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.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

Read the first five chapters of 

Alcohol Explained

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