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How a Nutrition Major's Awakening Made her Challenge Everything

Written by Caroline DiNicola Fawley
How a Nutrition Major's Awakening Made her Challenge Everything

As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. In this series, we talk with some of the world’s most soulful, dedicated (and often funny) individuals. We get to hear their stories of suffering, transformation, and service — and we learn how food is an essential part of their journey.

First, an introduction to Isabella Pratt of CoolBeans Nutrition 

My name is Isabella Pratt, I am a 21-year-old senior at Keene State College where I am finishing a Bachelor of Science in Public Health & Nutrition with a concentration in environmental sustainability. I attended the Plant Stock Nutrition Conference in 2018 and have also completed the Plant Based Nutrition Certification Course from Cornell University by T. Colin Campbell (2020) to further my plant-based nutrition knowledge. I have run a food & nutrition blog for the past four years and love sharing what I learn and recipes that I create.

What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?

I grew up in Bristol, CT and went to a private high school in West Hartford, CT. I was an athlete and just enjoyed good food, I hadn’t really given nutrition much thought. My school had a very advanced dining service, which I am highly grateful for, that served anything from chicken parmesan, to bread bowls of chowder, and decadent lasagnas.

When I would go home things were a bit different. My mother is an amazing cook but has always been curious about nutrition. I remember when I was very young, about 9 or 10, eating the standard American diet: meat loaf, mac and cheese, Bolognese, burgers, etc. Then we moved to grass-fed beef, unpasteurized milk, and all organic everything. I could tell my mom was learning about something when something new made it into the house. We briefly tried a macrobiotic diet as a family, then had a stint with Whole 30. Nothing really stuck, so for the remainder of my middle school and high school journey we ate what we thought to be healthy. As I do come from a Cuban background on my mom’s side, we would eat lots of rice and beans. We also had a share at a local organic CSA, so lots of produce (from our own backyard gardens as well) and fresh organic eggs from our chickens, who I loved dearly. 

It was halfway through my senior year of high school when the grumblings of a plant-based lifestyle began to surface. With a disease ridden (heart disease and cancers) extended family (on both my mom and dad’s side), my mom was desperate for answers of what she could do to keep her immediate family as healthy as possible. She watched a film Forks Over Knives. She read "Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease" and the Esselstyn clan really got to her. She was convinced!

At the time it was just my dad and I at home with my mom, as my two older siblings lived on their own already. I remember when she first brought the idea to the table, I was far from welcoming. While my dad simply met it with a “No, I don’t think so,” I was more of a “well, where do you get this nutrient? What about this? Where is your research? I don’t believe you!”

I wish I could go back and tell her her efforts were much appreciated back then because it was definitely an uphill battle!

She then simply started serving us plant-based meals at home and since I lived at home guess what I ate…plant-based meals! Whenever I would go to school I would act like I was being deprived of something ridiculous. But, once summer rolled around, that was it; I lived at home full time and I became plant-based full time. It weirdly started growing on me and I needed to learn more.

I had previously worked on the Organic CSA farm so I understood a bit about the power of growing your own food and eating a diet high in plants.

At this point I had chosen to study Nutrition here at Keene State and couldn’t wait to learn more when I got to school in the fall. However, that was not exactly what went down.

I realized that plant-based nutrition was not widely taught (just yet) and was being taught how we “need” meat, dairy, and eggs, to be “healthy.” I don’t know exactly what it was, but something just didn’t sit right with me.

I went through the program, learning what I was taught, and asking questions or even giving presentations whenever possible about the benefits of plant-based diet on chronic disease. My professors soon sensed a trend and at this point I believe they just expected it. 

I had to learn more about the science and effects of a whole food plant based diet and if it wasn’t going to be taught in my degree I had to do it on my own. I borrowed some books from my mom and started reading How Not to DieThe China Study, Forks Over Knives, and anything I could find about this way of eating. I wanted to be able to not only defend this way of eating but also prove it’s efficacy to others.

My mom made a very gracious gesture of taking me to the Plant-Stock Nutrition Conference in 2018 with my sister. This is where my inspiration really took off. I heard from countless doctors about the research and real-life case studies about the people who made the transitions to a plant-based diet. It was unbelievable.  I wanted to be one of those people telling people that they can prevent chronic disease with this dietary change!

I then needed even more. My junior year I signed up for the T. Colin Campbell Plant Based Nutrition Certification Course. As I was taking Organic Chemistry, Nutrition throughout the Lifespan, and Food Science, I wanted to learn all those things in regards to a plant-based diet. This program was again packed with research, doctors, dietitian’s, and professors who made this their lives work. I definitely recommend this program for anyone interested in this lifestyle.

Then COVID hit. I was craving to learn or do something with all of this knowledge that I had brewing and blogging wasn’t enough! So, I wrote a book, Plant Based for Prevention. It is on my website and encompasses the research behind why this diet can prevent and reverse disease, and even includes the environmental sustainability of it as well. Not only do I include the science, but I connect it to my knowledge of nutrition, and all of the lifestyle tricks I have learned to make this transition easy. I include a grocery list, meal ideas, tips on how to maintain and transition, and even my favorite staple recipes.

Here we are today, I am almost done with my studies and I recently got matched to the UConn Dietetic Internship Program where I will be completing a clinical and community-based practicum. This will allow me to learn even more about what different tasks a dietitian can do and will make me eligible to sit for the Registered Dietitian National Examination.

What happened?

I would call it a gradual learning journey but once I started learning more about nutrition freshman year of college that is when I realized that I wanted to stick with this lifestyle and do everything I could to learn more.

How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet change?

I was able to stick with such a dramatic change by focusing on myself. As someone in college it can be very difficult to do something different from your peers. I just told myself that this was a priority for me and I was not going to budge for peer pressure or assimilation.

It was incredibly difficult at times, especially with a lack of social support as no one else I knew was plant-based. That is why social media became such a good place for me to “hang out” with like-minded people and share our food and knowledge. It also helped that my mom was on the same page so eating at home was never a problem!

What is your life like now?

Now (four years later) I hardly think about the fact that I follow a plant-based diet, it’s just the way I eat and what I do. Those close to me already know so I don’t get all of those questions like I used to in the beginning questioning the efficacy of this way of eating. It’s almost normal now, much thanks to it becoming mainstream as well.

I physically feel great and am able to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle and love creating content for those who feel the same. I have made so many connections through my blog and Instagram and hopefully have inspired those around me to consider moving towards a plant-based diet or even just eating more plants in general.

 

What is your favorite MamaSezz food/dish?

MamaSezz Millie’s Chili!

 

What are you most proud of?

My drive to continue learning on the side of my college education

If you could meet and have lunch with one person (alive or dead) who would it be?

Dr. Will Bulsewicz (My current favorite Author/gastroenterologist who focuses on fiber for gut health)

BONUS: Here are 6 of Isabella's favorite whole food plant based recipes, found on her website:

1. West African Peanut Stew

2. Tofu Scramble

3. Granola Cookies

4. Creamy Mushroom, Faro, & Kale Soup

5. Red Lentil Stew

6. Vegan Cheese Sauce

 

Have Your Own Plant-Based Transformation?!

Tell us all about it! We'd love to know how a plant-based diet changed your life and health. Send us an email at heartbeetgang@mamasezz.com to share your story.

 

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