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Functional Medicine Doctor vs Health Coach: Choosing Your Path

In the rapidly evolving landscape of healthcare, individuals are increasingly seeking personalized and holistic approaches to maintaining wellness and addressing chronic health issues. This shift has led to the rise of functional medicine and health coaching, two distinct yet complementary practices that offer unique pathways to achieving health and wellness. Understanding the differences between a functional medicine doctor and a health coach, as well as knowing when to choose one over the other, is essential for anyone looking to optimize their health in a comprehensive and individualized manner.

What is Functional Medicine?

what is functional medicine

Functional medicine is an evidence-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease, rather than simply treating symptoms. This method involves a deep understanding of your genetic, biochemical, and lifestyle factors and leverages that data to develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Functional medicine doctors use a wide range of diagnostic tests and incorporate various treatment modalities, including diet and nutrition, exercise, stress management, detoxification, and supplementation, as well as conventional medications when necessary.

The core principle of functional medicine is that one condition can have many causes and, conversely, one cause can result in many conditions. This approach is holistic and patient-centered, emphasizing patient engagement in their health journey. Functional medicine practitioners often spend a significant amount of time with their patients, working to build a comprehensive health history and a deep understanding of the factors affecting their health.

Understanding Health Coaching

On the other hand, health coaches focus on guiding and supporting individuals in achieving their personal wellness goals and adopting healthier lifestyle choices. Health coaches do not diagnose conditions, prescribe treatments, or provide medical advice. Instead, they work to motivate, inspire, and hold their clients accountable, helping them to implement and sustain lifestyle changes that can lead to improved health outcomes.

Health coaches typically concentrate on areas such as nutrition, physical activity, weight management, stress reduction, and time management. They use a variety of techniques to help clients overcome obstacles, establish healthy habits, and make sustainable lifestyle changes. The partnership between a health coach and their client is collaborative, with an emphasis on empowering the individual to take charge of their health.

Key Differences Between Functional Medicine Doctors and Health Coaches

The primary difference between functional medicine doctors and health coaches lies in their scope of practice, level of training, and approach to health and wellness. Functional medicine doctors are licensed healthcare providers with extensive medical training. They are qualified to diagnose medical conditions, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications and other treatments. Their approach is rooted in science and focuses on the biochemical and genetic intricacies of the body.

In contrast, health coaches do not have a medical degree, and their role is not to diagnose or treat disease. Instead, they are trained in behavior change, motivational interviewing, and wellness coaching. Their expertise lies in helping clients develop and stick to health-promoting habits and routines.

Which one is right for you?

You should consider working with a functional medicine doctor if you:

  • Have been diagnosed with a chronic condition and seek a comprehensive approach to treatment.
  • Are experiencing symptoms that have not been successfully diagnosed or treated by conventional medicine.
  • Prefer a personalized approach to healthcare that considers your unique genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
  • Are looking for a holistic strategy to prevent disease and optimize health, rather than just treating symptoms as they arise.


A health coach may be the right choice if you:

  • Are generally healthy and looking to improve your overall wellness, prevent disease, or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Need support, accountability, and motivation to achieve specific health goals, such as weight loss, improved fitness, or better stress management.
  • Have received a treatment plan from a healthcare provider but require help with implementation, such as incorporating recommended dietary changes or exercise routines into your daily life.
  • Want to make lifestyle changes to improve your health but aren't sure where to start or how to proceed.


Both functional medicine doctors and health coaches play vital roles in the landscape of modern healthcare, offering distinct yet complementary approaches to wellness. Understanding the differences between these two professions and knowing when to seek the services of each can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

Ultimately, the choice between a functional medicine doctor and a health coach depends on your specific health needs, goals, and preferences. In most cases utilizing both can lead to a successful change in your health and optimizing wellness. Health and wellness is a journey that is easier to level-up and stick to it with a great team around you. 

If you are looking for a funcitonal medicine trained physician or coach the Institute for Functional Medicine has great resources.


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