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Your Complete Guide To Functional Nutrition + How To Become Certified

Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
July 25, 2021
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer
By Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor.
July 25, 2021

Perhaps one of the most well-known, au courant concepts leading the way in the health and wellness spheres today is biological uniqueness, or the notion that everyone is truly individual in biochemical terms. From metabolic makeup and genetics to overall nutritional requirements, every one of us has deeply particular needs regarding optimal well-being, which is why the one-size-fits-all route to health isn't necessarily the answer to a wholesome, vibrant life.

Instead, one powerful method is adopting a whole-person approach that integrates the full complexity of an individual (mind, body, lifestyle, stress management behaviors, and beyond). Enter: functional nutrition.

What is functional nutrition?

In the same family as functional medicine, functional nutrition is a personalized, systems-oriented approach that goes beyond managing the immediacy of symptoms and disease—and rather looks at the whole person.

"With an emphasis on personalized food and lifestyle approaches to wellness and disease management, functional nutrition focuses on the patient (not just on their disease or condition) while taking a holistic approach to optimizing an individual's health based on their unique needs," says registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN.  

Through the lens of this integrative, science-informed approach to well-being, functional nutrition reaffirms the dynamic interconnectedness of the body, by acknowledging how each organ and system operate together to achieve optimal function. It recognizes that food is not only a source of fuel but an exceptional device to address the underlying basis of disease while paving the way toward ultimate, everyday wellness.

As for the strategic nutrition itself, this method specifically emphasizes high-quality foods, phytonutrient diversity, plus their role in supporting physiological function and overall health.

The benefits of functional nutrition over standard nutrition.

As Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN, previously told mbg, it's important to take the whole person "inclusive of their lived experience, culture, heritage, and health needs—into consideration" when it comes to nutrition. "We often say there is no one-size-fits-all dietary approach yet perpetuate a narrow view of what a 'healthy' plate is supposed to look like." This very concept is a cornerstone of what differentiates functional nutrition from more standard methods.

According to Cording, "compared to medical nutrition therapy, functional nutrition focuses more on the individual and also encompasses lifestyle factors that could affect food choices—and how food choices may be impacting lifestyle," she says. "It offers a more holistic approach to enhancing a person's well-being while providing more nuanced care."

Moreover, functional nutrition seeks to establish an empowering, educational, and therapeutic patient-provider relationship to better amplify their well-being, autonomy, and foster sustainable transformations.

What does a functional nutrition coach do?

Functional nutrition coaches are trained wellness professionals who help guide individuals on their health and nutrition journeys. They take a person-forward approach to health while considering all the factors that may affect an individual's well-being. Functional nutrition coaches tend to have a multidisciplinary knowledge of multiple topics in the health and wellness field, from gut support to longevity.

While there are many similarities between nutrition coaches and health coaches, the former places a greater emphasis on food and nutrition science as the cornerstone tool for health support.

How to get a functional nutrition certification.

Picking a nutrition coaching program that fits your goals, needs, and healthy living mindset is important.

Colleges and universities do offer programs in this field. However, a shorter certificate program could also be a good fit, particularly if you want your functional nutrition education to complement work you are already doing, says Cording. "Either way, it can help to talk to people who have gone through the program or programs you're interested in to help you find the best fit. You also want to make sure to choose a program that offers a science-based curriculum." 

While searching for a trustworthy, solid nutrition coaching program, keep these factors in mind:

  • Person-centered: Learning a patient-first approach is an important tool for sustainable well-being.
  • Science-backed curriculum: Seek out a program with cutting-edge education and training on nutrition, physiology, hormone health, inflammation, whole-person wellness, gut health, and autoimmune disease, among others.
  • Telehealth: How has the program adapted to the ever-changing landscape of telemedicine? How does the scope and practice of functional nutrition fit within the current and ever-ubiquitous model?
  • Coaching methodology: Applied coaching theory, behavioral facilitation, and educative processes within a social context are useful for an effective coaching program.

With the plethora of coaching education opportunities currently available, finding the right program might feel like a daunting task. But rest assured that once you clarify your long-term intention and vision for your functional nutrition coaching career, it will be easier to identify your next best step. Cording has some last nuggets of inspiration for your program-hunting journey: 

  • Know what you want to do with your credentials because it'll guide you in selecting the best program. 
  • Get clear on your vision, and evaluate how your chosen program will fit into or affect your current lifestyle.
  • Consider what you can realistically take on. For example, do you have the time and resources to do a master's program right now? How many hours per week can you realistically spend on a certificate program?
  • First, look at the time commitment. Then, get the most of that education. 
  • Be honest with yourself and make sure you prioritize good-quality education that will prepare you well for your future endeavors.

Want to learn more about functional nutrition?

We write a lot about functional nutrition here at mbg. Here are some more resources if you'd like to learn a bit more:

The bottom line.

Functional nutrition continues to be an instrumental force shaping the modern health care paradigm. An emerging, revolutionary area of research, this integrative approach to human health and nutrition can be a life-fulfilling career path for anyone looking to deepen their nutrition knowledge and help others flourish along the way!

Want to turn your passion for wellbeing into a fulfilling career? Become a Certified Health Coach! Learn more here.
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A author page.
Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A
Food & Nutrition Writer

Ximena Araya-Fischel, M.A, is a journalist, IIN graduate integrative health coach, E-RYT 500 lead yoga teacher, and 500-Hour certified Pilates instructor from San José, Costa Rica. She received her master's degree in communication and journalism from The University of New Mexico, emphasizing well-being, sustainable fashion, health communication research, and graduating Summa Cum Laude. A former professional dancer, she's earned multiple academic and accredited certifications in performance design, positive psychology, doula training, entrepreneurship, digital marketing, mindfulness, innovation leadership, and integrative health. Her work has appeared at top consulting brands and organizations across Latin American and the US, including Byrdie and Albuquerque The Magazine. She currently lives between Costa Rica and New Mexico.