The time I ate peanut butter too fast

One of the games at my friend’s 16th birthday party involved eating a spoon of peanut butter as quickly as possible. I think it was just a straight up race.

“On your mark. Get set. Go!”

I’m sure others participated, but I only remember birthday girl, my friend, Matthew, and I. She took it in small bites. Matthew had the brilliant idea of shoving the whole thing in his mouth.

She won’t get it down in time, I thought. And his mouth will be too dry to swallow his.

I figured I’d win with the middle option: large bites. So a large bite I took.

That wasn’t a mistake. I could have handled it better, sure. Like I could have kept the peanut butter off the sides of my mouth. But I still think I had the winning strategy.

My problem came when I tried to swallow.

Too soon.

Too much.

Have you ever swallowed one side of a spaghetti noodle only to realize the other side isn’t following? Your first gulp is over, and you need to breathe again. Meanwhile, though, the other end of the noodle still isn’t down. So the noodle stays suspending between mouth and stomach.


It’s slippery. And for a moment, you panic. Until the noodle slides along to its home in your stomach.

Okay, now imagine the same thing happening with peanut butter. For one, peanut butter is thicker. Unlike a noodle, you can’t breathe around peanut butter.

For another thing, peanut butter is drier. If it doesn’t go down for some reason, it’s not just going to slid along later on its own. It’ll need some help from extra saliva.

Well, that’s what happened to me with my large bite of peanut butter. Except I wasn’t getting the extra saliva I needed. I’d just used it all trying to lubricate the bite in the first place.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t breathe. Panic.

I’m sure technically I could have breathed through my nose. But that’s like telling yourself not to vomit while sticking your fingers down your throat. The throat naturally wants to do its thing. That’s why they call it the gag reflex.

In my situation, the gag reflex, the one where you throw up all over the face of the person in front of you, probably wouldn’t have been so bad. But mine didn’t go all the way. Instead, it was like I was trying to throw up but my reflexes were pushing it back down.

Enter the throat spasms. Mac-N-Cheese came up, but not all the way, then went back down. Over and over again.

Somehow, I made it to the restroom. I tried coughing up something, anything. Nothing. But then the spasms stopped, thank God. Then I just couldn’t breathe. That wasn’t so bad.

Finally, after what felt like five minutes (it was probably less than 10 seconds altogether), I was able to swallow. One more ride for the macaroni, up and down, and I was able to take my first breath again.

There are a few definite moments in my life when I thought I was going to die.

  • The time I was climbing a tree and the branch broke and I fell and landed on my back.
  • The time a friend kicked a soccer ball into my stomach before I could flinch.
  • The time I stayed too long on the bottom of a pool in the deep end.

And this one: the time I ate peanut butter too fast—and still lost the race.