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.
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.
Whenever I hear Britney Spears on the radio these days, I can’t help but think of her as some sort of non-entity; a quivering mound of protoplasm in a halter top and platform sandals that bleats out lyrics every few months on command when it notices it has been placed in a recording studio. Those lyrics are then autotuned and overproduced into the familiar, record-selling sound we’ve come to expect from Britney, which is then set to a pounding house beat and released gently into its number-one slot on the billboard charts.
This train of thought led me to recall those legendary brainless, soulless chicken-substitutes that are grown in laboratories across the country and served to unsuspecting (or suspecting) patrons at KFC– which as we all know can no longer be called ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’, as it no longer actually serves actual chickens.
Those depressing, zombie-chicken caricatures of living flesh, despite their unsavory origins, produce appealing enough fried drumsticks and meaty breaded breasts of the kind we’ve come to expect from KFC. They’re tender and juicy and utterly regulated. Superficially delicious and satisfying, they’re enjoyable in part because of their predictable sameness and dependability. They have, after all, been precisely engineered to meet our criteria for a fast, fried, chicken-y dinner of adequate taste and quality. But think too long about their origins, and you’re bound to feel a little queasy.
In a way, those sad, brainless laboratory chickens remind me of our current crop of celebrities, pop stars and prize athletes. They’ve been hand-selected by the same greedy, shadowy boards to meet our exact standards for dazzling celebrity sex appeal. Young and tender, sexy and shiny-haired yet pleasantly homogenous; while they weren’t exactly grown in laboratories, we know that they’re not naturally made, either. We know that what they say and do and the way they perform is not the genuine article. The legacies they create weren’t born of a natural wellspring of passion, creativity, or intellect. But we eat them up and follow their antics mindlessly, because they’re what we’ve come to expect, to demand. We think they’re no better than what we deserve.
Well, I’ve about had my fill of these KFcelebrities. I’m ready to bestow my interest, envy and admiration on genuine artists, writers, and other public figures who grew into fame in their own ways, in their own terms. People with real meat on their bones!
Your feed might look more like this:
[Bob]: I hope my ex-girlfriend notices that I am attending the Film Festivel “Nietzsche’s Influence: A Silent Retrospective”. When she dumped me last year she said I wasn’t ‘interested in ideas’. This will show her!
I will not actually attend this event.
[Mary]: I’ve come across an obscure three-second animated clip of a cat that appears to be using a tiny hula hoop, after aimlessly surfing the internet for five hours as I do most evenings. I have posted this clip on my Facebook wall as proof of my quirky, idiosyncratic existence. Please acknowledge it.
[Alan]: I would like it to be known that I am out drinking at a bar right now, so I have posted a dull comment about the beer I just ordered, while out at this bar, drinking. With my many friends.
[Louise]: Here is an amusing anecdote of something I just overheard at work. These days when something interesting happens to me, my first thought is usually, “I should put that on Facebook”.
[Charlotte]: You will notice that I have taken over 400 pictures of just myself, in various outfits and poses, and posted them on my Facebook profile, because I am attractive and my life is interesting to others.
[Barbara]: Is eating dinner alone at home and feeling lonely. Rather than reaching out to anyone, I have updated my Facebook status with a brief description of how much I am enjoying my dinner. Now I am waiting anxiously for comments and ‘likes’ on this post, which will temporararily ease and then ultimately worsen my feelings of isolation.
[Mike]: Here is a link to a well-written, thought-provoking opinion piece that I did not finish reading, with a brief comment urging everyone else to read the piece. In this way I have co-opted the author’s opinion as my own and avoided having to define how I actually feel on the subject, which is good because I really don’t know that much about it but would like to appear knowledgeable.
[Trey]: I have changed my profile picture. The caption reads, “This is How I Would Like to be Seen by You”. Every picture on my profile is carefully selected to reflect the image of me that I would like you to have. My life is a product that I advertise on Facebook.
[Lana]: I have shared another ironic photo or video on my Facebook wall for my friends to comment on the utter ridiculousness of! Isn’t it stupid, yet kind of amazing? What were they thinking?!
I’m not interested in sharing things I find genuinely interesting or moving, because this would reveal too much information about who I really am, which might make me vulnerable to direct criticism and would also open up the possibility that people might disagree with me, challenge me or engage with me in a meaningful way.
[William]: Please make me feel loved.
I have tiny weak arms like a T-Rex, and small useless hands, so that even the lightest, most easily gripped furniture slips easily from my clutches. Also, I stop to shift my grip a lot, but I don’t tell YOU that I’m stopping, so you either fall over backwards or slam into the furniture we’re trying to carry. Then I yell at you.
I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I realized sometime back in June that I was spending far too much of my sweet, sweet down-time staring at my laptop devouring blocks and blocks of entertaining text and pictures of cute animals and celebrities. I like my free time; I wish I had more of it. I decided that the best way to make it seem as though I had more of it would be to spend more time doing other things, like walking the dogs, reading books, calling friends, driving around. Going for runs. Inventing drinks and then drinking them. Things that, while they are not necessarily as mindlessly fun as spending hours reading Dlisted.com, are still good to do. Plus, since they’re more boring than surfing the internet, time goes slower while I’m doing them. Thus, the feeling of more time.
Plus, I’ve always been jealous of those people who say things like, ‘Oh, at home? I never go on the computer at home. I’m on the computer all day at work; why do that at home too?’ I too am on the computer all day at work. I needed to take a page from the books of those people.
So I quit cold turkey, because I knew that would be the only way to do it. Now the only leisure site I’m letting myself hang around on when I’m at home (i.e. aside from email, or the site where I check my bank balance or book airline tickets and whatnot) is the New York Times. I can easily waste some time there, but a girl’s got to have a vice or two, right?