21, No. 9, Nov. 1, 2001
On the job: Donna
By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
the job Donna
Erickson is a dietitian in the department of food science
and human nutrition.
Donna Erickson is a research dietitian in the department of food science
and human nutrition. She earned her undergraduate degree in home economics
with an emphasis in foods and nutrition from Western Illinois University
and her masters degree in nutrition education from the UI. Erickson
came to the UI in 1999 after 13 years as a health educator in the weight
management center at Carle Clinic, Urbana.
Tell me what you do now.
I coordinate Professor Don Laymans human nutrition studies. Were
comparing the high-carbohydrate diet with a moderate-protein diet. The
high-carbohydrate, or Food Guide Pyramid diet, is what is being recommended
for good health. However, Dr. Laymans previous research suggests
that we may need more protein than the high-carbohydrate diet recommends.
His research leads him to believe that the increase in obesity and diabetes
in this country may be the result of not having enough protein in our
diets. So, were conducting studies to see what happens when the
protein level is increased. We just finished our second study this past
August. Our first study was in the fall of 1999.
coordinating the human-subject research, what do you do?
The subjects for both of our studies have been women between the ages
of 40 to 55. My job is to recruit the ladies, interview them and select
those who qualify for the study. I conduct training sessions for the
women so that each of the ladies knows how to use the electronic scale
and keep accurate food records. I help provide information on each of
the diets at the beginning of the study, put together diet workbooks
for each subject, and answer the ladies questions as the study
I plan menus for each diet and oversee meal preparation. Each group
eats all of their meals for the first couple of weeks of the study in
the cafeteria at Bevier Hall, at a table reserved for us. While its
a very busy time for me, its also my favorite part of the study.
The ladies are delightful to work with. Theres a lot of camaraderie,
and each group takes on its own personality. After the on-site eating
phase, the ladies follow the diet on their own, meeting with me once
a week to get weighed and to turn in their food records. After the study
is over, its time to look over all the data weve collected.
Do any of the people come in to your study
with any misconceptions about diets or nutrition?
One of the most common misconceptions about diets for weight loss is
that people feel they have to follow a diet perfectly, not eat any forbidden
foods ever, or else they have failed and there is no point in following
the diet any longer. What we dietitians encourage is that people have
a lifestyle of healthy eating. For our studies, we incorporated a few
desserts (especially chocolate) into the menus to help keep the ladies
happy. Of course, we had to cut back on some of the other foods to fit
in that occasional dessert, but no one complained. We taught it at Carle
and our studies have shown it to be true: Calories do count, regardless
of which diet you follow.
What got you interested in dietetics?
I had always wanted to be a teacher. However, the summer before college,
I worked in the food-service department of a nursing home. The different
diets for different medical conditions fascinated me, and as I studied
nutrition in college, I decided to become a dietitian. Its a great
profession, and it allows me opportunities to teach.
Whats the most challenging part of your
Trying to juggle family time with work during those weeks when were
feeding the ladies on site. I dont see much of my family then,
and thats difficult. We have wonderful friends who watch our kids
after school and my husband helps a lot at home, which helps me through
that busy season. Another challenge during the second study was having
student cooks that added another 12 people to coordinate schedules
with. But, they did a good job and hopefully several of them will be
able to help us with our next study.
What kinds of things do you like to do when
you are not working?
Much of my time is spent doing activities with our three children and
playing Taxi Mom. My husband, Bill, is a landscape architect
and we do a little gardening, raise a few vegetables, and this summer
started a butterfly garden. Bill and I teach a Bible study at our church,
and Im a PTA volunteer at the childrens school. I also like
to read anything from novels to books on nutrition and family
issues. We also like to meet people from other countries.
Do you host international students?
Over the past eight years, we have had people from China, South Africa,
Switzerland and Thailand live in our home. But mostly we simply invite
our international friends to our home to share a meal with them. Its
a wonderful experience for our children, too. They know people from
all over the world.