Fuck yeah!” of the day award, because that’s what I just said when I read it.


13 Jennifer@knackfornutrition April 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm

My sister called me last night while she was at Trader Joe’s because “I remind her of a grocery store.” A compliment, I am sure since I have a food blog. She is trying to lose weight and while on the phone with me kept bitching about how everything had so many calories. I tried to explain to her the idea that there is more to weight loss than “calories in, calories out” but she just did not want to hear it. So I am sending her this post. She is an elementary school teacher, so maybe the color blocking will help her lol.
Great post!


14 Kathy April 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I loved this post! I love how you broke it down into stages we’ve all been through. I aspire to be green, but i’m somewhere between yellow and purple.

Your remark on marketing of diet foods is SO TRUE. It is so unfortunate that the big corporations have the means to advertise their food products as healthy, when they’re ultimately processed foods with little to no nutritional value simply posing as a healthy option. It should be known that if something comes in a box, it can’t be all that nutritious.

I wish their was a veggie coalition that could get behind an ad campaign, similar to what we saw with the Beef – it’s what’s for dinner campaign, or the Got Milk? campaign by the American Dairy Farmers.

It could be focused on ‘shop the perimeter’ and mock fake foods. I see potential here haha.


15 Amanda (Two Boos Who Eat) April 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm

oh man. I have been to every one of these levels and back. I’m still struggling to get my body to diet nirvana but it will happen eventually!

My favorite was the “fake foodss” stage. So freaking true!


16 Eunice April 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Thanks to growing up in a home where everything was made from scratch, I’ve never really dabbled too long in the red and pink. Except that one summer that I was homeless…no joke!

Anyhow, I also liked the “real food isn’t expensive—processed food is just cheap” comment and this is where my current struggle lies. I live with the “Queen of Frugal” a.k.a my boyfriend. Buddy loves him some Wal-Mart!! And that is a step up from the Save-A-Lot that he was going to when I met him. Not to mention that he’s a bodybuilder and eats at least three times more than me everyday. Not cheap.

So, I’m trying to find a way to balance it all. I’m researching organic foods and adding a little more to my shopping list each week. We cook almost everyday, so now it’s just about the types of foods we are cooking with. You mentioned in a comment below that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to eat healthy. So I guess my beloved shopping trips will have to be sacrificed! I’ll at least cut back. :)


17 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Eunice — One of the ways I started incorporating more organic foods was looking at both which foods are worth it to buy organic and also taking stock of what foods I eat the most. Apples are a pretty pesticide-heavy food and I eat them every day, so to me, it makes sense now to switch to organic apples. You can also save by switching to frozen organics; like fresh blueberries are really expensive, but organic frozen blueberries are cheaper. It definitely takes a little while to figure it all out, but it’s a lot of trial and error!!


18 Johana April 27, 2010 at 3:04 pm

My goodness Rachel, you hit it right on the nail! You have a way with words or rather a way of explaining things that just comes off so clearly and flows so well! I’m happy to say that right now I float between purple and green but I have definitely seen the likes of the highest levels before! But for many people ignorance is bliss and that’s freaking sad. Definitely always buying organic, free range or grass-fed isn’t always possible for me, but I definitely aim for that! And like Leah has once said: I’d rather spend more on what’s going IN my body than on my body!
.-= Johana´s last blog ..I know u probably get this a lot but im new to tumblr and i love ur blog, and was wondering whose health blogs you enjoy? im sure it changes weekly and u love them all but the ones you reccomend right now (or a few) =-.


19 Tamsin April 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

First — I agree with the above: great post! Second — I was just thinking about this the other day. I think that most people HAVE to go through each of these stages to get to maintain (<– that's the key word) a healthy lifestyle. I know I did and I'm seeing some of my friends go through it too. You start with the calories and fake foods and as you learn more and develop an interest, you move along the scale.

