Announcing a Whole New Approach

May 29, 2013

template-bannerimage-article Michaela Ballman_edited-1

PROLOGUE:
I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Michaela in person, yet.  However, her blog and her podcast caught my eye as soon as I came across it.  I really like her approach to nutrition and love the fact she is using podcasts to help spread her messages.
And differentiate herself.
I’ve been planning to do some video blogs and/or podcasts in the near future – especially now that my blog is almost one year old and I feel like I’m getting some “blog muscles”!
I hope you enjoy this interview and getting to know Michaela as much as I have.

MELISSA:
How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?

MICHAELA:
I was originally studying languages and found myself abroad my second year of college in both Shanghai, China and Salamanca, Spain. While I was abroad, I decided that, though I love learning foreign languages and traveling to different countries to experience their culture (and food), I didn’t want a career as a linguist.

As I was considering which career path I wanted to take, my mind kept going back to a nutrition class I took as a freshman and my own personal diet changes. I became a vegetarian (mostly vegan) and experienced firsthand the powerful results of food on my energy and body.

Nutrition is an area that I never tire of learning about and using to help restore the well being of both my clients and myself.

I have been a Registered Dietitian since 2011.

MELISSA:
How interesting – so do you utilize your foreign language skills in your work as a dietitian? Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?

MICHAELA:
I provide nutrition counseling, cooking classes, and my other services in Spanish, and I am planning on learning more Norwegian so that, when my husband and I move to Oslo, I will be able to continue my work as a dietitian there.

I take a non-diet approach to nutrition that seeks wellness, not just health. I work a lot with eating disorders (or disordered eating that doesn’t have a diagnosis) and people who struggle with weight loss or maintenance, and my clients come to me knowing that I will treat them with compassion and empathy as I lead them through recovery, balanced eating, and self-care.

I am known for my whole person approach that takes into account not just food and nutrition, but also all the other ingredients of one’s relationship with food, exercise, and their body.

MELISSA:
A wonderful approach that many (if not all) people will certainly respond well to.  What prompted you to start Wholify, your blog, and your Nutritionally Speaking podcast?

MICHAELA:
I started my podcast as a student in my Masters program at Loma Linda University because I found that the general public is so confused about nutrition and what is “good for you.” I wanted to debunk myths, fads, and promote evidence-based nutrition.

Wholify Podcast Screenshot

My blog has since developed to focus more on mindful eating, body image and acceptance, and peace with food.

Wholify Blog Screenshot

Wholify is a natural extension of providing more general information in my blog and podcast to offering individualized nutrition counseling, along with grocery store tours and in-home pantry appraisals and cooking classes. Most people could benefit from meeting with a dietitian to assess what works for their body, lifestyle, and goals.

Wholify Nutrition Counseling Screenshot

MELISSA:
Excellent!  Tell me more about your motivation for writing your blog and doing your podcast.

MICHAELA:
I write my blog so that people can learn more about my approach to wellness, see that I understand their struggles, conditions, and challenges, and know that I want to provide a safe place that is free from judgment and criticism in order to help them.

What I enjoy most about my podcast is getting to do such interesting interviews with people in the nutrition field, though not necessarily dietitians. The interviews are a lot of fun and the topics really connect with my listeners, making them some of the most popular episodes.

For example, I could have talked for hours with Dr. Mark Haub (the famous or infamous professor at KSU who went on the “Twinkie Diet”). We had a great time discussing an nontraditional approach to health, well being, diet recommendations, weight loss, and exercise. I also had a great time with Dinneen Diette as we talked about what we can learn from the French in regards to enjoying our food and eating without guilt. I have several other interviews scheduled that I’m really excited about, too.

MELISSA:
Yes, I really enjoyed both of those interviews! If other RDs (like me) want to do podcasts – how do we get started?

MICHAELA:
To get started, I would recommend getting a nice microphone. My husband bought me a Yeti for my past birthday and it really improved the sound quality of my voice. Also, make sure you have a user-friendly application to do the sound editing. I use GarageBand on my Mac. My husband, Audun, also did the graphics for my podcast logo, put me on iTunes, and helps with the editing and formatting. So, enlist your husband or find someone to help! Before you start podcasting, figure out who your target audience is, the style or structure of your show, and create a calendar of topics and air dates. All of this will affect the title, logo, music, length, and content of your podcast, as well as keep you focused.

