If you’re actually practicing as a diet and lifestyle counselor, a nutritionist, or any other healing professional, you’re going to make mistakes.
You’re going to recommend something to someone with the best of intentions, and it’s not going to have the effect you intended. That magnesium that works to relax most every client and help them to fall asleep more easily, is going to cause one patient to have increased neuralgia. The bone broth you swear by and spend hours preparing each week to help your own family’s health is going to induce hives in one of your clients.
But don’t stop with those two examples. It’s a fact that “one person’s food is another person’s poison.” And for a practitioner, that can be scary.
Is anything safe to recommend and not inadvertently lead to a potential mistake?
One of the hard truths of respecting the bioindividuality of your clients, and digging for the root causes of their suffering is that you’re stepping into the unknown with each and every recommendation.
Every BODY is different. So no matter how much you know about theory, no matter how much you’ve done your research, studied your pathways, and memorized your favorite protocols, your client’s unique biology is going to have its own individualized reaction to everything you put on her Action Plan.
I see it all the time in the cleanses and detoxes we offer at the Functional Nutrition Alliance, where amongst the hundreds of participants, each person has a distinctly unique experience.
The blueberry green smoothie causes one cleanser to have big solid BMs, and she wonders why they’re a bit more green than usual, while another cleanser hasn’t pooped for the first three days of his cleanse, even though he typically eliminates with regularity.
This brings me to the Functional reframe regarding mistakes:
If your client has an adverse reaction to a recommendation you made, is it actually a mistake?
First of all, as long as you’re working within your scope of practice, you won’t be making suggestions that could severely injure someone.
Each “mistake” you make with a client or patient is a chance to gather more information, add some more data to your understanding of this person, and recalibrate your next step.
For example, if you introduce probiotics into someone’s healing regime and they experience a short-lived but uncomfortable detoxification known as a herxheimer reaction, you now know a bit more about the likely terrain of her microbial make-up. There may be a bigger imbalance than you suspected, or it may be the wrong strain of probiotic (or there may be a filler or other ingredient in the probiotic that does not sit well with this person’s system.)
Your “mistake” in bringing in the microbial support that you did reveals a fantastic sign in the road—an important part of the dynamic feedback loop—informing you to back down on the dosage and slow down the therapy in order to determine if other steps are needed.
Several years ago, I made a mistake that had a bigger consequence…
I recommended that a client (actually a colleague for whom I had not done a proper Intake) take a turmeric and resveratrol supplement to tame an acute inflammatory situation she was experiencing. The resveratrol (an otherwise potent anti-oxidant that makes grape skins and red wine so beneficial), landed her in the hospital. That’s because she had an anaphylactic sulfite allergy.
I had no idea!
Resveratrol seemed so tame and easy to recommend in casual conversation.
And I felt horrible. I apologized profusely. Yet she hadn’t told me about the sulfite allergy in our discussion about her symptoms and now I knew. Now I could add that to what I did know about her one-of-a-kind biology, and use it to help her both with her current ailment and to avoid such a reaction in the future.
I could have beat myself up about my mistake, and decided to stop supporting this colleague (or anyone else, for that matter!) for fear I’d continue to make things worse. Instead, I took a deep breath, saw what her body was trying to tell me, and used that information to alter my next move.
The physician Brian Goldman, a Canadian ER doctor, speaker, and host of the radio show “White Coats, Black Art,” gave a great TED Talk about how doctors can learn by making mistakes. In fact that’s what the radio show is all about.
He asks medical professionals about their biggest mistakes. This is from a man who says that when he was in school he would study everything so hard and was so eager to gain knowledge and get the best grades that he used to get teased that if you could study for a blood test, he would!
Can you relate to that perfectionist mentality—trying to know everything you can before you put it into practice? Thinking that if you learn more you will never make a mistake?
These medical mistakes that these MDs are sharing can be devastating. Yours should not be.
There are NO promises in this work. That’s because the recommendations are landing on an unknown—a brand new person with a singular terrain—the environment within that is an unfolding mystery.
As Goldman says: “Most of the greatest successes in medicine come from failure. They don’t get planned out and executed the first time.”
Sometimes we have to get it wrong to eventually get it even more right.
Mistakes are great teachers. Mistakes highlight unforeseen opportunities and holes in our understanding. They also show us which way to turn next, and they can—if we allow them to do so without beating ourselves up—ignite our creative problem solving.
I share this with you so you remember to engage in the practice—and remember that it’s from the practice that you gain mastery, so that the beauty of your unique gifts as a practitioner really start to shine through.
Functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama (FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC) is leading patients and practitioners around the world in a revolution to reclaim ownership over our own health. Her passion for food as personalized medicine was born from the loss of her young husband to a brain tumor in 2002. She’s now regularly consulted as the nutrition expert for the toughest clinical cases in the practices of many world-renowned doctors, and trains a thousand practitioners online each year in her methodologies at Functional Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.