Nutrition Science

What is Functional Medicine?


Photo by Cara Fuller on Unsplash

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a term that’s very familiar to me, but I forget sometimes that when I started studying it a little over seven years ago, the concept was relatively new to me and certainly the term itself was not one that was in my day to day vocabulary. So today I wanted to draw on the inspiration provided to me by functional medicine doctor Tom O’Bryan, who I had the pleasure of meeting the other week. Dr O’Bryan’s knowledge is phenomenal, but it’s not that information that I want to share with you today, it’s the analogies he uses to explain in simple terms what Functional Medicine is, and how he proposes everyone undertake life-changing practices that are not daunting, nor complicated, nor intangible to the many…

So what is functional medicine?

Functional medicine, put simply, is getting to the root cause of health symptoms, and fixing the issues that lead to chronic ill health in the first place. Here I must just reiterate that it’s chronic conditions I’m talking about, not illness through an accident or stringent virus that we were unfortunate enough to befall. So when we find ourselves in a place of chronic ill health, the analogy Dr O’Bryan used and which I want to share with you today, is one of falling down a waterfall and into a pond.

When we fall down that waterfall we, hopefully, receive the medicine we need to survive, his so-called “lifejacket medicine”. But what brought us to that place in the first place? And how do we get out of the pond? This is functional medicine – looking back upstream, sometimes as far as events in our childhood or even preconception, that lead us to that stream in the first place. And once we find them, we can start to make changes to resolve that underlying issue or issues, and figuratively climb out of the pond and walk back upstream to a place of good health again.

To quote Albert Einstein “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If we don’t make any changes, how can we expect to set out on a different, healthier path, that won’t lead us back to that waterfall again?

In some cases I don’t dispute that lifelong medication may be needed, but even in that instance, there are likely factors we can change that will help support our health for the future, and those factors are what is today more commonly called “lifestyle medicine”: diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.

What does functional medicine look like in everyday life?

Whilst my main focus, as a Nutritional Therapist, is on diet, my functional medicine training has taught me how to also recognise and address the other three of these pillars too, and clients who come to see me for advice on what to eat often also leave with simple changes to make to their sleep habits or exercise regime too, or ideas and tools to help them better manage their day-to-day stress. All these aspects are also very much interlinked: diet plays a role in how we manage stress for example, and exercise can impact how well we sleep, all these factors are inextricably intertwined. While that might sound more complicated and daunting, it’s often the very opposite: making one small change can act as a catalyst to so many other aspects of our life and health. And these leads me to the other pearl of wisdom from Dr O’Bryan that I wanted to share with you today: “base hits win the ball game”.

“Base hits win the ball game”

An American phrase I know, but what it means is simple: it’s not the home runs that have the biggest impact on a baseball team’s success. It’s not the huge life changes that we sometimes think we need to make (“it’s January, out with the sugar and the TV dinners, in with the kale and daily gym work-outs” – does that sound familiar?) It’s the small steps we take that positively impact our health, lead to good habits, and allow us to move on and make the next small step rather than give up because everything’s become too overwhelming.

Where are you now?

For some of you reading this, you may well be feeling that you’re in the pond at the bottom of the waterfall. Would you like some help to climb out and walk back upstream? For others you may be in the stream. Perhaps you don’t realise it yet, but if you’re not confident about how to eat, sleep and exercise well and manage your stress, could it be that you may be headed for that waterfall? If any of this does resonate with you, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line and set up a complementary call to see if a personalised functional and lifestyle medicine approach could help you. Or, check out my next EAT TO THRIVE programme to help learn the main principals behind eating well and feel confident you really are making healthy choices with your diet.

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