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Drinking bleach…and other bright ideas…


Today I was thinking, most of the poor health habits that most people engage in, do not have immediacy in the link between cause and effect. There is a crucial disconnect – time.

So some actions that are bad for you, link cause and effect with immediacy. For example, how about stabbing yourself in the arm with a sharp knife. There is an immediate time-connection between the action and the result, the cause and the effect. As you stick the knife in your skin, there is instant pain, then bleeding, then the more you push it in, the more pain, as muscles are cut, and nerves, and down to bone…yeah, you get the message, you’d stop pretty quick right?

Similarly, drinking a bottle of bleach. There is immediacy, an instant connection between the action (cause) and the result (effect). You start drinking, it tastes disgusting, you gag, as you drink, you will start vomiting almost immediately, as your body instantly recognises that it is poison and tries to eject it as fast as possible, to stop it getting any further inside you. Your body knows how bad it is for you, and tries to immediately get it out, violently and rapidly. (Notice any similarity with alcohol?)

So people (most people) don’t purposefully stab themselves with sharp knives or drink a bottle of bleach very often, because they know that there is an instant connection between doing these stupid things and feeling pain and ill-health.

But what if the reaction is somewhat slower?

But there are many less dramatic things that many of us do almost every day, that have a detrimental effect on our health, but the effect lacks immediacy, so we do not see the connection in the same way.

IF eating a Mars Bar had an immediate effect on your body composition, no one would do it. IF, as those masticated mouthfuls of sugar and chocolate and caramel slid down your throat, you could see them (the way you can see a bulge in someone’s neck, around the Adam’s apple, as they swallow a mouthful of food) continue their journey in your body, appearing as a bulge in your skin, as they travelled directly from your mouth, to your belly, or your hip, or your butt, or your bingo wings, or your chubby calves, or your inside thigh, or wherever it is that your body tends to store fat…IF you could see that lump of sugary garbage travel from mouth to belly and then stop there and stay there, permanently, as a lump of unsightly fat, then hardly anyone would ever eat a Mars Bar! But it doesn’t work that way, does it.

IF you smoked a cigarette, and as you stubbed out the butt at the end, you coughed your guts up and felt a pain tightening across your chest, and after a heavy night out smoking a whole pack, you needed a minor surgery to remove the black sticky tar from your lungs, then no one in their right mind would ever smoke.

Delayed reaction

But all these bad habits – smoking, drinking, eating sugary cakes, sweets and chocolate, eating junk food, taking drugs – all these bad habits have a DELAYED effect, not an IMMEDIATE effect, and so people seem to somehow DISconnect the cause and effect. I know people who eat masses of chips, take-aways, drink heavily, eat snacks, crisps, cakes, chocolate and sweets, and they smoke and never work out, and they are terribly overweight and in poor shape, and they blame their genes, or their mother or father, or they blame some upsetting childhood experience, or the ex who dumped them, or their stressful job! Really…yes! We all know these people, they will list every excuse in the book before they will take any personal responsibility! They refuse to understand the connection between eating loads of crap and smoking and drinking, and being fat and unhealthy!

Everything we do, and everything we consume, and indeed some of the things we don’t do (like exercise) have an effect on our health.

Drinking a bottle of bleach will make you instantly, violently sick, so we don’t do it because we can see that immediate link between the behaviour and the end result.

But we do not immediately see the link between bad diet habits and ill health. The truth is that eating 4 chocolate digestive biscuits with our mid-morning coffee every day, sitting on the sofa staring at the TV 7 evenings a week, drinking a 4-pack of beer every night and buying that choco-topped latte on the way to work every morning, all leads to being overweight, out of shape and heading for a whole host of health complaints.

I’m not saying you have to live like a monk. Core Principle 12 is there for you, the 90/10 Rule, have a little something naughty once in a while, go for it, and enjoy it. But if ‘once in a while’ is 5 days each week, you are missing the point. I LOVE ice cream, but it’s sugar-laden calorific garbage, so I don’t eat it very often. On occasion, when I do, it’s a real treat. You have to keep things in moderation. I know people who enjoy chocolate almost every day, and a beer most evenings after work, and a few bottles of wine at the weekend, and a couple of cakes most weekends. They say ‘life’s too short to miss out on the fun’. Trust me, keep eating like that, and your life will be short, shorter than you think.

That cake and that beer won’t seem so great when you have heart disease. Once per month is a treat. Three times per week will make you fat.

We have to think a bit more long-term, and exercise some restraint

If only the longer term effects were more obvious to us at the time, we might re-consider our actions. Try to think about this every time you go to light up a smoke, or open another beer, or reach for the biscuit tin, or step into the cake shop, or order take-away pizza. Short-term pleasure has long-term consequences. Will that cake seem such a good idea when you next stand on the bathroom scales? Will that beer seem so tasty next time you look at yourself naked, sideways in a full length mirror? Will that pizza seem so delicious next time you face the prospect of getting your clothes off for the first time in front of your new hot date? What about the smoking, the drinking…how clever will that feel 20 years from now, sitting in your doctor’s office?

Think about everything you eat and drink. Think before you light up. Think in the supermarket and corner shop. Think about your health next time you skip working out because you can’t be bothered. Would you drink bleach?

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