Functional Medicine Health Coaching Glossary

Adaptogen: any substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes. Botanical medicines are the most common adaptogens. Examples of adaptogens are ashwagandha and ginseng.

Biochemical individuality: the concept that the physiological and biochemical composition of each person is unique, and that composition is based upon the interactions of the individual’s genetic makeup with lifestyle and environment. Genes are influenced by the continuous exposure to inputs from diet, nutrients, life experiences, beliefs, activity, toxins, medications, etc.. The unique makeup of each individual requires personalized levels of nutrition, and a lifestyle adapted to that individual’s needs in order to achieve optimal health.

Body mass index (BMI): a calculated ratio of weight divided by height squared. This formula in the metric system is weight (kilograms)/height (meters)2 , or in the imperial system weight (pounds)/height (inches)2 x 703. This is used to help assess risks by body type.

Carbohydrates – see Macronutrients.

Character strengths – the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel and behave. Scientists have identified 24 character strengths ( that you have the capacity to express. The VIA Survey is a free, scientific survey of character strengths that you can take in 15 minutes or less by following this link:

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional, mainstream medicine. The list of what is considered to be CAM changes frequently, as therapies demonstrated to be safe and effective are adopted by conventional practitioners, and as new approaches to healthcare emerge. Complementary medicine is used with conventional medicine, not as a substitute for it. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Functional Medicine is neither complementary nor alternative medicine; it is an approach to medicine that focuses on identifying and ameliorating the underlying causes of disease; it can be used by all practitioners with a Western medical science background and is compatible with both conventional and CAM methods.

Fats – see Macronutrients.

Functional Medicine: an approach to medicine that addresses the underlying causes of disease using a systems-oriented individualized approach, which engages both client and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It reflects a personalized medicine approach, and utilizes specific tools (like, without being limited to, special forms and questionnaires) to help organize the client’s story and determine appropriate interventions for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.

Functional Nutrition: means the advanced practice of personalized nutrition assessment, intervention and monitoring with the goal of promoting optimal health and preventing diet- and lifestyle-related illness. Functional nutrition emphasizes the importance of high-quality foods and phytonutrient diversity to address clinical imbalances and move individuals forward the highest expression of health.

Functional Nutrition Fundamentals: the key foundational aspects related to eating a healthy diet and making positive choices. Our relationship to food is multidimensional, and our choices are impacted by many conscious and unconscious desires. The Functional Nutrition Fundamentals consist of four main ideas about food and nutrition: n Food is energy. At the most basic level, food is a fuel source necessary for the body to function. n Food is information. Byproducts of food convey messages and assist with various processes within the body (e.g., metabolism, cell signaling, detoxification, etc.). n Food is connection. Food brings people together, often serving as a central focus of social gatherings and celebratory events. Additionally, both pleasant and unpleasant memories often incorporate the smell, taste, and texture of foods. The reasons behind food choices, cravings, and aversions aren’t always logical or rational, and these reasons can often be tied back to the connections we have to food. n Food is medicine. We are what we eat. Choosing nutrient-dense foods that send signals to the body for positive gene expression is a key component of optimal health. Foods and food behaviors influence the body and can contribute to underlying causes of disease, and these factors can be adjusted to move an individual toward their greatest state of health and healing.

Glycemic Index (GI): a numerical index that ranks carbohydrate-containing foods based on how quickly or slowly those foods are converted to glucose, causing blood glucose levels to rise. Foods are ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose (GI of 100) serving as the reference point. The smaller a food’s assigned GI value, the less impact that food has on blood glucose levels.

Glycemic load (GL): a value assigned to a carbohydrate-containing food based on two factors—its quality (or, its glycemic index) and its quantity (grams per serving). This value is determined by multiplying a food’s glycemic index by the number of grams of carbohydrates in the food, and dividing that result by 100. For optimal health, an individual’s daily glycemic load should be kept under 100.

