Wellness Makers: For Jacqui Justice, ‘Food Is Medicine’

Meet the functional nutritionist, who teaches some of the most popular courses on the mindfulness website DailyOM.

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Justice will create a specific diet and lifestyle plan based on a client's individual needs.Courtesy of Jacqui Justice

Jacqui Justice is a functional nutritionist. If you don’t know what that is, that’s okay. Justice, 59, is used to it. Most people don’t understand what she does for a living.

A functional nutritionist gets to the root of a person’s wellness issues, and prevents future illnesses from arising. “So, if someone has blood sugar issues, you don’t just say, ‘Okay, take this medication,” says Justice, who lives in Stamford, Connecticut, and has a son and a daughter in their twenties. “It’s, ‘Why do you have blood sugar issues? How is your diet? What's your family history? What can we do to help fix that root issue so that your blood sugar stabilizes, and you don't have to take any medication?’ ”

“Functional medicine doctors are great. They run the right tests, they know how to interpret them, but almost a hundred percent never ever work with the person's food,” she says. “They just will say blanketly, ‘Oh, don't eat sugar.’ But they never actually give a food plan that someone can take home. We do.”

Through specific testing, Justice will look at her client’s blood chemistries and food sensitivities, and then create a specific diet and lifestyle plan based on their individual needs. She also teaches several of the more popular courses on wellness website DailyOM, including “Live a Sweet Life Without Sugar” and “Shedding your Menopausal Middle in 10 Days.”

Menopause and perimenopause are one of her specialties. With these clients, she might do a more complete thyroid panel, for example, which can shed some light on why a woman’s hair might be falling out, or why her skin is dry, or why she’s having a hard time losing weight. Through blood tests, Justice can get better insights into what’s really going on. Then she’ll recommend specific foods or even supplements that will help them.

But, as she notes, “All the supplements in the world are not going to help you if you're not doing the lifestyle changes that you need to do to get those stress hormones down, like meditation and deep breathing.”

How Personal Challenges Led to a Personal and Professional Journey

“Almost every nutritionist is a nutritionist because they've had some wellness issues themselves,” she says. As a teenager, she was often sick, and turned to antibiotics to help. She quickly developed digestive symptoms. Doctors found nothing, but she was still uncomfortable. “That’s when I started, reading, researching, looking up all this stuff,” she says.

For nearly a decade, she went from nutritionists to naturopaths to homeopaths, trying to find the source of the problem. She finally discovered that she had a major yeast overgrowth from having taken all of those antibiotics over the years. “I had all these food sensitivities, so she put me on a protocol and within a month it was like a complete turnaround,” she says. “I had no more gut issues.”

Her approach to healing was pretty unusual during the 1970s and '80s. “Today, the gut microbiome is one of the most studied organs in the body, so every day there's more information. But it wasn’t the case in 1990.”

Justice got an art degree from Pace University, and for eight years worked in fashion in New York City, selling women’s accessories. It was fun for a while, but she didn’t feel like she was doing anything significant with her life. She began looking around to see what truly interested her, and settled on nutrition. Within a week, she was in a five-year master’s program in nutrition at New York Medical College.

“I knew I didn't want to be a registered dietitian, and I knew I didn't want to work at a hospital,” she says. “I knew I wanted to help people prevent things.”

In 2013 she pitched a course to DailyOM, “Mojo Weight Loss,” which became one of the most popular courses on the site.

“Food is the most important thing,” says Justice. “It's more important than exercise. It's more important than the supplements. Food is medicine. And if you're not eating foods that nourish your body, you’re not getting anywhere.”