Functional medicine. It may sound a little like science fiction or hippie voodoo, but it’s really not. It’s simple and it’s fascinating and it’s changing our lives, and I feel like more people really ought to know. So here goes.
I’ve been wanting to blog about our foray into functional medicine for a while, but it’s impossibly hard to explain, and I didn’t (and still don’t) really feel like I’m qualified enough to do it. I mean, in college I made it out of Weather and Climate with a C+ average, and that was, thank God, the end of my science education. I am not the person you want to be taking health advice from (get thee to a licensed nutritionist. Licensed).
I also told you I wasn’t going to bore you with the details of our diet change. I lied. As I visited my nutritionist one day, I told her that our diet change had prompted a surge of creativity on this blog. Having to dig deep and find new recipes to replace gluten- and sugar-filled standbys has led us to try so many new meals, giving me lots more ideas to share with you.
When I told her this, she said she wished all her clients had this. I thought she meant the creative outlet, because for me, being creative is incredibly important to my well-being.
But no. She meant she wished her clients had a place to go to hear others’ stories and struggles and find new recipes and ideas. Huh. Well...I can do that.
So I'm starting by sharing my story - with you. It's long. It may (read: will) veer into too much detail. But if I can help or encourage even one of you, then I'll consider my job here done.
what the @#$% is functional medicine?
Here's what the Institiute for Functional Medicine says about it: "Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership.
Which basically tells you nothing. You can read more here if you like. As best I can sum it up, you're trying to heal your body from the inside out, using natural supplements and nutrition to address the cause, rather than than taking a pill to fix symptoms.
how on earth did you get involved in this?
Like just about everything else in my life, including meeting my husband: sheer dumb luck. I went on my yoga retreat, where I happened to meet Sarah. When she described what she did, I mentioned the fact that I was having several issues, most critical being that my menstrual cycle had gone AWOL (or as I explain it, my uterus forgot how to uterus).
She told me that if there's an imbalance or inflammation in your body, the first system that shuts down, without fail, every single time, is the reproductive system. The second is your thyroid. The third? Digestion. Guess what I'd been having problems with? All three. She gave me her business card, and there you have it.
why not, you know, just go visit your regular doctor?
I have. Endlessly. Several doctors in several specialties. I've been at the mercy of the Western medicine machine for a decade now, and pills just weren't cutting it anymore. My depression and anxiety were kept at bay enough to make me functional, but I still wasn't thriving. According to blood tests by my doctor, my thyroid medication supposedly was working, and my numbers were where they should be, but somehow I was still tired all. the. damn. time. Like, I was never not tired.
Before I met my nutritionist, I would wake up every single morning angry and frustrated because all I could think of was how soon could I get back to bed? I was frequently irritable and I was sick of being tired all the time - to say nothing of my lady issues, my thyroid on the fritz, and my bizarre digestion. That's the thing about desperation: when you're at rock bottom, trying something new can't be much worse than staying where you are. Western medicine has its place for many issues, but I was at the point where I felt mine needed to be addressed in a different way. I was willing to give this a shot.
fine. so what does the functional nutritionist do?
Prior to the first visit, I had to fill out a food log for a week, along with several fun questionnaires about my general health, habits, and symptoms. At my first visit, she performed several tests, including mineral saliva testing, iodine patch testing, stress testing, and muscle testing. I had to look all that up on her website, because personally, I call it spit testing, dot-on-arm testing, stand-up/sit-down testing, and arm-push testing, respectively (again: I'm not a doctor/scientist. Talk to a professional).
At my second visit, where I got my results, she went over all my deficiencies, and good Lord Almighty, I had a page and a half of them - double-spaced, but still. I just looked at her and said, "Does ANYTHING work in there?!"
