5 things you need to know before your functional medicine visit
The first few times I visited the functional medicine physician, I’d walk out of there feeling as if I’d just drank directly from the firehose.
I remember nodding enthusiastically as the physician tallied a list of labs to be drawn and supplements, diet and lifestyle modifications for me to begin.
I gave away some 20 vials of blood so she could test everything from inflammatory markers to methylation (MTHFR) dysfunction and food sensitivities.
I loved how thorough she was and had to work to keep my jaw closed as I peered at the clock during our visit to see that she had spent nearly an hour with me.
She left no stone unturned about what could have possibly been behind the mysterious allergies, period problems, skin issues, illnesses, asthma problems, countless colds, sinus and ear infections, and oh yeah, the mystery mass that was in my lung.
I loved having a physician who, for once, was putting all of the pieces together rather than treating one thing at a time with a random prescription or a halfhearted recommendation of “oh you should just relax more.”
I was pumped. I felt like someone finally "got me" and I was pleased with the to-do list I walked out with.
I just loved to-do lists.
For about 2 years after that, I visited and revisited the office for check-ups every 3-6 months. I started seeing her for sick visits. I just liked the thorough, non-one-size-fits-all approach to medicine.
I paid cash -- a lot of it -- for all of this care too.
I was a willing and sold patient, and I soon began referring all of my patients to see this type of physician.
In addition, I also worked with my own health coach at the time. Why?
Because even though I sometimes wanted to kiss the ground that the functional medicine physician walked on, the feeling of drinking from the firehose with all of her recommendations had a tendency to leave me feeling confused and overwhelmed.
Typically I’d walk out of there with at least 4-5 new supplements to try, several things to tweak in my diet, referrals for several holistic health providers and pages and pages of lab values and information to digest.
Even though I loved to-do lists, it sometimes felt like a the list of things to do to stay healthy was neverending...like a merry-go-round that never stopped and from which I could not exit.
I was both excited and conflicted. Questions arose in my mind.
Would I be on these supplements forever? How long would I need to spend all this money? Would I be gluten and dairy free for the rest of my life? Would I ever get to eat pizza and drink wine again? Was getting labs done the only way to know if I was healthy? How much time and effort was I going to have to spend on keeping myself healthy? It took forever to prepare and cook all these paleo and anti-inflammatory recipes!
Having a coach on my team was an immeasurable gift.
Not only did she help me translate all of the physician recommendations into practical and applicable actions I could take, but she also helped me strategize which recommendations needed to come first and which ones could come later.
Yes, that’s right, I didn’t come out of the gate and change everything overnight.
Even the physician doesn’t recommend you do that.
But the problem is--even when they spend so much time with you and mean so well, the functional medicine doctor often doesn’t have more time to sit with you and figure out exactly how and when you will apply every single change to your life.
This can lead to overwhelm and confusion in even the smartest and most go-getter clients (like me!).
Case in point: she told me at my first visit to eliminate gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, soy, all processed foods, coffee, alcohol, condiments, and pretty much everything else under the sun.
I didn’t know that I needed to take it slow and strategize, so I just took everything out of my kitchen, got online to gather recipes, and then spent a million dollars and hours at the grocery store (the organic grocery store only, of course) to get “safe” foods.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had no idea how much time and energy (and money!) it would take to cook and shop differently, and as I went “all in” I found myself more stressed out than relieved. This certainly didn’t help me feel any better, and I quickly gave up.
That’s where coaching came in.
We figured out a step-by-step strategy to make one change at a time.
I felt instantaneously relieved. This was way more digestible. Being a big "rule follower" at the time, I didn't know I was "allowed" to do that.
But I liked the sound of this new "rulebreaking" plan. Having a digestible strategy meant I didn’t have to stress myself out in order to feel better (which defeated the purpose, right?).
We also figured out exactly which supplements were “mandatory” and which ones I could hold off on while instead focusing on getting extra nutrients from food.
