With a focus on restoration and maintenance of health through nutrition, movement, mental wellness, our functional medicine collective of experts and practitioners are sharing tangible tips and techniques as well as science based facts to support your quest toward optimal health. Please use the following articles to support and guide you as you create your legacy of health.
Our health is our legacy. A seed that when nurtured can grow and continue to blossom over time. Optimal health is your complete physical, emotional, and relational well-being. It’s not just the absence or prevention of disease but taking an active role in the vitality of those parts that make up your whole. It’s feeling good in your body; a sense of freedom in your body that gives you the tools to live to your fullest.
Your highest form of health is unique to you. It’s going to be different for everyone. It may be helpful to connect with a health coach to get clear and set some health goals.
Achieving optimal health is primarily a mindset; it’s about choosing and deciding to live with intention. A quick exercise is to ask yourself ‘what things can I do every day to reach my optimal health?’ Maybe it has to do with your eating habits, what you’re choosing to put into your body. Or perhaps you need to develop a daily stretching routine or make a date with friends. You can create your health manifesto to guide you toward optimal health.
Because optimal health looks and feels different for everyone, it’s important to remember you own it! Your health and taking care and control of it is your responsibility, and it has a ripple effect. When you take care of yourself you can be the best version of yourself no matter your role (partner, friend, parent, family, employee) you can connect in meaningful ways that can span generations.
Living with the intention to make simple edits to your health can cause transformation. For example, when you change your eating habits, you’ll feel better physically and emotionally, which will change the way you think. Literally, the way your mind works and your approach to health. You’ll experience change on all levels including relational health. If you start cooking for health or moving your body more with your family or friends, you’ll create a connection of support and accountability to each other.
The steps to achieve optimal health are available and straightforward. Your biggest challenge is to decide you want to take those steps. And knowing the everlasting benefits, it’s hard to pass up.
Make sure you reach out to functional medicine practitioners to gain support. They will give you the tools you need to reach optimal health on a daily basis. Tools that are flexible enough to integrate so they can easily become a part of you and your life as it changes.
There’s a lot of confusion about what functional medicine is and what it is not, even within the medical community. By definition, functional medicine seeks to identify and address the root cause of health conditions. In practice, it’s patient-centered and biology-centered (rather than disease-centered), meaning the focus is on the origin of underlying health specific to that individual patient and his or her life experiences.
Technically considered a form of alternative medicine, functional medicine is unique because it is often practiced by physicians who are primarily trained in Western conventional medicine. That means they have the same rigorous education and training, certifications, credentials, and licensing as any other medical doctor. They are trained in recognizing all kinds of disease states, both acute and chronic; and they are trained in conventional diagnostics and treatments.
However, a functional medicine provider will have additional training to address root causes, with a focus on physiology and how the body functions as an integrated system. Part of this training includes treatment options that are not commonly used in a more conventional approach. Functional medicine is investigative, by nature, and the process begins with listening to the patient’s complete health story. Since this requires a lot of time, appointments are longer, with more face to face time with the doctor.
Another unique feature of functional medicine is its expanded approach to diagnosis and treatment. Rather than focusing on alleviating symptoms, root causes are considered, and diagnostic testing not typically available in the conventional setting can be pursued to bring clarity to the diagnostic process. Nutritional evaluation and genetics testing are a few common examples. Treatments may or may not include pharmaceuticals, but always attempts to find and fix the underlying issues that are causing the problem. Functional medicine practitioners are trained in the most current medical literature, using a more up-to-date science-based approach, and they are also trained in the art of medicine, recognizing the high value of trust and authenticity in the patient-doctor relationship.
Perhaps the greatest benefit from a functional medicine approach is the actual fixing of health problems instead of masking symptoms or even creating new ones. A common example is using repeated courses of antibiotics and steroids to treat recurrent eczema, asthma, and respiratory infections when perhaps a detailed history and targeted lab test can uncover an exposure, food allergy, or nutrient deficiency causing the problem.
Even if you’re not experiencing an acute health crisis or chronic condition, it does not mean you can’t benefit from restorative healing and health maintenance characterized by the functional medicine approach. In fact, true prevention is a major component of treatment.
