Child’s Play: Backstage with Jill Castle
Jan 23, 2014
I met Jill at a FNCE reception a few years ago and really enjoyed learning about her business, brand and niche. She is so friendly and personable, and she really has a great story to tell and experiences to share. I hope you enjoy her interview!
MELISSA: Jill, how did you become interested in a career in food and nutrition?
JILL: My Dad was very interested in nutrition in the ‘80s, and told me that I should look into it. During my sophomore year in college, I decided to explore Nutrition and I loved it. At the time, I considered my strengths to be math and science, but I was disillusioned with organic chemistry. Nutrition offered science and math, as well as food, a medical angle, and the ability to interact with people. When I was in my internship at Massachusetts General Hospital and going through my pediatric rotation, it was love at first interaction. Not only did I love caring for children (they say the darndest things!), pediatric nutrition was also super challenging. Children have almost all the diseases of adulthood (plus more) as well as the added aspect of growth, which means their nutritional needs are constantly changing throughout childhood. It is a lot to keep track of from a nutrition standpoint, which I found to be a welcome challenge.
MELISSA: Well, I can certainly understand being disillusioned with organic chemistry! Tough stuff. I also love the science and math, and people interaction, but peds has to be challenging. I’m sure it’s rewarding, as well. Tell me about your food/nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
JILL: I have been told I have a “positivity” about me, particularly when it comes to communicating with parents and their kids about nutrition. I believe all things are possible, no nutrition mistakes are forever, and everyone (even me!) can do a little bit better, somewhere, somehow in their lives with food, eating and exercise. Meeting people where they are at, without judgment, and motivating them to take that first step is not my only goal. I want to make that first step look easy. And I want it to feel simple, fun and light. I don’t want my readers, listeners or clients to feel bogged down by me—I want them to feel that I am fun, a breath of fresh air, and someone who will help without a frown. I am in the trenches with most American moms! Perfection with food and eating is not the goal (way too boring)– all foods can fit, no food is illegal, and true success and joy comes from balance—which can be shifting on a daily basis…so you have to dance.
MELISSA: I can see why you are so well-received by parents! What inspired you to start your private practice?
JILL: I started my private practice in 2008 because I was asked almost daily about nutrition, food, and feeding kids. I figured it was time to monetize my advice, and I had a successful private practice in pediatric nutrition for 4+ years. In working with families, I soon felt that I had a perspective about kids’ nutrition that was unusual and not the “pat answer” that many families were telling me they were hearing…so I started my blog
Just the Right Byte in 2009 to offer my mom and RD perspective, experience and advice on childhood nutrition, and to hone my skills in writing. From there, I eventually met Maryann Jacobsen, who interviewed me for her blog, and we decided to partner to write Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School . We tackled a big topic—nutrition and feeding from baby to teen—but we knew there was nothing on the market that addressed what to feed kids, how to do it, and why they behave the way they do around food. Our motivation was to create a resource for families that would make nutrition and feeding kids easier and more enjoyable.
MELISSA: As a parent and a dietitian myself, I want to thank you for writing this book! And I absolutely loved your recent post titled “11 Things Parents Do Wrong With Kids’ Nutrition”! So, what are you working on right now?
JILL: I am still promoting Fearless Feeding, speaking locally and nationally, writing for 4 national sports organizations (USA Swimming, US Rowing, USA Field Hockey and the National Alliance for Youth Sports) and a website called Bundoo which is hosted by pediatricians for young children aged 0-4 years and their families. I am also working on another book proposal and doing some consulting work. Since the book came out, my phone has been ringing more frequently!
MELISSA: That’s wonderful – congratulations! Tell me about the types of food/nutrition communications are you engaged in.
JILL: I had my first TV media experiences this past summer, promoting Fearless Feeding, and also recently for NBC-CT on the topic of saving money with food allergies.
I am active on Facebook (Jill Castle, Just the Right Byte and Fearless Feeding), Twitter (@pediRD), LinkedIn, and Pinterest. I blog once to twice a week on Just the Right Byte, have several sports websites for which I write a monthly article, and have several speaking engagements lined up for the next 6 months. Last, I am the chair of public policy for the Pediatric Nutrition DPG and interface with legislation and policy leaders, and also represent the Youth Sports Safety Alliance for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
MELISSA: Wow, you certainly have a lot going on! Can you tell me what comes naturally for you, and what doesn’t, when it comes to food/nutrition communications?
