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When I was a boy of 14 years on Christmas vacation, my father watched as I packed away the holiday treats and out of the blue he said, “I bet you can’t go a year without eating any chocolate.” It caught me off guard so I said, “I bet I can.” Dad smiled, “Okay, I dare you.” What 14 year-old boy can resist a dare?

So, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve I ate a bunch of chocolate for the last time. When the clock ticked midnight my challenge began. At first I went through withdrawals and was surprised at how many things I enjoyed contained chocolate. But after a while I got into my stride and it became easier. At first, a lot of my friends made fun of me and some even tried to sabotage me by hiding chocolate chips in my salad or milk. I didn’t fall for it and kept going strong.

That’s right, I did it! I went an entire year and didn’t slip or cheat once. I learned a lot about myself and gained confidence in my self-discipline. I was actually pretty proud of myself. By the way, the first time I ate chocolate the following year, I felt like I was sinning; I actually felt guilty.

Several years later I was living in New Zealand and was walking down the street with my best friend one day. As we passed one of their famous pastry shops, we noticed in the window were some of the biggest, most beautiful cream puffs I’d ever seen and they smelled so delicious. My mouth watered just at the sight and smell of them.

We stopped and stared for a moment and then I said, “Let’s get one.” After a little delay my friend replied, “No, I don’t think I will.” I really wanted one so I tried again, “My treat, I’m buying.” After another delay he said again, “No thanks, I don’t think I will.” I was shocked, “Don’t you like cream puffs?” He answered, “They’re my favorite.” “Don’t you want one?” “I’d love one.” “Then why aren’t you going to have one?” “Because I want one. I just want to prove to myself that I’m in charge of my appetites.”

I was a little confused and mad at first, but then I remembered being a 14-year-old boy and my no chocolate experience. My friend was just showing his body who was in charge. Since that day 45 years ago I committed myself to go without something I really desire every year for the entire year. I’ve gone without chocolate many times, soda, ice cream, French fries, chips, and dessert many times as well. This year I’m off soda of any kind again. Just me, being in charge of me.

By the way, I have another friend named Stan. He’s quite a slim, trim, and athletic guy. Whenever we’d go out to eat, he’d only eat half the portion the waiter brought out, no matter what it was. Half a burger, half an apple, or half a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. When I finally asked him why, he explained that everyone in his family is morbidly obese, his parents, siblings, everyone. It came down mainly to genetics. So he’d made a commitment to himself that it wasn’t going to be him. Just him being in charge of him. And it works.

It’s like the old cartoon where you have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other trying to influence you. Which one is in charge when you have conflicting choices? The “YOU” that wants instant gratification with sugar, grease, and salt? Or the “YOU” that recognizes consequences and which decisions actually bring real lasting satisfaction? With one you’re the slave and with the other you’re the master…and there’s always consequences.

Which is it, the Twinkie or the apple and banana? The soda or the green drink and protein smoothie? The french fries or the nuts and humus? Who’s in charge of you?

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