The Good Eater:
The True Story of One Man’s Struggle with Binge Eating Disorder
“Please take a seat. I’ll let them know you’re here.”
I look at the receptionist. Is she thinking, “He’s cute,” or “I can’t believe this guy really thinks he’s got what it takes to be a model?” I bet she’s a model – she’s gorgeous, a short-haired brunette with flawless makeup and a perfect smile.
I take my seat. It all feels wrong – bad. Nine months ago I weighed 267 pounds, eighty-five more than I do now. I was rotund and flabby, no one you’d want to imagine without the protective shield of his clothes – a joke for the pretty people, the jocks I longed to be and cheerleaders I longed to be with. Instead, I was the one at the dinner table eye-balling fourths before most had finished firsts, the one who ate three pounds of chocolate in sixth grade under the cover of darkness, the one who still thinks a good time is three Big Macs, a large order of fries, and a chocolate shake followed by four Hostess fruit pies and a half-gallon of Haagen-Dazs sprinkled with a pound of M&M’s bathing in pint hot fudge–hardly a model.
Hunks and hunkettes with gleaming white teeth and perfect cheekbones stare down from the walls, judging me. A giant photo of a blonde bombshell hangs over the receptionist’s desk, the kind of knockout who scares the hell out of me. Come to think of it, all the photos – men and women – scare the hell out of me. What am I doing here? Who am I kidding?
I look up into the benign smile of a tall, thin woman with long, flowing hair. The lines around her eyes reveal age without denying beauty. She is flawlessly put together and smells like the perfume counter at Macy’s. I surreptitiously wipe my sweaty palms on my pants.
“Yes, I’m Ron.”
She stretches out one elegant hand. “My name is Sharon. Did you have a hard time finding us?”
My hand still partially moist, I shake hers. “No.”
Great, a whopping one-word sentence. I’m known as a funny guy, and the best I can do is no. This is not going well.
As I follow her down the hallway, she says, “Andrew tells us we should take a look at you.”
Perfect. She’s doing this as a favor to Andrew – this is now a favor to a favor to a favor. As a favor, this cute girl I worked with introduced me to her neighbor who did some modeling. He then did her a favor by seeing me and recommending me to his agent, probably so she’d go out with him. Once his agent says no to me, the circle will finally be closed.
We enter an office. An older woman, who must have been a model at some point, looks up from her large desk. “Hello, I’m Barbara.”
I sheepishly grab her hand, “Hi.”
My voice does the puberty thing. It’s not puberty, it’s nerves – I’m twenty-one and so far I’ve demonstrated that I know a whole two words.
“Um, here’s my portfolio. I finished it two weeks ago.”
“Great! Let’s take a look. Have a seat.”
In three weeks I posed for more than five hundred photos. The cameraman was a wedding photographer looking to branch out; I was an experiment. I think the pictures look professional, but who am I to judge? While the photos were being shot, I was so hungry, I almost passed out.
It’s weird to watch two ex-models scrutinizing photos of me while I sit right there, not thirty-six inches away. Maybe I should do some selling: “Am I cute or what?” Or maybe, “What’s it gonna take to get you interested in this nice, previously-fat model?” No. I study the framed magazine covers that adorn the walls, check out the large bronze statues that sit on the table behind her desk. I bet each one is worth more than my entire estate.
I look at Barbara and Sharon. They aren’t showing much in the way of emotion as they consider my worth. This can’t be a good sign.
Three minutes later, they close my portfolio. Sharon stands up and smiles. “Ron, Barbara and I would like to speak alone. Will you please take a seat in the waiting room? We’ll call you back when we’re ready.”
I know what this means. We’re done. Well, that didn’t take long. That’s okay, I wasn’t expecting much anyway. “Okay… of course… sure.”
The receptionist looks up as I enter the lobby, and I smile uneasily as I return to the relative safety of my black leather chair. I bet they’re doing a background check on me right now. “Sorry Ron, we’ve checked around and it’s always been our policy not to let undercover fatties like you in the club. Why don’t you go back to the all-you-can-eat buffet you came from? Security!”
It still amazed me that I’d gotten even this far. I’d been at the low end of one of my many yo-yo diets (260 to 225, 260 to 225) when a customer at the coffee shop where I worked studied me for a second, then asked, “Are you a model?”
I remember wondering whether she was trying to be funny. Was this the punch line to a joke I’d missed the setup of? Or maybe she was just trying to score points with the Big Guy – “Come on, St. Peter, you’ve got to let me in. Remember when I was nice to that fat guy?”
But over the next few weeks, I got the modeling comment several more times. What had made my current diet different from past ones was that this time I’d gotten all the way down to 205. Finally, for kicks, I went to a bookstore and found a book on male models. Most of these guys were still twenty to thirty pounds lighter than me. I decided to go for it.
Damn, I’m hungry. It’s one-thirty and all I’ve had today is three cups of black coffee and a banana. At least I was able to get my workout done before this meeting. I’d like to see one of these pretty people run five miles, bike thirty miles, swim twenty-five Olympic-pool-sized laps, and then lift weights – all without putting any food in their stomach before three in the afternoon.
Until recently, I didn’t know a body could be pushed this hard. The trick seems to be to listen with a different ear. When your body cries out in hunger, if you listen carefully, you can hear the chisel carving fat off your statue. If faintness overwhelms you, it’s simply evidence that the tools can work no faster.
At three in the afternoon, when I’m ready to eat my first meal, I walk with conscious virtue into Skinny Haven, a restaurant that lists the calorie count of every item it serves. My usual, a Skinny Haven banana split, is beautifully chaste in its mere 335 calories. Sometimes, when I arrive at my job at six (I wait tables), I’ve kept my food intake for the day to under five hundred calories. I still can’t believe I’m down to 179 pounds. I haven’t seen that number since I was thirteen.
Here comes Sharon.
“Ron, we’re ready for you.”
My heart feels like it’s going to come out of my chest at any moment. The emotional overload has dulled my senses. This is so strange. I have no idea how to act. Everything seems backwards – the job requirements are based on values my parents taught me were sinful, like what’s on the outside matters more than what’s inside. According to my old religion, that’s the sin of vanity. I feel so uncomfortable. Why am I putting myself through this?
But I know the answer. I’m here because I want this one act, becoming a model, to do two things: to erase my embarrassing history of weakness and insanity and to force women to accept me as worthy – it’s been almost three years now without a single date. I want magic – magic powerful enough to destroy the excruciating, ugly film of my life that perpeptually plays in my head, magic that will kill the fat, ugly wrong Ron and annoint me as perfect.
“Ron, Sharon and I have made a decision.”