by Taylor Lobb

It was time. While they knew it would prevail, nothing could have prepared them for this day. They racked their once shallow minds for an explanation. They felt disparity for any reasoning at all. The 60 year-old ALS patient they looked after had succumbed to his fate. The one person who changed their lives forever would soon be dead. 


They felt helpless as they watched him die. They felt hopeless as they digested the process. Catheters overflowing with urine, bed sores, the stench of blood and feces. 


This was the first time Sophia Hyde and Katelyn Serpa got a close-up look at how degenerative diseases ravage the human body. 


After a few weeks, their sensibilities were disturbed, their morality violated. Worse than the disease was the treatment. “We don’t want to help people by pumping drugs,” Sophia said. “We want to help people from the root cause of the problem with their health — which is typically their diet and lifestyle issues.”


Their beliefs were confronted as this person neared the end of his life. The home care they provided became moral support from a hospital bedside at the Pleasanton ValleyCare Intensive Care Unit. Eventually, the ALS successfully took over his immune system. All that was left was to provide him with whatever comfort was possible. 


“It’s not real care,” Katelyn said. “It is just enough to keep people alive.”


And from that moment onward, everything they did was based on health and wellness. This was a mission they would embark on together.


To make his last days enlightening, Katelyn and Sophia blended the meals he received through a feeding tube, packed with greens and nutrients that zapped him with natural energy. They did hours of personal research and enrolled in clubs on campus to expand their knowledge on nutrition. 


They may have only extended this man’s life by a minuscule interval. But the information they learned could prolong the lives of others by years. 


He left an indelible impression. Their perspectives were forever altered by his suffering and demise. What they envisioned for their lives was now infused with deeper meaning. They became closer as friends, even more converted to holistic health. They now saw the importance of sharing this discovery with others. This is when the Stevia Sistas were truly born.“If it weren’t for each other, we would still be in the same stagnant state,” Sophia said.


They had attended the same grade school in Livermore, even crossed paths a time or two. But a conversation in an anatomy course at Las Positas College about their mutual affinity for stevia set in motion a bond that would change their lives and lead to a movement. They desired to confront the travesties of traditional medicine head on, through wellness. 

Stevia is a natural sweetener found in plants from Brazil, with many health benefits. It turned out they used the same kind. They became sisters almost instantly. Two people linked by their desire for wellness, a connection symbolized by stevia.


Now, they are social media mavens. Influencers in the social space, hoping to enlighten others on the benefits of a balanced, plant-based lifestyle. In 2017, Sophia and Katelyn took to Instagram and coined themselves the Stevia Sistas, taking their wellness journey public by documenting their lifestyle with high-definition photos and high-quality advice. They are now approaching 5,000 followers.


Their feed consists of recipes, gardening and exercising tips culled from their journey over the years promoting self-care without strict parameters. 


“It is so important to not limit yourself from indulging,” Sophia said. “It’s all about balance.”

Their commute as full-time students at San Francisco State forces them to find an adjustable balance with their diet and exercise. Their class schedules are packed Monday through Friday, but they still make time to maintain a social media following in an age where consistency is key to remaining relevant. And in the Instagram space, quality imagery is a requirement. 


“We’re nomads,” Sophia said. “Travelin’ travelers. We travel a lot, so it’s hard to make the food pretty, but we just try to be as real as we can. It doesn’t always look beautiful, but it’s easy and it tastes good.” The two promote recipes that are easily accessible on the go and feature techniques on how to manage time properly with a packed schedule. 


Each week, they craft their itinerary for the next seven days. They plan what they will eat and where they can exercise between classes. Their schedules are manipulated down to the minute. They even plan out their weekends, making time for nature hikes and study walks in the mountains where they quiz one another on material for upcoming exams. Referring to themselves as “weird hippies,” Sophia and Katelyn will often go barefoot or use natural roots from the earth to make herbal tea on these frequent weekend retreats. 


Trying to find comfortability amidst such a hectic lifestyle proves to be a challenge again and again. However, it seems home is wherever they are together. The two support one another in every aspect: educationally, emotionally, financially and so much more. Sisters.


They are pioneers for young adults, innovators with a fresh approach for those who are also looking for more but can’t seem to find it. Now, they are who they always wanted to be — an embodiment of wellness, evangelists of purity’s benefits, examples of social media’s power. 


“There is a variety of different people we want to reach,” Sophia said. “There’s moms, people who are in college and even younger people.” 


“All ages can benefit,” seconded Katelyn. Together, they want to show people the way. But first, they had to find each other.“We truly balanced each other out,” Sophia said. “Successfully.”

After graduating from Livermore High School in 2014, Sophia moved to Oregon to pursue a career in nursing at Oregon State. She quickly realized it wasn’t for her. Her instincts spoke to her.


This is not what I need. This does not support my growth. This is not healthy for me.

She spent one semester in Corvallis, Ore. before deciding to move back to the Bay Area, enrolling at Las Positas College. It was a gut feeling she couldn’t ignore. She knew her potential would blossom where her loved ones were. 


“Family is your tribe,” she said. “And if you’re not surrounded by your tribe and your team, you are not going to succeed.”

Her upbringing accustomed her to a plant-based lifestyle. It wasn’t unusual to have meals prepared from food grown in her backyard, where she and her father, John Hyde, tended to their personal garden. He instilled in her the importance of a balanced lifestyle. Their family religion was health and wellness. 


