archives submissions news (dis)likes

Amy Minton

Lake-Effect Snow
Sean Mills

Laura van den Berg

Jeff Landon

Ben Greenman
Matthew Simmons

Redefining All-You-Can-Eat: Our 14 Hour Challenge to Ryan's Steakhouse, pt. 3
Blake Butler

Blake Butler was a very obese middle schooler. He lost 80 pounds between 10th and 11th grade and suddenly people would speak to him. He likes gummy candy and most forms of ice cream but often forces himself to eat salad. He always wants want you ordered at dinner because he still has a fat-kid-on-a-diet brain. Check out more of his writing at

(read part 1 here)
(read part 2 here)

We hit our 30th plate at precisely noon. There was a brief celebration, but we didn't let the small goal distract us; we continued, determined now to hit at least 75 by the end of the day, a goal which we later extended to 100 in some masochistic fit of accomplishment.

There's most definitely a continuum to the way the body responds under a continuous influx of food. At first it seems enjoyable—I was pretty easily able to shirk my typical conscience's concern with eating unhealthily (as an eighth grader I weighed 260, and though I now only weigh 175 I still think about my diet like a desperate teenager trying to lose weight). The buffet's delights seemed like mediocre indulgences, a series of foods I rarely allow myself, even if not cooked with by the most delicate of chefs. Near the end of the first hour I experienced an endorphin-rushed giddiness not unlike a caffeine high, in which I felt kind as if I was floating, sated, indulged. It doesn't take long, usually, especially with an endless trough, to begin feeling comfortably full, a state wherein each further bite is a step towards uncomfortably full. You may continue eating for taste or pleasure, but it's no longer because you need it. You seem to literally be able to feel your body growing; your clothes feel like someone else's, someone smaller. You can literally feel the food building inside you, your body courses with excess energy. You may even break a little sweat.

It was somewhere between the hours 1:00 and 5:00 PM that I started to want to die.

In the lunch rush, Ryan's Steakhouse began changing. The room began to take on some new smell; describable in retrospect now only as a mix of overcooked vegetables and bird shit. The place became swollen with people as the local churches began to let out. Many were dressed in their Sunday's best as they perused the fixin's. Soon the line extended out the front door. I began noticing people that'd been on shift during our breakfast were now in line with their own plates, which simultaneously confused me and made me feel better about the cleanliness of the food.

Around the time of our 39th plate, I scribbled in my notebook something that might suggest the first signs of the mental deterioration that results from excessive overeating: "BRAINS HAVE BEGUN TO HURT-- ALL BLOOD IN HEAD. OUCHIES. FUCK MY BIG BOY BRAIN FOR THINKING RYAN'S STEAKHOUSE ALL DAY WOULD BE 'NEAT'. I AM AN EVIL GLUTTON."

At this point I could feel my stomach beginning to hang off of my belly as if it wanted to secede; with both hands I could pinch a new bulge in my gut that hadn't been there when I came in. I immediately regretted not having submitted the four of us to weighing before and after. I began feeling pangs in my bladder that could not be attributed to the need to urinate. At 1:18 PM I noted that I felt literally drunk. 1:29 Lee claimed to have lost all hearing in his right ear. 1:49 Farbod announced how cool it would be if he could turn into a bat and fly around the room and out the door, which in our delirium we found infinitely hilarious.

We were feeling the inertia by now; we had to act with extreme caution. Food selection soon became of utmost importance. The general pattern during the midday hours was to alternate between plates of fresh fruit and sugar-free Jell-O, with sojourns into lighter choices on the hot buffet. Also safe was the soft-serve, of which there were two machines to choose from: orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream (which could be swirled) and chocolate/toffee/French vanilla, though more than once when I went for the toffee I ended up with a big squirty goop of liquid on my plate.

As a counter measure to our care, the first loaf of Ryan's warm dinner rolls arrived. We'd been avoiding the bread and other starches thus far, for obvious reasons set in guidelines discussed days prior to the event as a method of managing to make it to the end. The bread, though. You had to see this bread. June delivered it in a foot-long basket arranged with individual cups of Country Crock, glistening in the sunlight and rising steam with a subtle scent of honey. It was with an acute sense of impending doom that I lifted the first roll, knowing that I might be throwing to the wind all hopes of endurance and temperance. I promised myself I'd just have one bite. That one bite, though, offered sweet realization: Ryan's Steakhouse makes the best fucking dinner rolls around. It was warm and sweet and salty and went down almost without chewing. It was a golden bounty. I immediately ate another. The rest of the table did the same. We looked at one another in horror. This would be our undoing. We were already so, so full, so bloated. My body was bulging even bigger, the dough swelling through my insides. I felt sure the end was near.

Strangely though, the rolls seemed to bring new energy. Instead of weighing us down, suddenly we were smiling again. We were giddy. The rolls had kissed our brains.

When June asked if we'd like another basket, we immediately said yes.

I think that's about when we began eating steak. Steak seemed a raucous choice in such a marathon event, but hell, it's steak. How could we not? To get a steak you had to stand in line. A live cook in a chef's hat, his brow wiped with sweat or grease or both, served them up with a weird smile, the first one coming off into my hands as I watched a woman feed bits of greased blubber to her baby, waiting. The meat was decent though; they were hot and kind of lean. By the end the group as a whole had consumed thirteen 8 oz. servings, including one very rare slab that served as our 100th dish, complete with a sprig of spinach and two cherry tomatoes that spelled out the milestone digit.

From about 4:00 to 7, we coasted pretty much without the help of any wait staff. June had gone home and because we'd been there so long no one else realized we needed a new lady, thus we had to fend for ourselves, drinking only what we had left in the cups already, and dumping off our plates onto other tables or stacking them into round pyramids.

What happened around the 9th hour was what I now recognize as a key moment of transition. After the 2nd hour, I'd felt browbeaten and stone-bellied, like nothing I could do would stop me from at some point reaching the inevitable collapse—soon I'd become so full and sick of eating that I'd have no choice but to forfeit the fork. Rather than chewing the food, it seemed the food was chewing me. Beyond that, the realization that I'd been eating for ten hours without stopping suddenly seemed more grotesque than I'd realized, and that we still had five more to go (300 minutes, 2-4 bites a minutes, Jesus Christ) seemed inhuman, strange and wrong. On an average day, a person probably doesn't even spend a total of one hour eating, and I'd already done that ten times over. Another delirious note: "I HAVE OVERSTEPPED THE BOUNDS OF GOOD TASTE AND HARMONY ON THIS ONE. MY STOMACH IS A LARD VEIL. I AM GOING TO CRY INSIDE MY TUMMY. PLEASE STOP THIS."

Ryan's was winning.