By Rachel Albaum RDN, CDN, CDE, RYT, CLT, IFNCP
Honestly, I had no clue what an Integrative and Functional Nutritionist was until I stepped foot into my first Kripalu Retreat for some continuing education credits about 6 to 7 years back. I have been a Registered Dietitian for over 13 years now, but my studies in Nutritional Sciences started at the University of Connecticut almost 20 years ago! Anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist with very little to no education (please note this does not apply to all), but the path to becoming a Registered Dietitian is not an easy one. In fact, to major in Nutrition Sciences, you must take a lot of SCIENCE and Pre-Med courses (including everyone’s favorite Organic Chemistry 😉). Following school, is more school… as we all must complete a Dietetic Internship. I went to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital for a year internship program that I like to call residency on speed. You basically rotate through all the diseases and specialties as medical students do, but at a much quicker pace! All my training, both at UCONN and at NY-Presbyterian were medically based and to be fair were (and are) unbelievable programs. But I was trained solely on Eastern Medicine principles that you have a problem, you find out the diagnosis, and you treat that problem. If another problem occurs, well, that is another treatment plan, another medication, and another doctor, and in fact another diet restriction.
I found when I ventured outside of the hospital and into one on one nutritional counseling, I was stumped. I could put someone on the perfectly correct diet with the exact calculated calories, protein, fat, and fluid need and get no results?! I found clients coming in having tried everything and anything to feel better and not finding any answers after seeing multiple doctors and specialists. I also found, when I only focused on nutrition education I was missing huge pieces of the puzzle that were linked to their health and conditions. I discovered you could eat the most “picture perfect” diet, but if you are in chronic stress, it can barely make a dent. A lot of what we were taught with nutrition is outdated information. Nutritional Sciences is not black and white and is in fact a very young and evolving field with new and updated information coming out all the time. It’s frustrating as a healthcare practitioner when you feel like you don’t have the answers. That’s when I began looking at and studying other modalities to healing such as mindfulness, yoga, and Integrative and Functional Nutrition.
Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM) defines Integrative Medicine as a practice of medicine that focuses on the importance of the relationship between the healthcare provider and the client and treating the whole person versus a disease. It uses science- based evidence, appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals, and other disciplines to achieve optimal health and wellness. Functional Medicine is defined as a means to address the underlying causes of the disease or condition that uses a system- oriented approach that looks into the origin of complex diseases, preventions, and treatments. It also involves an open relationship between provider and client to dive deep into their life history including birth, illnesses, medications, possible toxic and environmental exposures, emotional and physical stressors along with looking at genetics, spirituality, and family and friend connections. Basically, it leaves no stone unturned to find the root cause(s) to provide the right care plan and treatment.
I am not saying there isn’t a role for conventional Eastern Medicine practices. There absolutely is. You have strep throat- an antibiotic is the way to go. But if you chronically are getting infections, and consistently on antibiotics- it is important to stop and ask why?! Not to mention, the impact chronic use of antibiotics has on the body! At the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy we were taught, N=1, meaning that every single person needs to be looked at as an individual. Just because someone has Diabetes doesn’t mean they get the same treatment plan as someone else with the same disease. There could be numerous reasons as to why they have it, how they respond to medications, and lifestyle influences. Using a variety of modalities that infuse Western with Eastern Medicine combining nutrition, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, Ayurveda, laboratory and diagnostic testing, medicine, botanicals and supplements, and even detoxification programs is what helps heal and transform people to have healthier and happier lives.
As a healthcare practitioner, I feel it is crucial to step outside of the box and stop the one size fits all approach. When individuals feel comfortable with their healthcare team, feel heard, and feel like a participant in their care plan that’s when “magic” happens.