Poor Form

                                  “Never eat more than you can lift.”

                                                                  -Miss Piggy

I wish more information would have been available. Education would have been the key. I was young and foolish and never even considered that Hershey’s Syrup could have been a gateway food to a life of increasingly regrettable eating habits and subpar manners.

I guess I could blame my Dad. He let it slide. I had been warned many times not to drink Hershey’s Syrup straight out of the can, but I really liked the stuff, so much so that I didn’t even notice his footsteps coming up the basement stairs. There I was, caught in the act, a Hershey’s Syrup can on the counter next to me and a near-perfect circle of chocolate around my mouth. My Dad entered the kitchen and surveyed the scene. 

“Charlie, have you been drinking Hershey’s Syrup again?”

At the age of five, I had not yet learned the concept of “irrefutable evidence”.

I thought for a moment and shook my head.


My Dad laughed. Just when I needed correction, suitable punishment, and direction, he laughed. I look back at it as a serious breach of parental responsibility. He allowed me to wander off the path of the proper, and the door to a life of poor form had been opened wide. I could eat what I wanted when I wanted to eat it. A troubled life of regrettable eating habits was launched with that little can of Hershey’s Syrup.

And the downward spiral continued, eating inappropriate things, at least at inappropriate times, fueled by doting parents bent on sparing the rod. I can’t count the number of times I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar, literally speaking.

“Oh, look, honey, Charlie’s sneaking cookies again! That little rascal, ha, ha, ha.”

Grabbing a handful (literally) of chocolate cake, again.

“Charlie! How any times have I told you not to grab handfuls of chocolate cake? Next time you’re really going to get it. And this time I mean it…well, sort of.”

I liked eating, especially sweets. With no guardrails in place, the monster within grew leaving any trace of etiquette or whiff of moderation behind in the dust. Stuffing my face with anything edible soon became entertainment for the entire family.

“Look, Grandma, Charlie ate your pudding!”

“And he ate your apple pie, Herman! Ha, ha, ha!”

It was all good, but then I was off to the less forgiving real world.

“Charlie! Are you eating something, again?!”

“You nailed it, Sister Agnes. A Hostess cupcake my mom put in my lunch box. I couldn’t wait.”

“You are not allowed to eat in class, Charles! You know the rules. We’re going to the Principal’s office…again!”

I knew the rules. I tried, but I was hooked. It was a subcategory of compulsive eating disorder, not an unbridled drive to eat, but a complete lack of self-control to resist consuming whatever tasty tidbits happen to come my way. It has been light-heartedly referred to as a modified Seafood diet- "If I see food, I eat it.” 

“Sister Agnes, Sister Agnes, my peanut butter cookies disappeared from the lunch table. I think Charlie did it, again.”


Although I couldn’t resist grabbing cookies, Ho Ho’s, Twinkies, or anything that looked yummy, I was, unfortunately, as honest as the day was long. Or, perhaps I always felt blameless as I could attribute the behavior to my “Snack-Snatch-Syndrome” condition as diagnosed by my older brother Billy. 

“Yes, Sister, I did it. They were awesome. Your Mom’s a great cook, Susie. How does she do with chocolate chip cookies?”

The uncontrolled drive to eat all things in sight continued through high school where I was quickly dubbed the “Lunch Locust of Lincoln High.” Lepers could have drawn a bigger crowd at their table as the entire student body determined distance would provide a certain level of protection to keep their lunch intact.

Mr. Baker, our school counselor tried.

“Charlie, don’t you get enough to eat with your own lunch?”

“Yes, plenty.”

 “Then why are you always trying to sneak food from the other students’ lunches?”

“Why did George Mallory climb the mountain? Because it was there, Mr Baker. Why does the morning dove serenade us with its beautiful song, why does the cricket chirp, why does the rainbow splash its beautiful colors across the sky, why do butterflies…”


“What, Mr. Baker?”

“Never mind. You may go back to class.”

Emily Post would have been mortified. I was squirting whipped cream straight out of the can into my mouth, chugging milk out of the carton, and greatly expanding the application of the term "finger food" at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I made Joey Chestnut's chowing down seventy-six hot dogs in ten minutes look like a lesson in fine dining.