JILL: I have learned over the years that I have a drive to communicate, be it through verbal communication, the written word or the raised eyebrow when my kids are not behaving. Truthfully, I feel a little off when I cannot communicate, wither it’s shut down somehow, when I am working with someone who is not good at communicating or when I’m just not getting the connection with another human being. Knowing that communication is a ‘driver’ for me is valuable knowledge. I make sure that I do something to satisfy this need each day, be it writing a blog or an article, talking with my kids or speaking to people I don’t know. Pitching is an area that I find difficult. I have lots of ideas for pitches, but I like to see the results. With pitching, often you won’t hear anything, not even a “no,” and I am left hanging. I find this discouraging, so I am working on taking this in stride.
MELISSA: Yes, pitching can be very discouraging! A lot of dietitians struggle with this. Please share an experience that either taught you a lot about communications or you think would help other RDs.
JILL: Once I was told that to be a good speaker you have to be funny. It’s always been hard for me to convey a funny story about feeding kids—the truth is, most parents who are struggling don’t find anything funny about it. Another person told me to remember why I got into this business in the first place—which I remind myself whenever I have writer’s block or can’t decide how I want to open a speaking engagement. I got into this not only to help others with the job of nourishing and feeding their kids, but to help them think of childhood nutrition in a different way—beyond just food. The truth is, people who read or listen to a speaker want to be entertained somehow, so I do try to make people laugh, while trying to open their minds to a different way of thinking—and to surprise them.
MELISSA: Very interesting! What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to improve their communication skills?
JILL: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. To clarify, when writing or speaking to the public, you have to be extra critical of how your message is perceived and heard…not everyone will think like you do, so think of different ways to say the same thing. You don’t have to be fearful of saying or writing what you believe either—you can rely on the research and evidence, and your well-thought out opinions. Get comfortable with words. As a person who speaks or writes or is in the media, your audience will vary from the middle-school education level to a high-level executive. Your vocabulary and language should reflect your audience, and the ability to use a wide variety of words for different audiences will make you more interesting. Take time to write every day. I dreaded writing assignments in high school and college. It wasn’t until my years at Children’s Hospital in Boston where I was helping my fellow GI physicians do research and write articles that I began to enjoy writing, but that was research-y writing (programmatic and easy for me). When I started my blog, I really started to enjoy the creative process, and communicating my opinions, insight and expertise along with the challenge of being creative, succinct, and relevant –that really drove my creativity which spilled over into my writing.
MELISSA: You are an excellent writer now – that is clear! Do you have any other tips or resources you’d like to share with other RDs?
These are not “pre-prepared, memorized” interviews, in contrast, they are very natural conversations between two people. Find the style that will work for you! And yes, the news reporter asked the kids if I was a “food nazi!” I have also appeared as a childhood nutrition expert in Parents magazine http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/how-much-does-my-kid-need-to-eat/ and http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/kids/end-pickiness/),
MELISSA: Great stuff – thank you for sharing these! I know you’re a mom – tell me a little bit about your family.
JILL: My husband says I should add ‘M4’ to my credentials, as I am mom to four kids, aged 12-17 years (yes, that’s 4 kids in 5 years).
They keep me grounded, humble, and aware that I can’t control the chaos that rules my world! I wouldn’t change them or my life for anything. We have 2 dogs, 3 fish and a bearded dragon. I am a former high school basketball player turned runner turned yogi (very new at this yoga thing), which helps me stay in balance, mentally and physically, without the wear and tear on my body. I love to travel. We took our family to Austria, Italy and Switzerland two years ago and plan to go to Africa next.
MELISSA: Wow! I agree. Motherhood is such a blessing and teaches me so much every day. And the exercise is necessary for stress management, for sure. I think it’s so wonderful that you are traveling with your family and I hope to do more of that myself. So, what is on the horizon for you?
JILL: I will be included in another book called Tough LOVE: How to Raise Great Parents, to be published in September 2014 by Simon & Schuster. This book is a parenting anthology (each chapter written by a parenting expert), and I am the nutrition expert in the book. I will be involved in media tours, and the book and website promotion as well.
Jill, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview and for all the expert advice you shared! I’m looking forward to keeping up with your work in food and nutrition communications.
Please follow Jill on social media and check out her new book! Post a comment if you have any feedback to share with us.
Like what you read here? Hear what other nutrition experts have to say about careers, communication and chasing their dreams. Visit the Directory of Dietitian Interviews and be inspired!
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I’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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