Is functional medicine right for you? It depends. As a functional medicine doctor myself, I’m certainly biased in favor of it. However, it involves more patient participation than other forms of medicine. Your doctor doesn’t just hand you a prescription and send you home. Instead, you’ll have a long conversation with your practitioner, in which you create an individualized healthcare plan.
That plan is guaranteed to include lifestyle changes, because that’s what functional medicine is all about. I don’t want to treat the symptoms without addressing the cause. Most often, the causes are in your lifestyle or environment, and you’re going to have to change some things to get back to health.
So, if you’re considering seeing a functional medicine practitioner, here are some questions you should ask yourself:
1.) Are you ready to put in the time?
Functional medicine is about finding the underlying cause of disease and dysfunction, instead of addressing one or two symptoms. This takes time and it’s the only way to restore real health. Be prepared to spend time gathering information. Your provider may need old labs and imaging reports, as well as chart notes from other providers. There’s also an extensive intake form you’ll fill out before your visit. There will be questions about everything from diet and exercise routines to bowel function and libido. In order to treat all of you, your provider needs a lot of information.
Don’t worry. You’re not the only one putting in the time. Your provider is too. Your doctor will also review your intake form and documents before your visit. It’s not uncommon for providers to spend multiple hours looking through this information and begin formulating differential diagnoses, more questions and a plan of action.
But that’s not the end of the story.
This isn’t a band-aid approach. I don’t expect my patients to come to me for a single visit and to solve all their medical problems. After I get a complete medical history, and we do all the necessary lab work, we begin the longer road of bringing your body back into health. I’m not interested in a quick fix, and you’re probably not either. You want to return to real health, and healing takes time.
You’ll have follow-up appointments, and you’ll continuously review what’s working and what’s not, until your body gets back into balance. The good news is that when you’re there, when you realize you’re enjoying the energy and charisma of health, you’ll never want to go back to where you were again.
2.) Are you ready to change?
As I stated, generally, there are multiple lifestyle contributors driving disease and dysfunction. In order to make real progress, you have to be willing to make a few changes. This isn’t about finding a pill for your problem. It’s about getting to the root cause. Are you willing to make changes?
You may need to change what you eat or how you respond to stress. We may alter your sleep patterns or work toward you becoming more active. When you meet with a functional medicine practitioner, change is a part of the plan.
Even before you meet with the doctor, you can start thinking now about what obstacles have prevented you from being as healthy as you want to be. Are you too busy to exercise? Maybe you can’t figure out how to eat healthy. Knowing yourself and your normal patterns goes a long way to help your doctor figure out the next steps.
3.) Do you have support?
When crafting a treatment plan, it’s always great for your doctor to know what resources you can rely on. Resources are things that can help you succeed. This can be money or time or a strong will, but usually (and more importantly) it’s social support.
Whether it’s your spouse, sibling, child or friend, having support through this period of change exponentially improves your chance of success. Everyone needs help, support and accountability. If you’re comfortable with it, bring a support person in on your consult so they better understand your situation and, more importantly, the path that leads to your better health.
If you don’t have that support, you can still make the changes. You may want to seek out support in other ways. For example, you might join an online group or subscribe to blogs (like this one) that inspire you as you make changes.
You can do this.
Get to the root causes of your health challenges
If you’re still unsure of whether functional medicine is for you, ask yourself this question: Am I comfortable taking another pill for another symptom? Or, would I rather think through how these symptoms all got started?
If you’re like most my patients, you’d rather get to the root causes. That’s functional medicine. Yes, you’ll have your homework, but won’t it feel great to feel like you’re doing something? You don’t have to simply accept poor health as a part of aging.