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Upon turning 30 I discovered that my metabolism had slowed to a crawl, and I found myself saddled with an extra few pounds that refused to disappear.

A friend had recently lost a good deal of weight over a period of several months by keeping track of what she ate using an app on her phone, which seemed like a pretty simple window to weight loss.  The app, called MyFitnessPal, even let you scan in the barcodes on packaged foods to measure how many calories you were ingesting when you ate one serving of something.  Exciting, right?  In my innocence, I thought calorie counting with an app seemed like it might even be kind of fun!  Like an Angry Birds that helps your pants fit better!

I downloaded MyFitnessPal, entered my stats, and was allotted 1,200 calories per day to lose a pound a week.

I later discovered that 1,200 calories a day is close to the minimum number of calories it is recommended that a woman eat in order to function normally.  But at the time I didn’t question the wisdom of being immediately put on what players of the Oregon Trail would have referred to as ‘Bare-Bones Rations’.

After all, MyFitnessPal was the expert, right?  Why would it want to do me harm?  Plus, to ignorant, slightly flabby me, 1,200 seemed like a veritable wealth of calories!

In retrospect, the most amazing thing about MyFitnessPal was actually the way it demolished two decades of having a healthy attitude towards food in about half a day.

At first did enjoy using the app to track what I was eating. It was kind of like playing Food Jeopardy.  I’ll take breakfast for 150 calories, Alex!  What is one-half a toaster strudel?  And so on.

I was also gratified to discover that by using the stationary bike at the gym for 30 minutes I could add over 200 calories back to my rapidly shrinking allotment. Forget about working out to feel good—now I could work out to earn more food.  Healthy!

That first night I went to bed feeling smug because I still had 149 calories left in my daily allowance. I was totally winning at weight loss!

But the next day I awoke feeling terribly hungry.  I also began hearing a strange new voice in my head every time I thought about eating, which was now constantly.  “How many calories does that have?” it would ask sharply, about every food I considered eating, in a tone I had never before used when addressing myself in my own head.

In fact, the voice made eating lose much of its appeal even as I became increasingly obsessed with it.  In the span of a single day, meals became mocking little food-shaped numbers of calories, and meal-planning devolved into a neurotic game of food Tetris, during which I dedicated much of my mental bandwidth to calculating how to fit a variety of low-calorie foods in throughout the day to most efficiently stave off relentless hunger pangs.

All my life I had I loved to cook and loved to eat.  But once I began calorie-counting, every time I thought about eating something, I immediately thought about how many calories it had, and how many calories I would have left for the day if I ate it, and whether it was worth those calories.  I became a sad, obsessive calorie miser.

The one positive was that I certainly did savor the food I allowed myself to eat. If you want to hide in your parked car eating an apple with the gymnastic fervor you would bring to a conjugal visit, by all means, count calories.  You will find yourself clasping a granola bar to your face, leaning it back and passionately embracing it like you just arrived on shore leave.

On my sixth day of calorie counting, I found myself sitting on a park bench on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, despairing that I had just hedonistically consumed an entire turkey sub in about ten minutes.  I had, the voice reminded me, barely 200 calories left for the entire day. Worse still, I had been invited to a friend’s barbeque that evening. How could I enjoy that party knowing I could only eat (and drink!) 200 calories the whole night?

Only 200 calories left until tomorrow, I thought sadly.  If only I could just go to bed right now, skip the party, and wake up on Sunday with a whole 1,200 calories to eat!

That was the instant I decided it was time to stop counting.

I realized that if using MyFitnessPal was going to get me this worked-up about food; if it was going to dominate my waking thoughts, then I just couldn’t use it anymore.  Life was difficult enough without this extra anxiety.  Pleasure was hard enough to come by without wringing every bit of it from food.

In the months since I gave up calorie-counting, my weight has continued to fluctuate.  I still haven’t figured out a diet and exercise plan that really works for me. Ultimately though, I’m glad I figured out that I’d rather buy new pants than be completely miserable from calorie counting. MyFitnessPal might have a friendly name, but it was definitely not my friend.

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I was watching something on Hulu the other day when –Bam!- there was Amy Sedaris, in a commercial for Downy detergent, and my heart shrunk three sizes.  I’m a big fan of Amy Sedaris—I think she’s a great entertainer and she appears to have an extremely interesting and quirky way of looking at life.  I love her books (I Like You, about cooking and entertaining, and Simple Times, the crafting book) I also love her brother David and all of his books.  Before this commercial, the Sedarises (Sedarii?) could do no wrong in my eyes.  But suddenly and irrevocably, that changed in the 30 seconds it took Amy to describe how great some new Downy detergent product was.

Granted, I understand that money is money.  It feels a little unfair for me to judge Amy Sedaris for being in commercials when I don’t really know anything about why she decided to do them.  Possibly her second book isn’t doing so well.  Maybe other offers have dried up.  Perhaps she’s just doing what she’s gotta do to keep her rabbits in alfalfa?

But googling this commercial led me to a couple of shocking discoveries.  Not only had Amy Sedaris done this commercial (which everyone else writing about it called ‘kooky’ and ‘hilarious’ rather than ‘demoralizing’ and ‘a depressing reminder that everyone has a price’) but she had also done commercials for Target and another company.

