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So It’s Come To This: My Life Counting Calories

Cane toad Agathe sits on a toy balance during an inventory at the zoo in Hanover, central Germany, on January 5, 2011. All habitants of the zoo are to be counted, weighed and measured during the week long inventory. Agathe has a weight of 1850 grams. AFP PHOTO HOLGER HOLLEMANN GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read HOLGER HOLLEMANN/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)
Holger Hollemann/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about Heath bar bits, America, hit streaks, bananas, fake bad-asses, and more.

Your letters:

Mark:

I’m about to turn 50. I’m overweight (technically obese!), but in OK shape (for an American!). I get a cardio workout at the gym two to three times a week. Better than nothing? Here’s the thing: I eat a good amount of garbage. Chips, pizza, wings, cheese, red meat, processed foods, carbs. They’re just delicious. They all are. And I don’t want to stop. And now, at age 50, the question becomes: Should I even bother trying to stop? I mean, I made it this far, right? 

Mark, I know your exact situation. I’ve been trying to lose the same 10–20 pounds now for like six years. Even when I suddenly lost a shitload of weight after falling into a coma—FRRRP!—it all came right back on. The older you get, the harder it is to lose weight. This is the exact opposite of how things ought to be. So I was in a spot like you where I was like, What’s the fucking point? Maybe I should just give up and accept that I’ll be this weight, and then some, for the rest of the way. I’d stopped drinking. I’d started adding push-ups back into my workout routine. I’d tried cutting out sweets, snacking, all that shit. None of it had worked. I was exasperated, and I wasn’t sure it was worth it to be.

And yet, I didn’t want to give up and still don’t. This could be because I grew up overweight and still have psychological scars from it. But, more likely, I just want to feel good. I don’t like feeling like shit. I don’t like looking like shit. It’s not like I wanna lose weight so that I can get a girlfriend. I’ve been married for 19 years. Obviously I’d like my wife to still find me attractive, but mainly I just want to look good for myself. It’s good for the inner spirit. Gives me a bit more zest for living. If I let go, I’ll just grow a Charlie Weis–sized FUPA and end up hating myself for it. So I went to the doctor’s office last week. The other two times I lost a shitload of weight, I did it alone. I set my own ground rules and goals. I’m not young enough, spry enough, or wily enough to do that anymore. I needed help.

My nurse practitioner had me take what was called an InBody test, which was exactly as embarrassing as you think it is. I had to stand on a scale and grip two hand sensors so that the machine could measure all of the things I didn’t want measured. I learned my doctor’s office weight, which is always five pounds higher than your home weight. I learned my body fat percentage (29), which I never, ever wanted to know. And I learned my basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn by doing nothing), which was, to my great surprise and delight, WAY higher than I thought it would be. So that made up for the other things.

Then the NP, who specializes in nutrition and fitness, gave me a choice. I could see a special doctor to go on what he called an instinctive eating regimen—similar to the diets I’d conceived for myself in the past—or I could stick with him, go the sabermetric route, and start logging my calories. I had never counted calories before and was loath to do so, but I also didn’t feel like making an appointment at a whole other office. So I opted to follow the data. He gave me a daily calorie limit (2,400, which ain’t bad at all). Then he gave me the name of an app called MyFitnessPal, which is anything but, for logging everything I ate.

Since then, I’ve tallied every morsel of food that’s gone into this mouth. At the beginning, I was excited to do this. I had a solid plan, and having a solid plan already gets you halfway to wherever you want to go. Plus doing the calorie count on my phone instead of like, a little notebook, made it feel more like a game I wanted to beat. Also, here was a case where laziness ASSISTED me in dieting. I didn’t want to snack because I didn’t want to have to note it in that app (you have to scan bar codes and note serving sizes and all kinds of annoying shit), so it became easier for me, mentally, to avoid rooting around in the fridge.

However: When I get hungry now, holy shit do I get fucking hungry. When you count calories, you’re more attuned to every last one of them. You covet them. All of my old hunger was strictly rich-kid hunger. The closest I got to feeling literally starved was on a camping trip, and that wasn’t because I had no food on me. I just didn’t have the food I wanted on me. I was like Wahhhhhhh all I have is a Nature Valley bar in my backpack BOO HOO. A lot of Americans have no clue what ACTUAL hunger feels like. But I’m getting a touch closer. When I eat into that calorie count too soon and I only have like 700 to go for the day at 2 p.m., I wanna fucking die. When I hit the limit at night, I have to distract myself so that I’ll stop thinking about food.