Often, especially when we’re young, we experience minor health problems that we recover from or learn to live with. Sometimes we don’t even notice the symptoms because it simply becomes a “new normal” for us. But once those symptoms magnify or become unbearable, often in middle age, people take notice and either take action to see a healthcare provider or have a major event. Many times, these issues are related to previous exposures and daily habits that the body can no longer compensate for. Cumulative damage, so to speak. Then it seems like the floodgates open and the suffering begins. Even if you haven’t experienced this yourself, you probably know someone who has.
Functional medicine embraces the fact that your body has the innate ability to heal itself if given the proper environment for health restoration. It’s important to work with a practitioner who can support you as you pursue optimal health, even if you feel good today. And if you don’t feel good today, then what are you waiting for?
Your first visit to your functional medicine provider is a great starting point to take control of your physical, emotional, and relational well-being and create a plan to reach optimal health.
Determining the root cause of your illness or health condition is a top priority for your functional medicine provider. Your health history is the most important aspect of this determination. In order to create a health plan that works for your individual health goals, expect to take a deep dive into your health history to create a timeline that goes from birth until the present.
Because your health history can take some time, it’s suggested that prior to your appointment you create your own timeline. Draw a line that ends where you currently are in your health. Then start at the beginning (birth) and make note with a dashed line of significant events, "I started my menstrual cycle at 12. I had a car accident at 25, I got divorced at 32.” Start this timeline project a few weeks out from your first appointment. Throughout that time allow your subconscious to recall these significant life events and make a note on your timeline.
This exercise will prepare you to concisely deliver your story when you sit down with your functional medicine physician.
The information gathered through your health history can help explain why your health is where it’s at and lead your functional medicine team toward a healing program. Here’s a brief overview of some common health history factors to consider prior to your functional medicine appointment.
Health History: You’ll be asked to start from the beginning. Starting from birth, were you a vaginal delivery or a cesarean?
Environmental/Exposure history: What kind of environment did you grow up in? Was there mold or radon in your home or exposure to toxins? You may also be asked about trauma experience, this could be physical, sexual, spiritual.
Family History: Is there a history of autoimmune conditions in the family? Cancers? What type of cancers? Any viral infections?
Personal History: In regard to infections, have you ever had mono, recurrent ear infections or strep throat that might've required multiple doses of antibiotics?
Social History: Do you smoke, drink alcohol - how much? What about recreational drug use? In addition, what is your family setup? Are you married, single? Do you have children? How many and when did you have them?
Once you share your health history, your functional medicine team can decide what path to go and where you’re at currently, financially, mentally, physically.
The speed at which you can improve your health when guided by a functional medicine provider can be much quicker because you're truly present. When you’re involved on a detailed and personal level in creating your own health legacy, it’s possible to see improvement in a short time. This is a result of a customized program and support on every level.
Don’t be alarmed if you don’t have all the answers to your health history. There are tests that can be done for heavy metals toxicity or microbiome tests to see if you have bacterial overgrowth or other types of infections. There are also tests that can reveal your cortisol and hormone levels as well as tests to see if you have a vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
You can look forward to your functional medicine team spending time with you, listening to your health story and actively taking note to identify genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors specific to you that could influence your long-term health and vitality.
Chances are you’ve heard the term health coach before. But what is a health coach and how does a health coaching program actually work?
Put simply, a health coach is someone to support you throughout your journey to well-being.
When you commit to your health and personal wellness, you can count on your health coach to not only create a customized program to support you in reaching your goals but have your back every step of the way.
From the get-go, any barriers that may serve as challenges or hold you back in your social, physical, or environmental life will be identified and factored into your custom program. That’s why it’s so important that you share your personal health story with your health coach. Be prepared to share your past and how you got to the point you’re at today and also where you want to be in the future. What does your optimal health look like? This health goal is different for everyone and can change depending on your life stage. It could be lowering your blood pressure, sleeping better, reducing your stress or your reaction to stress, or running a 5k.
This knowledge helps set the framework for not only the specific lifestyle changes you want to make but gives your coach a reference point to serve as your best source of accountability, support, and encouragement throughout your health and wellness journey.
Your health coach will strive to bring together all aspects of a functional medicine practice, making sure your physical health is supported as well as your mental and emotional health. Perhaps dietary changes are needed; your health coach would connect you with a registered dietitian. If your health coach recognizes work with a behavioral health therapist could elevate your overall health, that resource will also be integrated into your health coaching program.
