Let me say this first: Doughnuts are a wonderful thing. Chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream is a joy. I believe one of the key reasons God put us on earth was so that we could appreciate the wonder of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie.
I have discovered, however, that there are people out there who would violently disagree with those statements. And while I don’t know what it’s like to live in a head that turns quickly away from apple pie and chocolate, I can see that many of those people are more pleasant to look upon than some of the rest of us.
That is, if you can see them. They are always running about, paddling away and climbing up cliffs.
I have two such people in my life now who offered me a chance to participate in a contest that lasted nearly two months. To win the contest, you had to eat three “healthy” meals a day, work out at least 45 minutes for six days a week and eat lots of vegetables and fruit. I was also expected to drink about 40 gallons of water and go to the bathroom every five minutes.
The hard part of this “challenge,” as they called it, was the fact that you were expected to take all the food that makes life worth living and leave it behind. There was no pizza or Fresca allowed! No “salty junk food.” The evil ingredient to be avoided was sugar. If God put sugar in an orange it was OK, but if a corporation injected sugar into something, well, you couldn’t eat it.
I threw in my 20 bucks and soon discovered there’s sugar in everything. It’s in croutons, it’s in nearly every kind of bread, it’s in salad dressing, it’s even in Fruit Loops and I’m pretty sure it is in this wooden chair I’m sitting on.
Oh, I got very hungry and grouchy.
I think the point of this exercise was not to teach us to avoid all sugar the rest of our lives, but to teach us just how abundantly it is polluting our foods.
I see it differently. I see sugar as a wonderful and heavenly substance that adds color and joy to our world. I also noticed, however, that without sugar in my life, I was losing about a pound a day and feeling sort of “cleaned out” inside.
When the contest was over, I had lost about 25 pounds and won $150, but that did not stop me from planning in great detail a sinful meal that would include some of my favorite foods.
We had Stromboli pizza, a favorite we save for birthdays and special occasions, ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. I also drank the last can of Fresca that I had in our refrigerator. The Fresca was wonderful, and I think I could hear angels singing when I partook of it.
A very strange and perplexing thing happened next. I got sick — the kind of sick I used to save for eating an entire bucket of heavily fried chicken. And I didn’t eat that much. While I have an Olympic capacity for eating pizza, I was in a world of hurt after only two pieces.
I ended up in bed calling out for more Fresca like a drug addict needing another fix. My wife never warmed to my plan of sending her off into the night to resupply me and did not approve of me drinking even that one can of soda, fearing foolishly that it would reignite in me some strange addiction. I phoned my daughter pleading for help. She just lectured me, while she laughed, about the evils of my soda habit. I called my son, who just laughed. Finally, I phoned a true friend who lives down the street from us. I just cried and moaned “Fresca” over and over.
He understood I was in desperate need and even though he was in the middle of a big project, he went off in the night with his confused wife to secure my lifesaving substance. They are healthy and fit people and they didn’t even know where to find Fresca in the store, but they came up with two small bottles and brought them to me.
My wife was quite surprised to find these bewildered drug dealers on our doorstep. I managed to crawl into the room, and with tears streaming down my face, I showed them more concentrated gratitude than they’ve probably ever experienced from a neighbor after 10 p.m. at night.
Now the end of this story isn’t that I gained 25 pounds in one night and threw myself into a vat of chocolate. It also isn’t that I never ate pizza or cookies again. I continue to lose weight but carefully plan out when pizza and ice cream are going to be a part of my life. Fresca has become a fine beverage to be savored only on special occasions.
Things have changed for us. The other day I walked down the chip aisle in the grocery store for the first time in about two months and felt strangely out of place in a location that used to be like a second home to me.
I no longer have to change the Mary Poppins song to “Just a bucket full of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go down...” It is a strange new world, and it keeps getting weirder. I think I’m going to have to go buy a new belt and this time, for the first time in years, it will be a shorter belt instead of a longer one.
And that, I must admit, is kind of sweet.
Steve Eaton can be reached at Eatonnews@gmail.com