I was given five supplements to take, in addition to a mixture called "sole" (basically, salt water) to take morning and evening. She gave me a pill case that makes me look like a low-key drug dealer. She informed me that I have food sensitivities to gluten, oats, soy, chicken eggs, and honey - something that no doctor has noticed in my nearly 33 years on this planet. I was at absolute rock bottom on vitamins B, D, and E, as well as calcium - not because I didn't consume healthy foods but because my body wasn't retaining any of the nutrients. Oh, and I have severe adrenal fatigue. Basically, my adrenal glands were all, "Dude, I can't take this anymore," and staging a protest.
She told me that she was surprised I'd been functioning as well as I had.
And then the biggie: the diet revamp, or as I call it, my marching orders. No sugar. Zip. Zero. No gluten. No potatoes or rice, either. My food ratio should be 75 percent veggies and fats, 25 percent protein. Honestly, my brain was one big hot mess at that appointment. I'm not a great auditory learner anyway, so all this verbal information, combined with all the changes, and I was just in panic mode. She asked, "Do you have any questions?" and all I could think to ask was, "I was going to go to lunch after this. What do I do?!" Because very clearly my pre-planned Caviar and Bananas feast of sandwich and cookie wasn't going to cut it anymore.
She laughed and gave me some restaurant recommendations, and I went off to lunch completely mind-boggled. But a few days later, I had fallen into a pretty good routine of taking my supplements, eating appropriate meals and snacks, logging them in my food log, and drinking plenty of water. There was definitely a learning curve, but I think took to it quite well, actually. I was pretty proud of how well I handled the no-sugar thing. There was only one day (Election Day, actually) where I thought I was going to kill someone for a cookie. So I chewed a piece of "emergency gum," for craving situations, and made it through.
so if I wanted to make some changes...
A functional nutrition plan is tailored to each specific person. No two people's plans will be the same, because no two bodies are the same. Mine is different than B's - for instance, he only has one teaspoon of sole twice a day; I have two teaspoons twice a day. So, all that said, consult a professional (have I made myself clear on that point?). But here are some good basics to start with.
1. No sugar, gluten, rice, or potatoes // This is the most important and also the hardest: not just avoiding sugar, but avoiding anything your body processes as sugar. It's not as bad as you think it will be, but it's best to go it cold turkey and just freaking get it over with. The first few days are the hardest. In my personal opinion, much to my surprise, no sugar isn't the worst part; it's the no rice and potatoes. Do you know how many things have rice and/or potatoes in them or with them?! Indian food, Thai food, sushi, lots of soups...the list goes on.
2. Dietary ratio of 25 percent protein and 75 percent veggies and fats // First rule of thumb: fats are your friend. So channel your inner Paula Deen (minus the whole racist thing) and throw some butter in whatever vegetables or dish you're cooking. Use heavy cream and coconut oil in your coffee instead of half-and-half (so good). And eat your veggies! Lots and lots of veggies! ALL THE VEGGIES.
3. Only eat fresh, whole fruit, and only as a snack // No fruit leather, dried fruit, etc. See rule #1: your body basically processes it just like candy. Eat whole fruit: an apple, a banana, an orange. Frozen fruit is okay. Just eat it as a snack. Your body digests fruit differently than anything else, so never, ever eat fruit with a meal - eat fruit two hours after a meal and/or 30 minutes before a meal. Give yourself a hefty cushion between meals.
4. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water // If, say, you weigh 100 pounds, first of all, I hate you. Second, you need to be drinking 50 ounces of water a day. If you weigh 150 pounds, you need to be drinking 75 ounces of water a day. If you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water a day. And so on. You will pee. A lot. Get used to it.
5. Only pink Himalayan or gray Celtic salt // No sea salt, no iodized salt, no table salt, no nothing. Those are terrible for you. Pink Himalayan or gray Celtic. That's it. They're good for you because while they have the salt flavor (and name), they're really chock-full of trace minerals. Plus, they're so pretty and look impressive on your counter. Bonus: everyone will think you're some kind of fancy chef!
