Nutritionist Professor Overcomes Obstacles, Stays Fit

El Vaquero Staff Writer

She moves with fervor, she runs with zeal and she teaches with eagerness. Actually, her enthusiasm resembles the conviction of a passionate preacher.

Her sermon, however, is invisible and untouchable; at least it seems non-material.

Her product is physical wellness.

“I have a passion for nutrition,” said Sona Donayan, M.S. , a Registered Dietitian (RD). “That is something I found 10 years ago and I will always be passionate about this field.” Since 2003 Donayan, has been a nutrition professor at GCC and enjoys her job.

In 1986 when she and her family had to flee from Lebanon to Los Angeles because of the civil war, Donayan decided to pursue and reach her goals, despite all obstacles.

Last month Donayan finished the L.A. Marathon, her sixth marathon in the last three years ,in five hours and 41 minutes, a time that is above average for female participants.

“This time, I didn’t train as much as before because I was overwhelmed with work,” said the 39-year-old.

In her case, work includes teaching at Cal State Northridge, as well as overseeing menu planning at two Adult Day Health Care centers.

Twice a week she also works as a diet counselor at the Arcadia Methodist Hospital’s Active Health Fitness Center.

In addition, Monday’s and Wednesdays, Donayan climbs up the stairs to GCC’s culinary arts department and teaches Nutrition Menu Planning (CULIN 114) and Elements of Nutrition (CULIN 125), which is the fourth job on the schedule
of the single mom and
freelance writer.

When Donayan entered the States, she did not know “one word of English,” yet now she is fluent in Armenian, French, Arabic and English. “The first semester was rough; the rest was a piece of cake,” she said.

She entered UCLA in 1987, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1990 and began to study nutrition. In 2002 she obtained her master’s degree. from Cal State Northridge.

“It took me seven years of part-time college to get my degree,” she said. At the same time she raised two boys and went through a divorce. In 2003 Donayan started teaching at Glendale. “She’s really an expert in nutrition,” said Andrew Feldman, one of her colleagues.

In her free time, Donayan volunteers for an Armenian T.V. program, for a Pasadena cable station, “Lardou,” such as a recent feature on Armenians who ran the L.A. Marathon. There are some healthy food choices and some unhealthy food choices in every culture, said Donayan.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed that in the States almost 16 percent of 12 to 19 year-old-children are overweight. Whereas in the 1960s, the prevalence of obesity among those children was 4.6 percent.

One of the reasons for the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is the lack of understanding and “control of portion sizes,” said Donayan, who holds a certificate as Adult Weight Watching Management Specialist.

The average fast-food burger, for example, which weighed approximately 1 ounce in 1957, weighs up to 6 ounces now. Likewise, the typical serving of soda, which was 8 fluid ounces oz in 1957, is now 32 to 64 fluid ounces and the average theater serving of popcorn, which was 3 cups in 1957, is now 16 cups, said the NHANES survey.

Also, more restaurant menus now offer larger portion sizes, such as “super” sizes, found a survey by the National Restaurant Association (NRA).

Recently, America has gone through many diets, said Feldman. “I’ve heard [Donayan] speak against these and I believe that is good, because these are only short-term solutions.”

The secret to weight management is to “change your life style” and to incorporate physical activities, said Donayan.

When she was pregnant, she put on 60 pounds with each child. “I was not in nutrition yet,” said Donayan. Yet, she attempted different diets, “desperately trying to lose weight.” At that point she began to
work out.

“I put the kids in a stroller [and] started walking,” said Donayan. “[First] it was one mile of walking, [but] I gradually added. When the running was regular and three times a week the weight came off very fast.”

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) millions of Americans suffer from chronic diseases that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity. Yet, more than 60 percent of Americans do not get the recommended amounts of physical activity.

“Ms. Donayan is [a] wonderful role model in nutrition [and] weight management,” said Culinary Arts Department Chair Yeimei Wang.

“My parents were always encouraging [and] supporting me in whatever I did,” said Donayan. “They pushed me in college whenever I was tired or ready to give up.” Her desire is to be a model for her children. “I want them to see how hard work always pays off.”