Last week Sixty Minutes aired a segment titled “Is Sugar Toxic?” that reported scientific evidence that the added sugar in various foods causes a variety of ailments such as heart disease, cancer, and looking like a whale. One neuroscientist, Eric Stice, stated that his studies show that the effects of sugar on the brain are similar to the effects of cocaine. I pictured frenzied people tapping out Domino packets onto pocket mirrors and snorting lines with plastic coffee stirrers.
When did sugar get to be so dangerous? Was it really that bad? I remembered summer camp when a fellow camper put 19 packets of sugar into her tea and spent the rest of the day in a spin-art machine.
Years ago, when I was a young and impressionable smart-aleck, Nancy Reagan told me to “Just Say No” to drugs. “It stands to reason,” I said to myself after the Sixty Minutes segment ended and segued into a commercial for Keebler fudge cookies, “that if they were still printing those green t-shirts with the ‘Just Say No’ printed with the line across it, sugar would be included in the campaign.” I decided that I was going to clean myself up for good, and eliminate sugar from my diet.
That night I created a “Quitting Sugar” event on Facebook and announced to my friends and family that I was quitting sugar, and that under no circumstances were they to give me any, even if I asked them pretty please with sugar on top. I had one last sugar blow out in my kitchen, feasting on Kit-Kats and Pixie Stix and the candy corn left my basement by the previous owners of the house.
The next morning I grabbed a giant garbage bag and went around collecting oatmeal creme pies and Yodels and pretty much anything that came individually enclosed in a little clear plastic wrapper. I took the giant bag out to the garage, recited a farewell sonnet to Little Debbie, and then spent the next hour trying to figure out if the products should be placed in a landfill.
The first few days without sugar were not that bad. I have an armchair that is really good for gripping, and there is a clinic nearby that dispenses free doses of Equal, no questions asked. But the addict does not die so quickly.
I started inventing reasons so that I could just “so happen” to have to put sugar in my food. “Isn’t tilapia supposed to be eaten with maple syrup?” I asked my wife over dinner. “I’m pretty sure I saw that on Rachel Ray. I don’t make the rules.” I would suggest an office ice cream party as a team-building exercise, and then resign myself to eating ice cream since there is no “diet” in team. I said that I just ate sugar at parties, and then crashed the birthday party that my neighbors were throwing for their 4-year-old son, attacking the cake in the kitchen while he was opening his presents.
Yesterday I came home to an intervention. My family members each read pieces they had written about how my sugar addiction had torn me away from them and made it hard to fit my entire body in the viewfinder of their cameras. There was a professional counseler in the room, who patted me down for sucking candies and then explained how my family was sending me to rehab where I could get the help I needed.
And that is where I am right now. I just finished picking at the plate of broccoli they slid under the door, and in a few minutes I’m going to a group session where I and the other residents will talk about the nightmares and shakes and disgusting taste of plain water. I know I can’t expect instant results. But as long I never enter a supermarket or restaurant again, I know my future’s looking bright.