Knowing that your health coach supports you in any plan to improve your health and help you move forward toward your goals is critical. This includes helping you find balance in any physician's recommendations with your lifestyle, your work life, and your personal life.
Your journey toward optimal health is an ongoing relationship. You may have times of frustration or setbacks because this is real life. You may struggle at different times of the year and with the support of a health coach to redirect and navigate those barriers you can get back on track quicker and with better coping mechanisms. You’ll have better tools to work through the next time life presents you with that same conundrum or barrier.
Remember everyone works at a different pace and therefore success is going to look different for everyone and even come at different times throughout your health and wellness journey. Your health coach should celebrate the smaller successes on the way toward your bigger end goals.
It should be a mutual goal that you can revisit throughout your journey with your health coach and make sure you access new tools if needed. Check-ins should always be available. It doesn't have to be weekly, but know that your health coach is always there and they remember your story. They want to support you as life changes, as stages of life change; health desires and health needs change.
The most rewarding health coaching experience often occurs when the realization that organizing your life to focus on health can positively impact the rest of your family, your social environment, and your community. Achieving optimal health has a rewarding ripple effect for all who come in contact with you.
Culinary medicine. This phrase may seem like an oxymoron, but it is not. The fact is we are what we eat. This is a scientific fact. Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, are the building blocks of everything in our body. Every function, every system, every repair, every reaction exists only when the body has the raw materials needed to make that happen. And the better our nutrition, the more nutrients, the more minerals, the more phytonutrients that we get, then the more efficiently our bodies can function.
Whether you’re struggling with a disease, pain, or symptom, it all has its roots in either an excess or a deficiency. An excess could be a toxic compound like a food additive, too much salt or sugar, or too much fat. A deficiency could be a particular shortage of an amino acid, vitamin, mineral, or phytonutrients in the diet. Either excess or a deficiency can cause disease, affect your body’s capacity to heal, and limit your ability to achieve optimal health.
For some people, simply identifying what they need to do is enough. For others, knowing the “why” matters. “When I eat this food (leafy greens or berries), this is what happens in my body.”
A functional medicine practitioner such as a dietician can help you look into what types of substances might be an excess or deficiency in your diet and also why it’s important. Together, you come to an understanding of which dietary changes are going to accomplish your health goals, which can be different for each person.
If choosing foods and cooking for health does not come naturally, you can always learn! As you begin to change your diet, you’re also training your mind and body to make different choices and execute your plan for sustained transformation. A functional dietician can support you through this process and teach you valuable skills along the way. And yes, you can learn to make healthy cooking enjoyable and cost-effective.
Practicing culinary medicine in your own home may seem overwhelming, but it’s rather straightforward. In addition to talking about your food choices with a registered dietician, clearing out your kitchen space and making sure you have the essential kitchen tools (hint: there are only three things you really need) are the major components of cooking for health. Another important aspect is finding your community.
One of the best ways to create your community is through taking classes and developing new friendships with people that enjoy eating healthier types of foods. We may not always want to admit it, but our peer group influences us a lot. If our friends, family, and coworkers are eating french fries and chicken wings, then there's a lot of unspoken pressure for us to eat that same kind of thing just because it’s there. That’s human nature. On the flip side, when we surround ourselves with people who eat healthier, then it's much easier to do the same.
Especially if someone receives a new diagnosis, they feel enormous pressure to make a lot of changes really fast. In some cases, there are health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer where there’s an immediate need for change very quickly or you put yourself at risk.
In other cases, perhaps the early stages of an autoimmune disease, gastrointestinal dysfunction, or other chronic health issue that’s lessacute, you may have a little more time to make changes. These health issues may not be as time sensitive they still require significant learning, support, and community.
Whatever your circumstance, a dietary professional who is knowledgeable about functional nutrition and works with a functional medicine doctor can help you get to the root of the issue, make high-impact changes, and facilitate finding a community of like-minded people.
Practicing culinary medicine doesn’t have to be hard. The first step is gathering a team of professionals who are on your side and want to see you achieve your health goals. After that, assuming you’ve chosen a good team, you can be assured they will support you and be a positive influence as you journey toward optimal health.