Many clients or patients seek the services of a Functional Nutrition Counselor after several failed attempts at getting help for their signs and symptoms. They’ve fallen into the gaps of the healthcare system with protocols that don’t serve their healthcare needs (or just aren’t enough on their own). 

These patients seek a leader to serve and guide them out of their suffering. And that’s exactly what Full Body Systems creator Andrea Nakayama teaches and models. But, what does it mean to be a leader in this scope of a Functional Nutrition practice? I recently sat down with Andrea to better understand from her clinical experience and expertise what being a leader really means, and how leadership in practice it’s changing the way we do healthcare.

Honoring the Space of a Therapeutic Partnership

Full Body Systems graduates are taught to guide and empower clients or patients to their desired health outcomes with curiosity. This may require the client to sit in a place of discomfort to find out “what’s really going on” within their body and take incremental steps toward resolution. Andrea explains that the therapeutic partnership between the client and practitioner is a delicate dance. And those uncomfortable moments may entice the aspiring Functional Nutrition Counselor to fall into the Quick-Fix Trap. Avoiding this and other familiar Traps takes time and practice. Even then, critical tools, like her Functional Nutrition Matrix, serve as reference points and frameworks to help keep us focused on attaining sustainable solutions for those seeking our help.

Shifting the Relationship Paradigm

As Andrea and her team of clinicians at the Functional Nutrition Alliance Clinic can tell you, the last thing this population wants is another coach or clinician recommending that they adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to their care. Instead, they want a therapeutic partnership in which their health concerns are validated. This opportunity allows space to truly serve this population as a leader and educator.

What does it mean to be a leader as a Functional Nutrition Counselor?

Andrea took a moment to reflect on what it was like when she was inviting coaches and clinicians into this new way of thinking about healthcare and the importance of the therapeutic partnership. Leadership was one of the core concepts she took time to both explore and define. She felt that the leadership principles for Functional Nutrition Counselors required great study. They’re that important!

In her early explorations she turned to the work of Seth Godin, author, businessman, and marketing genius. That led her to understand that in her own role, and in the role she was helping others to cultivate, being a leader isn’t about you. You, as the leader, are not the focal point. Instead, she said, “It’s about wrapping your arms back behind you, like a set of wide spread wings, and bringing people along with you.” In other words, as Andrea explained, leadership is about the people you’re leading. 

Being a Leader Isn’t About Being in Front

Andrea further explained that leadership has nothing to do with being in the front of the crowd, or even in the spotlight. Rather, it’s about that partnership of welcoming someone (or perhaps many!) to step forward, and create movement as the guide, using tools to promote education, initiative, and guidance.

The concept really resonated with her because it focused on what she had to be and aspire to for the community. This was when Andrea was able to step into what she refers to as PURPOSE. It was with this concept of leadership she saw that it was not about her at all, but instead about those she was eager to serve. And as she shared with me, this allowed her to “get out of my own way”. When it’s about us, we can come up with excuses and objections. When it’s about others, we’re more motivated to move!

Powerful stuff right?

Andrea is often reminding us that within the therapeutic partnership the practitioner is not meant to be the all-knowing god or guru. Instead we are supposed to become the guide that brings a partner, (that’s our client or patient or audience), into the opportunity to experience some agency in their own care.

It makes sense to reframe our role as a leader to one of holding space for another person and away from what we know or don’t know. Andrea reminds us that this is how we serve (don’t please), because it’s important to take an active role.

Practical Advice to use in Practice

Andrea shared a fun analogy that she offers during our advanced clinician program, where she explored leadership in more detail. 

The analogy is from the reality television show What Not to Wear from the early 2000s. If you’re not familiar with the show, it featured hosts Clinton and Stacy who led unsuspecting contestants, nominated by their family, friends or peers, through an extensive fashion makeover. (You can think of it as a precursor to Queer Eye.)

Andrea chooses this analogy because the two fashionistas stretched people out of their comfort zone in order to serve the guest’s goals while simultaneously honoring key factors that would enable the transformation tactics they were teaching to stick. Those key factors included:

  • Who the person is
  • What they were trying to achieve with their current approach
  • How to help the individual do a better job of being themselves with a refreshed perspective 

In addition to truly honoring the individual, Andrea appreciated how the hosts accomplished their mission with humor and empathy while still conveying their own expertise. They know their stuff! They don’t shy away from their knowledge for the sake of the person’s desire for a quick-fix or an unsupported approach. They hold firm and guide with those loving wings, wrapped back behind them, inviting their client forward into a new paradigm.

And just like Clinton and Stacy (and Andrea!), when we take on new challenges with clients or patients, we have to tune into how they are responding to our recommendations, and how they will achieve those sustainable health outcomes. (And ultimately come back for more when they need more, or promote our services so we can help others too.) It’s fun to think we can get some real role modeling through a little binge watching! Whether you’re interested in fashion or not, look for the aspects of leadership and the impacts of these transformational guides.).

Serve Don’t Please

Just like on What Not to Wear, Andrea explains that we too are often asking clients to make changes that may feel uncomfortable. This can trigger our own internal fears, and a feeling of pressure to change our recommendations or go beyond our scope or framework. During moments like this, she reminds us that we are here to serve (not please). And it’s another example of the grace and leadership that Andrea herself exhibits as an educator and thought leader. The Full Body Systems program provides us with the tools for every situation–even when we feel called to please a client by shifting out of our own integrity (and leadership!). 

In Andrea’s own words, “Our questions as coaches and clinicians aren’t about what supplement protocol the client should take for their rheumatoid arthritis (or any other condition). The questions are focused on getting to the roots and discussing how we will explore those roots, so that the client can achieve remedies to the symptoms that they’re most concerned about. Unfortunately, the thinking for many providers is not only still stuck in that fix-it methodology, but also in the X for Y and in the pleasing vs. serving. None of those standards offer leadership.”

What it Takes to be a Good Leader

Clinical experience and proper training as a Functional Nutrition Counselor in the art of the practice are crucial to becoming a leader in healthcare, and a leader in your client or patient care. 

Each of us admires different leaders for their unique qualities and areas of expertise. At the Functional Nutrition Alliance we agree that it’s interesting to think about the leaders that we admire. As such I would love to leave you with another quote from Andrea to ponder: 

“I think leadership requires courage. And I think leadership requires reframing our biases and getting curious, because again, leadership isn’t about ourself in most situations. Leadership is about who you’re leading and where you want them to go. In order to be in that relationship or in that position, you have to have the courage to ask yourself questions, to investigate, to admit what we do and don’t know (and what we can find out), and to be courageous enough to truly embrace the individual or the people you’re wanting to lead.

Otherwise you’re on the moon and they’re left behind, not understanding how you got there. But we’ve all actually experienced good leadership like Clinton and Stacy. We’ve watched it. We’ve seen it. We’ve experienced it. We just don’t know how to do it ourselves because nobody’s taught us.

Here’s how: Leaders admit their mistakes. Leaders act with humility and learn publicly. Leaders trust their knowledge. Leaders see good qualities in others that they want to help cultivate. Those same traits are ones we can continue to apply to ourselves as we aim to become master Functional Nutrition Counselors.” 

As you join the revolution to shift the paradigm in healthcare, what kind of leader do you want to be? 

Read more from the Functional Nutrition Alliance

Therapeutic Partnership

The Biggest Mistakes to Practicing Functionally 

How to Make Empathy an Asset Instead of a Liability in Your Practice


Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.