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Student completes internship researching weight loss patterns

Sept. 6, 2017

Erica Braham

Erica Braham, a senior Health Science student, completed an internship with Dr. Elizabeth Parks, Professor, Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri, in May of 2017. During her internship, Braham analyzed patterns of weight loss and how they related to dietary carbohydrate intake.

Braham had admired Dr. Parks’ work before while working in the MU Nutritional Center for Health. At the time, Dr. Parks was working on a study in which dietary carbohydrate restriction was being used for weight loss, which Braham found fascinating. “I knew that if I had the chance, I would want to be involved with the study in terms of thinking about how the knowledge could be applied to public health,” she said. During her internship, Braham prepared meals and analyzed data for the weight loss study, focusing on food intake motivation.

“I titled my analysis project, Reduction in Hunger with Weight Loss: A Paradox?  People often utilize low-carbohydrate diets under the claim that they hope to feel more full on a diet that is low in carbs,” said Braham of her research. “This is not always a practical diet for everyone due to the restriction that occurs when consuming less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. I wanted to see if the same reductions in hunger could be found across studies using different diets. I summarized the data from 10 different studies and found a consistent trend for reductions in hunger when one is actively losing weight.”

When she wasn’t analyzing data for the weight loss study, Braham assisted with other studies in Dr. Parks’ lab and the MU’s Clinical Research Center as well. Of this additional experience, she says, “I was trained to run enzymatic assays to assess biological outcomes of our studies such as insulin concentrations and blood triglyceride levels. I was also trained to assist nurses in the Clinical Research Center to organize and collect blood samples from our research subjects for later analysis in the lab. Towards the beginning of the internship, I assisted my lab mates with meal preparation for our subjects in the weight loss study.”

The culmination of the research was presenting her project at the MU Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Forum in April of 2017. Of the event, she says, “I won the top award for presenting in the Life Sciences, and it was overall a great experience. My analysis found that regardless of the macronutrient makeup of the diet, people’s hunger decreased when they lost weight. This is a slightly surprising finding since most people would think that being on any diet would increase their hunger levels. The results suggest that people can worry less about feeling deprived, because the more weight you lose, the less hunger is experienced.”

Braham aspires to receive her Master’s of Public Health in Social and Behavioral Health after she graduates. Of her research experience with Dr. Parks, Braham notes, “I think that this experience will assist me in my future career. There are so many benefits from doing undergraduate research even if some of the newly obtained skills won’t be directly applied to a career. Teamwork, self-motivation, asking the right questions, critical thinking skills, patience, and attention to detail are all skills that I had the opportunity to practice in the Parks lab, and they will definitely be of use in my future career no matter what do. I would definitely encourage students to be interns in research labs if they ever get the opportunity. It can be a challenge, but it is worth it.”