Energy powers everything your dog does. Not “like everything,” but literally everything. Jumping, running, barking, eating, drinking, panting, slobbering, feeling excited when she sees you, learning a new command, snoring like a chainsaw, growling at the delivery guy, pooping in the living room, fighting off an infection, blinking her eyes, dragging a sled across the Alaskan tundra, everything.
Apologies to the new-age set, but the kind of energy we’re talking about here isn’t the stuff of auras or chakrahs or any of that mumbo-jumbo. We’re talking about a type of energy that can be observed, measured, and made sense of. We’re talking about chemical energy.
Now, in addition to being the spark that makes your dog a living creature rather than an inanimate object, energy is also an important character in the story of obesity. At its essence, obesity is a condition that results when your dog ingests more energy than she expends. So if you want to help your dog stave off obesity and develop an optimal body condition, it pays to have at least a basic understanding of how energy flows into and out of her body.
So today we’re going to do a high-level primer on the topic.
At the conceptual level, it’s all pretty simple: Foods are composed of nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats; each molecule of each nutrient contains a certain amount of chemical energy; your dog gets hungry and ingests an energy-dense food; the food get digested down into its constituent nutrient parts in your dog’s digestive tract; your dog converts those nutrients into other stable substances that she can store throughout her body like fuel reserves; and then, when the time for action arrives, those substances get broken-down further (through one of several different metabolic pathways), causing the release of chemical energy. Which is what powers the pooping in the living room and all that other stuff.
Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that. But when it comes to helping your dog get fit, lose body fat, and become an Optimal Dog, that’s really all you need to understand.
Oh, that and two other things:
(1) When talking about the chemical energy that powers living bodies, energy is usually measured in units called Calories. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Technically, each calorie represents the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. All foods contain a certain amount of energy (i.e., a specific number of Calories) and all bodily actions require a certain amount of energy (i.e., a specific number of Calories) to perform.
(2) Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. That’s what physicists call the First Law of Thermodynamics. What that means for health and weight management purposes is that all the energy contained in the food your dog ingests must either (a) pass through her body undigested, (b) get digested and then used to power some bodily action, or (c) get digested and then stored as a fuel reserve for powering some future activity.
Focus for a moment on option (c). The way that your dog’s body stores energy for future use is by converting digested foods into one of several kinds of stable substances that can be stored in her body and later give rise to energy-releasing chemical reactions. By keeping a healthy reserve of those substances hanging around her body, your dog can ensure that she always has enough fuel to power her activities, even if she hasn’t eaten for a while.
Which is great, at least in a vacuum. The problem is that, in an environment in which food is overabundant, the process of storing energy can go haywire, leading to the chronic accumulation of energy-rich body tissues. And, wouldn’t you know it, one of those energy-rich body tissues is … wait for it … you know where this is going, right? … subcutaneous white adipose tissue, better known by its street name: “body fat.” Ugh.
Put all this together and it isn’t hard to see why the most common nugget of weight-loss advice ever transmitted across human lips is “just eat fewer Calories than you burn.” Because, just as energy cannot be destroyed by your dog’s body, neither can it be created. So if her activities require more calories than she is ingesting in her food, she’s going to have to burn up her fuel reserves in order to keep going.
And, when it comes to calories and chemical energy, that’s how things look from 10,000 feet. We hope you enjoy the view.