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Let food be thy medicine...for health!

By: Janelle Webb

“With God as my witness, I shall never go hungry again!” This cry from Scarlett in Gone with the Wind could have been my mantra when I turned 16 and got my first paycheck, the means to buy my own food. The youngest of five children of a stay-at-home mom and a railroading dad, I never felt that I had enough food to eat. My dad earned a decent wage, but with the household expenses of a large family, there were rarely second helpings or the chance to eat out at restaurants, not even fast food joints. My twin sister had a smaller appetite than me, so my only hope for satiety was that she wouldn’t finish all of her food, and I could eat her leftovers. We still joke that a child with many siblings is a better eater than an only child, because a child in a big family knows they need to eat when the food is there, because when they come back to the table there may not be any left. My dad used to get frustrated because he would take a little bit of macaroni and cheese or whatever was on the stove, and expect to come back in a few minutes for more if he was still hungry. My siblings and I knew better; we got what we wanted from the beginning because there would be none left "in a few minutes". See, my dad was an only child....

In my mind, hunger was combined with the lack of money. Poor people hate to throw away food, even if they are not hungry. You never know how much will be available the next time, and it seems a crime to throw it away. One of my favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, addresses this very issue. Mama lets Francie and Neeley pour their fair share of coffee and cream down the drain, even though admonished by their aunts that this is wasteful, because "poor people need to feel they have one thing they can waste." Whether you throw the food away or eat it, it's still gone either way.

Ironically, my first job was at McDonald’s; not only did I have money to buy more food, I had free hamburgers and French fries available for immediate consumption. As Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “Let food be thy medicine”, I medicated my fears of being hungry with food. As I got older and had adult responsibilities such as car payments coming out of my paycheck, I began buying lower cost, less nutritious foods while indulging my love of sweets, especially ice cream. If I knew I would be away from food for awhile such as during college classes or a visit with friends, I would eat first because I did not want to take a chance that I would get hungry and not be able to eat. These behaviors carried through most of my young adult life, culminating in using food as medicine to soothe my postpartum depression with multiple bowls of mint chip ice cream every time I woke up to feed my infant daughter her bottle. This excessive eating led to my body weight being 100 pounds above the normal limit.

After five years of carrying this excess body weight, one morning I woke up and thought, “I am done with this weight”. I began eating sensibly, listening to my body’s cues for when I was hungry and when I was full. I no longer buy ice cream for my house: one bite of ice cream and I keep eating until it's gone, so I don't even start. Pizza, my other weakness, I only cook when I have at least two persons to share with. Food is no longer a medicine for my emotions, but a medicine to fuel my body to participate in its normal, every day activities. Hippocrates would be proud!

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