Differentiating Between Food and Poison

Allen Carr pointed out that one of the key aspects of the survival of living creatures is the ability to differentiate between poison and food. We use smell and taste to do this. Poisons like nicotine and alcohol taste and smell bad and we have to work at them until we become immune to the foul smell and taste which then allows us to ‘enjoy’ the real pleasure of them, which is the effect. What actually happens is that as we become immune to the foul smell and taste we find it easier to ignore it when getting our fix. This is what we mean when we refer to ‘acquiring the taste’ of something.

I think this idea can be developed to give us a much fuller understanding of alcohol consumption and drug addiction generally.

Whilst living creatures do have an innate or pre-existing ability to differentiate between poison and food through smell and taste (ie one that is in their genes), I think they also have the ability to adapt it. There are two aspects to this to consider.

The first aspect is that when we are drained, tired, hungry, etc a healthy nutritious meal will make us feel better, both physically and mentally.

The second aspect is that most substances on the planet that are ‘poison’ are not immediately fatal. Most of them, in the amounts we are likely to consume, will leave us feeling ill rather than kill us outright.

So where do we get to if we consider both of these aspect together? Well, if we consume something that we wouldn’t necessarily think of as food, or something that tastes or smells offensive, and we feel immediately better after we consume it (or if it relieves hunger or tiredness), and providing it doesn’t make us immediately ill, on a subconscious level the brain will conclude that what we immediately identified as poison actually had some form of nutritional benefit, ie that it is ‘food’ rather than ‘poison’ and as it didn’t seem to harm us we can continue to consume it. As such, over time, we will cease to be repulsed by the smell and taste of it, instead we will start to find it appetising and will start to hunger for it. In this way if a living creature’s food source becomes scarce or disappears, they will be able to adapt to other food types through trial and error. This is a key element to survival. Not many living creatures on the planet have such a reliable food source that they never have the need to adapt to an alternative.

As a child I found the smell of Stilton (a very mature blue cheese) repugnant. I remember seeing my Father eat it and wondering how anyone could want to eat something so vile. However I used to have a very watered down version of it by having soup with a small amount of it crumbled in. I also kept trying it on the odd occasion. Now I eat it quite happily, in fact I ‘like’ the flavour of it. The smell and taste remain the same, they haven’t changed, it is just that on a subconscious level my body and brain has realised that it doesn’t make me physically ill and it also relieves hunger. Thus have I become able to eat it, and even, eventually, to enjoy it.

This is a great system but where it falls down is when we imbibe a drug. A drug can make us feel immediately better but not because it has nutritional benefit, but because it interferes with our chemical functioning such that we feel better even though the actual physical effect is a negative one.

This is one of the reasons that studies showing the supposed benefits of consuming alcohol are so readily accepted. On a deep level drinkers truly believe alcohol is good for them. This concept is really an extension of the effects of drinking on our subconscious (the Chapter dealing with this can be found in here: 1st 5) but I think this deepens our understanding of how the desire for alcohol can become so deep rooted.

It also I think this has some interesting implications for diet generally, and by that I mean the food that we as humans tend to eat. We in the Western world tend to have a diet very reliant on meat, dairy and processed foods. This is the food that people in the West tend to ‘enjoy’. But do they only really enjoy it because it is what they have been brought up to eat, rather than their being brought up to eat it because they enjoy it? Think about young children. They tend to be very unadventurous with their food. They find something they like and never want to eat anything else. Again I think this is a fairly natural tendency. After all as far as your survival mechanism is concerned if you have tried something and found it to be nutritional and not poisonous, why would you try something else, which may actually be poisonous? This is also why we tend to be put off food for some considerable time if it makes us ill. If you’ve ever had food poisoning from a particular type of food you will know that you will be completely put off that particular food for some considerable time.

Christmas

There are two types of drinking at Christmas. Firstly, there is the ‘mistletoe and wine’ drinking. The good side of drinking, the Dickensian side of drinking. Good friends coming in from the cold and snow into a warm room of dark oak with a roaring fire, flagons of frothing ale, sweet, spicy mulled wine, drinking, laughing. Spiced cider, red wine, carols, dark wood, the smell of exotic spices, remnants still of a festival more ancient that Christianity, the midwinter solstice, 12 days of feasting and drinking to ward off the cold and the fear that the days, instead of now becoming longer and warmer, would simply continue to get shorter and colder until the whole world was plunged into frozen darkness.

