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Everything is Copy: A sugar addict faces her demon

Junior Mints, with their whiff of medicinal virtue, may be the perfect candy. Unless we consider Peanut M&Ms, offering protein and the smugness of legume consumption. Or perhaps Kit-Kats and Twix, which are practically just cookies.

Tootsie Rolls are meant to be eaten by the handful, as are Goetzee’s bulls-eye caramels, with their doughy outer rings and oversweet white middles; bite-sized Bit O Honeys you can twist into attenuated spirals. They pair well with the chalky deliciousness of York Peppermint Patties.

I can refuse cheesecake, tiramisu, crème caramel, any kind of pie, and rum-soaked, brandied, or flaming cakes. I’ll pass on profiteroles and clafoutis and shortcake and mousse. But show me a kid’s stash of Halloween candy, even in July, and I’ll plow through it. When it comes to sweets, I have the palate of a tween.

My father made a bet with my brother and me when we were kids. He wagered we couldn’t go a whole year without eating candy. I could resist anything but a challenge. At the end of each year we’d “win” a token amount – a dollar, maybe five by the time I graduated from high school. We could drink alcohol and smoke weed, but candy was off-limits.

This, naturally, turned me into an adult candy hound of the highest order. While I never buy whole bars, if there’s a bunch of minis around I will dive in, especially if they’re free. Free food doesn’t count against your health, as everyone knows. And, were I a calorie-counter, I might claim that free food doesn’t have any of those.

I prefer to ingest by the scoop. A handful of candy corn, and then another, goes down easily. Seeing trace evidence pile up – wrappers and foil – can confer guilt. Guilt and candy are not a good mix.

And science and research are a buzz kill. At various times I’ve had to go cold turkey in my sweet consumption. This year I quit again on Nov. 1 (see above under candy corn). My body knows that sugary treats are addictive and that if you can forsake them completely, after a couple of weeks you lose the junkie’s craving.

I know that if I eat only what I like, treats will, like weeds, crowd out all other food sources. Without the ease of a convenience store fix of Hostess Cupcakes or peanut M&Ms, I’m forced to think ahead and pack fruit and nuts on road trips.

My love of running, my neurotic personality, and genetics keep me lean. I have friends who work out harder and more often than I do, and yet they pack extra pounds. Recently I watched a documentary, “Fed Up,” that explained why.

We’ve been served the idea that a calorie is a calorie, and that to lose weight you need to burn more than you take in. Apparently, it’s not that simple. The sugar in fruit, packed in fiber, works differently from what you get in a can of Pepsi. I was an early adopter of Snackwells and other fat-free treats because, I read, fat made you fat. Due to the power of the sugar lobby, while ubiquitous food labels that show grams of fat and protein and their percentages of the daily allowance, we have no idea if the 12 grams of sugar you find in a helping of Raisin Bran is a lot or little. For women, it’s nearly half the recommended amount.

Sugar, whether it comes in high fructose corn syrup, beet sugar, or turbinado, is sugar. There are more names for it than the Eskimos supposedly have for snow, but your body doesn’t care what you call it.

And, as my body has long known, it’s addictive. Sugar lights up the same area of the brain as cocaine, but is eight times more addictive. Cocaine junky mice will opt for sweetened water over the drug.

In 1980, there were no cases of Type 2 diabetes among children under the age of 19. In 2010, there were more than 57,000. Millennials may be selfie-taking, fame-obsessed, do-gooding snowflakes; they are also fatties. This is the first generation of children who cannot expect to outlive their parents. Even kids who don’t look overweight can, if they carry their fat in their bellies, be at risk for disease.

Most people overestimate how much energy they burn and underestimate the vast quantities they take in. Some days when I only have time for two dog-walks, my Mensa-smart watch tells me I haven’t burned more than 900 calories. That can’t be right, claim friends who know my jittery nature. It’s true.

My solution – cutting out treats – is insufficient for a healthy diet. Even if I stop mainlining candy, I’m still getting more than I need from pasta sauce, salad dressing, and chips. Fully 80 percent of the food you buy in grocery stores contains added sugar.

We’ve learned not to fat-shame people; we’re encouraged to love our bodies, no matter what size. This is good. Perhaps, though, we’ve gone a tick too far. Every time I run a marathon I meet fleshy folks who say things like, “I run for ice cream.” Maybe it’s time to rethink that.

Rachel Toor is a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of one novel and four books of nonfiction, the most recent of which is “Misunderstood: Why the Humble Rat May Be Your Best Pet Ever.” Her column, Everything is Copy, appears monthly in the Sunday Today section.