To understand functional nutrition, it’s probably best for me to describe functional medicine first because functional nutrition has its base in functional medicine.
So,what is functional Medicine?
The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) says that “Functional Medicine determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual”.
Functional Medicine is an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach to healthcare which looks at a patient’s genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors to create personalized treatment plans for improved health.
What is Functional Nutrition?
Just as functional medicine aims to address the root cause of disease, functional nutrition looks at the way that food and nutrients can affect your body at the cellular level. By using food as medicine, we can positively influence our cells to help support our body’s natural healing abilities.
Functional nutritionists cannot diagnose or treat diseases/conditions, however, we look at nutrient deficiencies, system imbalances, and lifestyle factors when giving clients nutrition recommendations. We often work with functional, integrative, and naturopathic doctors as a part of a patient’s healthcare team.
A functional nutritionists will take a holistic approach to health which means we don’t just review what you eat and your calories, nutrients and vitamins (though of course that’s a part of what we do). We will also look into things like inflammation, stress, gut dysfunction, sleep issues, you relationships, and even bowel movements (yes, I was very surprised how interesting poo can be).
So basically functional nutrition not a one-size-fits-all approach. It recognizes that we are all unique, with our own health history, lifestyle, and genetic makeup. And because of this, each one of us needs a individualized plan to achieve (and maintain) optimal health.
Not all nutritionists are created equal. In some states anyone can call themselves a nutritionist whether they have a true degree or not such as health coaches, people who have an 3-month online certification, personal trainers… the list goes on. While there is, of course, a role for health coaches and personal trainers to play in health, they should not be considered nutritionists.
You really want to look someone with an accredited degree in nutrition that understands how the body works and how food, movement, a person’s environment and genes can all play a part in their health.
Believe me, I worked extremely hard for my degree. I have a Master’s degree that has a clinical, evidence-based, and extremely high level of science background. I didn’t sit in all those biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, therapeutics classes for nothing!
This background gave me the the ability to understand complex biochemical, metabolic, genetic, toxin, and environmental factors that play a part in health.
Many functional nutritionists also are Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS), which is the gold standard for advanced nutrition professionals. To obtain a CNS, a person must hold a master’s degree in human nutrition, pass a board certified national exam, and undertake 1,000 hours of supervised practice experience. I completed my nutrition residency at the Sandy Hook Clinic with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, a leader in Integrative and Functional Medicine.
Some states license nutritionists. You will see initials after the nutritionist’s name such as LDN (Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist) or CDN (Certified Dietician/Nutritionist). These credentials show that the nutritionist has a the education and experience to practice nutrition according to those state laws.
The Functional Nutrition Process
I thought I’d give you a little insider’s view into what the process is like when going to see a functional nutritionist.
Functional nutritionists go through a process to determine what dietary and lifestyle changes will best help their client.
Steps can vary but usually they include a review of the client’s:
- Health/medical history
- Medications and supplements
- Diet, lifestyle, sleep, and exercise habits
- Conventional lab results
- Functional nutrition testing or genetic data
This review is done before meeting with a client and takes a good amount of time to go over. The nutritionist then meets with the client to get a bigger picture and hear in their own words how the client is feeling and what they are struggling with.
After meeting with the client, a customized program is created to help restore and maintain a client’s optimal health.
The program can include recommendations such as:
- Dietary changes such as an elimination diet, reducing processed foods, taking out gluten or dairy, etc.
- Supplements that can help with any deficiencies, aid digestion, or support biochemical pathways in the body
- Assistance with lifestyle factors, like learning how to handle stress or dealing toxins in your environment
- Suggestions for additional functional testing such as food sensitivity, gut dysbiosis, or any other testing that might give us a look at the bigger picture of the client’s health
Because of the type of world we not live in, we’ve become accustomed to instant access to just about anything. True health however, cannot be rushed.
That’s why many functional nutritionists offer package plans so client’s are supported for a number of months (and sometimes more).
You might be pleasantly surprised (and very excited) when your body responds quickly to recommendations but don’t be discouraged if progress is slower than you would have hoped. It will happen – just give it time.
Why work with a Functional Nutritionist?
Generally, by the time people have decided to see a functional nutritionist, they’ve been struggling with a health issue for some time.
The most common reasons you would want to work with a functional nutritionist are:
- You have been diagnosed with a condition or disease by your doctor but no plan of action for the diagnosis besides medications. You want help putting a plan in place to help support the root cause of the problem instead of taking medications your whole life (which tend to have side effects or other issues).
- You want someone to really listen to you. You want to be able to share your thoughts, your concerns, and ask questions without feeling like you’re being rushed out the door.
- You’re confused on what to eat to for your condition (cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, etc.)
- You want support through your whole wellness process.
When working with a functional nutritionist, know that you’re making an investment in yourself and your health.