Because I think about food constantly, and always have. I love thinking about food. I love talking about food. If you and I ever chat in a bar one day, I will most assuredly bring up something I just ate. Now I have to, like, read a book instead of sitting there and getting horny for takeout sushi. It gets rough in patches. I ate a nice bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios this morning. Two cups cereal, two cups milk. Plus a banana. That was 600 calories right off the bat. That is horseshit. That shouldn’t count as calories at all. I should get a fucking taco salad for that big of a number. [Pacino voice] I’ll take a flamethrowuh to dis app! I started this regimen a week ago. Feels like six. I have lost, in total, one pound. Should’ve lost 30 by now.

But I’m not giving up. I want this weight off of me, and I know that burning more calories than I take in is the best route to getting back to Sexytown. If it takes longer than I want, so be it. I will beat this fat. I may be 45, but I’m not too old to give up on myself. Neither are any of you.

John:

How close does a player need to get to Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hit streak where it becomes a big deal?

They have to get to 30 straight before everyone gets excited. I have lived through 15 such instances in my lifetime (18 if you allow the hit streak to continue across multiple seasons, which I do not), and the cruel thing is that 11 of those instances ended at 30 games. Barely half of DiMaggio. The longest one I lived through was Paul Molitor hitting in 39 straight back in 1987, which became such a big deal they put a special box in the back of our local sports section—it was not a Milwaukee newspaper—every week to track it. No one has hit in 30 straight since 2011, when two Guys (Dan Uggla and Andre Etiher) both did. It’s just fucking impossible, especially since MLB decided to switch out half their game balls this year for balls made of wet hardtack.

I can’t tell you how much this annoys me. I lived through the breaking of two monumental baseball records in my life: home runs in a season and career home runs. The first one was fucking AWESOME to watch happen in real time, until it got ruined by steroids after the fact. The second one was ruined by steroids while it was being broken. I definitely cared about steroids back then. I fell in line with the Shanks of the world who thought steroids were for cheaters. I don’t feel that way now, but I still haven’t gotten to enjoy a record-setting moment in baseball that stayed 100 percent undisputed. The closest I got was Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak in my lifetime, and that was also ruined because Chris Berman was the man on the call. And because fuck the Orioles.

THAT is what Rob Manfred and his receding hairline should be worried about. He shouldn’t care about Mike Trout’s Q rating, or whether to make the pitcher’s mound out of cement. He should juicing the fuck out of the ball and leaving buckets of legalized HGH in every clubhouse so that I watch some goddamn history get made. In general, I’ve already lived through a lot of shitty history. I’m doing so right now, this instant. So I need someone to crank out a 78-game hitting streak. I need some good to counterbalance all the bad, god dammit. But noooooooo. No, thanks to the MLB rulebook and player specialization, I’ll never get that shit. All I’ll get is Shohei Ohtani, and he plays at 10:30 p.m. EST every night for a team that fucking blows. This ain’t right.

Robert:

Okay you did best soundtrack. Now what’s the best movie score? My vote is Cider House Rules

I hated that movie. Even the surprise nude scene in it didn’t turn me. I was legitimately annoyed when My Cocaine won an Oscar for Cider House Rules instead of Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense. That was just rapist-ass Harvey Weinstein buying votes like he always did. Pathetic. I don’t remember its score, but I’m sure it irritated me.

Anyway, I could answer Robert’s question by saying Raiders, Star Wars, or any other John Williams jam. But that’s no fun. Instead, lemme give you three slightly less predictable options. The first one is the score to 1994’s Fresh, which remains one of my favorite movies ever. Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police, wrote that score. One time I was at a movie screening and saw Copeland and his lady in the audience, and I damn near went over to him to tell him how much I loved that score. I thought he might appreciate someone complimenting him on something that was NOT “Every Breath You Take.” But I refrained and still, frankly, regret it.

The next one is Rudy. This is the part where you’re like, “Drew I agreed with all of your takes until just now!” but whatever. I fucking hate Notre Dame, but loved Rudy. It’s a corny movie, but I love corny shit when it’s done right. And the score, especially during the finale, still makes me choke up. This is the last I’ll speak of it publicly.

And then, we come to the best of the best: Miller’s Crossing. Perfect movie. Perfect score. That one I’ll never shut the fuck up about.

Jesse:

Should we randomize the divisions in Major League Baseball before each season? We could limit it to a geographic block to minimize travel problems. I’m just tired of watching my Giants play the Padres a million times a year. Since there’s no real difference between AL and NL clubs anymore with the universal DH, should we just decide who’s paired with who in a thirty-minute TV special on ESPN when they release the schedule?

