Getting to know The Gluten Free RD: Rachel’s only just Begun

Aug 1, 2012

template-bannerimage-article Rachel Begun Final_edited-1

Prologue:
As you may know, Rachel is one of the newest additions to the media spokesperson team at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  At our training last April, I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel in person.  We hit it off famously!  Seriously, I couldn’t explain it if I tried, but suffice it to say that we ended up laughing so hard we were crying.  It had something to do with 1) dropping a fork, 2) not being able to find the fork, and 3) later finding the fork in Rachel’s pocket.  Okay, so you had to be there!  Laughs and tears aside, I started getting to know Rachel and it was easy to see there’s so much more to her than The Gluten Free RD!

MELISSA:  Rachel, how did you first become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
RACHEL:  I was a pre-med student and majored in biology for my undergraduate work at Emory University.  My interest in nutrition started when I took biochemistry. As a senior in college I knew I wanted to go to grad school for nutrition, but wanted to get work experience first.  I used my degree in biology to work in pharmaceutical marketing for 3 years and then went back for my graduate nutrition degree and dietetic internship program at Teachers College, Columbia University. I’ve been an RD since July 2000.  I can’t believe it’s been 12 years already!

MELISSA:  Wow!  Biochemistry and marketing….what a combination.  So, early on you had the science and the communications influence.  What an interesting first job – tell us more about your duties and responsibilities.
RACHEL:  I started off as a business development coordinator, which means I coordinated the process of creating new business pitches, which brought together employees of many disciplines and was a long and in-depth process.  After that, I was promoted to work on an account team to create and implement advertising/marketing campaigns for our clients.  This position is where I saw for the first time what a PR professional does and it gave me the “bug” to want to go into public relations/communications.  I knew pretty soon into my graduate program that I wanted to practice nutrition through public relations/communications.

MELISSA:  And now you have your own nutrition communications business!  Tell me a little bit about your overarching nutrition philosophy.
RACHEL:  I’m probably most known for my expertise in celiac disease/the gluten free diet and food allergies. I do a great deal of consulting and communications work in this area with the food industry (manufacturers, retailers, foodservice providers, restaurants) and I write and speak about it often, including my own blog, The Gluten Free RD.  My nutrition philosophy, the message I am passionate about sharing with all people, is twofold.  The first part is that good nutrition and delicious eating must co-exist for healthy habits to be sustainable over the long term. The second part plays off of the first. Due to our unique body types, cultures and values, I believe healthy eating is different for every individual. No matter what dietary patterns people choose, the underlying thread that will keep us healthy as a society is understanding the connection between our bodies and the environment we live in.  It is vitally important that we get back to the basics and gain an understanding of where our food comes from, what goes into it and how to prepare it.  That’s why I started my blog.

MELISSA:  Excellent!  The Gluten Free RD has certainly been a hit – please tell me more about the blog and why you started it.
RACHEL:  I started The Gluten Free RD in May 2010.  I was just tossing around the idea of starting a blog, so I took a class to learn the technology side of it.  Little did I know that my instructor was requiring us to actually launch a blog by the end of class!  I had no choice but to dive in head first.  From the start I knew what my niche would be and my mission has remained the same ever since: to provide those on a gluten free diet with the information and resources they need to strike a balance between eating gluten free healthfully and happily.  In short, I apply my overall nutrition philosophy to the gluten free diet. Not every post is devoted specifically to the gluten free community. Many discuss nutrition topics for the general population.  However, every recipe and food recommendation is gluten free.  When I started, a good portion of the information available online about the gluten free diet was focused on indulgence foods.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my cookies, too, but I wanted to share recipes, information and resources for those interested in eating gluten free healthfully and happily.

MELISSA: Well, RDs and gluten-free folks everywhere are very glad you took that class!  I love the fact that dietitians such as yourself have been able to take the gluten-free movement to the next level by incorporating the health and nutrition aspect.
If other dietitians want to write a blog like you, what skills do you suggest they cultivate?
RACHEL:  Good writing skills are certainly a plus.  With blogging, though, it’s important to establish a voice that shows your personality as well as a niche so readers know what kind of content to expect from you in each post. There are countless blogs offering nutrition advice.  RDs have an opportunity to stand out in the saturated blogosphere by providing nutrition advice backed by science. Each one of us cannot be an expert in every area of nutrition. So, if you want to cover a topic on your blog that is not your area of expertise, call upon a fellow RD to write that post.  Your colleague will be happy to increase her following and you’ll provide the most credible information to your readers.  It’s a win-win for the profession.  I also recommend always bringing the topic back to food and culinary-based recommendations.

