Smells are Free

Did you ever read Ooka the Wise: Tales of Old Japan?

There was a story in that book about an impoverished young man who rented a room above a restaurant. He couldn’t afford the delightful fish that was served below, but he’d gotten into the habit of eating his plain bowl of rice while sitting near his open window, so that he could smell the flavorful food cooking, and thus add to his enjoyment of the rice. I won’t spoil the story by telling you the rest of it, but this is one of my favorite books, and I’ve replaced it each time our current copy has been read to death. If you can find it for a reasonable price, you should pick it up.

Anyhow, that story stuck with me especially poignantly, since for most of my life I couldn’t smell anything much due to inflammation in my sinuses. Since starting a carnivore diet, lo these 6 years ago, I can smell my food! I can also smell your food, and there was a time when the smell of cake or pizza would drive me crazy. How ironic, I thought, that I’m finally able to smell all that stuff, now that I can’t eat it. Dear Alanis, here’s an actual irony for you!

I’ve noticed something new in my life fairly recently. The smells of these forbidden foods, all by themselves, are very pleasant. Any time I have veered off my healthy path of eating to indulge beyond the point of smelling it, I have not enjoyed the taste as much as I thought I would. Carbs don’t taste nearly as good to me as I remember them to taste. In fact, the memory is pleasant enough that I don’t have to ruin it by trying to recreate it. I have, however, continued to enjoy the smells. After all, the sense of smell is the sense that most deeply stirs our memories. Think about how your mother’s perfume or shampoo used to smell. What the church hymnals smelled like. The root cellar where Grandma kept her potatoes. You will not only remember the smells, you will have some emotions that go along with it. Provided that Mother and Grandmother were the kind a person would want to remember, these are wonderful memories, invoked just by smelling something. Sometimes just by imagining smelling something!

These days, you’ll often find me standing over the dessert table at church functions, just leaning over it a little bit and blissfully inhaling the scent of chocolate or glazed donuts. I’m sure I look to others as if I’m desiring to eat the things in front of me. I’m sure the (often markedly unhealthy) people coming up behind me think that I’m just so deprived, and feel sorry for me. “Why in the world doesn’t she just eat the cake if she enjoys it that much?” they must wonder.

But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if I eat that stuff, there will be repercussions. I have no trouble not putting that stuff into my mouth! Boils, guys. I get boils. But smells can’t give me boils!

It’s OK for me to do that.

Now, if you are in the early days of fighting a carbohydrate addiction, I absolutely do not recommend doing this, any more than an alcoholic should feel free to sit at a bar drinking seltzer water while his old friends get tipsy. You’re going to screw yourself up. Just don’t walk over to the dessert table. Stick your face in some flowers or something to get that smell out of your face! This is not something I could have done four years ago, either! Now that I am well and truly not tempted to eat what doesn’t benefit my body, I have a little freedom to experience the pleasure of sweet-smelling food. Smells are free, and I come away having experienced as much risk-free enjoyment as possible out of the offerings, and with no ill-effects afterwards.

I’ve been reading into dopamine a little bit lately, and what I’ve found out is that the pay-off, the thing you think you want to do, is not what dopamine is responding to. Dopamine is actually what gives you the urge. So if I get a dopamine spike upon thinking about a chocolate chip cookie, it doesn’t matter much if I actually eat the cookie. It is equally helpful to either ignore it, thus reducing that dopaminic urge for cookies next time, or indulge it with some alternative that is risk-free. I have found that I can simply reach into my memory of what that cookie would have tasted like, and get the same relief, as if I had performed the truly harmful act of eating a cookie. Likewise, I can smell the dessert table, feel pleasure, and that is as far as I need to go. If you like scented candles, you know what I’m saying.

That doesn’t mean that you should do this.

If you’re fighting food addiction,–and I guess I was food addicted for the first couple of years of this way of eating–I would highly recommend you find something besides food to satisfy that want. Do something fun, dredge up a memory of a wonderful time you’ve had, hug your kids or your dog, sing a song, take a short walk, play the piano.

Do anything at all besides thinking about the food!

I have been too weak to be able to benefit from the delightful smells that emanate from highly processed carbohydrates. As I’ve related before, I have sat and just cried while everybody else ate pizza. But if you stay on this path long enough, those smells will cease to be associated in your mind with then putting something in your mouth. It will happen eventually. And when it does, you will have a new pleasure in your life.

Smells are free!

I don’t know if there’s another carnivore on the planet that does this, so I’ll leave the comments open on this one, in case somebody wants to say “Hey, I thought I was the only one!”