For years now, I have been questioning modern medicine and what some people call “normal” treatment. A lot of this speculation has come from my own experiences helping individuals through health struggles, eating disorders, and sports injuries. I have had clients tell me all sorts of things about their general practitioners – shaming them to lose weight, telling them to starve themselves until the weight is gone; as if this is going to solve all their problems, and starting them on medications for no conceivable reason. I know these health care professionals mean well. The problem is not their intentions (not usually, anyways). The problem is our current health care system. Physicians are pressed for time and prescription pads are the easy way out.
Is there another way? A growing evidence base shows that addressing the underlying causes of patients’ illnesses with a personalized lifestyle program is far more likely to prevent and possibly reverse the vast majority of chronic diseases. Therefore, it is only logical that a treatment plan that focuses on diet and lifestyle is far more effective than throwing a medication at someone. This is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. What truly helps is getting to the root cause of what is going on and exploring every aspect of the patient’s lifestyle – emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental. This is called integrative medicine.
In the integrative medicine model, nutrition is at the core of the functional medicine approach in the prevention and treatment of disease. Integrative and functional nutrition is a systems-based approach that evaluates the many interacting factors that promote health or disease. It seeks to understand the root causes of possible imbalances that influence someone’s biology, genetics, nutritional status and well-being. A comprehensive nutrition assessment helps the practitioner design a personalized treatment plan, tailored to the patient’s unique needs and lifestyle to support the highest amount of health and healing. This integrated approach can dramatically improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
This model of nutrition therapy is extremely comprehensive and entails a robust relationship between patient and practitioner. The nutrition assessment is very in-depth and on-going until all possible imbalances are found; in order to correct and resolve symptoms. What an integrative and functional dietitian will look at includes, but is not limited to:
- Lifestyle factors including food, sleep, stress, and behaviors to assess for any negative behaviors, thoughts, and/or beliefs.
- Signs and symptoms within systems, including digestive, immune, reproductive, nervous, and musculoskeletal.
- Specific biomarkers to assess anthropometrics, digestive health, genomics, metabolism, macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies, and possible toxins.
- Assessment of core imbalances, including nutrition, metabolism, digestion, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Treatment looks different for everybody, but may include:
- Elimination diets to get to the root of what is causing symptoms – could be digestive, immunity, skin, headaches, etc.
- Treating macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies. A minor imbalance can produce a cascade of biological triggers with long latency effects that can eventually lead to poor health.
- Removing toxins like heavy metals and other environmental factors.
- Working on negative thoughts and beliefs, including relationship with food and body.
Personally, I have taken the steps to learn and study more about integrative and functional nutrition. I have always used pieces of this model in my own practice and life because I believe that each person is unique. I have found that cookie-cutter approaches do not work. What works for one person does not work for the next. We are all unique beings with different genetics, thoughts, and pathways – we should be treated that way when seen by a health care professional. If you are interested in learning more about this approach to health care, feel free to reach out at [email protected]
Jones, D. S. (2010). Needed: A coherent architecture for 21st-century clinical practice and medical education. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 16(4), 64.
World Health Organization. Obesity Fact Sheet. 2013. Online document at:
www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/ Accessed April 25, 2014.