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What is an Integrative and Functional Dietitian?

Integrative and Functional Dietitian
Credit: by muratdeniz

By Amy Carson RDN LDN IFNCP
Integrative and Functional Dietitian

Ever wonder about the difference between a "regular" dietitian and an integrative and functional dietitian nutritionist?

To put it simply, an integrative and functional dietitian nutritionist is a registered dietitian that combines a clinical approach with a holistic approach, helps you to find the root cause of any imbalances within your body, and uses food and lifestyle to improve these imbalances. 

Let's break that down

A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), also known as a registered dietitian (RD), or simply, a dietitian, is a credentialed healthcare professional who applies evidence-based information about nutrition and diet to contribute to the health and wellness of individuals, groups, and communities. 

Educational and professional requirements of registered dietitians

1. Earn a degree from an accredited dietetics program

As of January 1, 2024, a minimum of a master’s degree is required to be eligible for the RDN exam.

2. Complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice

Gain real-world experience and apply knowledge learned in the classroom to the context of a variety of work settings.

3. Pass a national exam for RDNs

4. Meet requirements to practice in your state

In Illinois, RDNs must also be licensed in the state and maintain 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

5. Stay up-to-date in dietetics through continuing education

After successfully passing the national exam and earning the credential, RDNs maintain ongoing professional development in order to stay up to date on the latest research, recommendations and best practices.

Through this process, RDNs are set up for success in clinical, community, and food service settings.

Clinically, it is within their scope of practice to discuss food and lifestyle factors that will improve conditions such as diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, anxiety and depression, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, obesity, and many, many more. This type of care is called Medical Nutrition Therapy.

The integrative and functional education takes an RDN’s approach to a deeper level

In addition to the RDN training, a registered dietitian who holds the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner (IFNCP) credential has passed a certification exam after completing five tracks (over the course of 24 months) of functional and integrative nutrition training on a wide array of topics including:

  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • cardiovascular disease
  • obesity
  • weight management
  • metabolic detoxification
  • and more

What this means for you

Integrative and functional nutrition seeks to understand the root cause of system imbalances that influence your biology, genetics, nutritional status, and well-being. Once the root cause is identified, these can be addressed through nutrition, sleep, stress, environmental, and lifestyle recommendations that are evidence-based. This journey is patient-centered, and typically several providers integrate their work together, so you receive the best possible care.

Integrative and functional nutrition at work

Example 1: “Cynthia”

Cynthia grappled with acne, diarrhea, anxiety, and an irregular period most of her teenage and adult life.

At the recommendation of her PCP, she saw several specialists: a dermatologist that prescribed antibiotics for her acne, a gastroenterologist who found no physical abnormalities and diagnosed her with IBS, and a gynecologist who diagnosed her with PCOS and started her on birth control. 

While these conventional approaches addressed her symptoms individually, they failed to pinpoint the root cause.

Once Cynthia began working with an integrative and functional RDN and a medical team that was willing to look deeper, she learned that the root cause of her imbalances was blood sugar dysregulation and food intolerances.

When she learned to manage her blood sugar through nutrition and lifestyle and swap new foods in place of her intolerances, her skin improved, her diarrhea improved, her period became regular, and her anxiety improved – all without medication. She was also referred out for psychotherapy, which further improved both her anxiety and gut symptoms.

Example 2: “Trevor”

Since Trevor and his partner started their family, Trevor had been lacking sleep, making poor food choices, was inactive, and slowly began gaining weight.

He was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and hypertension. He also struggled with fatigue and trouble concentrating at work.

Over the last few years, he’s made several attempts at weight loss: intermittent fasting, keto diet, and meal replacement shakes.

While he was successful in losing weight at first, he would gain it back each time.

When searching for an RDN, Trevor had been trying again to lose weight without success.

Once he began working with a functional and integrative RDN, he learned that while he would be able to lose weight in the short term with a calorie restriction, his lack of sleep, low muscle mass, and intake of many ultra processed foods was limiting his ability to maintain the weight loss in the long term.

Addressing factors such as optimizing sleep, incorporating whole foods, and building muscle mass proved pivotal in achieving and maintaining weight loss, along with improvement in diabetes markers, blood pressure, and overall energy levels. Trevor also began working with a personal trainer to further perfect his form and build his lean mass.

Patient-centered care

The examples above demonstrate how functional and integrative RDNs take a patient-centered approach, collaborating with other healthcare providers to deliver comprehensive care.

Balancing blood sugar, optimizing gut health, improving sleep quality, increasing muscle mass, and reducing inflammation are integral components of their approach, aiming to address the root causes of health issues rather than merely managing symptoms. 

Medications have their time and place and may be necessary, however, they often are used to cover up symptoms instead of addressing the root cause. The team at Synergy Integrative Health and Wellness utilizes a patient-centered and collaborative approach to healthcare which emphasizes lifestyle change as a primary strategy.  

“I often tell patients that while I study and understand the science of the human body, they know and understand how their own body works best and what they are willing to change in their lifestyle. Together, we can find a solution that helps them feel better and live well for the long term.”
~ Amy Carson

Book a nutrition counseling consultation with Amy to discover how integrative and functional nutrition can help you!

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