Owner at Whole Life Wellness Club and Dacia Medical, Illinois

Cătălina Grija, a native of Bucharest, Romania, Doctor of Functional Medicine at Whole Life Wellness Club, who has 23-years of experience in Internal Medicine, and is also certified in DNA Health, has always been interested in nutrition. She always looked for nutritious alternatives to recommend to her patients when they came to her with health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and weight management issues. She always had products in her office like vitamins, fruit, and vegetable supplements, but 4 years ago she got interested in Functional Medicine almost on accident.

“I was introduced to these supplements that my husband and I started taking,” she says. “Within a couple of weeks, I noticed significant changes. That intrigued me because I hadn’t seen results like this with anything natural that I took before so I started digging deeper into how this works. That is how I discovered Functional Medicine, which approaches the root of people’s problems, rather than address one disease at a time by prescribing medication, for example, for diabetes.

The center of medical issues in Functional Medicine is the gut health – we need to get the nutrients, absorb them, eliminate toxins and make sure there is no leak of toxic substances into the bloodstream. Many people have digestion issues like IBS and related problems like food intolerances, eczema, headaches, or depression. Traditional medicine looks at structural digestive tract issues and organ function. But in functional medicine we analyze things differently. We look at the microbiome (gut microorganisms), the health of the intestinal wall, immune system and inflammation. Balance all these and symptoms usually resolve.

Another critical piece of information in personalized medicine is DNA testing. We evaluate the impact of genes and food on enzymatic processes in our body. Once we have this information, we can improve processes, know what to do from then on to live healthy and prevent disease as much as possible. So, I love this approach.”

Irina VanPatten: So how does it work? How do you determine what everyone needs?

Cătălina Grija: First we have an in-person visit because we do a physical exam and body composition analysis. We have an 18-page questionnaire I go over with everyone the first time I see them in a session that lasts about 1.5 hours. The subsequent sessions can be on Zoom/video call, when after analyzing the provided information, I make a treatment plan including lifestyle changes, tests needed, and supplements required. The tests are done at home. Kits are sent to patients’ homes and mailed back to the lab. Once we get the results back in about two to three weeks, we go over new recommendations. Based on that, I set a two-four-or-six-month (depending on need) program that we go over, and we then meet weekly or biweekly to ensure accountability. 

I also have patients who come for a consultation for a specific issue where they don’t need to be in a program. They just need to resolve their issues, like bloating, constipation, eczema, hormonal issues, frequent injuries, or intolerance to certain foods. We go through the same interview process to find out everything about them. Then we make a recommendation and do the tests that are appropriate. Based on the results, I prescribe supplements, certain diets, and lifestyle changes that address their issues. We follow up regularly.

Functional medicine is a discovery of self. You’ll find out things that you were not aware of. I wasn’t aware of all these things before either, and I’m in the medical field. One of the most striking things for me was finding out about microbiome (all the bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses in the gut), and about the metabolism of hormones, which nobody talks about in traditional medicine. I find so many imbalances in people who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Whether they have symptoms or not, they may not have a normal metabolism of hormones, i.e., estrogen. That’s very important to know because it is going to affect their lives if not acted upon.

If you don’t stop and analyze, you go through life without knowing about a ticking time bomb in your body, especially if you don’t have signs of major health issues yet. Or maybe you already gave up. Many people had traumas in their past that made them behave in a certain way, especially in their relationship to food. If you discover that earlier, you can acknowledge it and you can change the trajectory. We are meant to live healthy, long lives with a strong positive mindset and love and respect for this precious vessel called body.

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Irina VanPatten: You mentioned accountability. Why is that important?

Cătălina Grija: Most of us can’t stick to a program long term without accountability. Recommendations should become routines that have to be performed regularly to ensure the treatment is working, to track the improvements and transform these routines into habits- at this point, if you skip that habit, you won’t feel good. For example, for people who are in the program for weight management, we set up weekly Zoom calls where we talk for 45 minutes to an hour and go over anything that happened, how to cope with changes in their diet plan and their routines, and we address any questions they have. We emphasize mindset work, so they can discover themselves, understand their behaviors, and adjust. This way, nobody drifts away. 

