Functional Medicine 101 with Chris Kresser

July 23, 2019
by Lily Comba for Thrive Market
Functional Medicine 101 with Chris Kresser

Over the course of 10 years, Chris Kresser saw more than 30 healthcare practitioners. He was looking for answers to his health questions and solutions for his chronic illnesses, but with little success. Finally, with the help of a small group of standout healthcare practitioners and some major behavioral changes, Kresser was “able to take back his health and create a rich and rewarding life.”


Today, Kresser is a Functional Health educator and creator of the ADAPT Practitioner and Health Coach Training Programs. Kresser believes in making healthy food and health-related information accessible to all, which is why he chose to invest in Thrive Market in the early stages of the business. Below, he shares the benefits of having a health coach, the differences in conventional and Functional Medicine, and his best tips for living your healthiest life.

What is Functional Medicine?

In Functional Medicine, we address the underlying causes of your health problems (instead of just treating symptoms) so you can get well and stay well without unnecessary drugs or surgery.
We use cutting-edge diagnostic tools to find the problem, and then nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, supplements, stress management, detoxification, lifestyle changes, and—only in some cases, when necessary—prescription medications to eliminate triggers and restore proper function and balance.

How and why does Functional Medicine work?

It works because it focuses on the root cause of health problems, instead of just putting Band-Aids on symptoms.
For example, say you have high blood pressure. If you go to a conventional physician, you’ll be given a drug to lower it. In Functional Medicine, we look at things from a systems perspective. We’d examine your diet and lifestyle and do some testing to determine if there’s anything going on (e.g., a nutrient deficiency, thyroid or hormone imbalance, or other undiagnosed issue) that could be causing high blood pressure as a symptom. Then, we address those causes—along with suggesting diet and lifestyle changes—and the high blood pressure will often go down, without medication.

Why did you decide to become a Functional Medicine practitioner?

I went through my own personal health crisis in my 20s. I was traveling in Indonesia and became very sick. It took me 10 years to make my way back to health; Functional Medicine [and] a paleo-type diet were critical to my recovery.

Once I did recover, I wanted to help other people who were struggling with complex, chronic health problems, and Functional Medicine is one of the most effective ways of doing that.

What are the benefits of working with a Functional Medicine health coach?

We are suffering from an epidemic of chronic disease. Six in 10 Americans have one, and four in 10 have more than one. Chronic disease accounts for seven of 10 deaths and 90 percent of healthcare expenditures.

And what causes chronic disease? Our behavior and environment. Studies suggest that over 85 percent of the risk of chronic disease is not genetic—it comes down to the choices we make every day about what we eat and how we live.

Unfortunately, only about 6 percent of Americans consistently engage in the top five health behaviors identified by the CDC: not smoking, not drinking excessively, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough exercise, and sleeping seven to eight hours a night.

Why is this? It’s not because people don’t know these behaviors are healthy. It’s because information is not enough to change behavior. We all know this from our own experience, right? We all have things in our lives that we’d like to do, or know we should be doing, but are not—for some reason or another.

This is where a health coach can be so valuable. They are “change agents.” Health coaches work with clients not only to uncover the environmental factors that prevent or support behavior change, but also to figure out the steps that clients can take to navigate this environment successfully. They also help clients learn from their past successes and failures to create lasting positive changes.
A health coach is an ally, an advocate, and a guide—not another expert authority who will tell you what to do. That doesn’t work, as the statistics above clearly indicate! Instead, they partner with you to help you achieve your health goals.

How does one become a health coach?

That’s a great question, and the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Health coaching is a relatively new profession, and it’s unregulated. This means that the quality and depth of health coach training programs vary tremendously, from superficial weekend courses to rigorous, in-depth, one-year certification programs.

The good news is that there are now clear standards for health coach education and training. These have been developed by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching in collaboration with the National Board of Medical Examiners, the organization that determines the licensure requirements for medical doctors. These standards have established the credibility and legitimacy of health coaching as a profession, which will help with its continued growth and adoption into the healthcare system.

And health coaching is growing at a phenomenal rate—in fact, it’s one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. Major organizations like the CDC, the National Board of Medical Examiners, the Mayo Clinic, and the Cleveland Clinic have endorsed and are employing health coaches. Over half of U.S. corporations have wellness programs, many of which include health coaching. It’s an exciting time to be in this field!

Interested in working as a health coach? Find resources on Chris Kresser's website:

What are your favorite ingredients to add to everyday dishes that elevate the nutritional value?

Bone broth (we use it for sauces and reductions, as well as simmering veggies and meats), sea veggies (high in iodine, which is not found in many foods), and herbs and spices (the most nutrient-dense foods ounce-for-ounce, aside from organ meats).

What are your top five tips for making any dish healthier?

  1. Use real, fresh, whole-food ingredients
  2. Use organic and local ingredients where possible
  3. Cook with traditional fats (e.g., ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, etc.) at appropriate temperatures (i.e., don’t stir-fry at high temperatures with extra virgin olive oil)
  4. Add herbs and spices for nutrient density
  5. Eat a variety of foods to maximize nutrient intake

What made you switch to online grocery shopping? How has Thrive Market changed the way you shop?

I have a full life, with two businesses, a clinical practice, a family, speaking engagements, and other commitments. I also live about 15 minutes away from the nearest health food store. Thrive Market makes it possible for me to order the grocery products I need online and have them delivered right to my door. This is an incredible convenience and time-saver! Of course, I still buy fresh produce and some other items locally, but Thrive Market has cut the amount of time I spend shopping each week by more than 50 percent.

What are your favorite products that you always order, and how do you use those products?

We have a long list of products that we order regularly. Here’s a selection of a few of my favorites in different categories:

  1. Siete Sea Salt Grain Free Tortilla Chips. These are fantastic alternatives to tortilla chips made from corn. I’ll eat them with guacamole and salsa as a snack. I love Mexican food!
  2. Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate Bar. This is one of my all-time favorite chocolate bars. It’s 85 percent dark chocolate, which is perfect for me. And it doesn’t have the waxy texture that many chocolate bars have.
  3. The New Primal 100% Grass-Fed Beef Jerky. This is a fantastic beef jerky that is low in sugar and doesn’t have a lot of additives like most jerky. We always have a bag with us when we go on trips or we’re on the move.
  4. Kiss My Face Fragrance Free Moisture Shave. I don’t like putting chemicals on my skin, so conventional shave cream is out. This product is natural and fragrance-free, and it works well with my somewhat sensitive skin.
  5. Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I love the Thrive Market brand products because they’re always top-notch quality with great sourcing at super-affordable prices. This olive oil is no exception. It has a great flavor for dressing salads, drizzling on veggies, and roasting potatoes.
  6. Royal Hawaiian Orchards Sea Salt Macadamias. I eat these almost every day! One of my favorite snacks.
  7. Simple Mills Almond Flour Pancake & Waffle Mix. We have a family tradition of eating pancakes or waffles on Sundays—but our family doesn’t eat gluten or much grain. This mix requires only eggs, oil, and milk (we use nut milk) and is both gluten- and grain-free!
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