Dietitian aims to spread healthy living message

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
Nutrition and a proper diet isn't something that comes easy to most people. This is evident by the 69 percent of the U.S. population who are either overweight or obese. This costs almost $150 billion annually in medical costs.

In a world of fad diets, fast food and weight loss supplements, Erin Locke, 23d Medical Group health promotion dietitian, has the job of helping people understand fact from fiction to help them live a healthy lifestyle.

"Nutrition plays a part in your overall health, so how you feel and your overall wellbeing," said Locke.
"It has a lot to do with your sleep and with how active you can be. Then more importantly it decreases your disease risk, your morbidity and your risk of getting the chronic diseases.

"I like to be more involved with [patients] and make sure they know it's not going to be a quick fix or overnight, but if they just stick with it, it's going to improve your health and make you feel better," she added.

Locke's passion for nutrition and health began almost by accident. While working toward a nursing certification she took a nutrition class at the University of Wyoming where she grew up. From then on she was hooked and switched her focus to becoming a registered dietitian.

Then she went to Oklahoma and worked as a graduate assistant and taught a lab and discussion group for her internship. In 1998 she took her exam to become a registered dietitian.

Then in early 2014, Locke got her current job as a dietitian on Moody, where her husband is currently stationed.

Jerry Dawson, 23d MDG health promotion coordinator, hired Locke and said she is a great person to work with and is very knowledgeable in her field.

"She is very enthusiastic about what she does," he said. "She's been instituting new ways to meet with people, new ways to get a healthy lifestyle message out to not only active duty but to dependents and children. She started commissary tours again, cooking demonstrations. She works with the Healthy Weight Management portion for people who failed their PT test.

"She knows the audience because she's an Air Force wife," he added. "It makes it a lot easier for her to get the message to them on healthy lifestyles. And it's really working. She's seeing more and more people and she's getting known. I really can't say enough good things about her."

As part of her effort to spread knowledge and information about proper nutrition, Locke also instructs cooking classes to help people learn to prepare healthy and good tasting food. She attributes some of the challenges people have with nutrition to culture and the way they were raised.

"I think if it's a lot different than what they're used to or what they grew up with, it can be challenging," she said. "If you grew up with a lot of fried foods and high-sugar drinks, and not a lot of fruits and vegetables, it's challenging because you don't even know where to start. You don't know what to buy or how to prepare a potato besides frying it.

"I like people to taste food for what it is," Locke added. "So get back to just tasting fruits and vegetables and not adding a lot of condiments to it, instead using pepper or garlic and onions or herbs. ... I recommend everybody to make sure they get a rainbow of color. By getting all those colors you're going to get more phytochemicals that are cancer fighting, and you get more variety and different nutrients from different foods."

Another challenge Locke believes people have when changing their lifestyle is that eating healthy has delayed gratification.

"We don't all grasp and see the importance of making sure you don't get heart disease later in life," said Locke. "So those long-term reasons for good nutrition can be inconceivable to some people. But I think for most people if you can just show them that they're going to feel better, and they're clothes could possibly fit better ... [you can convince them to make the changes]."

Locke also urges people to eat reasonable portion sizes, eat often and focus on a balanced diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and lean meat.

She added that many dietitians start working in a hospital developing meal plans specific to the patient's needs. Locke said she really enjoys working with people who tend to be healthier and usually come to her willingly.

"As a dietitian I love the outpatient setting, just because you're working with a healthy population, and most people are ready to make nutrition and physical activity changes," she said. "They're not coming off a heart surgery or something. They're actually in a good place where they come to me and want to make changes. So I think people are more open it that way, and I enjoy that.

"I like to take an individualized approach for any of the patients I see, and my position here allows me to see people one on one, get to know them and tailor what I teach them," she added. "That way I can better ensure they stick to the nutrition changes that they're making. ..."

For more information on nutrition and health classes and events, call the Health Promotion Center 229-257-3551.