MELISSA:
What other writing or media/communications do you specialize in? What do you enjoy most about it?

MICHAELA:
I guest blog for various sites and also contract for public speaking engagements. Last year, I was privileged to be one of two main speakers at a small nutrition conference in Slovakia. I also have been filming a pilot episode for a TV show where I counsel a family that wants to lose weight and change their lifestyle. I enjoy writing, speaking, and engaging with my readers and audience.

MELISSA:
Wow! Sounds like you are enjoying an interesting variety of experiences. What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to do nutrition communications like you?

MICHAELA:
Get to know your audience, fellow RDs and thought leaders in the health professions. Become well versed on social media and take the time to interact. This is how I’ve developed invaluable relationships, grown as a dietitian, and made connections that turned into podcast episodes.

MELISSA:
Great advice. It’s really all about the relationships. So, what comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to nutrition communications?

MICHAELA:
I have always enjoyed communications–writing, speaking, podcasting–so these seem to come naturally to me in general. I tend to spend more time on my podcast episodes that involve a lot of research (for example, my episodes on green tea and food addiction). When too much time passes in between my speaking opportunities, I also have to put in extra effort in preparing myself for public speaking.

MELISSA:
In what ways to prepare yourself for public speaking?

MICHAELA:
I sometimes write down certain notes or words that will help me if I get nervous and my mind goes blank or I lose track of my thoughts. I also go through my entire presentation several times to make sure that it flows, to see if it would be better to add or subtract anything, and to get the information into my mind so that I’m ready for the Q&A session.

MELISSA:
What are your top tips for other RDs who want to do a blog/podcast?

MICHAELA:
After finding an awesome website designer to make you a beautiful and user-friendly site, decide why you want to blog or podcast. Even though it is fun, when I am putting out a weekly blog and a monthly podcast, it can be tiring and I have to remind myself of the motivation behind my hard work that makes it all worthwhile.

I’d also recommend brainstorming different ideas ahead of time so that when a deadline comes up quickly, you have topics ready to create your blog or episode.

MELISSA:
I agree – having an attractive and professional looking website is so important. I hired Halim Design to create my site after discovering them through another dietitian. I’m very happy with how it turned out – so I recommend them to other dietitians who are seeking web designers. Who did you work with?

MICHAELA:
Once again, the secret star of the show is my husband, Audun. I call him my in-home tech support. He is from Norway – I met him while I was studying Mandarin in Shanghai and brought him home to meet my parents a la Father of the Bride.

MELISSA:
Wow! That’s very convenient! My husband is always fixing some sort of computer issue for me as well – I really don’t know what I would do without him. I guess I would be making lots of trips to the Geek Squad at Best Buy…

What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to do other types of media/communications?

MICHAELA:
Practice. The more you do something, the easier it becomes and the more fun the process becomes.

Don’t be afraid. Period. Fear of what people think, of making a mistake, of being criticized is all normal, but disabling.

Just ask. I used to shy away from stating my requests because I thought that I’d be denied, but in reality, the more I ask, the more I receive.

All this rings true for nutrition communications and for life in general.

MELISSA:
So true! Please share one story that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.

MICHAELA:
I’m sad to admit it, but I used to be what people usually think of when they hear the word “dietitian”. I used to think weight loss was simple–just eat less and exercise more. I used to make assumptions based on people’s weight and be the unofficial food police. As I’ve gone through my own journey with food and exercise and been the recipient of my own criticism and judgment, I’ve come to genuinely identify with my clients whether they struggle with anorexia, obesity, food addiction, body image, or just eating in general. This has changed my life and changed the way I relate to others. Now, I can meet people where they are and go alongside them to where they want to be–a place of well being. I hope that everyone can have the opportunity to experience, in some way, the struggles of our clients.

MELISSA:
Yes, I can relate from previous work experience that “food issues” come in so many “shapes and sizes” and that working with clients on this level leads to a deeper connection and understanding. I’m glad you’re no longer the “food police”! I like to tell people that dietitians are more like coaches than referees!

EPILOGUE:
A big thank you for Michaela for letting us tap into her expertise and for sharing her story. Is there anything else you’d like to know about nutrition and/or communications? Want to know more about Michaela? Please comment below or visit Michaela at her website. Like she encourages above, “Just ask!”

Did you enjoy this interview?  Click here to read more!

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