What is Functional Medicine?

What is functional medicine?

“Functional medicine is a science-based, personalized healthcare approach that
assesses and treats underlying causes of illness through individually-tailored
therapies to restore health and improve function.” (Dr. Mark Hyman, Medical
Director, Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine)

Simply put, functional medicine is the science of identifying the true root causes of disease in
each unique person and working with them to reverse those root causes. Conventional medicine is great for triage care – for people who have been injured or are in acute need. But conventional medicine has failed to reduce the growing epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases. It is trying to use the same model of triage care in the arena of lifestyle care, and it’s not working. We have a very strong physician-led, pharmaceutical-centered type of approach that is fantastic and life-saving when you’ve been hit by a bus or have some type of acute infection, but it’s never going to work on chronic inflammatory diseases that are largely mediated by our lifestyle choices. The lifestyle choices we make matter in a huge way as to whether we are trending toward a state of disease or a state of wellness. Functional medicine is really the science of working out the puzzle – what are the unique puzzle pieces that are creating the state of disease in this person and how can they be rearranged in order to create a state of wellness.

For more information, please see the Institute for Functional Medicine’s website:

Why do you need a Functional Medicine Health Coach?

The disease management system we currently have doesn’t focus on maintaining wellness. It focuses on diagnosing disease once it’s already present. Doctors then medically manage the disease to keep the patient stable and alive. But that’s a completely different science than helping people to proactively maintain their wellness or find it again once their health has gone astray. We should be helping people to spot imbalances or blockages when they are just nibbling symptoms, long before they have become a diagnosable disease. If we were to have that proactive, customized approach, fewer people would get sick and end up with a diagnosis. Conventional medicine today does not have this as a priority at all.

When your doctor tells you that you need to eat better or have less stress, you may think, “Who on your staff is going to help me do that? Who is going to help me understand what that means? I need some guidance. I need some education. Are you going to provide me some help with that?” Physicians just don’t have time for that. They have been seeing patients all day, sometimes for 12 hours or more, and are exhausted. Also, the bedside manner that a physician has to have for acute care, to be forceful and in charge, won’t work for sustainable lifestyle change. And sustainable lifestyle change is the only thing that’s going to help someone to get well and stay well.

Doctors and patients need teammates whose job it is to answer the above questions and be there when they get derailed. A person who can say, “OK, the Doctor just said that you’re struggling with these issues and you need to eat better, lose weight, exercise more. But how do you do that and incorporate those changes into your lifestyle? I know from experience that you probably feel a little overwhelmed, so let’s just take a step back. Let me explain a little more what he meant, and I’m going to answer all of your questions so when you leave here, you feel competent and informed. Let’s customize a plan for you based on the unique constraints and preferences you have in your life.” Imagine someone’s relief at hearing this. They know that they’re not alone and that they don’t have to cram their wellness into
some cookie-cutter standard that is just not going to work for them. When we start pushing for this approach, we will create the cultural shift where more physicians will see the wisdom of bringing this diversity into the healthcare team. The health coach is the next logical progression of the expansion of health care. There’s a lot of people who are struggling with disease who are not content at all to keep taking a drug to manage their disease. They know there has to be more. There has to be another answer.

There is hope! There is another way!

Health coaching requires a special skill set, and if we add the clinical expertise of functional medicine where health coaches engage with each unique individual and help them sort out root causes as to why they’re sick, really transformative healing can happen. Most health coaches have some type of health issues themselves. When you have a coach that’s had
their own wellness struggle, they bring a tremendous amount of empathy to the process. We truly understand where the client is coming from. We help people to understand that they’re not alone in their health journey. We can help them to customize a step-by- step approach for their unique body, lifestyle, and preferences rather than give them some formulaic approach that is supposed to work for everyone but isn’t optimal for anybody. When people are committed, inspired, and educated, they change their lifestyle. They change how they spend their time. They change their physical activity level. They change the food that they consume. When all of this happens, the body changes too – it naturally seeks wellness. You need a partner in your wellness journey because society today does not promote a lot of healthy
lifestyle choices. We collectively encourage each other, based on what we market, what we sell, what we advertise, what we reward, to be overweight, hyper-stimulated, exhausted, stressed and highly inflamed. All of this puts people on a pathway to disease. So people need a coach, an accountability partner, someone to educate them, someone to inspire them, someone to keep them on track on the days that they are demoralized. All of these things a health coach can do. Add to this a health coach that also has functional medicine training with advanced clinical education. You then have a health coach that can help a client to really sort out the root cause of their disease and then help them dive into the detail of changing their life to make those root causes go away.

The biggest nemesis for people who are trying to change their life is feeling alone. It’s human nature. We want to know that we are not alone. We want to know that we have competent, non-judgmental teammates on our side who can help us to find that wellness. Health coaches are those teammates! You can get well if you are willing to change the lifestyle that made you sick in the first place. We all deserve a life of vitality, and we have the capability to create that for ourselves. There is hope. It’s not an imagined future. It’s an idea whose time has come.