Am I a Potato Chip Addict or a Victim of Food Science?
Coping is family-sized bag of chips, crystal dustings of salt adhering to my fingers with vinegar. The rush of pleasure comes not just from the trusty crunch and hedonic flavors but also the anticipation of that final finger lick — a pure hit of salt, fat, and sugar. When the bag is empty, I raise it to the skies, raining atoms of salt into my mouth that mingle with feelings of satisfaction, guilt, and regret.
Growing up in India, while my friends bought cigarettes from roadside stands, I bought masala chips. I’d smuggle five or 10 questionably oily, transparent bags home in my bookbag. Pushing aside angry tears over bullying and exams, I’d secretly eat my way through each bag in one “homework” sitting. I don’t remember much about the periodic table of elements, but I do remember the look of my fingertips caked with bright red powder and how fresh, ice-cold watermelon juice tasted going down my gullet after several bags of those firecracker crisps.
In college, my trash can overflowed not with beer cans but with yellow bags of Baked Lays. At work, I upgraded to family-size bags of various chip brands, stacking them on my desk as a barrier between myself and whatever cruel criticism or unwanted physical touching came my way. In attempts to lose weight and regain self-control, I started to count my calories. Some days, I managed to work a standard serving size of chips into my day by pre-calculating every single bite and negotiating what I was willing to give up (anything) for a mere 13 chips. Most days, I went overbudget and, then, overboard. Chips had gone from being a source of pleasure and comfort to a source of guilt, stress, and even self-loathing.
“You’re an addict,” my brain would whisper as my fingers mechanically reached for just one more. “It’s not your fault,” my brain would soothe.
I’d start by portioning chips out to prove that I had self-control. Halfway through a serving, I was a goner. I’d lunge for more, forcing myself to eat until I felt physically ill in the hopes that the experience would be enough of a turn-off to never do it again. (That did not work.) I blamed myself, simultaneously embracing and hating my weakness.