The main problem I hear with people trying to losing weight is that they do too much too soon. Some people are cold turkey types that can cut stuff out without going back to it. I found that I needed the baby steps to get to a place where I can't live without veggies and worship Michael Pollan.

I think you talked about this a while back when talking about those "fitness" shoes that get you toned while you walk — you start by cutting out sugary cereals, then realize you don't miss Smacks all that much and move on to replacing ground beef with turkey, and so on. One healthy choice leads to another!


20 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Tamsin, that’s so true! I don’t know if anyone can go all the way to purple/green right away, and they may get super discouraged if they try! But I do hope that eating more whole foods catches on as much as eating fake foods did five years ago and that people will make the switch, even if they are just starting out!

Also, Jennifer thank you for letting me know you’re passing this post on! That’s honestly a great compliment and I really appreciate that!


21 Kendra April 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Thank you thank you thank you for posts like this! I am so tired of the constant “It’s just calories in/calories out.” No, it isn’t. It’s fueling your body, it’s getting proper nutrition so that my hair and skin can be pretty while I am losing the weight (yep, I’m shallow and healthy), and so much more. I’m pretty lucky to have been raised by two chefs so I know what good food is and anything that comes from a package and shoved in the microwave does not fit that bill… unless it’s 2am and I’m really tipsy and hungry. I have a routine of making my own convenience food for each week. Tupperware is my bff.
.-= Kendra´s last blog ..Am I deep… or just thick? =-.


22 Kim @ LEO the lion says GER April 27, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I can remember myself at the Pink level (read: Pringles Light potato chips on the daily, HG cooking, etc.) I look back now and think, “WTF was wrong with me?”

Even though I do look back in horror at the Pink Level, I’m proud that I was even there to begin with. The Red Level of Death is what got me to 80 lbs over what I should be, and I think moving up the ladder of health gets exponentially easier with that initial push and all the knowledge that comes with it.

I’m not going to lie, my wallet won’t stretch out far enough to buy everything organic. But, it’s baby steps. I’ve decided that buying organic produce will make my life a lot less worrisome because I kind of suck at washing my fruit. Don’t get me wrong! I wash them! If you count running them under tap water for a few seconds as “washing.”

And even though I can’t afford organic meat, I can afford the local meat. UF has a slaughterhouse and meat store, and all the meat is bought from local farmers. I’m down for supporting local economy… not to mention it’s way cheaper than Publix.
.-= Kim @ LEO the lion says GER´s last blog ..Makin’ It Monday: Banana Stuffed French Toast =-.


23 Sarah Van April 27, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Rachel – thanks so much for the food ideas. It was such a compliment to have you reply to my post – it made my day. I sound like such a goober but I want to be your friend – I love your style and your energy. Thanks for helping me get my food priorities in order!


24 Rachel April 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Sarah — like I said last night, I realized that if all I do is talk and don’t respond, I’m doing myself and you guys a major disservice. So please keep the ideas, questions, and requests for more info coming because I really will do my best to answer every one of them! And ummm like I said I feel like you ARE all my friends so no shame in just saying it! :)


25 Gillian April 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I laughed out loud to the Homeland Security comparison. You have such an amazing way of providing information in a humorous manner! I absolutely love your blog, and I have been silently lurking for awhile. Time for me to come OUT!

I would like to categorize myself as grurple (green/purple mix)? I love the recipes too, keep them coming


26 Kelly @ Healthy Living With Kelly April 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm

LOVED THIS!!! Great post! Funny and filled with great information all in one!


27 Rachel April 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Amy B — Wow, you know, that’s a good question because my family is way more like the families in Food Revolution than they are like me. Totally going to do a whole post on this!!


28 Fattie Fatterton May 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I really enjoyed this. I am on the veggies level. I find myself craving them more.

I still have a sweet tooth, but I try to fight it with raw/vegan bars. I am also working hard on not eating out.

When I was kicking my addiction to soda pop, I used Crystal Light and then later on realized how unhealthy that was.
.-= Fattie Fatterton´s last blog ..Go big or go home =-.


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