When I walked into the hotel, I knew instantly that I’d been there before.

It had been 6 years earlier. Possibly this same time of year. October.

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 what I could to help them elevate their work in the world and have greater success.

The last time was different.

On that trip, 6 years ago, 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 then and now is one that is worth sharing.

Here’s what I remember…

I didn’t even have a website

I’d been in business nearly 2 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 weekly 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. The class schedule on that static site was obsolete and I had little control over how or when changes would be made.

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 with me now!) over email, 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!

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 watching my clinical success 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.

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 Holistic Nutrition Lab (now Functional Nutrition Lab) 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 better help their clients.

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 Holistic Nutrition Lab was spoken aloud for the first time.

I didn’t know what to say to my ideal client

Not 2 days after disclosing that new mission – to teach other practitioners 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 her husband. The husband of the health coach 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 did.

“What’s the difference?,” she blurted out across the table.

The words hit me hard.

I realized quickly that I had nothing to show for the 5 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 & 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 my classes pursuing a career in nutrition and 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 2 and 2 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 pre-requisites, for personal reasons that would ultimately impact my son’s stable home environment.

I sacrificed a dream I had worked hard for, as so many of us women do.

But I didn’t let the release of that aspect of the dream stop me. I kept learning. I amassed many certifications that I could achieve from home. And, most importantly, I kept practicing. I kept applying what I had learned to real-life cases where the palpable learning actually happened.

And it was working.

It was in “clinic”, held at my dining room table with client after client, 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. It 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 with the sting of the guffaw from my colleague, I realized that there was more work to be done.

I realized that I needed to further establish what I did differently to help me distinguish my work without the 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.

And now…

When I finally launched Holistic Nutrition Lab, 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!

Holistic Nutrition Lab has continued to germinate. Now in its eighth year, I don’t think I could have imagined an online school, with not just a functional website, but an interactive environment that has educated thousands of practitioners in over 45 countries around the globe.

When I walked in that hotel this past 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.

That’s nutrition.

To your growth and evolution in practice!

Andrea Nakayama, FNLP, MSN, CNC, CNE, CHHC, Founder of the Functional Nutrition Alliance