What it is and how it is different from conventional approaches
Many of us are familiar with what dietitians do. But what sets integrative and functional dietitians apart and what do these words even mean? The word integrative refers to the integration of both conventional and alternative treatments when working with a client. So what is functional nutrition? It’s an approach that seeks to find the root cause of your health struggles and the underlying reasons for why the body is functioning a certain way. Functional dietitians strive to understand all aspects of you to figure out what your personal and unique needs are.
Dietitians who operate in this mindset recognize that there is so much more to health and wellness than counting calories and grams of fat. We don’t just inquire about what you eat and how much you exercise. We ask deeper questions and consider the whole person – genetics, lifestyle habits, spiritual connections, emotions and cultural beliefs around food, stress management, coping skills, support systems, hormones, digestion, and so much more beyond the scope of this article. Not only have I been fortunate enough to have been taught and mentored by such practitioners, I also identify myself as a functional nutritionist and dietitian.
Functional dietitians are equipped to uncover root causes because we also utilize more specific lab testing when needed such as tests to look at nutrition related to genetics, food sensitivities, and micronutrient levels. These are just few examples of what I use in my practice. Such lab results tell an important part of a client’s story and give direction on where to go from there. More thorough investigations can catch potential triggers which could fall through the cracks in a conventional setting where you spend 10 minutes with a practitioner and the perception of “healthy and normal” is not what many of us would want for ourselves. Connecting the dots between different symptoms and underlying imbalances along with individualized nutrition therapy can make a huge difference with how we look and feel.
Here is one of my favorite examples of finding and treating underlying causes. People who have trouble sleeping through the night might have difficulty controlling blood sugar levels or be deficient in magnesium. Therefore, balancing your diet to prevent nighttime hypoglycemia and optimizing magnesium levels to support relaxation may be the answer, rather than resorting to a remedy that has side effects and only puts a temporary band aid on the problem. Functional dietitians also have extra training in selecting and using specific high quality supplements, herbs, and botanicals when additional support is needed beyond whole foods. Targeted nutrition therapies can provide relief in ways that may not be obvious but are less invasive and with little or no side effects. Take your cue from Hippocrates and try healing with foods and nutrients first!
Integrative and functional dietitians also value other activities that nourish the mind, body and soul such as yoga, meditation, massage and other experiences that engage the spirit and bring us to a more heightened state of enlightenment. On the surface, such modalities don’t appear relevant to food and nutrition. However, they are absolutely pertinent to our health because when we are centered and focused we are set up to make better and more informed choices not just with our health and diet but in our whole life…and getting more out of life and being present in everything we do leads to so many other meaningful experiences and memories!
Note: I have been a member of Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine for 4 years, a dietetic practice group that, as noted above, practices an integrated and personalized approach to nutrition, health, and healing. I also recently obtained a Certificate of Training from the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. In December I will be taking the board exam to obtain the advanced practice Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner credential.