Holistic nutrition comprises the nutrition portion of the natural health industry, also referred to as alternative health, functional health, integrative health or naturopathic health. A lot of people think that the difference between western medicine (Allopathic) and natural medicine is that we use natural supplements. Although this is true, this isn’t the fundamental difference. The difference is that we look for the ‘root’ cause of illness then correct that, as opposed to managing or reducing symptoms. That’s a pretty big difference.
So what does ‘holistic’ mean?
Holistic or holism is a concept that looks at the entire person’s health, embodying psychological, emotional and physical needs as opposed to just the body part that is ‘sick’. If a person came to me with digestive issues, I wouldn’t just narrow in on their small or large intestine, I would also look at the other factors that could contribute to this issue such as psychological stress, emotional wellbeing, diet and environmental factors. This concept appeals to me because the person is seen as a ‘whole’ and their entire lifestyle is taken into consideration allowing the practitioner to find the best plan them, ultimately leading to better results.
How does the mainstream approach differ from the holistic approach in treating illness?
First of all, we don’t ‘treat’ illness, we aim to make the body healthier so that it can heal itself. Taking a simple example, if a person had a headache, the mainstream approach would be to alleviate this symptom by taking an analgesic medication, for example, (which would work fast) but this would do nothing to stop future headaches from occurring. In the holistic world, we look at symptoms as the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Our approach would be to find out ‘why’ this person continues to have headaches, search for the cause (i.e. Dehydration? Gluten-sensitivity? Stress? etc.) and correct the situation so there is no reoccurrence of this symptom. We also have natural ways of relieving symptoms, and in this case magnesium could be used, but we are more interested in finding the underlying cause so that it does not return.
What’s the difference between a holistic nutritionist and a dietitian?
This is a question that often comes up when holistic nutritionists are in school. Simply put, holistic nutritionists are to naturopathic doctors what dietitians are to medical doctors. We each represent nutrition within our modality of healthcare. Holistic nutritionists study the same basic sciences as dietitians (biology, chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy & physiology etc.) but we follow a different school of thought of how healthcare should be approached. For a more detailed response, the Canadian Association of Natural Nutritional Practitioners have put together this great article on the difference between dietitians and holistic nutritionists.
What do holistic nutritionists do?
Firstly, we believe that the cells in our bodies are built from the raw materials we eat. The more suitable our food choices are to our specific requirements, the better cell structures we can build, contributing to better tissues, organ function and performance and ultimately, health.
Secondly, holistic nutritionists believe that every person has a different biochemical make up; what affects one person, won’t necessarily affect another and as such, an individualized approach should be implemented for each person. Telling everyone to eat the same diet, as laid out in the Canada Food Guide or USDA Food Pyramid (recently renamed My Plate) just doesn’t work for everyone. They’ve also been highly criticized for serving the interests of the agricultural industry over our nutritional needs.
Thirdly, incorporating the latest in nutritional research, we act as guides or coaches teaching clients about which foods work best for their bodies, how they can overcome health challenges and motivate them in incorporating healthier lifestyle choices. It’s a fun and transformative process that often results in achieving health one didn’t know was possible. In cases where environmental toxicity, metal toxicity, micro-organism imbalances or food sensitives are involved, Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioners, such as myself, are trained to implement therapeutic and nutritional supplements into one’s nutritional protocol.
Lastly, it’s cathartic. My clients often get to offload a lot of their daily problems onto me so I can help them find solutions to dealing with stress and challenges. I guess you could say I’m a sort of ‘health cheerleader’ encouraging them through tougher times.
In conclusion, when looking for a health practitioner, it is important that you choose one that represents a modality that you feel most comfortable with and which represents your beliefs so you can ultimately achieve the best results.