U of I Students Update Weight-Loss Website
January 9, 2006
URBANA - As University of Illinois James Scholars, food science and human nutrition students Erin Murphy, Sandra Sieber, Molly Gaisford, and Erin Hendricks were required to do an honors project, and no subject seemed more timely than the American struggle to lose weight and keep it off.

With the help of Professor Manabu Nakamura, they're expanding a website developed by last year's James Scholars--a website that targets other college students with practical information about healthy eating and efficient, sustainable weight loss, including what works and doesn't work among popular diets.

You don't have to be a college student though to learn something valuable from visiting http://web.aces.uiuc.edu/efed .

The students made changes because the food-guide pyramid has been updated since the website was developed. "It's pretty clear that you should eat so many servings from a particular group, but we want to emphasize that some choices from a food group are better than others--low-fat milk over ice cream in the dairy group, for example," said Hendricks of Edwardsville.

"That doesn't mean you can never have ice cream. People think a healthy diet is unattainable because they'd have to give up all their favorite foods and they just don't like broccoli," said Sieber, who comes from McHenry. "The website shows that you can mix a lot of different foods--not necessarily low-fat or whole-grain foods--and still achieve a balanced, healthy diet."

"We show the shopping cart of a nutritionally savvy shopper (which, by the way, contains a frozen pizza) as well as other shopping carts that contain a combination of foods that aren't so healthful. We also show examples of different meals and talk about why each plate is a good or bad choice," said Gaisford of Dunlap.

"And part of the website is devoted to eating out because college students eat out a lot," said Murphy of St. Charles. "We show you how many calories you consume if you eat three typical fast-food meals a day; soon, the website will show you some of the healthier alternatives at fast-food places. We also talk about dorm food, and we've added information on vegetarian diets."

Nakamura believes that losing weight is easy but maintaining weight loss is hard. "If you simply return to the diet you had before you lost weight, you'll gain weight again. Preventing weight gain is a very important research area, and it's not well understood."

The food science and human nutrition professor recommended including protein in every meal because it makes people feel full after they've eaten.

"Even snacks should contain protein; choose foods like cheese, protein bars, or nuts," he said.

Sieber backed him up. "I found that to be true from personal experience. When I ate protein, I didn't feel hungry again as quickly."

The students are having the website evaluated by 800 students in an introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition class. "Students in FSHN 120 really comprise our target audience--college kids who don't have a nutrition background but are interested in nutrition. They give us really good feedback," said Murphy.

"We've also been getting some good feedback from people who happen upon the website and e-mail us questions," she said.

Future plans include having nutrition experts evaluate the website and give them advice. "We also want to conduct a study in which U of I college students read the website, try to live by our recommendations, and see if they can lose weight and maintain it over time. We want all the information on the website to be research-based and scientifically valid," said Nakamura.