In case you haven’t visited the supplement aisle lately--they can be very expensive. Don’t get me wrong--I think that for many people supplements are important, especially if you have trouble absorbing certain nutrients from your food. But that doesn’t mean you need to take out a 2nd mortgage in order to afford those supplements.
Lastly, we prioritized which holistic providers to add to my team, and which ones to hold off on.
For example--she had referred me to a local yoga studio, an acupuncturist, an esthetician (I was having terrible acne from hormone and blood sugar/candida problems) and a Ayurveda specialist. I had already been seeing several other health providers and it felt overwhelming to schedule a bunch of new appointments.
So I decided which providers were “must” and which ones were not.
I mentioned rule following. And I know what some of you might be thinking “But your doctor TOLD YOU to do those things. Doesn’t that make you a bad patient?”
Don’t get me wrong.
YES, it’s important to listen to your physician. PLEASE listen.
However, do know that well-meaning medical providers make tons of recommendations because they just want to help you. They don't always have a clear picture of what else is going on in your life. Only you know that. So they may over-recommend things out of the goodness of their hearts, not knowing that all of those recommendations aren't realistic for you.
And chances are, if you're like the former version of me or any of my current health coaching clients, you might find yourself in your functional medicine visit afraid to question your doctor's recommendations. She's the doctor--she must know best, right?
Yes, she is the doctor, but she doesn't know your full story. This is one reason I eventually decided to become a women's health coach. I help you look at the big picture and implement the recommendations in ways that won’t break your bank account or your sanity. This sometimes means you remove redundancies or nonessential things from within your doctor's recommendations. And that is ok.
Want to get started in learning how to spend your energy doing things you love instead of spinning your wheels to constantly take care of yourself? Check out my free DIY guide, Energize Your Health, to learn 3 simple steps to take charge of your energy, your periods, your nutrition, and your stress levels. Health doesn't have to be hard.
If you've checked out my guide, be sure to reach out to me to clarify. I'd love to chat with you.
Also, you can always ask your physician. Chances are they will be ok with you being in the driver’s seat of your health. That’s usually the ultimate goal of any good provider.
And if they aren’t ok with you making an empowered decision on your own behalf, or it appears they take it personally or try to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do, perhaps that means you need to find a new provider.
So, in the spirit of putting you in the driver’s seat, here are 5 top tips to prepare you for your functional medicine visit:
1. Write out a detailed list of everything you are already doing, taking, and eating
They will want to know about medications, supplements, and your diet. For meds & supplements, take photos of the labels on your phone instead of carrying all of the bottles with you. Print out a piece of paper with al list of everything you take.
Consider doing a 3-day food diary (write down everything you eat) before you attend your visit to give your provider a clear picture of what you eat. If you do the food diary--do not try and change what you eat so that your food diary “looks good.” Just be honest with them--there are no grades or gold stars to be handed out!
2. Write out all of the questions you have
This is something I usually do with my clients on coaching calls before they go see their functional medicine physician. Chances are, if you are going to invest in seeing a functional medicine physician, then you care a lot about your health.
Getting clear on your questions and needs ahead of your visit not only puts you in the driver’s seat, but it reduces that deer-in-headlights sensation that may wash over you when the end of the visit comes, you feel like you’ve been drinking from the firehose, and your physician says “So, any questions?”
Rather than completely freeze up because you feel overwhelmed or because you hate to inconvenience your physician by taking up any more of her time, be prepared in advance. If you get nervous--just hand her the list of questions. She is there to help you, and that is why you are paying her the big bucks.
3. Take notes, ask to record the visit on a voice recording app, bring a friend with you on facetime/skype or take a friend with you
Usually when you are the patient, you’re too busy processing all of the very well-meaning information coming at you that you don’t always catch everything. Even though your physician may spend a lot of time and be very thorough with you, that doesn’t mean you’ll hear everything.
What’s often worse than not getting your questions answered (see #2) is not knowing you needed to ask questions in the first place and realizing way later that you have several more questions. Having a trusted friend there to ask questions or point out what you may have missed can be key. If you don’t have a friend with you--listening in to the recording can be a helpful way to get your thoughts together later.
