Before becoming a dietician, Erin Zepp had 110 pounds of inspiration.
"When I was in high school, my mom lost 110 pounds, and so that put our whole family on a healthy living trajectory that I always participated in and thought was really neat and cool," she said. "But back then, I didn't understand that it could be a job."
She entered University of Illinois as a Spanish major but her second semester she took a nutrition class that resulted in her pursuing a different career.
"It was taught by a dietician named Rebecca Roach. She changed my life. Within the first week of class, I stayed after and I walked up to her. I was like, 'I need to know more about being a dietician.'"
In the years since, she has helped thousands of people either lose weight or adjust their diet to accommodate a medical condition. Currently, she works for Fresenius Kidney Care, guiding patients on dialysis to eat in a healthy manner.
"It is a different kind of dietician work than I've ever done before," she said. "My dialysis patients have labs drawn and based on that, we will talk about how we can adjust – either their medications or their food choices."
"If your kidneys don't work, you have the potential to build up potassium and phosphorus in your blood. Too much phosphorus makes your bones brittle, and too much potassium stops your heart. Communication with people about what they're doing between their dialysis treatments is important. We need to help keep their labs in the right space so that they can have the best quality of life possible."
Before working with dialysis patients, Zepp worked for eight years at what is now known as Memorial Wellness Center, helping folks learn healthy eating habits and develop strategies to lose weight. During that time, she helped more than 1,000 people.
"I love walking with somebody who's had bariatric surgery, or is planning on having bariatric surgery, through that whole process. It is truly life-changing. I love watching and helping someone make a huge medical step and then navigating everything that happens afterwards. I just love watching what amazing things they do."
But not all of her patients have had surgery or are considering it. For example, some have just taken nutrition and wellness classes she has led.
Tene Haile of Springfield is one of them. She was in an online support group that Zepp taught.
"Erin is so encouraging and upbeat," she said. "The biggest thing she taught me is to not believe the lies we tell ourselves. Sometimes when you gain weight, you just want to give up and eat anything. But Erin is like, 'No, we do this one day at a time. Each day is a chance to start all over.'"
Zepp has high expectations for her patients, said Tiffany Turner, lead nurse practitioner and bariatrics service manager at Memorial Wellness Center.
"She's strict. She holds people accountable. Our service line is for adults. So, she treats people as adults. She expects people to be accountable for their actions. I think she just does a great job. She approaches it like this: 'I'm here to help you gain this knowledge, but I need you to do it.'"