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I have now gone roughly two weeks without eating dessert. This is an uncommon accomplishment for me. Over the years, I have tried to quit sugar cold turkey, with only fleeting success. I don’t eat dessert for a few days, and then I feel good about myself as a result. Then I decide that I can treat myself to one little cookie and everything goes to shit. If you’ve ever struggled with quitting anything, especially anything food-related, you know this cycle of failure intimately.

You also know that sugar is DELICIOUS, in pretty much any form. It’s also available everywhere, which is a decidedly manmade phenomenon. Back in the time of cavemen, sweetness was a rare taste. Grog and his cave-mates could find sugar in ripe fruit, or oozing out of maple trees, and in a beehive if they were both starving and brave. Nature rationed sugar out properly back then. It never intended for humans to cultivate it, refine it, process it, and then put it into every goddamn thing they eat. But humans, as humans do, went ahead and did it anyway. We are a species that can never help itself.

As such, I have not only eaten sugar my whole life, but I’ve developed a relationship with it that’s as strong, and as lasting, as any I’ve had with any of my fellow humans. I remember the sweets of my youth like old friends, perhaps because they were my friends: Halloween candy, Twinkies, cookie dough ice cream, Crunch Berries, and the full range of Little Debbie snack cakes. I remember my favorite sweets from college because they were all also the easiest way to get drunk: Kahlua, SoCo, early hard lemonade prototypes, the notorious Zima. I remember the sweets of my early adulthood because they hit the spot WHILE drunk; there's a stack of banana pancakes I had at 2 a.m. in a Manhattan diner that I'll forever cherish.

And then there are the more sophisticated, but no healthier, sweets of my middle age: Kouign-amanns, toffee pudding, crème brûlée… Listen man, I just could list this stuff forever and be happy. That’s the hold that sugar has on me. Even if I’m not eating it, I get a little dopamine rush just pondering its existence. Just keying in the accent marks on crème brûlée gives my memory a hit of cracked, burnt sugar.

I am hardly alone in this. The average American eats 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day, an appalling amount that also still reads as low. Sugar, often in the form of corn syrup, is in virtually every processed food, even the savory shit: chips, barbecue sauce, bread, frozen ravioli, everything. Modern industry wants you eating sugar all of the time, even when you don’t feel like eating anything at all.

I know because I was part of the sales job. In a previous career, I was in the room with Hershey executives when they were developing the Hershey Bites product. The brand managers explicitly told us that their new product—little round balls of candy in a pouch—was designed for “mindless munching.” For eating sugar just for the sake of eating sugar. The product was a hit, naturally, and was only discontinued because it turned out to be a choking hazard for children. Other mindlessly munchable products quickly took Bites’ place on the shelves. The demand guarantees the supply; quitting sugar entirely is about as easy as quitting air.

It is also something that people like me have to do. I have heart disease. Three months ago, my cholesterol was in the shitter and my cardiologist put me on the max dosage of Lipitor. When I asked him what else I could do to help keep my ticker ticking, the first thing he said was to avoid processed sugar. Not bacon. Not fried chicken. Sugar. Sugar kills your heart. It’s been, to my great dismay, proven. Sugar is also a leading cause of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, gout, and stern lectures from your dentist. It kills Americans as a matter of routine. It even killed Phife Dawg.

So I had to stop eating it, even though I didn’t want to. This is how addiction goes, or how it's gone for me. I didn’t want to quit drinking, but I had to. I didn’t want to quit biting my nails, even though I had to. And I really didn’t want to quit sugar, even though I had a stent in my heart as proof that I had to. But me and sugar go way back, and that bond remains tighter than a piano wire. Whenever I pass the fun cereals in the supermarket, I immediately go back to the days when all I wanted out of life was a box of Franken Berry to myself. When I travel for work, I feel the desperate urge to buy a milkshake, because I long ago made that a business trip ritual of mine. And when I go on vacation… well now, it’s vacation, isn’t it? Aren’t I obligated to live life to the fullest and order that bourbon pecan pie off the dessert menu? My urge for sugar is constant, and the amount of sugar around me, and around you, makes satisfying that urge all too easy. America runs on indulgence; the word “treat” long ago lost its connotation as something enjoyed on rare occasions, and is now a lifestyle. People like me treat ourselves daily, and sugar is often the first poison we pick.

This is why every attempt of mine to go sugar-free in the past few months has met a swift demise. I’d abstain for a few days, spy a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate almond butter cup in the snack drawer, and eat it. And one would become two, and two would become 10. There are still some sitting over in the kitchen right now and brother, I am fucking DYING to go eat one. It’s 9:30 a.m. as I write this paragraph and I'm thinking about it. I’m dying to eat all of my favorites right now: DQ Blizzards, Kringle cakes, Oreos, my mom’s homemade hot fudge sauce, and chocolate chip cookies.

(Ohhhhh, chocolate chip cookies. I make a mean chocolate chip cookie. I tell my wife I’m making them for the kids, but she and I both know the real motive. I love stealing a hunk of brown sugar out of the bag and feeling it melt on my tongue. I love watching the dough take form as every white spot of flour disappears into the rest of the ingredients. I love sneaking a handful of chocolate chips, or three, as I’m adding them to the bowl. I love taking a glob of fresh dough and popping it into my mouth, salmonella risks be damned. And when the cookies are out of the oven, they never last long. Those cookies make any lazy afternoon better. They’re also good after dinner, and also before dinner, and with my coffee before breakfast, and … I think you understand my deal by now.)

Fortunately, I have an established track record of kicking bad habits. I haven’t had alcohol in over five years and have no desire to go back. I haven’t bitten my nails in three years and am similarly disinclined to relapse. I quit those vices by taking it the proverbial one day at a time. View abstinence as a marathon and you’ll bail by Mile 3. Take it bit by bit, and it’s not so formidable. You spend one day clean and that’s a success. Then you do it the next day, and the next, and the next … until it doesn’t feel like you’ve quit anything anymore. You acclimate to life on the wagon, and one day it becomes just plain old life. Sometimes this process feels easy. Natural. Most times, it does not.

And I hardly feel natural at the moment. I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t miss sugar. I miss it terribly. I abstained while on vacation last weekend, but it was an Olympian test to do so. My housemates bought plenty of sweets, including fancy chocolate bars with little pretzel bits in them. I picked up a square of one such bar and held it in my fingers before summoning the courage to put it back down. I hated putting that chocolate back down. I knew what I was missing. I’ve had my fair share of chocolate over the years, and it never feels like enough. When I worked as a table runner back in '90s, our restaurant had a vat of molten Toblerone in the kitchen, for the Toblerone sundaes. Everyone on staff would steal a big spoonful of the liquid candy whenever they could, as did I. If I could’ve, I would’ve picked up the entire crock and chugged it. I still think about that melted Toblerone more than I should. But thinking about it is all I can do.

For now. After getting that stent in my heart, I gained 10 pounds in the ensuing month because I wasn’t allowed to exercise. I have carried that extra weight on me since, like Jacob Marley’s chains. I know how to shed it, and this extended sugar-free stint has knocked five of those pounds off. So I’m gonna get back in fighting shape. And once I do, I have plans that do not involve fighting at all. Quite the opposite—they involve giving into sweet temptation, over and over again. Part of me likes to think that I’ll stay strong, but another part knows the truth, which is that once that sugar is in your veins, it never leaves.

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