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.