rē•thinking Your Diet to Work For You

Exploring the depths of functional medicine’s framework.

By: rē•spin
rē•thinking Your Diet to Work For You

If you’ve been on your wellness journey for a minute, you’ve likely heard of functional medicine. The core tenet of the practice is tackling health-related issues from the root rather than treating issues at the surface level. So it makes sense to both the holistically minded and those with a more traditional view of medicine. But what isn’t always clear about functional medicine at first glance is that it isn’t a singular practice. Instead, it’s a framework for many health-related aspects that impact our overall wellness journey. One of those critical aspects is nutrition. 

Understanding functional nutrition

Why do we think of functional medicine as a framework? Functional medicine provides a foundational structure for how we approach our well-being. Think of it as the big-picture idea. It’s a starting point from which we approach and explore different functional practices that impact other parts of our wellness. One of those parts is nutrition and diet. How we nourish our bodies undoubtedly affects the mind, body, and spirit. But how do we rē•spin the functional medicine formula to align with this specific area of our wellness practice?  

“Just like medications, changes to diet and exercise can come with undesirable side effects if not implemented with careful supervision,” Tina Ralutz, MS, RDN, CDN, a health coach at Parsley Health, tells rē•spin. “Functional nutrition professionals prioritize the individual and customize diet recommendations to minimize the stressors of change while still making a positive impact.”

Functional nutrition is just one part of the functional medicine equation. It can help us rē•think the way we care for our bodies and become the best versions of ourselves. Ralutz, a registered dietitian nutritionist, explained that functional nutrition complements other more traditional forms of medicine. This is because many of them already have a nutrition component. Parsley Health is an example of how functional nutrition and conventional medicine can work together. Their hybrid care model pairs each patient with a health coach and a doctor.

The differences between conventional and functional nutrition depend on the practitioner’s approach. “Conventional nutritionists and most other medical professionals tend to learn a straightforward, ‘x+y=z’ approach to nutrition, which comes with limitations,” Ralutz explains. “I like to think that functional nutrition is about doing the best you can with what you have to work with,” she shares. “Whether the barrier to better health is affordability, time, or limiting beliefs, functional nutrition can make lifestyle transitions more tangible.”

Shifting how you approach nutrition

Nutrition, like many aspects of wellness, is not a one-size-fits-all formula. Different bodies have different needs, and food access isn’t equitable. “Experiencing body changes and having to dramatically alter our diet can come with a wide range of challenges, like learning what to cook and how to navigate restaurants,” she says. 

What if you can’t get the ingredients a particular recipe or practice requires? “That doesn’t have to be a blocker,” Ralutz assures. “Functional nutrition professionals are able to tailor broader diet and lifestyle recommendations to fit the individual, optimizing quality of life while still making improvements to health.”

The way we nourish our bodies will change throughout our lifetime. These waves of change are natural. They can be spontaneous or inspired by how our bodies communicate with us. Ralutz cites low energy levels, thinking about food or exercise incessantly, irregularities with menstruation, changes in bathroom habits, loss of food tolerance, dramatic changes in body appearance over short periods, and poor sleep as our bodies telling us it may be time to rē•calibrate our diets to serve our well-being better.

Not many of us grew up learning how to read our body signals or feeling like we could trust our medical system, so it can take a while to start seeking care,” Ralutz says. “But the sooner you do it, the better. If you feel that something is off, don’t ignore it.”

Kickstarting your functional nutrition journey is easier than it may seem. Ralutz gave rē•spin four actionable tips for rē•aligning diet and lifestyle:

  1. Learn to notice if your body is showing you stress. These signals can be easy to miss or disregard.

  2. Don’t let yourself get too hungry between meals.

  3. Talk with a professional before dramatically changing your diet.

  4. Eat with nutrient density in mind most of the time. But don’t let it keep you from enjoying your kid’s or your best friend’s birthday cake.

Ralutz says. “Functional nutrition keeps us connected to our values while still moving the needle forward toward better health and overall wellness.”

 

 

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