Health Coaching: the use of evidence-based skilful conversation, clinical interventions and strategies to actively and safely engage clients in health behaviour change. The coaching process is similar to talk therapy in that it involves two people discussing ideas and issues, but it is different in that the person who is being coached is in the driver’s seat, creating their goals as well as the strategies on how to arrive at these goals.

Integrative medicine: medicine that combines treatments from conventional medicine and those from CAM, for which there is high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. In a broader sense, integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle, and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative. The field is the only one of the emerging models to explicitly encompass the integration of therapeutics that, until recently, were the sole purview of CAM. 

Lifestyle medicine: the use of lifestyle interventions to lower the risk for the approximately 70% of modern health problems that are lifestyle-related chronic conditions (e.g., type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, etc.), or for the treatment and management of disease if such conditions are already present. This includes lifestyle interventions such as nutrition counseling, physical activity, stress reduction, and rest. Lifestyle medicine is an essential component of the treatment of most chronic diseases and has been incorporated in many national disease management guidelines.

Macronutrients: There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Each of these plays a number of important roles in fueling and constructing the human body.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are found predominately in vegetables, fruits, tubers, legumes, grains, and sweeteners. Carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, provide a quick source of fuel for the brain and muscles. In the form of fiber, carbohydrates help provide fuel for our microbiome and ensure regular elimination of waste. And when combined with fat and protein, carbs help us fight infections, grow new body tissue such as bones and skin, and lubricate our joints.

Fats – Contrary to popular belief, dietary fat is not the villain it has been made out to be. A fairly high percentage of diverse, high-quality fats are required to fuel and build your body. Fats are crucial for numerous body func(ons and structures. For example, the fat in our food helps us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, helps improve the taste and enjoyment of food, increases sa(ety, and helps regulate the speed we digest food. It also provides an important source of high caloric energy that is ideal for long, low-intensity ac(vity. Fat is also needed to build cell membranes and certain hormones and serves as a protective lining for the organs of the body.

Protein – There are approximately 50,000 different proteins in the human body, which are used as building blocks for tissues, organs, nerves, muscles, and more. In addition to creating tissues, protein is also an essential building block of enzymes, antibodies, hemoglobin, and peptide hormones.

Micronutrients: there are two important classes of micronutrients we need to survive and thrive: vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins – Most vitamins cannot be manufactured by our body, so we must get them by ea(ng the plants and animals that can make them. Moreover, most vitamins produce the best results when paired with trace minerals, enzymes, and other vitamins found in real foods. Though they only account for less than 1% of the human body, vitamins play many crucial roles in health and growth. For example, they act as cofactors (or “helpers”) in metabolic processes, they support tissue growth, digestion, elimination, and immune function, and they prevent frank deficiency diseases such as scurvy, pellagra, and rickets as well as pre-clinical symptoms. Understanding symptoms of micronutrient deficiencies is extremely important to our work as practioners.

Minerals – Minerals cannot be produced by the body and must therefore be obtained from the food and beverages we consume. Out of the 118 elements on the Periodic Table, 18 native element minerals are required for human health, while many more may prove to be beneficial. Minerals act like the body’s “spark plugs,” ac(ng as cofactors for enzyme reac(ons, regula(ng the proper pH of the blood, facilitatng the transfer of nutrients across cellular membranes, maintaining proper nerve conduction, contracting and relaxing muscles, regulating tissue growth, and providing structural and functional support.

Minerals – see Micronutrients

Modifiable lifestyle factors: health-promoting lifestyle factors that include:

Sleep and relaxation: getting adequate sleep and making time for meaningful relaxation

Exercise and movement: participating in physical activity that is age-appropriate and that can be performed within the parameters of an individual’s health status

Nutrition: maintaining adequate hydration, and eating a diet that is age-appropriate and complementary to genetic background, health conditions, and environment

Stress: reducing overall stress levels and effectively managing existing stress

Relationships: developing and maintaining healthy relationships and social networks, while reducing the impact of noxious relationships

These appear along the bottom of the Functional Medicine Matrix. Clinicians and their patients can co-develop an individualized plan for addressing these issues.