Then of course there is the reality of drinking. Office workers vomiting and unconscious under the glaring neon lights of Liverpool Street station because they’ve overdone it at their Christmas party, waking up at 4 in the morning with no memory of going to bed but a sure and certain knowledge that there was some kind of upset or anger or argument, a feeling that feels like a physical lump in your chest, a feeling of misery and despair that you are going to suffer from until that next drink. Feeling tired and irritable and out of shape and lethargic.

So am I saying that the mistletoe and wine drinking doesn’t exist? That is exactly what I am saying, most of it is out and out lies and illusion, other parts of it have some vague grounding in reality but are mainly lies. Imagine a young girl out with friends, who gets chatting to a man who she finds mildly interesting and slightly attractive, who lures her away from her friends and brutally rapes her. Describing that situation as a ‘young love’, is about as accurate as the mistletoe and wine portrayal of Christmas drinking. It misses the vast amount, and in fact the real essence, of what is going on. It misinterprets it entirely and then places an entirely disproportionate amount of emphasis on one minor aspect, and turns a brutal and vile reality into an insultingly inaccurate lie. It is an ugly analogy, but it is an accurate one.

Have you ever walked from the snow into a warm room of dark oak with a roaring fire to drink a flagon of frothing ale? I haven’t, in fact I’ve never had a flagon of frothing ale in my life. Clearly some of these ideas we have of Christmas drinking are sheer fiction that don’t exist now and probably never existed before.

Every single alcoholic drink that is drunk over Christmas will result in disturbed sleep, a corresponding feeling of anxiety, and the poisoning of a human body. And these are the effects experienced by the people having just one drink (and there are precious few of those). As the number of drinks an individual drinks on each occasion increases so do the ill effects, moving from disturbed sleep into full blown insomnia and the resulting exhaustion and lethargy over the following days, moving from anxiety into increasing worry and fear and eventually into full blown depression, and from almost imperceptible poisoning into full blown hangover, nausea, and headaches. And of course other effects then come into play, as our emotional wiring short circuits we end up with the arguments, tears, anger and, for many, physical violence. Money being spent that many cannot really afford. Health being eroded and seriously damaged. The mistletoe and wine Christmas doesn’t touch on any of these. Every child hit, or shouted out, or reduced to tears because their parents were either drunk or hungover, every argument that took place that wouldn’t otherwise have taken place and has been caused to tiredness and anxiety that exists only because of the previous drinking, every drunken fight, every drunken arrest. Every drunken argument that kicks off, all the domestic violence. Every person who unwittingly drinks too much and loses every shred of dignity. Where is all this in the Dickensian Christmas of mistletoe and wine?

My Christmas this year will be like all my Christmases since I have stopped drinking. It will be a happy time, a time to spend with my family, to see a little magic take place, to spend time in the warm with friends, a time to be as free from arguments and anger and tears as it is possible to get with a young family. A time to be as happy as it is possible to be, bearing mind the usual stresses and worries of everyday life. This is as close to the idea of the Dickensian Christmas as it is possible to get and it won’t be because of alcohol that I experience it, in fact it will only be possible because alcohol no longer factors in my life; if it did then this wouldn’t be what I could expect from Christmas, what I would be looking forward to would be more tiredness, arguments, hangovers and depression.

The thing that motivated me to stop drinking was all the downsides to drinking that became increasingly damaging the more I drank. But what has enabled me to stay stopped, and this is only something you can truly appreciate the effect of when you yourself stop, is that life is far, far more enjoyable without drinking. I have a feeling of confidence, calmness, and capability, that I simply didn’t have during my drinking years unless I was actually drinking. I had to spend money, to poison myself, to go through arguments and misery and exhaustion and the loss of all dignity to get, for a few small moments, a feeling of confidence and peace that I could have all the time if I only stopped. That is the feeling that will make Christmas fantastic for me. The only difference between me and drinkers is that I will have that feeling all the time, they will have to drink to get it, to poison themselves to ease the chemical imbalance and exhaustion caused by their previous drinking. This is the great secret of stopping drinking; the vastly increased quality of life. I feel like I can deal with whatever life throws at me and I don’t need a drink to get that feeling. Losing that feeling impacts your entire life. It is simply too big a price to pay.