“Erika, listen to me. You can do anything for 18 months.” – My mom
In his book, Why We Get Fat, the journalist Gary Taubes talks about how sugar is addictive in the brain in the same way drugs like nicotine, heroin, and cocaine are. If you have ever told yourself you would have “just one more” Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate-covered Pretzel Thin (which I suspect may actually be dusted in crack), then you might be able to relate. I know that I am certainly victim to what he dubs “the intense cravings of a sweet tooth.”
I seriously do not get people (like my own husband) who “don’t like” sweets. I mean, it’s like saying you “don’t like” watching B-list celebrities dress up in bedazzled spandex and do the fox trot. It makes no sense. And yet Taubes seems to think there is something more out there–something beyond intrusive thoughts of pretzel thins (and sniggering at bad spray tans).
Taubes quotes the Duke University pediatrician James Sidbury Jr. (who later became director of the National Institute of Child and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health) who reported great success in slimming down obese children by drastically reducing sugar and refined carbohydrates in their diets. Dr. Sidbury noted that, “after a year to 18 months, the craving for sweets is lost.” And the children often pinpointed when this happened “to within a specific one to two week period.”
Eighteen months??? Are you kidding me??? That is a long time to fight the 3pm urge for a bite (or bar) of Lindt intense orange dark chocolate, or the giant bowl of homemade caramel popcorn that seems to find its way to my counter top each Sunday evening, or just one more slice of the to-die-for artisan bread I just mastered the art of baking! Who could ever hold out that long?
Well, I hope the answer is: me.
I hope that I can do it. After all, my mom told me that I can do anything for 18 months, and as it turns out, she was right.
When I was nearly 21 years old, I applied to become a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (yep, I’m a Mormon). For some pretty immature reasons, I decided that there was really only one place I didn’t want to go – and that place was Portugal. You see, I was already fluent in Portuguese (I’d done an internship in Brazil my sophomore year of college and then studied it after I’d returned). I either wanted to learn yet another language as a missionary, or just go back to Brazil, which I had fallen in love with (who wouldn’t?). I had nothing against Portugal per se, but it just sounded so…boring.
Well, if you believe that God has any sense of humor at all, then you know where this is going. Because I was away at a summer program when my mission call arrived, my parents opened it for me over the phone. My mom read the opening lines, stopping just before she read the part that told me where I would be headed. There was a long pause and then, “Erika, listen to me. You can do anything for 18 months.” I knew what that meant. I was headed to the one place I just didn’t want to go.
And so off I went to damp, dark, dull Portugal (at least that was how it seemed to me when I got there in late November). And it didn’t disappoint. My mission was harder than I ever could have imagined–although for reasons that had very little to do with being in Portugal– and my mom’s words became my mantra: “You can do anything for 18 months.” And, she was right. I was badly injured in a traffic accident just a few weeks after arriving in Portugal, and battling through the pain and lingering complications of those injuries became my mission within a mission. But, in the end, it changed my life. It changed me.
In Portugal, 2000.
Now, again, I want to change my life and change myself, but I know it’s going to be hard. I have two young cousins who will both leave to serve 18-month missions in the next two weeks (shout outs to Sister Ostler in Ecuador and Sister Heylen in Missouri), and they are my inspiration. I know that the adventure they are about to embark on will be hard. Much harder than anything I’m trying to attempt. What they are about to do, day in and day out for the next 18 months, will demand discipline, persistence, and above all, faith.
To them I say – there will be days you might want to throw the towel in, there will be days you might want to punch something (or someone – probably your companion) in frustration, and there will be many, many, days that will send you to your knees, begging for the help and power to become someone greater and stronger than you could ever be on your own. There will be blisters and bad haircuts and a lot of doors slammed in your faces. But, what can I say? It’s worth it. It will change your life–and in ways both big and small, I really believe you will change the world. Just don’t give up. You can do anything for 18 months.
I hope I can, too. Bon Voyage!