From Boot Camp to Homeland Security…This RD is on a Mission!

Jan 3, 2013

template-bannerimage-article Teresa Wagner final copy

Follow Spot on Teresa Wagner

Teresa and I have known each other for years as we were both dairy council dietitians but in different regions (she was based in Texas and I was based in Chicago). Most of our work together was as national media spokespersons for the National Dairy Council which we both had the privilege of doing for many years.  During that time, we were fortunate enough to have some of the best media and communications training in the business, including crisis communications training (which is like media training “on steroids”)!  When I found out that Teresa actually conducted a crisis communications workshop for New Mexico Homeland Security, I just had to interview her for my blog.
How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
My mother’s passion for nutrition had a big impact on my life.  I grew up with limited resources, and when it was time for college I earned a scholarship to Texas Christian University to study nutrition as they had a coordinated undergraduate program close to my home. My mom’s passion and information intrigued me, and as I learned more in college I decided to become an RD.  I  earned my degree and credential in 1986.
My latest blog post, Rites of Passage, emphasizes my mom’s influence on my career choice to become an RD. I have also referenced my mom’s influence in a variety of other posts like Searching for My Inner Foodie, Welcome Home and Arroz Classico.

You and I have talked before about some of the similarities of our childhoods and the food insecurity we both experienced.  It’s troubling that such a problem persists today and is also further complicated by the seemingly contradictory issue of obesity.  Unfortunately, this is a complex problem without a simple solution but I’m glad to see more dietitians getting involved.  As a dietitian who was on food stamps when I was very young, I know what access to nutritious foods means for young children and families.  I participated in a compelling discussion on this topic back in October called The Future of Food.  Here is a link to the webcast for those who would like to watch it:

Yes, it’s especially important to me to be an advocate and/or role model for young women facing similar socio-economic challenges as I did as a teen. I volunteer for an organization called Sisterbration ensuring that the young women they reach have the knowledge, tools and resources to experience good self-esteem and body image.

Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
My nutrition philosophy is very middle of the road. When I used to teach college and now that I teach weight management and sports nutrition, I always emphasize balance, variety and moderation above everything else. As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states, all foods can fit! I think people should enjoy their food and not think restrictively but fuel their body for life’s challenges whether those are day-to-day or physical challenges. Thus, a good rule of thumb is the 80:20 rule. Eat nutritiously 80% of the time and enjoy a little more leeway the other 20% of the time.
This rule serves me well. I recently completed a half-marathon coming in well ahead of my goal time and shaved a minute and a half off my 5K time from 13 years ago! Both of these I achieved by applying basic sports nutrition principles to my eating and training. My philosophy is “Eat to Live, rather than Living to Eat”.

That’s great!  I know you are an avid runner.  In fact, you are one of the people who inspired me to start running last summer.  After completing seven 5Ks with the last one on my 44th birthday in September, I’ve decided to try and complete a 10K this Spring/Summer!
Before you worked for the dairy council what was your nutrition focus?
Coming out of college, my passion was sports and sports nutrition. I had competed in gymnastics, volleyball and racquetball and played softball all of my life. However, sports dietitians did not exist at that time. The economy was not doing well and people were not spending money on fitness or recognizing the importance as they do today.
Now there is a specialty for sports nutrition. I am working towards my Certificate in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) certification and am a member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association (CPSDA) and will be attending their Sports Nutrition Boot Camp in January. I love working with people to help maximize their health, wellness and fitness.
Teaching them my philosophies of using food as fuel but also helping them feel good and have more energy while learning to be at peace with food.

How did you first become interested in or involved in media and communications?  Tell us a little about your communications background and experience.
The dairy council hired me into a media communications role although I had no experience. I quickly decided that if I was going to be in the media, I had better be good at media. I chose two peer role models and worked hard following their example to develop my skills. After two years (which was the required length of experience), I applied and was selected to be a national dairy council spokesperson. I reapplied and was selected every term for the remainder of my tenure at the dairy council. As a result, I have been interviewed everywhere from the steps of the local schoolhouse to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and in every medium from blog to basketball sidelines.
In addition to experiencing every type of traditional media and setting, I initiated our social media activities at the regional level including starting (and editing) our dairy council blog.  This inspired my own blog and Twitter activity: The Traveling RD and @TravelingRD. I am also the Nutrition Examiner for Fort Worth, Texas on

Tell us about your past media/communications training – was it all from the dairy council?
All of my training was initially from the dairy council. However, I went above and beyond to learn more skills from outside organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Beef Council, the School Nutrition Association, CPSDA and a variety of others.  I’m looking forward to attending the DBC Communications Camp in Napa this March as well.
Over the years I became an expert in crisis communications, developing and directing the dairy council’s Issues and Crisis Management program regionally. Also, I expanded my social media efforts to Pinterest, and helped my mom (who had started her own blog, The Gluten Free Edge) get started on Twitter at age 72!  If my now 73- year-old mom can promote nutrition through social media, all RDs should be promoting nutrition and the RD profession through social and traditional media!

