Food As External Medicine

One of my favorite quotations of all time is from a movie which I, sadly, cannot remember. “Eat your food as medicine, or you will surely eat medicine as your food.” I learned later that it is a version of a similar statement attributed to the famous physician Hippocrates, who is also responsible for the Hippocratic Oath. Natural health trends nowadays strongly emphasize eating diets that are minimally processed, as natural as possible, and any number of other labels (keto, paleo, raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.). However, I find that many people have a psychological barrier to overcome when they first start looking at food as medicinal in nature, especially when it is to be used in an external fashion. It may be easy to convince someone that eating eggs is good for their skin, eyes, and hair, but telling someone that combing an egg through their hair is equally as good or better for their hair health is when they start to balk.

Sure, it can be easy to drink a real-food smoothie rich in amino acids, healthy fats, and other beneficial ingredients; but if you ask someone whether they would use a similar mixture as a masque for their face to promote healthy, clear skin, they would probably look at you as though you were insane.

Dump all this delicious food down a drain? Waste it?!? You must be mad!

In American culture especially, but also I think in many other cultures of developed nations around the world, we have a firmly established mentality that food is food, that food is meant to be eaten, and that any other use for it is wasteful. How many times as children have we heard the phrase, “Don’t play with your food!” It’s been ingrained in us from childhood that doing anything other than eating food is bad.

Imagine a toddler smearing avocado which she was supposed to be eating for lunch all over her hair. Her mother could come in, see the mess, and choose to help her toddler complete the process, while making the messy experience a fun lesson in taking good care of her hair (in which mom could choose to participate as well!). However, the more likely response is that she would instead hasten to clean up the awful mess her toddler was creating, scolding her to not waste food like that in future.

Similarly, people are more than happy to spread clays and muds all over their faces and bodies, but if you tell them to add egg yolk, yogurt, banana, or honey to the mixture? No way! That’s food! We have skin care lines for that sort of thing. No need to waste anything!

What many people fail to take into account is that our ancestors didn’t have modern skin-care, hair-care, or other similar products that we do today. They would consistently use the things that they grew, hunted, or gathered in the ecosystems around them to maintain both their internal and external health because they had no other choice. Coconut milk was just as frequently used as a nourishing and refreshing food as it was used as a hair rinse to keep glossy black locks moisturized and tamed in the frizz-inducing humidity of the Polynesian islands. Seaweed and kelp were used not just for food in coastal countries such as Japan, but as additives to baths to improve the health of the skin. Oatmeal and milk were commonly used in Scotland and Ireland both as a popular food as well as a face mask for young women to whiten their skin and prevent blemishes.

Perhaps, as time wore on and science made advancements in the mimicry of some of these popular natural health remedies, people slowly began to view food as something which is only to be eaten and not used for other purposes. Certainly it is meant to fulfill the purposes of nourishment and internal health for our bodies, but I hope that many people will come to realize that using “food” ingredients in external applications is not wrong either. After all, many people are quickly coming to realize that all of those remedies merely mimicking natural substances often do not end up holding a candle to the real thing.

If you are an individual who believes that food can be used as external medicine but are still getting over the mentality that you are wasting whatever ingredients you choose to use – as I know I did when I first started using food for my external remedies – allow me to provide some advice. You don’t have to dedicate the most perfect foodstuffs to your preparations. Let’s say that you wish to make a hair mask with avocado in it but are loathe to put that delicious green stuff in your hair, preferring it instead on your salad. Compromise a bit. Maybe you have an avocado that is just slightly off. Maybe too ripe, too brown, or just one that you would prefer to not eat for whatever reason. Don’t throw it in the garbage. That would be the only true way to waste it. Instead, use it in your hair preparation. There are other ways to incorporate foods into your external health routine without feeling like you’re wasting the food, and that is just one suggestion. No matter what, remember this:  Eating the right foods will give you the best benefits, both internally and externally. The application of healthy foodstuffs to the outside of the body, however, will greatly augment the results you get from a healthy diet.