Tell us about how you ended up on your path as a TCM practitioner. How did you first discover the connection between food and healing through a TCM lens?
ZG: It is a long journey. It started using food for healing when I got sick at the age of 17. At that time, I had just moved to the U.S. and the American diet, which was ladened with highly processed foods, added a lot of stress on my body. I was suffering from a variety of ailments—joint pain, acne, irritable bowel syndrome, breast tumors, and rapid weight gain. It got to the point where I knew I had to change the way I ate.
After that realization and plenty of hard work, my conditions got so much better and I decided to pursue healing through foods as my career. I studied clinical nutrition in college and went on the path to become a registered dietitian and wellness chef.
However, soon I realize it wasn't what I had envisioned. I was working more with restrictions and numbers of nutrients rather than individual people and natural foods. At the same time, acupuncture and TCM herbs helped cure my amenorrhea. So I transitioned to study TCM and fell in love immediately. Everything made sense. I've been walking the path of a TCM nutritionist and chef ever since.
Part of your work focuses on bringing TCM dishes into the 21st century. What are some easy ways home chefs can incorporate TCM ingredients into their meals?
ZG: Incorporating TCM into daily home cooking is easier than you think! The first step is to eat with the season. Each season corresponds to an array of fresh foods, dried foods, and herbs that are the most suitable for the time of the year.
It is crucial to align our body with our environment. I always recommend people to follow the seasonal eating guidelines, or hang our seasonal eating poster in their kitchen to inspire grocery shopping and cooking. For example, we are in spring right now, so I will recommend sprouts, dark leafy vegetables, and liver-friendly herbs like rose, chrysanthemum, goji, and our Liver Care Tonic Bag.
The next step would be eating according to our own body's need. Everyone's diet should be different. For example, a raw diet could be beneficial for people who have a lot of excess heat, but it could be damaging to those who are constitutionally deficient and cold. That's why I developed a constitution quiz for people to understand their body more and eat accordingly.
Photo credit: @tombo.97
Nutrition and wellness advice in America can feel very rigid (e.g. follow this diet, eat these specific foods in these specific amounts, etc.) How does Chinese culture approach food and eating differently?
ZG: The Chinese way of eating is a lot more flexible and natural than many mainstream nutrition and diet trends I've seen here in the U.S. TCM food therapy is about balancing rather than restricting. The four main pillars of TCM food therapy really shows how flexible and sustainable it is:
1) Eat according to the individual's unique constitution.
2) Adjust eating based on the body's imbalances.
3) Eat according to season and environment.
4) Use food as medicine, yet never neglect the look and flavor of the food.
We know TCM has a huge potential to heal when it comes to period pain and PMS. Which TCM herbal, mind, or body practices would you recommend for someone who struggles with difficult periods?
ZG: TCM is just so amazing for women's health. I recommend whoever is experiencing PMS to see a TCM practitioner or herbalist either virtually or in-person to identify the root cause of PMS. It might be damp heat, maybe cold, maybe liver stagnation, so it is key to identify the cause and then choose specific herbs and acupuncture points to treat the pattern.
If seeing a practitioner isn't an option for you, I recommend you try different herbal products for PMS until you find the one that's for you. I know it doesn't sound like the most efficient idea, but it will help you find THAT herbal combination for your body.
I personally had great success with De Lune's PMS product—a pleasant surprise! I also recommend herbs like dang gui, yi mu cao, and rose, that can be taken long-term for women's health. Another tip is to drink only warm liquids, not just during your period, but all the time. It is beneficial for your digestion and overall wellness.
Photo credit: @afra.lu
Born in Shanghai, China, Zoey Gong is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) chef and nutritionist, and the founder of Five Seasons TCM—a BIPOC-founded boutique wellness brand that shares and modernizes the knowledge of TCM food therapy through educational content, functional products, and its avant-garde aesthetic.
Living in New York City since 2015, she now holds a B.S. in Nutrition and Public Health from New York University, 200-hr yoga instructor certification, Meridian Yoga Therapy certification, a Registered Dietitian (RD) candidate, and is currently pursing her M.S. in Traditional Oriental Medicine at Pacific College of Health and Sciences. Passionate about culture, Zoey has traveled to nearly 30 countries, incorporating various cultural traditions into her cooking and treatments. With an eye for beauty and cultural heritage, Zoey is dedicated to modernizing Traditional Chinese Medicine, making it a relevant and practical lifestyle for all.
Follow Zoey on Instagram @zoeyxinyigong
Follow Five Seasons TCM on Instagram @fiveseasonstcm
Cover photo credit: @afra.lu