That proves it’s never too late to learn new skills!  What a cool mom.  I’m so glad you’re attending the DBC camp in Napa – I’m extremely excited that I will be co-presenting with Christine Palumbo on Becoming an Expert Communicator: Making Communications Concise, Clear and Compelling!  And I’m thrilled that DBC is offering this camp since there are not many options for RDs to get communications training.  That’s one of the main reasons I started doing media and communications coaching specifically for RDs!
What types of nutrition communications do you enjoy the most?
I love writing blogs and guest blogging as well as writing short articles for print publications.  But I also love TV interviews. Preparing the props and planning what to say uses creative skills that I find very fulfilling. Additionally, it is nice to provide viewers with messages that will be meaningful as well as practical “News to Use”. Both are a way for me to give back, be creative and share some of my generally introverted self with others.

You recently did a Crisis Communications Training for New Mexico Homeland Security.  Tell us how this came about and what your presentation entailed.
My presentation at the New Mexico Homeland Security Conference focused on the need to have a communications plan ready for crisis situations.   I provided a summary of the skills needed and emphasized the importance of having someone on staff who is trained to speak during difficult situations.  This can make or break your organization – so it is extremely important.

My session delved into three main communication realms of a crisis.
First, guiding principles were presented focusing on issues that directly affect your industry; serving as a credible source of accurate information; speaking with one voice within your industry; and responding only as appropriate and referencing experts when needed.

Second, we addressed how information is received and interpreted by the public during stressful situations.   Based on research from the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, during a crisis, your messages must be few in number, simply stated and aligned with the public’s most pressing concerns. Specific ways to meet those needs were provided.

The third main point was handling media interviews. Despite the fact that the media may want answers to unanswerable questions during a crisis, and that they may speculate, infer or try to place blame, it’s important to stay focused on the facts and give the information that the public needs immediately.

In a crisis, those immediate needs become:
What is the problem?
How is it being managed?
What can I be doing to protect myself and/or my family?

What an exciting opportunity to use advanced communication skills beyond the nutrition arena!  How did this opportunity come about?
As Director of Issues and Crisis Management for my region’s dairy council, I had taken a Homeland Security Course and the New Mexico Ag Secretary liked the skills I brought to the table.  He was impressed with the fact that I had the foresight to even attend the course, then aced the test, and also made significant contributions to the conversation in a room full of mostly EMS (Emergency Medical Service) professionals discussing the real threat of agro-terrorism and increasing food safety issues with the expanding population in our country. The presentation was such a success that the NM Ag Secretary and I will be jointly presenting at an upcoming local dietetics seminar on this very topic which is becoming more important for dietetics professionals.

What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to do media/communications?
My advice would be to seek training in all areas of media and communications, find mentors, take writing workshops and push yourself to be a good representative and advocate for the RD profession. There are other non-credentialed people out there in both traditional and social media realms giving advice that may or may not be accurate. We need to be visible and vocal providing accurate advice and representing the RD as the credible expert source for food and nutrition information.

Great advice – I couldn’t agree more!  What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to media/communications?
I had to work hard wrapping my head around the world of communications in general, but once you get comfortable and swim in your own lane of information (only speak to what you know) it comes more easily. I just love helping others speak up and speak out on important topics either personally or professionally.

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

1.    Seek Training – The more comfortable you are the better able to steer the interview and get your messages across to the audience.
2.    Practice or Visualize – How will you work in and stay on your key messages?
3.    Prepare – Know your topic or niche and important facts and statistics to enhance your message.

Please share one story/experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
I have a million stories of situations that could have totally gotten me off track!  One time I had a time-delayed live interview where what I had already said was reverberating back into my earpiece while I was trying to finish the remainder of the interview. Another time, I spent 3 hours in a grocery store taping segments while shoppers kept wandering onto the set and causing additional delays. One even came up and sampled one of the food props that I was holding in my hand! The key is staying focused and delivering the message you intend to deliver.

Oh – that a shopper actually sampled one of your props is priceless!  Yes, filming in-store is especially challenging as there are so many things that can go wrong!  I did a lot of that when I was a retail dietitian for Jewel-Osco.  I can totally relate to strangers coming up and talking to you right in the middle of the interview (but none actually ate the props)!
So what is next for you in your career?
Having been involved in issues and crisis management (especially related to food safety) and thus, being asked to serve on a committee developing core competencies for emergency health care workers inspired me to return to school for my Doctor in Public Health degree.  So currently, I am a full-time student and have rejoined the consulting world following a variety of my passions including sports nutrition and advocacy as well as communications. My long-term goals include not only the CSSD and the DrPH but also to continue to work in health and wellness. That might happen to be on the front lines of a fitness Boot Camp or the front lines of the government keeping our food supply safe…or both!

Either way, you know I will be tweeting, posting or talking about it in the media!

Yes, I’m sure you will and we’ll be listening! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Be sure to check out Teresa’s blog and follow her on Twitter.  You can also access her webinar for the Communications Division of the Society for Nutrition Education.  For more information and additional resources go to Teresa’s Communications Services and Featured Placements page of her blog.

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ABOUTI’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind.  I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians.  My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.

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