Motivational Interviewing – a collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen a person’s own motivation for, commitment to and movement toward change (i.e., a specific goal) by eliciting and exploring the person’s own arguments for change. 

Nutrient deficiency: occurs when nutrients are not obtained in adequate amounts to meet the requirements for normal cellular function. Nutrient deficiencies result in various signs and symptoms and, if not corrected, overt disease states.

Nutrigenomics (nutritional genomics): the study of how different foods may interact with specific genes to increase the risk of common chronic conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. It can also be described as the study of the influence of genetic variation on nutrition by correlating gene expression or single nucleotide polymorphisms with a nutrient’s absorption, metabolism, elimination, or biological effects. Nutrigenomics also seeks to provide a molecular understanding of how common chemicals in the diet affect health by altering the expression of genes and the structure of an individual’s genome. The ultimate aim of nutrigenomics is to develop rational means to optimize nutrition for the patient’s genotype.

Nutritional status: the current condition of an individual based on the interaction of diet, nutrient levels, demands on the body, and both internal and external factors impacting health.

Oxidative stress: occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of damaging reactive oxygen species and an individual’s antioxidant capacity to detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage. Disturbances in the normal redox state of tissues can cause toxic effects through the production of peroxides and free radicals that damage all components of the cell, including proteins, lipids, and DNA. Oxidative stress is implicated in the etiology of several chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Patient-centered care: care that is centered on the goals of the patient. This type of care requires the involvement and collaboration of both patient and doctor in working towards health goals. The patient plays an active role in their healthcare, with the underlying goal of promoting optimal health and vitality, rather than simply working toward the absence of disease.

Personalized medicine (individualized medicine): medicine that treats each patient as a unique individual and takes into account the totality of personal history, family history, environment and lifestyle, physical presentation, genetic background, and components of mind, body, and spirit. Interventions are tailored to each patient and adjusted based on the patient’s individualized response. This term can also describe the effort to define and strengthen the art of individualizing healthcare by integrating the interpretation of patient data (medical history, family history, signs, and symptoms) with emerging “–omic” technologies like nutrigenomics, pharmacogenomics, proteomics, and metabolomics.

Personalized nutrition plan: a customized nutrition plan that addresses and takes into account the findings from the Functional Nutrition Evaluation in order to reestablish health in an individual.

Phytonutrients: natural compounds and components of plants that lend color and taste, and help promote health by multiple mechanisms. These mechanisms include stimulating enzymes that help the body get rid of toxins, boosting the immune system, promoting healthy hormone levels, etc. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, spices, herbs, nuts, seeds, and teas all provide powerful phytonutrients. These phytonutrients come in all colors—green, yellow, orange, red, blue-purple, white, brown, and black.

Positive psychology – a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to “great” instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to “normal”. Whereas traditional psychology has focused on what is “wrong” with people and what needs to be “fixed,” coaching philosophy focuses on what has, can, and will work better for you. This means that instead of rooting around for problems to dwell on, a coach will work with you to harness your strengths, in order to improve the health behaviors you want to address.

Proteins – see Macronutrients

SMART goals: a mnemonic framework used for organizing and implementing health-related goals when coaching patients through behavior change. SMART goals are:

Specific. Desired outcomes are stated as explicitly as possible, and a specific area or topic is targeted for improvement. This is the “who, what, where, when, which, and why” of the stated goal.

Measurable. The ways in which progress will be monitored and tracked are identified. This is the “how” of the stated goal.

Action-oriented. The stated goals are small, achievable, and are easily outlined into specific steps that will enable the patient to complete the goal. As smaller goals are met, they are replaced with intermediate goals and goals that are more difficult to achieve.

Realistic. The patient is both willing and able to accomplish this goal.

Timely. In order to help the patient maintain motivation, the goal is set with a deadline or timeline in mind for achievement.

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