Your beef is more with the MLB schedule-makers than with the divisional alignment. Also: as an NFL fan, I can tell you schedule release specials, even if they feature temporary league-wide realignment, are nowhere near as interesting as you propose they might be. So your real problem is that there are too many games in the MLB season—an old take that we don’t have to re-litigate here—and that the league wants to minimize the very travel woes that you speak of by having your Giants play the Padres a million times a year. None of that would change with your plan.

The way to solve the problem is by cutting the regular season back down to 154 or, and this is more realistic, increase the number of interleague games with a team’s counterpart division. So, for example, the Giants play the Padres 19 times this year. They play the A’s four times. That’s dumb. Just even those numbers out out so that they play the AL West teams nearly as often as they play the NL West teams. That way, you get a wider variety of matchups, the division rivalries remain alive and fresh, and the team still doesn’t have to travel very far. If you’re a purist who abhors interleague play, here’s a nickel. Go buy yourself some rock candy over at the five and dime, grandpa.

HALFTIME!

Matt:

Why do you get so many questions from guys named Matt?

Well I mean, who ISN’T named Matt in the world right now? So many Matts. Cambodia alone is 78 percent Matts. We all know that. You might note that the homogeneity of names in this column is indicative of homogeneity among its readership, but that’s … OK that’s true, but I DO get emails from guys named, like, Jack sometimes.

Jack:

What is more weird: your absolute hatred of mayo, or my absolute hatred of bananas? I think mayo is wonderful, but I will actually start to retch if I even smell a banana, let alone accidentally taste one.

Hating a particular food isn’t weird. We all have our hang-ups. The people trying to FORCE mayo on me? Those are the fucking freaks. I’m the normal one. That said, I don’t actually gag when I smell mayo. I can’t smell anything anymore, but even back when I did, I could smell mayo and still keep my insides inside of me. I didn’t ENJOY the smell, but I could physically tolerate it. Hating bananas to the point of nausea is another level of phobia, but I respect it more than I condemn it. Unlike mayo, bananas are easy enough to avoid. They won’t put bananas on your club sandwich without asking you first, know what I mean? You will survive. Thrive, even.

I myself like bananas, although my old colleague Megan Reynolds despised them and said “omg creamy fruit disgusting” in our old GMG Slack once. I have never forgotten that description of nannners, and I never will. “Creamy” and “fruit” don’t usually belong together. It’s like “crunchy” and “urine.” The mind rebels at such linguistic pairings.

Shane:

I will probably get mocked for this question, but I was having a discussion with my friend if massive civil war broke out in our nation and what I would do. Would I fight for my side to preserve and maintain for future generations? I find the answer is no. I know people fought and died for this nation, but I have no love of this country. It’s a nightmarish place with people yelling at you for being too emotional as second-graders get shot in the face. I don’t want to stay and fight for this messed up place with half of the people hating my guts, knowing that we’ll just elect another game show host again. Even if we “win,” the rot is so deep I’m not sure how to fix it. I’ll just leave if we’re just going to inflict massive pain on others just for the “fun” of it. Like, I just want to go to work so I can buy shit so that I die with debt without other people being treated as subhuman. I’m not asking for much.

I know there are messed up people/governments in every part of the world, but I’m not feeling very rah-rah America at the moment and trying to think of my options. I do what I can, but there are times I want to leave this place to fucked-up assholes to butcher themselves. I used to be patriotic at one point.

I feel similarly. We just celebrated the Fourth, obviously, and my kids could have given a fuck about the holiday’s origins, or about America in general. I’ve half-heartedly corrected them on that in the past. I’ve been like, “This IS your home, you guys,” but that doesn’t mean much to them. Even though they’re all still relatively young, they know what’s wrong with America, and they know its prospects right now are pretty weak. Their loyalty to Uncle Sam is all but nonexistent, which is understandable right now but also makes me feel like I did something wrong. I don’t want them to be hopeless about this country, and I don’t want them to hate it.

To make this a better nation, you have to love it, otherwise the fuckers who really do will run roughshod over it, as they are right now. That’s the dilemma, and it’s not an easy one to solve when the real president isn’t Joe Biden but an ideologically engineered Supreme Court that is committed, wholeheartedly, to evildoing. Forever. The Dobbs verdict was like watching someone open the fucking Ark of the Covenant in front of me. All the demons are out to play. Hard to love a country with that kind of set-up. Ideally, the United States would get a divorce and we’d break up into three or four separate countries. But I know that’s never happening, because of money and because the Constitution is intractable and keeps everything frozen in place.