My college job on the cafeteria serving line was short-lived as I couldn’t resist taking a nibble or two out of everyone’s dessert. Campus bars soon stopped placing complimentary pretzels on their bar. My picture with a thick black line drawn through my face with the caption “Do Not Admit” was placed at the entrance to the All-You-Can-Eat Country Buffet. 

I caused quite a stir at my wedding mass when I went for more than one host at communion, and my bride was not pleased when she caught me sampling gobs of the wedding cake with my finger… before dinner. The words “Stay out of the kitchen” were more than a friendly admonishment in my household as my testing and tasting of meals in progress often left little for the children.

Ah, the poor children. The sins of the father…

St. Nick’s. I was commissioned with filling the children’s stockings after all had gone to bed. This didn’t work out too well for the children. It started out with what I thought was a reasonable approach- one for Timmy, one for me; one for Susan, one for me; and one for Betsy, one for me. This quickly devolved to one for them two for me, followed closely by three for me, and finally, nearly fiendishly, “It’s mine, all mine!” The candy that had already made its way into their stockings was quickly recalled. I couldn’t see it at that point, but I had seen it, and that was good enough for me.

Timmy’s stocking- one toy truck, no candy. Susan’s stocking- one miniature Etch-a-Sketch, no candy; Betsy’s stocking- one glittery bracelet, no candy. 

Looking back on it, I’m still not sure how I was allowed to fill the children’s Easter Baskets. The jelly beans and Peeps didn’t have a chance, but through my near-heroic efforts, the chocolate bunnies, sans ears, survived. This did not placate the children, and I was once again the bad guy.

I was relieved of all future candy-packing events, and my wife bought me a pair of boxing gloves to be worn at all times of food preparation. (This was frustrating for me, but I was still able to thumb pies and cakes.) At the request of my children, I was equipped with a tracking device the nights before St. Nick’s and Easter. I was not cured, only controlled to the best of their ability.

My lovely wife knew the whole sad saga, right from that childhood can of Hershey’s Syrup to the disappearing jelly beans. She was as understanding as a person could be, but my condition was becoming more and more difficult for my family to cope with. As a last resort, she insisted I try outpatient therapy.

“Hello, my name is Charlie. I eat things I’m not supposed to eat.”

In unison:

“Hello, Charlie. So do we.”

The group sessions were productive as the members shared their stories of troubling compulsive behavior, but I questioned the nice spread of cheese, crackers, brownies, and cookies laid out on the tables at the front of the room. 

The one-on-one sessions seemed promising. Plates of undesirable foods were placed in front of me- spinach, fiery hot peppers, snails, bat soup, fish eyes, and the like- to condition me not to grab and eat everything put in front of me. The exercise was akin to a subject in an academic study getting zapped with an electric shock for making the wrong move or giving an incorrect answer. I was making good progress after gagging on a spoonful of Asian Snake Blood Soup and a Little Italian Maggot Cheese, and I continued to impress my therapist as I passed on the stale bread, plain oatmeal, and a tofu popsicle. It all came crashing down when she brought out the Double Fudge Chocolate Brownies. 

My team felt that a more intensive approach was necessary, so I checked in for their 90-day residential program. I would sit at a small table and look at pictures of culinary delights such as hot fudge sundaes, candy bars, gumdrops, pies, and cakes. I could see, but there was nothing to touch. Then I moved on to viewing real food through glass. I could see and smell the tempting treats, but I still could not touch them. Finally, I was seated at a table and real, deliciously tempting treats were placed in front of me. As soon as my hand made the slightest move toward the table, a large, mean old woman would hit me with a stick. Her approach, though less sophisticated, was effective. I was cured.

As you might have guessed, my compulsion to quickly consume any food within eyesight generated its own set of problems. Over the years, I had become, in today’s woke vernacular, “weight challenged”, “plus sized”, “gravity friendly”, or “pudgy”. I needed new pants every six months, and I had to get a new “Big Boy” scale in order to keep track of my meteoric rise in size. People would quickly exit elevators if I got on, and my chair at our dining room table was replaced with a loveseat. The final straw was looking in our full-length mirror and seeing less than half of me. I had to undo the results of my “See-Food” diet.

I signed up with Jenny Craig. A mouse couldn’t have survived on what they sent me, but I was determined to trim my excess poundage. My incredible degree of self-discipline made The Little Engine That Could look like a slacker, and slowly but surely, the weight came off. I started wearing the clothes on the way down that I had grown into on the way up, and eventually I was able to pull a one-man chair up to our dinner table.