MELISSA:  Great point about having your own voice – I really try to emphasize that with dietitians I coach on media and communications.  That voice and personality is what allows people to get to know you so they can connect with you.
Do you think RDs “should” write blogs? What are the benefits?
RACHEL:  I don’t think RDs should feel they have to write a blog if that’s not their thing.  However, when done with enthusiasm and dedication it can be a boost to your brand and business.  For starters, it’s a great way to showcase your writing voice and skills if you are looking to pursue writing work.  It’s also a great opportunity to highlight or create a niche or area of expertise.  Rather than sitting back and waiting to be given an opportunity to find your niche, you have a platform to actively create it and showcase it. If you don’t want to dedicate yourself to your own blog, then offer to write guest posts for other appropriate blogs.  Most bloggers would jump at the opportunity.

MELISSA:  When it comes to writing, what comes naturally for you and what requires more work?
RACHEL:  Organizing the structure to an article and emphasizing key points is what comes easiest to me. That’s usually already swirling around in my head before I sit down to my computer.  Coming up with new and different topics is what I struggle with.  In addition to writing for other publications and blogs, I post at least once a week, sometimes two, for The Gluten Free RD.  Since I put my professional writing first, I sometimes find my personal blog posts are where I’m lacking in originality for topic ideas.  I also wish I could be more spontaneous with my blog posts.  When a cutting edge nutrition issue comes out in the news, I wish had the flexibility in my schedule to draft a post with my thoughts for that day or the next.  Unfortunately, my work schedule doesn’t allow for this.  I usually have to schedule my blog posts in advance.

MELISSA:   What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to write a blog?
RACHEL:  Do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.  Pick a niche that you are passionate about, because the passion has to shine through. Post regularly and on a consistent schedule.

MELISSA:   Your blog is only one of the many different types of nutrition communications work you do.  Please tell us more about the other types.
RACHEL:  I work with the food industry and health organizations to provide counsel on the development of their platforms, programs, products and services and then assist in implementing them and communicating about them to the public and other health professionals.  I particularly enjoy working with chefs and foodservice providers to help them provide healthier foods to their customers and educate their associates about safe and healthful food preparation. I also write for publications and speak publicly to educate both consumers and other health professionals.

MELISSA:  Your work sounds so exciting – how fun to combine nutrition, communications and the culinary arts!  And you have such a strong PR niche.  I know lots of RDs are interested in doing this type of work.  What is your number one tip for them?
RACHEL:  Build your skills by working with and learning from professionals in the field.  Interning or volunteering in a capacity that shows your interest in the field of media/communications may help you land that job or project in the future.  I have to share a second tip, and I can’t stress this enough: network, network, network! Opportunities can only knock on your door if colleagues know your professional goals.

MELISSA:  Is there an experience that taught you a lot that you’d like to share with us?
RACHEL:  Being a mentor taught me so much.  I chose to be a mentor because I wanted to give back, but I was amazed at how much I learned from my mentee.  Even if you are a “seasoned” professional, you can learn from those less experienced than you. My message: every experience in life and your career is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Keep your mind open to learning in every situation you enter into.

MELISSA:  Wonderful advice.  I am so glad you joined our spokesperson team!  Are you getting settled in and enjoying it?
RACHEL:  I really enjoy being an Academy spokesperson.  First of all, meeting the other spokespeople has been fantastic. It’s been so nice getting to know them both personally and professionally.  Being a spokesperson took a little getting used to from the perspective of budgeting time to prepare for and conduct interviews around my personal work schedule, but I think I’ve got that down now.  What I really like about being a spokesperson, and this is the #1 reason why I applied for the position, is how much I learn when preparing for interviews, on all kinds of nutrition topics.  I love having areas of expertise, but am really enjoying growing my body of knowledge…and it’s only been two months so far! I know being a spokesperson will make me a better nutrition professional in the future.

Epilogue:
Rachel is truly a dynamic person and professional!  Keep your eyes on her….she’s doing some really cool stuff and I’m sure we’ll continue to see more great things from her.  Be sure to check out her website and blog to learn more about all the interesting work she’s doing right now in nutrition communications.  Oh, and she’s also Chair of the Dietitians in Business and Communications DPG of the Academy.  This is a great group to get involved with if you aren’t already!

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

Related

3 Comments

  1. Marion Taylor on August 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Wow Melissa & Rachel! I couldn’t agree more with Rachel’s statement about her philosophy: “Good nutrition and delicious eating must co-exist for healthy habits to be sustainable over the long term.” That is so applicable and I feel often overlooked, thanks again for sharing with us!

  2. Rachel Begun on August 8, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    HI Marion-

    I’m glad you agree. So often the word “diet” is associated with deprivation, and once that association is made it is already an uphill battle. Tasty means different things to different people, so in essence, so does healthy.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Be well,
    Rachel

  3. Karen Broussard on August 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Rachel, I really enjoyed reading this post. I will plan on sharing this with our GlutenFreeTravelSite followers on Facebook and Twitter. And if I ever encounter a restaurant that would like help developing a gluten free menu, I will certainly refer them to you!

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