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I’m going to say something I haven’t been able to say out loud before: I have an addiction. I am a lover of food who loves other lovers of food in the act of loving their food. There is nothing sexual about this; I love watching people eat things I forbid myself to consume. It’s a quirk that any of my friends or coworkers can attest to, with much eye-rolling. Now, one would think there has to be some kind of Freudian explanation for this, and they would more-than-likely be correct.
Growing up, until I went away for college, I’d always been out-of-shape. My older brother was the star-athlete, above average student, and had charisma that made him a god among men. Teachers and parents loved him, girls in high school wanted to date him, and my own peers would befriend me if only to get closer to him. I was referred to as his black sheep. How could he be so cool and I so socially awkward? Even my parents seemed to love him more. Whether it was dragging me to his boring-ass hockey games on the weekends when I was little, or telling me how they wished I were more active and athletic, he was The Golden Son.
I, on the other hand, was the little oddity. Quiet, timid, couldn’t throw a baseball or ice-skate to save my pathetic life, broke out in hives at the thought of exercise or weights or sports (not literally), and daydreamed of romancing girls I would never find the nerve to approach in real life. I was made fun of for being short, being an embarrassment to my brother’s legacy, and for sucking dick, because that’s what all guys do who perform in theater… naturally.
I was not my brother, and sometimes I would do things simply to differentiate myself. I was into theatre. I loved reading and watching movies. And I ate anything and everything in my path. Five scoops of vanilla ice cream loaded with rainbow sprinkles, chocolate syrup, and Cool Whip (because let’s face it, whip cream blows). Massive peanut butter and chocolate chip pancakes so thick that they were still raw in the center when you ate them––complete with more Cool Whip and Grade A organic maple syrup. (None of that Aunt Jemima nonsense in our household.) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so gooey the sucrose-heavy guts plopped out the bottom with the first bite. Oh yes… I used to be an emotional eater.
When I graduated from high school and went away to college in the summer of 2008, I wanted a change. I was never comfortable with my body or myself in public. Never comfortable living in my older brother’s impossibly large shadow––I felt like I could never live up to the bar he set. But if I could slim down, gain some definition, and work on my fear of talking to the girls I daydreamed of, then maybe I could win the approval (that I would later realize I already had) of my teachers, parents, and peers.
Fast forward through the next three years of my life after high school and pause. I suffered an eating disorder, and I still wasn’t happy with my body or how I looked or felt. I weighed 155 lbs. when I was eighteen. In my lowest point, I weighed 109 lbs. For a guy in his late teens/early twenties, it was a cry for help. I couldn’t sit down without bruising my tailbone. My cheeks were so caved in that I still have trouble looking at pictures of myself from that time. I would eat a double cheeseburger with friends during lunch, then just a single, then without a bun, then half a patty. Maybe just a bite for lunch. Surely a bite would be okay! Right?
Maybe two forkfuls of eggs in the morning and a glass of OJ, then for lunch half a beef patty with no bun but a slice of cheese (because I’m Italian, I’m practically made of cheese), and then a half bowl of cereal for a late-night snack.
Just one more pound. No, two more. No, until my love handles are gone. No, until my double chin is gone. No, until my six-pack turns into an eight-pack. No, until my body looks identical to that famous actor’s body. No, clearly I need to be at least 108 lbs. and then I can start––
OHMYGOD I need that McFlurry in my life!
And then I’ll stop. I promise I’ll stop. I will.
Now one might think there’s this large, overly dramatic epiphany. A come-to-Jesus moment. An intervention––maybe a hospital scare. All of the aforementioned would be incorrect. I never got better. I never became happy with myself or my body. I never learned the “hard way.”
Simply, I knew what I was doing would lead to major health concerns, so I course corrected my addictive personality. No junk food, no carbonated beverages. Lean meats, organic food, plenty of tea, etc. I don’t cheat, not ever. Six portioned meals a day, always limiting my carbs, but overloading on Sundays to trick my body so it doesn’t think it’s starving. Exercise and running six days a week. In the nine years since I last weighed 109 lbs., I haven’t cheated once. I won’t allow myself to. My friends think I’m nuts.
No one knows it’s something I struggle with every day.
So, I watch people eat. I watch them consume their ice cream, their cookies, and their brownies. I sniff their food and remember what it was like to taste the mouthwatering orgasm that is chocolate. Mostly I’m okay with it, but it’s not something I have a pipe dream about that will ever go away. Eating disorders, no matter the reason or cause, don’t disappear. You can get better, but there is no eliminating it. It’s a disease.
I have a disease.
There will always be this little asshole inner-critic telling me I’m not thin enough or toned enough or handsome enough.
At 109 lbs., I wasn’t happier or more popular. I still sucked at sports, and homophobic guys at college still thought theatre performance meant sucking so many dicks. Talking to girls was just as hard in high school as it was in college as it is today. There is no magical cure for the things we struggle with.
I’m not perfect, and as the years went on, I’ve come to realize that my brother isn’t either. He has commitment issues––married to his job. He suffers acid reflux and gluten intolerance––being unable to eat certain foods due to digestive necessity and not addictive thought-spirals. Years after we had both graduated, I saw him cry for the first time when Grandma died. Even my perfect, impenetrable, golden brother had a glass shield.
So, next time you see me staring at you eating, there’s nothing sexual about it. And really, I’m not even staring at you. It’s what you’re eating.
I really fucking want that cake.
Bio: Christopher M. Tantillo earned his MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. He currently lives in Buffalo, New York where you will find him forever in search of gelato to eat. He is a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, and he loves the misuse of the term literally. When not devouring Young Adult literature or writing it, he spends his time binge-watching Netflix shows, writing poetry, adoring independent films where characters talk endlessly about life, and people watching for fun. He takes his love for tea seriously, and enjoys partaking in awkward conversations with anyone willing to humor him. He is currently attempting to sell his first two novels.