Functional Medicine: What It is, my Experience & Is it Worth it?

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what is functional medicine? and is it worth it? all the answers and my honest experience

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember this post from last year where I opened up about my past health issues and what I was currently dealing with. It was one of those posts where I debated hitting “publish” for a long time. Honestly it’s scary to share all that private, personal information! If you haven’t read it, it might be worth it just to get a better idea of where I was starting from and what’s motivated me to make big changes in my life.

But, after making some major changes and seeing some huge improvements in how I felt, I knew I couldn’t not share. It ended up being a post that shifted the direction of some of my content here on the blog. Wellness, health and self-love still remains one of my favorite things to write about and share with you guys.

The best part is hearing back from readers who are going through a similar issue. Or hearing from anyone that is simply looking to improve their health and happiness. I love that! It’s so nice to have a little community here. So thanks for that! It also got me motivated (and reminded me) to pick up my wellness email series, so if you haven’t signed up for that, you can here! And, if you are signed up, you’ll start getting those again on Fridays. Sorry I let that fall apart for a while, I completely forgot about it once Owen arrived!

Anyway, back to today’s post!

Somewhere between 36 weeks pregnant, having a baby and trying to figure out our new normal, I sort of stopped taking the best care of myself and in turn, stopped sharing as much wellness content. For a while, I just wasn’t feeling all that motivated. It was much easier to snuggle into my sweatpants on the couch than it was so get up, go for a walk or cook a healthy meal.

I was on a downhill slide that seemed to have no end in sight. I wasn’t feeling great, it was cold outside, and I was exhausted all the time—even after Owen started sleeping more. I’d have spells of dizziness or fogginess throughout the day and generally didn’t feel all that motivated to do much of anything, which left me feeling guilty and disappointed in myself.

Talk about a vicious cycle.

January hit, and I finally decided to do something I’d been wanting to do for about a year—visit a functional medicine doctor. I’ve read tons books, watched documentaries and researched my symptoms for natural ways to remedy them. I’ve tried a whole lot of weird things, and while they’d work for a bit, they didn’t completely solve my problem and eventually I’d quit. I know that natural remedies aren’t a quick fix, but my methods of trying all sorts of random things wasn’t working for me either.

Finally, I’d hit that point and decided it was time to really get serious about making changes based off real, tangible data! So, I booked my first appointment!

My Experience with Functional Medicine & Clinical Nutrition

What is Functional Medicine

Unlike traditional, modern medicine, functional medicine is a treatment that focuses on optimizing our bodies’ natural functions to bring it back into alignment so that it can heal itself and function at its best. Instead of using prescription drugs as medication, they focus on diet and lifestyle changes as well as adding supplements (usually temporarily) to bring your body back to normal.

Why I Like This Approach

Whether it’s my digestive issues, breakouts, fatigue or anything else, a traditional doctor would likely tell me that there was no cure for it, or give me a prescription to mask my symptoms. Like I mentioned above, I’m really not looking for a quick fix. I want a real fix!

I know that my body is capable of healing itself. So getting to the root of the issue and solving it there seemed like a better plan. I also like that it’s natural. I’m working in harmony with my body and providing it with the nutrients, vitamins, foods and exercise it needs without adding any chemicals that can upset that delicate balance.

All this being said, I haven’t gone total hippie, obviously there are plenty of times where prescription medicine is necessary! Modern medicine is wonderful. I most definitely did not have a natural birth and I’m very thankful that epidurals exist. Especially during the 2 hours of back labor I experienced just before giving birth. I just don’t feel that prescription drugs are the best thing for these long-standing problems that I continue to have. Problems that can be remedied with natural methods. Essentially I want to avoid having to take a drug every single day and be able to eat myself to good health.

Where I Went

This can be the biggest hurdle, right?! Trying to find a reputable doctor is tough! I went to Aligned Modern Health after reading positive reviews. They’ve been in Chicago for a long time and now have multiple offices around the city. They do everything from functional medicine, to clinical nutrition, acupuncture (which I really want to try), and chiropractic medicine. I highly recommend them if you’re in the area, but if not, do some research in the city where you live!

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Does Insurance Cover This?

This was a big question for me, and unfortunately my insurance was not in network, but the self-pay rates were still reasonable. And, I figured an investment in my long-term health was a good use of my hard-earned money. Definitely call though, because some insurance companies do cover this type of care!

First Meeting with the Functional Medicine Doctor

My first visit was a lengthy consultation. We talked in depth about my lifestyle, habits, current diet, medical history, stress levels, the issues I was wanting to solve and my goals. It was really wonderful to talk to a doctor that didn’t look at everything in black and white.

