February 13th, 2014 by Digestive Detective
While most of us are buried in snow today, I'm buried in books: Advanced Nutrition and Metabolism, Nutritional Therapy and Pathophysiology, Biochemical and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition, Clinical Practitioner Skills; you know, just some light reading.
I'm sure you may have cringed at the sounds of these titles as they conjured up images of high school chemistry courses and biology labs. The funny thing is, for me, I GEEK out on this kind of stuff. I love poring over research articles, scientific literature, and physiology textbooks. Toss in some motivational interviewing and behavior change technique videos, and I'm one happy, nerdy dude.
I've been immersing myself in this type of knowledge and information over the past year and a half on my own and as part of my education at the Maryland University of Integrative Health. A unique higher education academic institution, MUIH is a beacon for passionate people who aspire to become passionate practitioners in the field of holistic and integrative health. For me personally, this very philosophy, methodology of teaching, and practice was the primary reason I chose to register for the Master's in Nutrition and Integrative Health. Over this past 18 months or so, many friends, family, and acquaintances have inquired as to why I chose MUIH, what makes them different and that if I was really interested in nutrition, why I didn't instead choose the standard route of a registered dietitian. The answer is simple...integration.
Can you be physically active but not healthy? Is it possible to eat well but still encounter health challenges? Are you able to master stress in your life only to still not achieve true, whole health? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES. Just as in the natural environment, nothing in our lives and our bodies works in isolation; everything is intertwined and impacted by one other. We've all seen or experienced it. We eat a stellar diet but feel tired, stressed, and depressed. We see the exercise fanatic on the treadmill next to us plugging away yet notice their body never seems to change. We have the friend who looks thin and healthy, but mentions their high cholesterol and blood pressure results from their last doctors visit. Achieving a level of ideal health takes more than simply focusing on one area and even then, it requires the right tools and techniques be used in the proper manner to identify and correct imbalances. It requires an integrative approach.
Enter Integrative Nutrition
Integrative nutrition, just as with integrative medicine, is a burgeoning field. For a definition, I particularly like the one outlined on the MUIH website page discussing the approach in the Natural Care Center:
"Integrative nutritionists use science-based diet and nutrition therapies to support your personal health and well-being. They recognize that individualized nutrition is essential to health and their integrative approach is not limited to one dietary theory. Their support may include the use of conventional and non-conventional dietary philosophies rooted in traditional practice and scientific evidence.
Food can be powerful medicine, affecting your overall health and vitality as well as every function of your body. In fact, what you eat and drink literally becomes the very substance of your body. Whole foods, eaten and prepared properly, can effect profound changes in mind, body, and spirit."
As I progressed with my personal training career, it became increasingly apparent that something was missing; actually, that a LOT was missing. I'd design comprehensive exercise programs and even sprinkle in some nutrition basics. As time went on, I added elements of stress management, sleep strategy, and more in-depth nutrition and physiological considerations such as hormones and digestion. Still, clients would often struggle to see results. It became abundantly clear that in order to truly help people, I needed to know more, and I needed a different approach. I think this is a case of growing and evolving as a professional particularly in the field of health & wellness. You acquire more knowledge, more insight, additional techniques and you never stop learning. New studies come out, new information is gained, and the process to improve function in the human body requires an increasingly integrated method.
A Different Approach
While I certainly respect registered dietitians, I believe its a matter of difference in philosophy; a difference in approach. For the integrative nutritionist, all aspects of an individuals life must be taken into consideration, and therefore into the program and methods that help them reach their goals. Being an integrative nutritionist is more than simply following a set of rigid guidelines, pointing out components of MyPlate, or encouraging a client to count calories. It's about understanding deep connections of biology, biochemistry, and physiology and their interconnected nature in the systems of the body, and how those systems themselves interact. It's about not only looking at a clients food journal, but examining their bloodwork, searching for anomalies that point to dysfunction in the systems of the body -- dysfunction that may be underlying their symptoms. It's a kind of investigative detective work, where components of physical, emotional, nutritional, mental, and spiritual health all have to be addressed in order to empower the client to realize their true health potential and break past barriers. In a way, its a form of "medicine" - using food, physical activity, stress management, supplements and various therapeutic measures to help clients determine the root cause of their health issues, and develop, implement, and execute a comprehensive system to support the body in functioning to its absolute best ability.
In the current shift in healthcare, integrative nutrition serves as an integral piece to engage and empower individuals and families towards greater self-care. This is my ultimate goal, and I'm working harder every day to bring all my energy to this endeavor.
What questions do you have about integrative and functional nutrition? Share below and join the conversation.