Dr. Nadja Pinnavaia Fights Cancer Risk With Science & Empathy

Plantable founder & CEO, Dr. Nadja Pinnavaia reflects on her personal cancer journey through family loss and preventive surgeries – and how she maintained her sensuality & strength along the way.
Dr. Nadja Pinnavaia Fights Cancer Risk With Science & Empathy

“My real mission? I want people to feel good. I want them to know that it’s not hard. That once you get there, it’s really easy. And it’s such a better way of living.”

Nadja Pinnavaia is the founder and CEO of Plantable, a 28-day diet intervention program that makes it really easy to transition to nutrient-dense food that helps you feel great. Plantable does the heavy lifting, cooking and delivering plant-based lunches and dinners to clients in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The idea for Plantable sprung from a collision of personal experiences. Nadja had lost both her parents to cancer and learned she was BRCA2 positive herself (‘I have the bad genes!’). It was her mother-in-law’s breast cancer scare, however, that inspired Nadja to pick up Dr. Servan-Schrieber’s AntiCancer book, where she began learning about the toll that the modern diet takes on our health.

As Nadja was reading about the link between an inflammatory diet and cancer risk, her children – two and four years old at the time – were asking for hot dogs and probiotic smoothies (with eight teaspoons of sugar). When a new job in New York turning around underperforming brands had Nadja looking at a CPG company and their weight management shakes, it dawned upon her that calorie restriction was not the answer to weight loss, especially if those 200 calories were all sugar.

Today’s food is controlling us. Sugars and refined grains, which we often think of as ‘just’ empty calories, have underreported effects on weight loss, internal health, cancer risk, and self-esteem.

“I thought, god, we need a solution! It’s not enough to tell people, ‘You shouldn’t eat this way.’ How do we make it enjoyable? How do we make it easier? And so, Plantable was born.”

With a PHD in quantum chemistry and a background in finance, Nadja brings a refreshing pragmatism to an arena that can often feel emotional or elusive: feeling good in our bodies. Nadja pairs her practical teachings with deep empathy for the uniqueness of every journey – informed by personal challenges to her own body along the way.


“Four years ago, I had a [preventive] double mastectomy, because I’m BRCA2. I’ve always been a very pragmatic person. I went into my double mastectomy with very pragmatic thinking: I’ve just got to get this done. This was the year we started the company. October was our first delivery. Then I ran the marathon. I was under the knife on November 10th. Ten days later, I was driving the [Plantable delivery] truck around Brooklyn.”

“Five days before my surgery, I went to see the plastic surgeon for the pre-op. I had chosen really soft implants, because I wanted my breasts to look natural. ‘Now, the breast implants you’ve chosen,” my doctor said to me, ‘Well the factory in Brazil has burnt down, so, unfortunately, nowhere in America has the soft inserts. You are going to have the medium inserts.’”


“I started to cry. Up until that point, I had taken the approach of looking forward to having nice, perky boobs again! Because after children, they are not so perky. This was the first time I realized: ‘Oh god, I’m going to have this foreign body in me.’ I underestimated the whole thing. It is a big deal.”

“I’m facing a very similar thing at the moment, because the week after next, I’m having a prophylactic hysterectomy. I’m removing my ovaries, because, as BRCA2, I also have a very high risk there. I’m taking a similar pragmatic approach: ‘I have another week of work, I’ll fit it in, have a couple of weeks to rest over the holidays and then be back in January!’”

“I knew I was going to have to take my ovaries out, but it has taken me four years to psychologically be ready. Now, I’m ready. But it’s still a big deal. When we cut out these parts of ourselves that are so feminine, whether it’s our uterus or our ovaries or our boobs, it’s a big deal.”


“I love my boobs. I always have. They’ve always been incredibly sensitive, so they have always been an important part, not just of my body aesthetically, but of my sensuality.”

“Going into surgery, my last words were: ‘Make me as large as you can, without making me look ridiculous!’ When I came out of surgery, I was massive! I thought, ‘What have I done?!’ What you don’t realize is that you are hugely swollen. Anyways, it all settled down. Aesthetically, the double mastectomy was kind of an improvement! However, I lost that sensitivity. And that was very difficult in the beginning.”

“Bizarrely, some sensitivity comes back. What you have a double mastectomy, everything is removed: all of those sensory cells, all of your sensation. Sometimes people lose an arm and feel like they still have one. I have to say, [the feeling in my breasts] is not the same as it was, but there is a sensitivity there that I think is linked psychologically to memory. It’s maybe 40% of what it used to be, but it’s still there. After about twelve months, it came back. And I was so happy when it did.”

“Everyone is different, and everyone faces their own challenges in their own way. It took me four years to prepare to remove my ovaries, but now I'm ready. You have to respect everyone’s journey. As a result, my approach to coaching [Plantable clients] is one of education and empathy. I want to know the person, build a relationship with them, and be there for them as they learn how to adapt in their own ways.”

Read Dr. Nadja Pinnavaia’s 5 insights for regaining control over our food, feeling good from the inside out, and making resolutions that stick..

Interview and Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam

Tags: bodytalk , Self

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