I could see myself in the mirror! All of me! I had to see the trimmed-down raw physicality, so I removed my shirt. It was splendid. I had returned to the man I used to be… except… I looked a little soft. Next step, running shoes and a Planet Fitness membership.

I started off slow, an easy jog to the mailbox and a brisk walk back to the house. I increased the distance a little each day, and it wasn’t long before I looked like freaking Forest Gump legging it across America. Rain or shine, 6:00 A.M. and I was pounding the pavement.

Muscles, I didn’t have any, and I figured I should get some to complete the stunning transformation. Every night after work I stopped at Planet Fitness for situps, pushups, and lifting weights. I started off slow- one situp, half a pushup, and lifting just the barbell without weights attached, but the workouts increased in intensity every week. It wasn’t long before I could feel the old muscles tightening up. One night, after a particularly challenging Rocky Balboa-style workout, I checked myself out in the mirror at the gym. I could hardly believe the reflection- chiseled, muscular, nicely toned and well proportioned, and dare I say… handsome. I was a new man.

I joined a tennis club, and I must have been pretty good because my instructor, the lovely Chantel, showed special interest in me. She would reserve court time for us late in the evening, and then we’d talk tennis strategies over a couple of drinks in the club bar. I really enjoyed my time at the tennis club, but my wife didn’t seem too happy about it. I don’t know why as she had always been so supportive of my efforts to lose weight and get myself into shape. Maybe she just didn't like tennis. Whatever the case, she sure seemed annoyed by my latest endeavor.

Then strange things started to happen. I found a red licorice stick in my pencil holder in my home office. I reached for it, but then I remembered getting whacked by that old lady back in rehab, and I resisted. The next day there were gumdrops in the cup holder in my car, but I resisted. That same night there were two Snicker bars in my mailbox, but I resisted. 

Temptation came my way at every turn. I felt myself weakening, but I dug down deep and held the line. And then that fateful day, the turning point, the last straw, the coup de grâce, the Fat Lady was getting ready to sing. (Oops, did I say Fat Lady?) It was over.

I came home from a typical work day and sensed it immediately, the sweet smell wafting out through the screen door, calling to me, stronger than the allure of the Sirens tempting Odysseus. If only I had men to bind me to the door and keep me from that fateful moment!  

I saw it as soon as I entered the kitchen, a family-size can of Hershey’s Syrup sitting on the counter. It was opened, and a small fan was placed next to the can sending its delicious aroma sailing around the room. There was no deliberation, no test of will. I caved immediately, ran to the liquid gold, and started gulping it down with the gusto of a wandering pilgrim emerging from the Sahara.

 The dam was broken and I immediately relapsed back into the “See-Food” diet, so engulfed in that joyful moment that I barely noticed my wife peering in from around the corner, a wry smile on her face. 

I’m no longer the fit fellow I was for a time, but I am back to enjoying food, and my lovely wife is back to enjoying me. Life is good.

December 13, 2023 02:17

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Dec 21, 2023

Funny, yes, and sad too. His behaviour was no doubt irritating to others - indeed, I'm surprised there wasn't a history of violent retaliation in school - but of course, a compulsion is hard to understand for others, and harder to deal with. The way he turned his life around was impressive, and I wondered if he was trading one obsessive behaviour for another, since he really dove into the whole fitness thing. Alas, that came with its own problems. Jealousy, as it so often does, ruined things. But they seem happy together, so that's worth...


Murray Burns
20:00 Dec 22, 2023

Thanks. I appreciate your reading the story as well as your comments. I hadn't thought about the sad part, but I can see it. The story is loosely patterned after my older brother. He was a reformed f-a-t person (my other brother called him the "Tim Twins") who one day, for reasons unknown to everyone, decided to lose weight and start exercising. He couldn't have jogged from the sofa to the refrigerator, but he became a fanatic. Running 3-4 miles a day...rain, shine, or snow. Lifting weights in his driveway at night in subfreezing temperature...


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Mary Bendickson
04:59 Dec 13, 2023

This was funny and sad all at the same time. Wife should have embraced the new him. He shouldn't have been tempted by tennis player. Thanks for liking my 'Words'


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