Irina VanPatten: How do you keep accountable people, like me, who loves food more than exercise?

Cătălina Grija: We talk on a weekly basis. Our EMR system allows for input of pictures of meals and metrics upload, questions, chatting. Everyone should enjoy their meals, eat mindfully, not on the run, explore new tasty, healthy recipes, and be proud of themselves. People do very well, solve their issues, lose 20-40 lbs in 4 months and learn a lot about themselves in the process. We provide recipes and shopping lists and suggest supplements and tips to analyze cravings.  Many clients have already tried different diets, with no long-term results and are tired of failure. Our personalized approach always works.

Irina VanPatten: Are people interested in what you are proposing during the pandemic? How does the pandemic affect our health overall and the issues that you are talking in particular?

Cătălina Grija: I started doing Functional Medicine in 2020, right at the start of COVID. Might seem like a bad timing, but the pandemic actually increased people’s interest in it because it started a movement towards acknowledging health and well-being in general. Everybody wants to be healthier now more than ever because so many lost loved ones to COVID. Also, more people are open to natural remedies because they are tired of medications and often, their problems are not resolved in traditional medicine.

Irina VanPatten: How many times a day should you eat and what portions?


Cătălina Grija: My approach includes three meals a day with two snacks. We need each meal to contain all 3-fats, carbs, and protein (at least 0.8 – 1 gram of protein per kilogram per day), in different proportion based on genetics. We all need and most of the time lack 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This is due to the nutrient’s depletion in soil and fruits and veggies related to agricultural and harvesting practices.

Think of food as fuel and nourishment for our bodies. All metabolic processes require vitamins and minerals. Without vitamins and minerals, the liver can’t detoxify toxins or get rid of free radicals that we produce just from breathing and walking every day, we can’t repair the DNA or metabolize anything, we can’t produce energy in the cells. Everything depends on nutrition. 

The lack of good nutrition is the reason for many diseases and mental health issues. Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, the happy hormone, and dopamine, require B-vitamins and minerals for production, as well as a healthy gut.

When you lack the right macro- and micro-nutrients, you have cravings, which are really due to being malnourished. People who eat once a day never lose weight. You have to eat less on a frequent basis to eliminate the cravings, to lose fat, feel strong and energetic, and sleep better.

Irina VanPatten: What are the foods that we should avoid in general, not even for weight loss?

Cătălina Grija: Processed foods, refined sugars, corn starch and corn syrup, dyes, monosodium glutamate, fillers. At some point, our liver will be exhausted of detoxifying all these toxins, they pile up and we start feeling it. Sugar, per se, is another item to avoid generally. We shouldn’t have sugar in bread, meat, etc. Sugar may contribute to increased cholesterol levels and insulin resistance with weight gain. Another problem with sugar is that once you get your tastebuds used to that sweetness, you crave more or it. 

One tip is to shop for food around the perimeter of the store in the dairy, meat, bread, fruit and vegetables area, not through the aisles where the packaged stuff is. Or think you are on a huge farm, if you don’t find it there, you should not eat it.

Irina VanPatten: We talked about weight management in adults, but do we have the same problems with kids?

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Cătălina Grija: It’s a bigger problem! When we grew up, there were very few obese kids. Now, it’s prevalent in the U.S. among almost all groups of people. Kids are exposed to sugar, processed foods and fast food early on, especially if they have working parents who don’t have time to cook. On top of that, the school food is a huge contributor to childhood obesity in the U.S. The problem is not only on the outside, but also on the inside. Bad foods cause irreparable damage in kids’ bodies, leaving them with high cholesterol or Type 2 diabetes related to obesity starting at a very young age. 

One of the worst risks of obesity is cancer. It is so sad that so many young people develop cancer now. I encourage parents to fight for their kids’ health, as obesity may affect their physical and mental health for the rest of their life.

Irina VanPatten: How much does your program cost?

Cătălina Grija: The consultation is $287 and then the weight release program for four months is $3000. The cost can vary based on individual needs. Higher priced packages include testing, supplements, laser Sculpture for body contouring and Neurotris, which is microcurrent facial or body rejuvenation. The $3000 package includes four consultations, weekly session, four yoga sessions and 3 health coaching sessions with our health coach.