We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
When I walked into the hotel, I knew instantly that I’d been there before.
It had been six years earlier. Possibly the same time of year. This time I was arriving to present on stage at a nutrition conference. I was tickled to hear that I was a top speaker request by many of the attendees. They were excited to hear me speak live about Functional Nutrition and the powers of working well within our scope of practice to change health outcomes for even the sickest clients and patients. I was thrilled to share all that I could to help them elevate their work in the world and have greater success.
The last time I was at this hotel was different.
On that trip, six years earlier, I had flown to LA to have a special session with my business coach and attend a conference that she was “requiring” me to go to.
I can remember it vividly.
And the stark contrast between each of those visits is one that’s worth sharing.
Here’s what I remember…
I didn’t even have a website
At the time, I’d been in practice for nearly two years.
I was having success, seeing more clients than I could handle and, by that time, had a waitlist and an email following for the newsletters I crafted each week.
But I didn’t have a website!
I had a rinky-dink web page that my ex-boyfriend built for me, which he never kept up to date. (This was before the times of Squarespace or Wix, and the website build and maintenance for rookies like me did not exist.) The class schedule on that static site was obsolete and I had little control over how or when changes would be made by the ex. I had to shrug off the desire to “have it all right” and just keep building the parts of the business that I could…seeing clients, accepting the referrals that came in, and teaching classes at local venues and in my living room to small, but interested, sold-out audiences.
But what I remember during that trip to meet with my business coach was how thrilled I was to be working on my first ever real-live website. I was going back and forth on small details with my web developer (who still works at FxNA now!), fine-tuning colors and photos in the cracks between meetings and conference sessions.
It bears note that through word of mouth, and not a web presence, I had built my practice to a size and scale that had already outgrown the time I had in a day!
But I didn’t know what made me different
Though my “audience” may have been small back then, I had gained the attention and respect of a number of health practitioners, particularly health coaches who were learning about my clinical successes and wanting the same for themselves. When I attended a conference or meetup where there were health coaches, there were often requests for me to teach them what I knew.
To be honest, I was surprised. I didn’t know that what I was doing in practice was different.
At the time I assumed it was purely the physiology — the information I had learned in my post-baccalaureate pre-med classes and translated to meet the needs I was presented with in each and every clinical case. So when I sat down with my business coach that week in the hotel, I presented her with the idea for a new online training program. I’d call it Full Body Systems and it would be a workshop where I could teach a handful of practitioners to utilize the tools of science and biology to better understand where food meets physiology to best help their clients’ health outcomes. I likened it to using biology as a tool for transformation. (Not the ‘biology of belief’, but the ‘biology of relief’!)
It was in that hotel that Full Body Systems was spoken aloud for the first time.
I didn’t know what to say to my ideal client
Not two days after disclosing that new mission — to teach other coaches and clinicians what I was finding successful in practice — I was stopped in my tracks by someone who might have been my “perfect customer.” It was over a shared dinner with my business coach, one of her other clients (a health coach), and that client’s husband. The husband turned to me and asked “Are you a health coach too?”
I answered simply: “No. I’m a nutritionist.”
The health coach let out a big guffaw.
She was having success in her coaching practice and she didn’t see the distinction between the work we each did — her as a health coach and me as a nutritionist.
“What’s the difference?,” she blurted out across the table with indignation.
The words hit me hard. And I quickly reflected on how and why there could be confusion.
I quickly realized that I had nothing to show for the five years I had spent putting myself back through school with those post-bacc pre-med classes while working full-time in another field — classes that included psychology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, and, of course, nutrition. There were late nights of cramming with the few friends I made in class — students acquiring their credentials to apply for nursing or naturopathic school.
I was the only one in any of those classes pursuing a career in nutrition (and likely a decade or two older than most of the other students). The information I learned in class was only indirectly applicable to my interests. In fact, it was during the late nights, sitting in bed surrounded by heavy textbooks, lecture notes and images that I put two-and-two together — seeing how minute chemical distinctions could create a cascade of differences in the body.
Ultimately, I chose not to pursue the Registered Dietician program that I was accepted to after completing those prerequisites, for personal reasons that would have impacted my son’s stable home environment. I sacrificed a dream I had worked hard for, as so many of us single mothers do. Later, I did, however, acquire a masters degree in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, which took me nearly four years and $20K to complete because I already had a practice that was bursting at the seams, and I was running the program I had envisioned in that moment for far more practitioners than I had ever imagined.
I didn’t let the release of one aspect of the dream stop me. I just pivoted. I kept learning. I amassed the degree and many certifications that I could achieve from home. And, most importantly, I kept practicing. I kept applying what I learned to real-life cases where the palpable learning actually happened.
And the hard work was paying off.
It was in my “clinic”, held at my dining room table with client after client (where I sit writing this now), that my clinical expertise developed. It was with the people whose lives I had the privilege to learn about and touch that I was able to see the ways in which the science and theory I had studied was informational, but not instructional. All the years of study gave me context, but not answers. And it was the intersection that I was finding in my work with clients that I was aiming to bring forward to other practitioners — to elucidate where science does matter in ways that had never been taught to me. Not in my science classes or in my health coach training.
Yet the sting of the guffaw from my colleague, made me realize that there was more work to be done. For starters, I needed to further establish what I did differently to help me distinguish my work without what I might have thought were the right letters or “creds” to speak for me.
And so I did. I waited. And I grew. And I germinated. I saw more clients. And I honed my expertise — both in clinic and in articulating what Functional Nutrition really is.
When I finally launched Full Body Systems, the time was right.
The reception was beyond what I anticipated. Practitioners were hungry for what I was sharing, the mentorship I provided, and the community we built. And there was nowhere else to get it!
Full Body Systems has continued to germinate, to evolve. Now in its tenth year, I don’t think I could have imagined an online school, with not just a functioning website, but an interactive environment that has educated over 6,000 practitioners in over 65 countries around the globe.
When I walked in that hotel that weekend, the journey from then to now came flooding back to me.
And as I said before stepping off stage at that nutrition conference…I’m so honored to be helping to pave the way for the work that we all do in the world, where we truly understand the subtleties of using “food as medicine”, working in partnership with both patients and their other providers, and creating systems, frameworks and tools that enable us to work into more of those complex cases, where more and more people seem to need our help.
To your growth and evolution in practice!
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