I assumed that people with similar issues would get similar treatment, but she explained that different imbalances can manifest themselves differently in different people. I loved knowing that I would be getting a specific treatment plan tailored to me, my body and my lifestyle.

After we discussed all that, she ordered labs for specific blood tests as well as a saliva test that more accurately measures adrenal stress. I went to a third party lab to have my blood drawn and did the saliva test at home and mailed it in.

Blood Work & Saliva Test Results

We met again about 2-3 weeks after the first appointment when all the results were back in from the blood and saliva test to go over the findings. I was really excited about this appointment because for the first time, it felt like I was going to get real answers! We went through the blood work line by line, because it would have meant nothing to me, and she told me which areas were good and where I could use some help. There were lots of areas that were “medically normal”, but not optimal from a functional medicine point of view.

The biggest findings were that my cortisol levels were a mess. Your body is suppose to have a spike of cortisol in the morning and then curve down throughout the day. That spike is what wakes us up! If everything is balanced, you should wake up naturally feeling alert and well-rested. I couldn’t tell you the last time I felt like that!

Anyway, I had no curve—just a straight line—which wasn’t a surprise because of how tired I was! I’d always assumed I had some adrenal issues, but it was a relief to know that was exactly what was happening and that it could be fixed.

A lot of the other blood tests that weren’t ideal were pointing towards hypoglycemia, meaning low blood sugar. This was contributing to the exhaustion and also causing that foggy mid-day feeling and dizziness I was often feeling.

I was also really low in the fats, proteins and carbohydrates area as well as deficient in Vitamin D, which is actually really common for northerners. Thankfully, there was also good news! Plenty of the blood tests had come back to show I was optimal in those areas and it was a big relief to find out that other parts of my body, like my liver and thyroid, were functioning optimally!

At the end of my appointment, the doctor recommended a series of vitamins and supplements to help bring my body back into balance. I’ll go more into the treatment plan in just a bit!

Meeting with the Dietician

Two days after meeting with the functional medicine doctor, I met with a registered dietician. It was the first time I’d ever met with a dietician and I was really excited for this appointment. We went over my current diet and talked about how I was feeling throughout the day. Then she made some awesome suggestions about what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat throughout the day. We talked a lot about snacks and easy to make things to keep on hand. Which is helpful because time is something I don’t have as much of these days.

We also talked a lot about meal prepping. Specifically planning to make it easier for me to get a balanced meal at regular intervals throughout the day. One key thing I took away was this little acronym, ‘PCF’ which stands for Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. She said that I should make sure that I’m getting all of those with every meal or snack I’m eating to help maintain a steady blood sugar. Keeping my blood sugar more balanced throughout the day will eventually help with the adrenal fatigue, fogginess and help balance my hormones. It’s so crazy how it’s all interconnected!

How It’s Going So Far

So, it’s only been about 2 1/2 weeks since I’ve made those diet changes and been taking the recommended supplements, but I can already tell a difference. I’ve been sleeping better, I have more energy in the morning and throughout the day. I used to go through my days feeling anxious and stressed, but when I stopped to ask myself why I felt that way, there was no real reason.

I’ve been feeling far more calm, less stressed and generally happier. It’s hard to not feel excited each day, knowing that I’m doing something good for myself! And, one good decision leads to more. I’ve been meditating more often and working out more frequently too!

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Would I do it again?

It sucked that I had to pay out of pocket for these appointments. Still, it’s been one of the most empowering and liberating things I’ve done for myself in a long time. So, yes. Absolutely I would do it again! It can be so hard to justify spending money on ourselves, especially in cases like this when there’s nothing technically wrong with me, I just don’t feel my best.

But, it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

At the end of the day, I felt that investing in my health and well-being was well worth the cost. I know that taking the functional medicine and clinical nutrition route is a slower process than popping a few prescriptions, but solving the problems at the root of them is much better in the long term!

I’ve learned so much more about how my body works and what it really needs throughout this process. So I would recommend visiting a functional medicine doctor and/or the dietician if you’re wanting to improve your health. It’s also great for preventing chronic disease and pain or simply want to feel your best.

It’ll continue to visit them as I heal. When something pops up and I start feeling something weird, we can tweak my treatment plan so tackle that problem too. That’s really what I love about this whole approach. As I need different things, we can make changes to address them to keep my body functioning optimally and keep me feeling amazing!

I tried to answer as many questions as I could. So if I missed something, leave it below and I’m more than happy to answer! I’ll be sharing more of the details of my treatment plan and what changes I’m making next week, so stay tuned!

Have you visited a functional medicine doctor or dietician? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?

BTW, my journey to a happier and healthier me, and 5 immunity-boosting herbs to add to your diet.

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