Woman vs. Two Quarts of Ice Cream

Alice Stanley takes on the “Belt Buster,” a 20-minute ice cream eating challenge. Warning: this story contains a lot of vomiting.

Here are my most prized fantasies that I am grossly unqualified for:

  • Becoming a Supreme Court Justice
  • Starring as Seymore Krelborn in a production of Little Shop of Horrors
  • Taking up Olympic swimming, winning a billion medals, and wiping out the significance of d-bag Michael Phelps’s entire existence

Here is my most prized fantasy that I refuse to believe I am unqualified for:

  • Replacing Adam Richman as the new host of Man vs. Food

I have never been embarrassed by the incredible amount of food I consume. I consider my giant appetite one of my strengths. If my plane crashes on an island, I can bust into the snack bins and eat enough peanuts to sustain myself for a month.

I just nom like you wouldn’t believe. I’m not really a big girl, so I awe waitresses who try to warm me that, “You probably just want a half-order of the French toast — I’ve never seen a woman finish it.” I am a magician of cookies — making whole boxes disappear in mere minutes. I have won three Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup eating tournaments with a record of 36 cups in one sitting.

Alice gets ready to eat the Belt Buster.

Alice gets ready to eat the Belt Buster.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to find out about a new local eating competition in Ottawa, IL. At Tone’s Cones, you can order the “Belt Buster,” a 20-minute timed eating challenge — two quarts of ice cream, ten toppings, and a can of whipped cream. I’ll admit, even I was a bit intimidated, but the glory of winning a free Tones t-shirt, free ice cream, AND my picture on the Hall of Fame was far more appealing than listening to common sense.

When I showed up to the tiny establishment on that fateful Friday, the place was packed— lots of kids and families out for a weekend treat. I looked at the cork board of Champs (just one) and Losers (about a dozen other people have attempted this challenge — only one other woman). I stepped up to the register and said, pointing at the display of the giant plastic cup, “I want to do that.” At first, the workers didn’t believe me. Every other person on the cork board was pretty hefty. But after some convincing, I signed the waiver, picked my toppings, and was ready to rumble.

I considered picking all liquid toppings, but something I admired about soon-to-be-deposed Man vs. Food host Adam Richman is that even though he eats a crazyton of food, he doesn’t wimp out on options. He chooses his favorites even if that means the heavier cheese or the spicier meat. In honor of my idol, I ordered my ten favorite toppings to enjoy the Buster, or bust.

The topping selection sheet.

With confidence, Alice chooses her toppings.

The first ten minutes were a blur. I dug through whipped cream to find gobs of toppings which I tried to mix with ice cream. People would stop and watch for a while. I overheard a boy shouting, “Look how much that girl is eating!” His father asked, “Do you think she’ll finish?” “No!” screamed the child. Several people made their disgust known — tsk-ing and shuddering. Meanwhile I had plowed through over half of the challenge and felt mostly fine. I started to have difficulty breathing because of the rocks of cold candy squishing my lungs. I took a half minute break to burp and let the Kit Kats settle.

With no concerns for the stains on my shirt and syrup in my hair, I dug in again. I was in a corner by the drive-thru window and saw a man shoot a photo of me from his car. I winced, mouth full of soft serve, trying to say, “Stop!” but only managing, “Smmmguuuur!” My mouth was numb. I ate through another pint. The crowd’s excitement grew. Holy cow! Were they about to witness history? They gathered — shocked by how much I had already eaten! And, I still had five minutes left!

Out of nowhere — my stomach started revolting. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to finish my ice cream. Queasiness hit hard. I ate another bite, and another — each bite of dairy sending my guts in loop-de-loops. I continued, slowly. My smile was gone. I looked to the t-shirt hanging on the wall. I dug on. Spoon to mouth, spoon to mouth… I had three and a half minutes left. I announced I had to take a thirty second break. People cheered me on. “You’re going to do it!” The waitress encouraged me to take the last half pint and drink it down like sludge.

My whole body was shaking, tingling at first, then with force. I had difficulty grabbing the spoon. I was freezing. My bones and muscles contracted in defense. My back ached. I took one more bite, short of breath, and felt the digesting ice cream rise to my throat. I had to stop.

It was a sad sight to see: the wee bit of melting ice cream at the bottom of a huge vat being taken away, the table being wiped, the customers returning to their own conversations. A worker snapped a ghastly photo of me trying to smile but also unable to fit my tongue in my mouth for the Loser board. I left hunched over — unable to stand up straight with my belly so weighted. And when I got home I threw up. A lot.

The remains of the day.

The remains of the day.

Although in that moment I was out of twenty bucks staring at my own sugary spew swirl in the toilet bowl, I considered the Belt Buster a success. I still do. Right after the challenge I thought I would feel guilty. People starve, and I just tried to eat an inhuman amount of food. But I felt relieved, happy even. Why?

It is exhilarating to reach your limits — in any way. I suppose some dietitians would disagree, but we feel good when we run so hard we want to die, work so hard we get no sleep, put every last bit of energy into a withering relationship. It’s nice to know our limits — whether our limits yield successes or not. When you see a horizon, you want to know just how far it goes if you possibly can.

When I eat ice cream (and I still do eat ice cream), I might still eat more than an average gal, but I no longer feel like the bottom of the pint is really just a metaphor for the eternal desire for sweets I crave. I have a limit. I remember the limit all too well. That feels good.

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.