Jesus didnt turn around to the people and state that he was only making a symbolic gesture. No.
The desciples went away from Jesus because they believed what he said.
What the Early Church Believed: The Real Presence
"The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Holy Eucharist Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearances of bread and wine. Many Protestants attack this doctrine as “unbiblical,” but the Bible is forthright in declaring it (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; and, most forcefully, John 6:32–71).
The early Church Fathers interpreted these passages literally. In summarizing the early Fathers’ teachings on Christ’s Real Presence, renowned Protestant historian of the early Church J. N. D. Kelly, writes: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).
From the Church’s early days, the Fathers referred to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Kelly writes: “Ignatius roundly declares that . . . [t]he bread is the flesh of Jesus, the cup his blood. Clearly he intends this realism to be taken strictly, for he makes it the basis of his argument against the Docetists’ denial of the reality of Christ’s body. . . . Irenaeus teaches that the bread and wine are really the Lord’s body and blood. His witness is, indeed, all the more impressive because he produces it quite incidentally while refuting the Gnostic and Docetic rejection of the Lord’s real humanity” (ibid., 197–98)."
You wrote, "The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Holy Eucharist Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearances of bread and wine." So... That is just Catholic doctrine. If you want to go along with that, fine. But I'm not a Catholic, son I don't go along with it. Here is what the Bible says...
Matthew 26:26-28, "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Jesus, a human, took bread and broke it, then said “Take, eat, this is my body.” Now obviously something needs to be examined more closely. Jesus held up a piece of bread in His hand! Then He said "...this is my body" while holding the bread in His hand!! So it may represent His body, but if it is His actual body, who is holding the bread?? Then He said to drink from the cup. Did the cup contain His blood? If so, how did the person holding the cup stay alive without blood?
It makes me sad that you and others can't just accept the symbolism of what Jesus was teaching. After He died and was resurrected He left us a ritual by which to remember His sacrifice. Now, think about this: Jesus was resurrected and is sitting at the right hand of God. He is there; His body is there. It's not on Earth disguised as bread; the bread is symbolic, as is the wine.