Not only that, so had comedian Maria Bamford!  This felt like the last straw.  I’m not saying that if Tide offered me a million bucks, I wouldn’t roll over and sell out with the best of them.  Hell yeah, I use Tide.  I love Tide!  Now pay me!  But the thing is, me personally—I happen to be hard up for cash.  Amy Sedaris and Maria Bamford are both relatively successful comedians.  Maybe they’re not millionaires, but it’s also unlikely that these commercials are the big breaks they’ve been dreaming of.  After all, if an enormous, nationally recognized brand wants you for their commercial, aren’t you automatically going to be a big enough star that you probably aren’t desperate for the money?

So, is it really selling out to do commercials like these?  All things considered, is it really as disreputable as I’m painting it out to be?  I suppose ultimately that’s up to the viewers.  The people watching these commercials will likely end up drawing their own conclusions.  In my opinion, it’s a hugely disappointing travesty.  But many others may say, ‘Hell yes!  Go for it!  Go where the money is, and godspeed you adorable quirky women!  Now, off to the store to buy whatever you’re shilling.’

This also bothers me—the fact that it is apparently no longer considered embarrassing to do commercials like these.  Celebrities appear to have a free pass today.  They can shill for whatever brands and corporations they please, as long as the commercials they do appear in cast them in a humorous, self-effacing light.  It used to be that actors and actresses were somewhat ashamed to be in commercials for products, so they’d go overseas where there would be less press for appearing in ads.  But now, nobody cares.  Michael Ian Black is hawking eBay.  Mike Rowe plugs Toyota.  There’s no longer any shame in advertising such things.  I’m just apparently feeling shame for them, and that’s just sad.

What am I going to do?  Refuse to buy Downy Unstopables (sic) because they put Amy Sedaris in a commercial?  I LIKE that they wanted to use her for advertising because they realized how awesome she was.  I like that the money is going to her rather than some talking head.  And yet—I hate it!  I hate that Sedaris named her price and Downy paid it.  It’s a strange paradox.

It comes down to this:  Amy Sedaris has spent years crafting and promoting her public image through skits, standup comedy, books, and television shows.  Her unique persona is arguably the most important thing she has.  It’s what makes her stand out from the masses of people in the world and in advertising who are not Amy Sedaris.  And Downy saw this, and cleverly co-opted it.  During a 30-second commercial, Amy Sedaris associated this public image she has built with a huge corporate detergent brand.  No matter what, I along with many other fans, will likely always make this connection from now on—this may help Downy, but it doesn’t help Amy.  I guess what I’m saying is, whatever they paid her, it was not enough.


In honor of my upcoming Bard reunion, here’s a post about high-school reunions, which are like college reunions, except 6000 times worse!  Link to the full discourse, courtesy of The Perpetual Post, is here.

 

My ten-year high school reunion is around the corner, and my feeling is, either I’m showing up with Hugh Jackman on one arm, pushing a stroller full of nonuplets with the other, or I’m not showing up at all.

A high school reunion is no time for subtlety. Trust me, nobody wants to hear about your new springer spaniel puppy or your job in publishing. They want to see whether you got fat or divorced or developed a nervous tic. They want to hear if you’ve saddled yourself with a whiny loser or had any kids, and if those kids are fat. They want to casually pretend not to recognize you, to show that they’re too cool to bother remembering once knowing you. Ninth grade habits die hard. Maybe things will be different in another ten years when you all feel like failures, but right now it’s still too soon. Your only defense against this kind of behavior is a good offense, and you only get one chance to make a dynamite first impression—to achieve that sweet moment of redemption that somehow erases an entire freshman year spent pretending that you had no friends on purpose. You better make it good.

But wait, put the monocle down, sparky. Don’t bother going if you’re going to look like you’re trying. You cannot walk back into the gym reeking of desperation. If you’re busy whiting out the word ‘Assistant’ on your business cards or thinking up ways to make it sound like you moved back in with your parents because they missed you, stay the hell home, and I’ll tell you why: Above all, the name of the game is to keep those bitches guessing, and sometimes, putting in a non-appearance is the flashiest way to do that. In the back of their minds, those people I spent four years love-hating are bound to have a brief moment of wondering, “Huh, and where is Molly? I was looking forward to pretending not to recognize her.”

Is she sitting at home watching The Wedding Date and eating raw Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from the can? Or out partying topless on the French Riviera with Kate Moss? Maybe I’m home polishing my Nobel Peace Prize or at a cocktail party chatting with Tom Wolfe and wearing a 24 karat gold pantsuit. No one really knows. And nobody really wins, either, but I also don’t have to nod with a frozen smile on my face as my former classmate tells me she just got back from spending the year in Machu Picchu, “just hanging out”. I don’t have to congratulate girls who used to make fun of my thrift store clothes for passing the Bar exam, or having babies, or headlining the World Organization Committee on Agricultural Transportation Banking Summit. So actually, someone does win: Me. Take that, Class of 1999!


I’m up on The Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic Section this afternoon.  You can find that piece here!



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