Functional Question | Holistic Nutrition Lab by functional nutritionist Andrea Nakayama

Functional Question


A functional question is a question about the terrain—it’s a question about the person, not the diagnosis.

A functional question uses the principles of functional empathy as well as the functional nutrition matrix to make inquiries that lead to information about the bioindividuality of the client. Asking the functional questions more readily leads to root cause resolution and addressing what Dr. Dale Bredesen has termed the 36 holes in the roof. (Which ones might we need to plug?)

Symptoms don’t arise in a vacuum.

Signs and symptoms only arise in an environment that has the perfect conditions for them to occur. Dr. Jeffrey Bland often says that “disease starts with dysfunction.” There are triggers and precipitating events that result in the appearance of a diagnosis.

Dysfunction often only results from myriad insults.

Those insults can be physical, physiological, psychological, spiritual, cognitive and more. These provocations may materialize in one individual over time or simultaneously, yet together they cloud the waters of care—until we learn to think functionally.

It’s the coexisting conditions, manifesting together (and yet unique to the individual), that not only lead to a singular diagnosis, but also to the challenges that many of us practitioners experience in healthcare, particularly for those with chronic health challenges.

The functional questions acknowledge that one-size-does-not-fit-all.

A functional question is a question about the terrain—it’s about the person, not the diagnosis. Click To Tweet

They dig deeper, look upstream, and ask, “Why is the environment in this individual perfect for this particular symptom or condition?”

Once the terrain is understood, it can be shifted.

“A gardner sees the world as a system of interdependent parts—where healthy, sustaining relationships are essential to the vitality of the whole…A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil.”

– Karel Capek

Thinking functionally can be like being a real gardener—a gardener who cultivates the “soil” in an individual’s body.

I also like to think of the functional question like a yogi thinks about mindfulness. Instead of an equation where a problem leads to a reaction, we insert a pause.

It looks something like this:

Functional question flowchart A question such as “what do I do for a client who has lupus?” is not a functional question. A question like “where should I start with a client who is exhausted, is a new mom, is reacting to myriad foods and who was recently diagnosed with lupus?” starts to be more functionally oriented.

Now see if you can turn your question into a functional question.

Thinking functionally starts with empathy—and knowing the right questions to ask.

Now through May 19th you can claim a free seat in the Holistic Nutrition Lab: Power Your Practice with Empathy mini-course. Click here to enroll now.

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 Holistic Nutrition Lab. Learn more about Andrea here.