American Nutrition Association CEO Recalls Scary Path to New Professional Passion

08 January 2021

By Jay Hodgkins

After graduating from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and School of Law, Michael Stroka (MBA/JD ‘95) lived the jet-setting lifestyle of a Boston Consulting Group consultant and project leader, solving client problems across the U.S. and then Southeast Asia. However, a food-borne illness sent his health on a downward spiral that culminated in his diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome.

The journey to recovery was long and difficult, but it ultimately led the founder and CEO of the American Nutrition Association (ANA) down a new professional path. Stroka recently shared his story in a profile on Darden’s Alumni Spotlight.

He explored a new solution: therapeutic nutrition (i.e., a personalized diet) to restore optimal health. “I ate the first meal designed for my unique needs,” says Stroka. “It was a revelation. I felt normal for the first time in a couple of years. And to me, that felt like being Superman.”

Before this pivotal moment, the former consultant was following the conventional wisdom of low-fat eating. “I had been eating things like low-fat chicken with steamed rice. But what my body needed was the exact opposite: rich fats, high-powered proteins, and foods loaded with antioxidants and probiotics.”

Stroka explains that “the nerves in our body have a sheath around them made up of fats,” so a fat-free diet leaves the nerves “inadequately buffered from insults like inflammation. You are wired rather than calm. And that’s a feature of chronic fatigue syndrome — the nervous system is often in overdrive.”

This was not just a turning point for Stroka’s well-being; discovering personalized nutrition also radically altered his career trajectory. Rather than returning to BCG, he went back to school and earned a master’s degree in human nutrition and became a Certified Nutrition Specialist. Then he set about the tall task of “moving nutrition to the core of our health and health care.”

His new professional purpose ultimately led him to the ANA, which Stroka is leading with an ambitious agenda.

Stroka says his team of 150 staff, board members, key funders and volunteers has built a solid foundation from which to progress. Already, the ANA has notched many successes, including, through policy advocacy, making it possible for a more diverse set of qualified practitioners to obtain licenses to practice nutrition in U.S. states, thereby boosting public access to nutritionists.

Only 25 percent of medical schools require students to take even one dedicated nutrition course. “It used to be a very closed system where only narrow types of providers could do the work. We’ve opened it up so people can access a wider array of practitioners. It’s been a sea-change,” Stroka says.

His experience at Darden and UVA Law from 1992–96 has been central to his success with the ANA, particularly the broad MBA curriculum covering the staples of strategy, operations, finance, marketing and more. “At a nonprofit especially, you need to be a jack of all trades because you don’t have the resources of a Fortune 500 company,” says Stroka. “Darden did a great job of building a management foundation. It teed me up nicely.”

Read the full profile on Darden’s Alumni Spotlight.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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