6. No sodas (diet or otherwise) or fruit juices // You're basically drinking sugar. And if you're going to have sugar, wouldn't you rather it be in the form of a delicious slice of chocolate cake or a really good baguette? This is one of the rules that's very easy for us. We rarely, if ever, drink soda, so it's not a hardship.
but is it actually healthy to cut out an entire food group (aka carbs)? Okay, here's how she explained this one to me. You're not cutting out carbs. Fruit has "carbs." Vegetables have "carbs." But is anyone addicted to those? Noooooo. You're cutting out over-processed, white sugar-filled manufactured foods that are designed to make you eat more of them. Think about it. She said, and I quote, "There's no cereal tree. Or bagel bush." God made carrots. Man made Pop-Tarts. Who's obviously better at food creation (and, let's be honest, creation in general)?
but God made potatoes. and rice. why can't you eat those? because our bodies process it as sugar. And while I might be able to eat them eventually, for now we're trying to get my adrenal system up to speed. But if you want to cut out processed foods and still keep eating potatoes, it's not the worst thing in the world. It's just something we have to do for now.
but...I saw pictures of you eating bread and dessert in France! Yes, yes you did. Do you want to know why? Because the good people of France don't have genetically modified foods, including wheat. Their bread is way less worse for you than ours is. It's the genetically modified gluten our bodies react to. Our nutritionist sent us to France with her blessing to indulge. And as for dessert? I'm sorry, but do you think I would go to France, of all freaking places, and not get some cafe gourmands and pastries? That is the whole point - it is totally okay to splurge from time to time. But having dessert every day? Quite a no-no.
but isn't salt bad for you? What's with the sole thing? Regular white table salt, sea salt, iodized salt, etc, are VERY BAD FOR YOU. Stop eating them. Pink Himalayan "salt" and gray Celtic sea "salt" are not so much salt as they are trace minerals that happen to kind of...taste salty. Or something. They are very good for you and provide these minerals for your body, and help hold other nutrients in. That's why I have to take more sole than Brian - my body apparently doesn't like to hang on to vitamins B, D, E, or calcium. Replace your regular salt now.
but...isn't all the butter and bacon and whatnot bad for your heart? I had to get clarification from her on this one. Your body makes fat and cholesterol. You don't accumulate it by eating it. Your body makes cholesterol as a response to over-consumption of sugar and grains. Your body can't make fat or cholesterol out of fat. Basically, for those of you who are of a certain age, forget everything you learned in the '80s. Seriously. At this point, she suggested that I (and subsequently, you) watch Fed Up, a documentary about who is behind the anti-fat movement. I haven't done it yet, but it's on the list.
but won't eating all the fats make you gain weight? No. I know it seems pretty obvious that, say, if you eat fat you get fat. But turns out it's the sugars and starches - nutrient-free calories - that make you fat. From an article my nutritionist sent me, "Our bodies digest these refined carbohydrates and starches very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and then dip, which in turn leads to hunger, overeating, and weight gain. Over time, eating lots of ‘fast carbs’ can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes." Scary. You can read more about that here, here, or here. Basically, fats keep you full. Sugars keep you fat.
good grief. anything else?
It's a lot of information. A lot. I know that. I've been living it, so trust me, I know.
Does everyone need to see a functional nutritionist? Probably not. Could most people stand to follow these eating suggestions a little more closely. Yes. Especially if you've been having health concerns that you've been blaming on "old age" or "it happens to everyone." Think again. If you're giving your body the fuel that it needs, it should run as the Good Lord intended it to. Your reproductive system, thyroid, and digestion should be okay. Your circulation should be good. And on and on and on.
There's a time and place to accept the status quo, but I would suggest that your health isn't that place. Even if you don't do a full-on overhaul of how you eat, taking baby steps to correct bad habits is the first step on the journey to good health.
Questions? Send 'em on, and I'll do my best to answer them. 2016 was, well, batshit crazy. On so many levels. Let's make 2017 our best year yet - starting with ourselves.