Her father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before she was born. It was a shock, as Hyde isn’t the breakable type. He exudes positivity and his laugh is contagious. His ear-to-ear grin lights up his entire face. To see his smile is to witness the vibe that led him to treat his diagnoses as the opportunity of a lifetime to challenge traditional approaches to medicine. He shunned the prescribed treatment and proved to Sophia he could rebuild his crumbling temple naturally from a plant-based diet and exercise. 


In the process, he injected Sophia with his own spirit, guided her by his example. He spent the next few years instilling in her the relationship between well-being and a happy soul. From 15-mile hikes in the Oakland Hills, to camping trips at Yosemite, to catching fish in the Bay and preparing them for dinner, he created a foundation for Sophia to build something sustainable on.


Her father’s triumph over illness planted a seed that would eventually blossom into Sophia’s passionate belief in holistic medicine. While nutrition had always been an integral part of Sophia’s upbringing, she struggled with a misconstrued obsession for bodybuilding. She was all about lifting as much weight as possible. But while she was passionate about iron, she lacked the knowledge to indulge it in a healthy way.

Katelyn’s path was different. While Sophia wanted to bulk up, Katelyn wanted to slim down. She struggled with a balanced nutrition and a healthy body mass index. She was obsessed with the idea of being thin, emphasizing exercise more than her diet. It affected her in ways she couldn’t recognize until Sophia became her partner in purity. 


“When I wasn’t eating enough calories, I thought that I was doing just fine in the gym,” Katelyn said. “Once I started introducing more calories into my diet, more fats, more nutrients in general, I started performing way better. I felt stronger, and more alert.”


She was in a nutrient deficit, struggling with a healthy weight. When she met Sophia in anatomy, she was still learning about various nutrition concepts, trying to find the right one for her. Sophia added perspective she didn’t have, introducing qualities Katelyn lacked. 


The way they complemented each other only made their friendship stronger. Their introduction was only the beginning of what has now been crafted into a strong will and purpose in life.


As their relationship grew, their loyalty to stevia was no longer their strongest bond. It transitioned into a shared desire to take care of others. Their goal became bigger than personal wellness and now focused on service, thanks to their time spent looking after their patient at ValleyCare. 


His condition left him beyond saving through natural means. However, by using methods of Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM), other cases have proved to be transcendent. 


“Eating a very high plant-based diet is the biggest key element to starting off some chronic diseases,” said Marsha Vernoga, an LPC nutrition professor.


CAM is defined by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” Katelyn calls it a preventative approach, not applicable once the disease has been contracted.


Studies have yet to show definitive research on plant-based diets. But Vernoga said that “as an entire pattern, what we do see in the research is that the people that live the longest, that have the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes are people that eat mainly a plant-based diet.” 

A few years after the death of the man they held dear, another person’s case touched close to home for both Sophia and Katelyn: Vernoga.


Vernoga is a registered dietitian and faculty member at LPC. A soft-spoken woman who didn’t appear to be a day over 26 when Sophia and Katelyn first met her. Her porcelain skin radiated a glow the Stevia Sistas couldn’t help but notice. They were amazed to learn Vernoga once battled severe digestive issues, chronic rashes, cystic acne and lethargy. At age 23 and suffering, their teacher told them how she sought answers. Vernoga visited every hospital she could find over a five-year span, underwent countless medical approaches and invasive procedures in search of a cure. She was left with inconclusive diagnoses and, ultimately, a lack of overall wellness. So she turned to the one thing health care professionals overlooked: nutrition. Within five months of adopting a whole food and plant-based diet, Vernoga was rejuvenated.


“After suffering for so many years, things started finally shifting for me,” she said. 


A year into the diet, her symptoms were completely eradicated. She never looked back. She is now 40 and feels the best she’s ever felt. Vernoga is now on her fifth year teaching at LPC. She only hopes to resonate with students the way she once did with the Stevia Sistas. After their paths crossed in 2017, Katelyn and Sophia became the first-ever presidents for the newly founded Nutrition Club.


This kick started their journey to new heights. 


For the first time they had a spotlight. They were leading others through similar wellness feats, while obtaining an education. They were learning what people need, the mistakes they were making and how to deliver complex ideas in a digestible form.


This was the stepping stone for their social media movement. The process by which they created the vibrant, serene greenery that is their blog, a positive space where the two share their relationship with life.  Now enrolled in a nutrition communication education course at SFSU, the two feel more confident than ever before thanks to the relationship they’ve built through their page. They have mastered the skills utilized in their education and expressed on their page. “It has really allowed us to put ourselves in the mindset of other people,” Katelyn said. 


Putting themselves out there came with its issues. Their collective experience and moments of enlightenment gained through the people they have encountered were too powerful not to share with the world. Because of their ALS patient, John Hyde, Marsha Vernoga and, above all, each other, they overcame their reluctance.


Before life brought them together, neither Sophia nor Katelyn knew what they wanted.


And then, in an anatomy class at LPC in spring 2016, they found a solution to the angst that plagued them. Randomly, serendipitously, they found exactly what they were looking for.


Each other.


Now, it is clear exactly what they want. They want to preserve their minds, bodies and souls. They are constantly working to uncover the deeper meaning that exists outside of the pretentious suburban lifestyle that used to engulf them. They want to be a part of something that matters, rise above the doldrums and monotony of life by helping to prevent atrocities like the one they witnessed. 


And it all starts with @steviasistas.