When your primary care physician, who is really a nurse, shows you your weight growth curve, and it appears to be a near-vertical line, you can do several things. You can blame the pandemic, to the snacks consumed after receiving yet another stress-inducing email. You can blame it on working from home, near the microwave, near the fridge. You can blame it on middle age, on fluctuating hormones that are causing cravings for more sugar, salt, and fat than are needed to operate a fast-food franchise. Or you can do what millions of other Americans have done, which is to turn to technology to fix the problem. “It would be great if we could get your weight back down a little,” my primary care person muses. In silence, I question the we. As far as I know, she is not going to be doing any of the work of weight loss. This is just like at home, where the “we” who is tall enough to change the lightbulbs is my husband, and the “we” who takes out the trash and puts in new liners is me. “I like cookies,” I say. Did I mention that my primary care just had a baby, and she looks like a supermodel? Her baby bump was the size of a tennis ball. She smiles at me—maybe it’s just me?--a little patronizingly. “And you can still have them!” she says. “Just not every day.” I’m supporting the Girl Scouts with my purchases, I grumble silently. Those calories are educating and empowering thousands of young girls. They are learning how to do important STEM jobs, and competing with the big boys, until they have kids and discover that we have a child care crisis, and that most of the caring and giving in the world is still performed by women. Then they will turn to these cookies for medicinal purposes, just like I have. When I get home from the appointment, I squint at the after-visit summary. She has recommended a calorie-counting app called My Fitness Pal. I love taking data. If I can cross something off or keep a running tally, I feel a real little zing of satisfaction and accomplishment. My calendar is an array of little boxes and stars, showing my workouts for the month. Stars for cardio, squares for resistance training. All mapped out for me to admire. So my primary care supermodel should not have worried. I have this. When I have a goal, I am at my sharpest, my best, my most competitive. Being a girl has taught me that you can sell all the sweet, peanut-buttery, chocolate-covered calorie comforts to others, but you had best not eat too many—or any—yourself. Because then you will be criticized for being unhealthy, undisciplined, and unattractive. I wonder if somehow I like being on this weight loss spin cycle, where I go up twenty pounds, go back down twenty pounds. I must like it, since it’s been going on for the past forty years now, ever since I discovered that bowls of rocky road ice cream and Scooby Doo cartoons went hand in hand. It’s like I forget the rules of gravity sometimes, I eat what I like, and then I’m back in battle mode once again. I remember seventh grade, walking a dog for a friend who was out of town. “What a dog,” said one of the boys as I walked by. “Which one? The one on the leash or the other one?” his friend responded with a smirk. Nobody has more discipline than a woman who was overweight as a little girl. I already ate cookies today. So we will start this show tomorrow. The phone and I are best buddies now. We are in a mutually agreed upon relationship, where I let it know my little victories and transgressions. It reminds me vaguely of Reconciliation at church, minus the dark little room and the prayers afterwards. Things I like about the app: It tells me how many calories a day I get, which is like knowing how many points I need to win a game. It tells me what a portion size is (which apparently is different from me just shaking the bag of granola over the bowl until my arm is tired). Things I don’t like: At the end of each day, if I am over my calorie limit, it shows up as a negative number, in red, which makes me feel like I am in freshman English class. Things I don’t tell my phone: If there are fragments of chips or crackers in the bag, and not whole tortilla chips or whole crackers, I just estimate. I’m not going to sit there, making jigsaw puzzles until I hit the magic serving size. If I eat food while I am chopping it, I don’t count it. If I eat food (for example, muffin dough), while I am spooning it into containers before baking, I don’t count it. If I eat something while I am standing up, I don’t count it. If I search up a food, and there are multiple calorie counts, I choose the lowest amount, or if I am feeling lucky that day, I choose a middle of the road amount. The phone seems to be fine with these little modifications. At least, it hasn’t said anything (although I keep it on silent mode most of the time). It informs me when I have met goals I didn’t even know I had, like only having 45 grams of sugar during the day. And since I love nothing better than smashing a goal, this makes me inordinately, ridiculously happy. What is better than achieving goals you didn’t know you had? It nags at me sometimes (why would it remind me to log my dinner at 2pm?) and other times it fails to give me credit for the number of steps I take, but for the most part we agree to do this thing as a team. And when I wander the ice cream aisle, the words common to all cheaters cross my mind: Hey, babe. I’m just looking. Like all good friends, the phone often makes me laugh. “I just entered a serving of tortilla chips and it says I met my Vitamin C goal!” I text a friend who is using the same app. “What’s that about?” It is so, so tempting to game the system some days, to enter a fourth of a cup of granola and pour myself a third instead, to rationalize that those cookies are vegan, and since I am doing a good thing environmentally and karmically, they really should be marked as having fewer calories. Just saying. But, you know, I don’t. Because, damn it, I want to win. My data is gonna wear skinny jeans, and man, that data is looking mighty fine about now. Once the phone and I lose twenty pounds, we are going to Vegas to celebrate. And we are going to cruise the Vegas strip, and buy up all the Girl Scout cookies we can find. To help those young ladies on the way to fabulous STEM careers. Of course. Because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Heather Bartos lives near Portland, Oregon. She holds a Master’s degree in special education and a Doctoral degree in educational leadership. She has a poem that will be published soon in Porcupine Literary and personal essays that will be published later this fall in Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine and Stoneboat Literary Journal.