And yet, here I remain. I could return to my birth country of Australia, or I could light out for some liberal European utopia like Denmark, but I never will. This is because I’m lazy, but also because I still love a shitload of things about America. I love the geographical diversity—amber waves of grain, etc. I love being dressed like a slob at the airport. I love the pizza. I love football. I love that the Caribbean is a relatively short plane ride away. I love that people here still obey stoplights. I love that our gas prices are still hilariously low compared to Europe’s. I love this asshole country, despite myself.

I look at America and see something WORTH making better, which is a real politician thing to say. But it’s true at the ground level. This is a young country, which means it has a ton of potential but is also still really fucking stupid. Maybe it’ll get smarter. I’d rather believe it will rather than spend all of my time in a goth cave. As always, if you think nothing will get better, it won’t. So I may as well stick to the blind faith of optimism. And I need my kids to have that optimism too, so that they can be among those who make this country better. It can be done. Of course, perhaps the only reason I believe that is because I’m a heterosexual white guy, and everything is rigged in my favor. But I believe it all the same.

Because the harsh truth is that even if I flee, America’s problems will still find me. It’s too big and too belligerent a country not to. Like Shane, I used to be more patriotic. But I’m still a little bit patriotic. This country is in my blood. There’s a little flag waving around inside me. It’s very small and tattered, but it’s still there.

Peter:

I have a theory that men who refer to women, or women’s achievements, as “badass” actually can’t formulate an authentic compliment. Whenever I hear a man call a woman a “badass,” I assume he’s mostly seeking the approval of his audience, not praising the woman sincerely. To me, “badass” seems completely vapid, even when well-intentioned. 

It’s not much better when a woman calls a woman a bad-ass, or when anyone calls a man a bad-ass either. It’s become a vapid word in all respects, and it’s a talisman of the empowerment industrial complex that has ruled pop culture in general for way too long now. I saw Meghan Trainor trending like three months ago when she should have died in prison already. None of that shit has gotten us anywhere, and it all feels laughably fraudulent in the wake of Dobbs and so many other recent events. I need “bad-ass” and “king” and “queen” and all of those cheap terms put into permanent retirement, and I need pop songs that are about what you want and not about what you deserve. Why can’t art and culture EVOLVE for once in this goddamn century? It’s not that hard.

Rob:

What was the lunch Trump threw on the wall? Second question: What is the most satisfying lunch to throw on a wall? Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Wendy’s Baconator? Meatball sub? Nabeyaki? My answer is a Caesar salad.

Knowing Trump, it was a room temperature Hardee’s burger. His favorite food. The best lunch to throw against the wall is a pint carton of soup, preferably from Hale and Hearty, because that soup is a rip-off. You need the lunch to be in a container so that it explodes upon impact. A sandwich isn’t gonna give you that level of amusement. Man, I wish I had some soup to chuck off a highway overpass right now.

Matt:

I just baked a batch of delicious Heath bar-chocolate chunk cookies and it got me thinking that I don’t think I’ve ever consumed or seen anybody consume a Heath bar by itself. But they consistently make any dessert they’re in so much better, whether as a mix in for cookies or soft serve ice cream. So is Heath the true secret MVP of the culinary world or can you think of something else? 

What this Matt forgets is that Heath bars still show up on Halloween, and that I make a point of ransacking my children’s haul every year to find them. He also forgets that Skor is a better candy bar and deserves to be widely beloved.

But I digress. Twice.

Heath bar bits are the perfect foodstuff. MyFitnessPal wouldn’t approve of them, but fuck that app for a moment. If I get a Blizzard, I’m getting Heath bits in it along with all the other good candy. If I see Bits O’Brickle in the baking aisle at any grocery store, I buy them even if I have no recipe planned. And if I see Heath bar cookies out on Back to School night, I always grab one, and then grab another. I have English DNA in me, which means toffee is my mistress. My grandma once won a local competition by making a Heath bar icebox cake that she cribbed from someone else. A newspaper, I think. I made that same cake for my mom when she turned 75. Just as good as I remembered. So this Matt is right: the world needs more Heath bar bits in it. They are the real MVP.

Email of the week!

Matt:

I’ve recently reached the age where I’m starting to deal with hemorrhoids, and they suck. Really change how you have to go about your life in an annoying way. It got me thinking, what percentage of professional athletes are dealing with discomfort and nagging hemorrhoid issues? If it was something that was more known I might have a bit more sympathy now if they have a bad game.

Let’s call it two percent.