Is there a less-sexy addiction on the planet? Or a more infantile one?
Doubtful. I live in one of the most sophisticated places on earth -- France -- but my vice is more suited to Sesame Street.
I'm a candy addict. And even though I live in France, I'm still as hooked on cheap and delicious American candy like Hershey bars, Junior Mints and candy corn (bite it, dessert snobs) as I am on creme brulee, moelleux au chocolat and tarte tatin.
I'm guessing I'm not alone. Statistics vary but the average American consumes about 130 pounds of sugar a year -- an increase of about ten zillion percent since before the 18th century. Our bodies are not designed to process such a load of sugar -- there were no Snickers bars on the savanna, remember?
There are no 12-step groups just for candy and dessert addicts. Maybe the boredom factor? At least in AA you get the rollicking drunkalogues -- like the time George from Scottsdale woke up in Berlin with Hector and Heidi and had no idea how he got there.
But you don't swing from chandeliers or run naked down the Champs-Elysees when under the influence of a York Peppermint Patty.
Still, we've got that monkey on our back. How to get it off?
Don't even suggest "moderation" -- like my well-meaning friends and even worse, family members, who don't share the same sugar jones gene. They're probably like the same people who kept mouldering bags of stale Halloween candy under their beds for days as kids (see my cousin Catherine) and display dishes of the same untouched candy in their homes today (see my cousin Kathleen.)
If I had enough self-control to allow myself just one dainty piece of dark chocolate per day -- like Audrey Hepburn - I wouldn't be writing this.
Moderation is also a difficult option for the 23.6 million American adults and children who have diabetes. For them, candy and desserts are potentially fatal.
I don't have diabetes but I was recently tested for it because two relatives have it. I've lived abroad for almost five years and just two years ago noticed what an epidemic diabetes has become in the U.S.
When I was back in New York City one day in 2007, I walked into a Duane Reade drugstore near Columbus Circle. For the first time, I saw signs pointing to special "Diabetes Management" areas. They were usually located right near the endless shelves containing jumbo-sized candy bars.
Coincidence? I think not.
Diabetes is on the rise in many places around the world, but it doesn't get much worse than in the U.S.
Have you heard of the corn connection? Check out Michael Pollan's entertaining and exhaustively-researched book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. It details how the American industrial food chain is largely based on corn -- whether placed in foods directly as corn syrup, one of the most evil "foods" invented, or force-fed to animals like cattle who aren't even designed to eat it, or processed into chemicals like glucose and ethanol.
According to USDA statistics, annual corn sweetener consumption increased to 79 pounds in 2003, up 400 percent from 1970. Just sayin'.
So what's a candy addict to do? I have a friend who has been sober for 29 years with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. "Never give an alcoholic a choice," he says.
I'd argue that's true of sugarholics too. Meaning abstinence is usually all that works for real addicts.
So I'm attempting to give up candy -- and desserts -- for at least one year. I'm not giving up everything that has sugar in it -- like, say, peanut butter, ketchup, yogurt and pretty much everything except detergent. I'm giving up what I'm addicted to: sweet treats.
And yes, I'm chronicling my effort. You're free to join me. Candy-free misery loves company.
Check out my site: A Year Without Candy.
I began A Year Without Candy on February 28, the day after my birthday. I've chosen similar special days to start afresh and candy-free many times -- and failed.
I did give up sugar once, for almost two years, from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2003. My Candyloo came when I was climbing Mount Roraima at Christmas in 2003. Our Indian guide offered us a big yellow box of Brazilian chocolate to help us up the last three-hour slog through big boulders.
I reached the summit, no problem, but I was emotionally already back down the slippery slope of candy addiction.
My body didn't like returning to sugar. I'd never had a weight problem before. But going back on sweets after a two-year absence screwed up my metabolism. I put on 15 pounds in 2004. Fifteen pounds that's been impossible to get off with my renewed candy habit.
Self-help gurus abound these days, but I like to turn to one of the originals when I need motivation to kick candy.
Jack LaLanne was preaching no sweets when Arnold Schwarzenegger was still in short pants in Austria. Jack, by the way, is going strong at age 95. He calls sugarholics like me "soft and weak."
Check out the this video of Jack exhorting us to get off sugar but don't miss this fantastic interview with LaLanne in Outside magazine. I love him because he admits he's just as bad as any of us - he just has ferocious discipline. Here's how Jack responded to the interviewer asking him if he ever, God forbid, snacked before bedtime.
"Never!" he snarled. "You don't get it. I am one runaway son of a bitch! I am an animal! I want to eat everything! I want to get drunk every single night! I want to screw every woman there is! We are all wild animals. But we must learn to use our minds. We must learn to control the bestial and sensual sides of ourselves!"
I don't know if I have enough Jack in me to last without candy, ice cream, cakes and cookies for a year. Am I soft and weak or can I be strong like Jack Lanne.
I'll know a year from now.
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