What is Functional Nutrition?

Written by Liz Abel, LDN, CNS, MS, MA. Posted in Integrative Health.

functional nutrition, healthy foods,integrative

Integrative and Functional Nutrition:
What should you expect when meeting with a healthcare professional? 

I’m often asked what is Functional Nutrition? What makes it different? Taking a peek at how an initial session with an experienced integrative practitioner unfolds reveals just how unique the experience is…
There are two things every new client should understand. First, “integrative” means that food is just one aspect of health. We also talk about stress, sleep, sunshine and movement (or lack thereof). Second, this is not “urgent care” – meaning that you aren’t showing up today because of something that happened yesterday.

Instead, I know that each client has a story to share. The symptoms have been building. You have intuition about your situation. You know what’s worked. You know what hasn’t worked. You know where you are stumped. And I want to hear all about it. My first job is to listen.

My second job is to ask nosy, pointed questions. Yes, we will talk about all of the unpleasantries that you’d rather not discuss. Understanding what your bowel movements look like and whether or not you have an itchy anus are topics that can be positively impacted by food choices and supplemental support. The good news is I speak about these kind of topics all of the time; I take seriously the important role I have in shaping a safe space for this conversation to unfold. This safe space is critical, especially for the dialogue that can occur regarding other sensitive topics, such as eating behaviors, as one important example.

My third job is to analyze. Has a PCP made a diagnosis? Do we have all of the data (blood, stool, other testing) we need to paint a picture of optimal function? Do we need to gather more data that would be helpful? Nutrition-focused testing may include food and chemical sensitivity testing, vitamin and mineral level testing, metabolic assessment, stool testing to assess digestion and microbiome, oxidative stress and stress hormone testing, toxicity testing of metals and/or nonmetals, and more. Unlike traditional functional practices, where a new patient is often required to complete multiple tests to commence treatment, we prioritize only testing that may be most helpful for a new patient. Our philosophy is to go slowly; that way we can watch as the body reacts to changes in food, nutrients and lifestyle. A little of the right things can go a long way, whereas a lot of the wrong things only go a little way.

Here’s what might surprise you about an intake session: other than a very brief period of attention to foods that you commonly eat, we won’t typically talk much about food specifics in the first session. This may seem strange given I’m a nutritionist, but here’s why: Food is adaptable. We can change what we eat. It takes effort, but it can be done slowly and over time without much pain. In reality, I’m more likely to ask about who does the grocery shopping and the cooking in the house. Patterns and preferences are important to assess early on. It’s very important to me to understand if you are someone who only goes to the market once a week and cooks everything on Sunday or if you are a catch-as-catch-can kind of person when it comes to eating meals. The recommendations I will make for each of the individuals will vary, simply based on just this difference.
We embrace a bio-individual philosophy, and that’s this: you are uniquely you. No one else is like you. No one else has your specific set of circumstances, your particular symptoms, or your health history, let alone your DNA, blood type and so on. That’s why we do NOT prescribe a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, every individual who walks through our doors will spend 75 minutes with a licensed nutritionist. The nutritionist will develop a care plan that specifically meets your health goals and concerns. The care plan will include additional session(s) with the nutritionist and may also include health coaching, testing, and/or supplements. Together, we work to give you the tools and support to help you navigate the recommended changes. We work – in support of you – with any members of your care team (mental health professionals, chiropractors, MDs, etc) as needed. Most people work directly and intensely with us for about 6 months; at that point, you have grown your new wings and are often ready to take flight into the new world that you’ve just created for yourself. This new world of feeling better. Imagine.


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