In the worst case scenario, you can always call the nurse to ask questions after the visit or schedule another appointment as needed.
4. Know that it’s ok to say “no thank you”
I mentioned that sometimes the functional medicine visit results in a long list of labs to be drawn, supplements to take, diet changes to make and lifestyle changes to begin.
For many of my clients, this often feels overwhelming and can really take a toll on your bank account. If that’s the case for you, make sure you get clear ahead of the appointment on how much you are able to spend. Know that some things may cost more than you expect, so be sure to call ahead to get a ballpark idea of how much labs cost.
And when in doubt, know that you do not have to say yes to anything that doesn’t feel good. You can always go back later to get labs drawn after you have done some research about what’s necessary.
You can always buy certain supplements later (i.e. if they sell supplements in their office, you don’t necessarily have to buy them there). And when in doubt--ask your physician.
A great question I always encourage my clients to ask is “What is absolutely vital, what is less vital, and what is optional?” They do know the answer to this--and it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you stop and ask.
5. Get a health coach on your team
This was the real game changer for me, and it’s why I decided to become a women’s health and mindset coach as well. Feeling unhealthy is one thing. Not feeling confident about the most self-loving and strategic way to get healthy is arguably worse.
You may have all of the “how to get healthy” to-do lists in front of you. You may know that you need to check all of the diet and supplement boxes. But it may feel scary, overwhelming, or perhaps impossible.
Sure, you might be the type who can just turn the tables and start all of the stuff TODAY with no sweat on your brow. You may not need a coach if that’s the case.
But don’t be afraid to get someone to be your ally and partner. I often attend my patients’ visits virtually with them. With my medical background, this can be immensely helpful because I can “speak doctor” with their doctor.
This also provides their physician with the assurance that someone will be there to help their patient (my client) to stay accountable to getting better. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Want to know what it looks like to work with a health coach? Let's chat. Go right over to my schedule to set up a complimentary strategy call. It's complimentary because I really care about you getting what you need with your health (otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here writing this blog)! In the call we'll get clear on what you want for your health, what places you're feeling stuck, and how to create a clear path and plan to get you what you need.
Got it? Feeling armed and ready to start?
These 5 steps have worked flawlessly time and time again for myself and my clients.
For me, they have worked so well that I really only need to see the physician once a year. I am able to determine on my own know when my supplements and diet need to be tweaked.
I don’t get sick anymore. My periods are normal. My hair has stopped falling out. And of course, as you may know, my cancer continues to remain at bay.
Now, when I visit the functional medicine physician, I am able to walk in and clearly state exactly what my questions and needs are. I am able to say “no thank you” when she offers to draw more blood than I probably need to give for extra lab tests I likely don’t need.
It's freeing and oh-so-empowering. And I know that if we miss something, it isn't urgent and I can always go back for more tests if I need them.
How does this land with you?
What if you knew that you could walk out of every physician visit feeling confident, energized, and empowered instead of doubtful, confused, and overwhelmed?
What if you knew you could be in the driver’s seat of deciding exactly which tests and supplements you needed instead of blindly agreeing to having the kitchen sink thrown at you and spending money on stuff you don’t need?
To be clear--I’m not saying you may not need all the tests or the supplements or diet changes. You might.
I’m saying that YOU can determine whether you need them and that does not always have to be in the hands of someone else.
Wondering how you can gain that knowledge and confidence (and therefore save yourself a ton of worry, time, and money?)
That’s what I do with people every day!
I help women like you find simple ways to grow more knowledgeable and confident about your health questions and problems so that you can spend more time with your family, growing your business or career instead of in the doctor’s office. I help you figure out how to not spend money on things you don’t need to be doing and grow discernment and power around the things you do need to be doing.
I know that you probably LOVE to be in control of your health and you love to have a plan, and I’m excited to offer you the opportunity to have a complimentary conversation with me about what that plan may be specifically for you.
I just love helping women strategize around their health. You can go directly to my schedule to set up a complimentary strategy conversation. I look forward to hearing from you!