The last blog post I wrote was about what food energetics are, and I briefly mentioned how cold food can be used to treat hot conditions and vice versa. There is another strategy for feeding your fur family that operates from a space of preventive wellness support rather than a space of interventive use to treat an illness. This is the crux of the question of food energetics. How can we use food in an already healthy patient to continue to support their health and create vibrant well being.
Traditional Chinese food medicine has an answer for this! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, TCM has a system of five elements that they use to sort most things into including food and personality types. In TCM the personality type is not just who you are as a person and how you interact with other individuals, but also has a great deal to do with your health. It is predictive of what kinds of health problems are likely to be a struggle for the individual in their life. This allows us to not only be able to take extra precautions in the areas where an individual might be more prone to imbalance, but it also gives us great insight into how we can use food energetics to prevent imbalance long before we see any physical problems.
Let me give you a couple of examples. In my time as a mother of furkids I’ve had the pleasure of raising several different constitutions of pets. One of the most obvious examples of how constitutional feeding works can be seen when we compare a Water constitution cat who I had the pleasure to live with, and a Fire constitution dog who still lights up my life.
As you might imagine, Fire and Water are opposites. They sit opposite each other on the cycle of elements and have very different characteristics and needs.
As a puppy my Fire Doberman, Baldr, was insane. I adopted him about a year before I took my first acupuncture course. In that time of ignorance of the Five Elements and constitution, I wrote off his spastic nature to just being his personality and that he was a puppy. Now, you need to understand that Baldr was not a socially acceptable dog. I couldn’t take him in public at all because he was so convinced that every single, solitary person that he saw was his new BFF. He would make the most horrific yowling sounds and attempt to bodily throw himself at strangers on the street. As you might imagine, this didn’t lend itself well to taking him out on walks, particularly since, as a Fire constitution, he was not food motivated when there was a new person around for him to be excited about making training all but impossible.
In my ignorance I had him on a chicken based kibble diet at the time. I was a poor vet student and a high quality, grain-free kibble was the best I could afford for him (he’d been on homemade turkey stew until he got too big for it to be reasonable). If you read the last blog post, you know that chicken is a really hot meat. Baldr’s symptoms of anxiety and hyperexcitability are hot signs, which, as you might imagine, Fire constitutions tend to have problems with being too hot, and here I was throwing more fuel on the fire!
I had an epiphany when I learned about constitutions and food, and though I couldn’t afford a form of food for him that was less hot than dry kibble (which is, by the way, excruciatingly hot), I did change him to a fish based, grain-free food. The difference was immediate and drastic. I can’t say it solved our problems, and it certainly didn’t help him be more food focused, so training was still very challenging, but it did stop him from being so uncontrollably joyful (a Fire characteristic) every time he saw a new person, just enough that while I couldn’t take him to the farmer’s market (waaay too many people), I could take him for walks in places where we might encounter other humans and dogs.
On the other hand, my old lady Water constitution cat was quite the opposite. Water constitutions tend to have worsening problems in old age and tend to get chilly. Poor Dominiqua was more than chilly. Because of the dietary restrictions of my other cat, she was eating raw turkey for a good portion of her life. Most of her life it worked out just fine, in fact, it was great for her. Once she started to get older, hwoever, she became very cold and sluggish. Again, I was feeding her the exact wrong thing. Fortunately for her I knew what was wrong as soon as she started to slow down.
The solution for Dominiqua was exactly the opposite to Baldr. I was feeding her the wrong form of food (raw food is very cold), and the wrong protein (turkey is a neutral to cooling meat). So much cold for a little Water cat! Once I discovered the problem I started to make her “cat stew” which involved, among many other things, a chicken and a large crock pot. By feeding her food that was cooked and warm and that incorporated a hot protein source, I was able to make her little toes feel less frigid and inspire some increased activity for a while.
These are just two examples of how you can cause problems by feeding the wrong food to the wrong constitution. Don’t you want to avoid these issues?
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-Erika Raines, DVM, CVA, CVFT