A Follow Spot on Neva Cochran – Keep Her in Your Sightline!
Nov 9, 2013
I was introduced to Neva at a conference by fellow RDN and friend Angela Lemond. She said, “You two have to meet!” It may sound corny, but I knew instantly that we were “soul sisters”! We have many similar views and passions about food and nutrition. We hit it off immediately and the more I get to know of Neva, the more I want to know. Of course, I had to interview her for my blog and share her stories and insights with you. I hope you enjoy learning about her and all the fun and fascinating work she is doing!
MELISSA: Neva, tell me about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
NEVA: Early in my career I saw a quote, “There are no bad foods, only bad diets” and immediately realized that was my nutrition philosophy. I don’t believe in pointing the finger at one food or ingredient as the cause of any disease or condition. It’s the total diet and lifestyle over time that makes the difference. Subsequently, our National Academy published a position paper entitled Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating, which was just updated and re-released in February 2013. It states, “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of healthy eating. All foods can fit within this pattern if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with physical activity.”
Second, it is very important for me to base all of my work on evidence-based, scientific information. While I do take on some controversial issues, I believe the information I provide on these is all substantiated by peer-reviewed research. I am disheartened when I see not only consumers but also some health professionals providing information based on headlines in the popular media rather than scientific fact.
MELISSA: It’s no secret that I couldn’t agree with you more! What inspired you to start your nutrition communications consulting business?
NEVA: After a year as the only clinical RD in a small hospital, a year as one of many RDs in a large hospital and three years teaching the MNT courses and supervising clinical rotations for coordinated dietetics students at a university, I accepted a position with a local Dairy Council affiliate. That was when I found my niche, nutrition communications. At the same time I began that job, I was also selected as one of the first State Media Representatives for the Texas Dietetic Association when the program was launched by the Academy (then ADA). The job and media rep position dovetailed nicely as media was a part of my Dairy Council responsibilities. After five years as a media rep, the National Academy spokesperson position came open for the Dallas market and I was selected, a position I held for seven years.
Through the media training and experience I gained and contacts I made, the groundwork was laid for the consulting business I have today. While I was still a national spokesperson, I was called frequently by writers for Woman’s World magazine to interview me for diet stories. After a couple of years the diet editors approached me about working for them and I’m now in my twentieth year as a freelancer with them. I started out doing meal plans for the diet stories and wrote a few diet feature stories. Then for eight years, I had a column, Diet Club, which covered issues related to weight management. For the last nine years I’ve worked with the cover features department, which is a diet story about 48 out of 52 weeks of the year. I have done research, created meal plans and reviewed the articles before they go to press. Over the years, I’ve had five-year stints with two other magazines, Maximum Fitness and The Female Patient.
MELISSA: I didn’t know that you had worked for the dairy council! As a former dairy council dietitian, I can attest to the incredible foundation that opportunity provides for building nutrition communications skills. It’s no wonder you went on to follow that path and what incredible experiences you gained through both the state and national Academy spokesperson roles. So, what are you working on right now?
NEVA: In addition to my work with Woman’s World, I am a consultant to several food industry clients: Egg Nutrition Center (18 years), Corn Refiners Association (five years) and this year with McDonald’s and Sargento. I’ve previously worked with an array of others, listed on my website.
I recently started working with the American Beverage Association and their Let’s Clear It Up campaign to help create a network of RDs and to promote research-based information related to beverages and address incorrect media coverage of these: nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners, caffeine, hydration and other issues. This digital communications network will work primarily through social media and blogging.
I also recently hosted a webinar for the Egg Nutrition Center and Produce for Better Health Foundation on pairing protein and fruits and veggies at breakfast.
MELISSA: Wow! You certainly are busy with some really exciting projects! Tell me more about the types of nutrition communications are you engaged in.
NEVA: For my food industry clients, I do media placements, social media, write articles for professional newsletters and blogs for their websites as well as public speaking and webinars. I have noticed that in the past year, my webinars and blogs have increased while more traditional media has slowed down, which I see as a sign of the electronic times we live in. I’ve also been speaking on legal and ethical issue related to social media over the past year with Debra King, also an RDN.
MELISSA: It sounds like you do it all – and what a great niche to be able to speak to the ethical issues regarding social media as it’s such an important and “new” horizon for RDNs. Tell me a little bit about what comes naturally for you and what you have to work hard on when it comes to nutrition communications.
NEVA: Television interviews and creating videos are activities I really enjoy. I’ve been told that I have a natural energy and enthusiasm that comes across well on camera. I really enjoy this venue for telling and showing (with lots of food props) that it can be easy and delicious to eat more nutritiously.
I also love working with dietetic interns. I am a preceptor for a one-week nutrition communications rotation for eight interns/year from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. I also take two to three from the Texas Woman’s University internship each year and one or two more from various other programs.
My least favorite activity is pitching stories to the media, even for people I’ve already worked with and I know like me. The rejection or, more often, the non-response is disheartening. I like to leave pitching up to the PR pros!
MELISSA: Okay – I just subscribed to your You Tube channel! I wish more RDNs would create their own You Tube channels. And, yes, I also dislike pitching the media. Many RDNs tell me they dislike pitching, or feel like they don’t know how to pitch the media. I like to think of it as more of an “art” than a “science” and that helps me to think more positively and proactively.
I love the work you are doing “paying it forward” to dietetic students. About a year ago I featured your Nutrition Communications Grant on my blog to help spread the word about this incredible resource and opportunity for students. Can you give us a quick update about the grant information and timing for this year?
NEVA: Yes, the deadline for the grant application is February 1, 2014. I would encourage students who are interested to apply, and encourage RDNs who would like to have a student work with them to let the student(s) know about the grant. If you’re a student and you don’t know a nutrition communications RDN, Beth Labrador at the Academy has a list of RDNs who would be willing to take a student for the grant. You can contact Beth via email BLabrador@eatright.org.
MELISSA: Thanks Neva! As a nutrition communications expert, what is your number one tip for other RDNs who want to improve their communication skills?
NEVA: Training! There are usually pre-conference workshops on media skills at the Academy FNCE meeting or even during the regular conference sessions. Also, there are media-savvy RDNs who provide training or might be willing to serve as a mentor. For instance, Melissa Joy Dobbins of this blog, provides communications coaching services. If you are a member of the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group, you could find an RDN to help you through their mentor services.
MELISSA: Awww, thanks so much for mentioning and supporting my communications coaching services! And I absolutely LOVE the NE DPG group – what a wealth of knowledgeable and supportive RDNs! Speaking of FNCE – I attended your session in Houston and enjoyed it so much! The audience was so engaged with everything you, Angela Lemond and Robin Plotkin shared. For those who could not attend, please tell us all about it.
NEVA: In the session, “Meet the Media Experts” registered dietitian nutritionists, Angela Lemond, Robin Plotkin and I provided tips and ideas based on our experience working with the media. We answered five questions we are frequently asked, described how we got started in the media, how media fits into our current practice, the worst thing that ever happened in a media interview, media trends we see on the horizon and advice for RDNs who want to become more involved with the media. A half hour interactive question and answer session followed with audience members also sharing their media experience and tips with the group.
MELISSA: You three are all Rock Stars and it was so fun to hear all of your stories. I especially enjoyed the ones about the worst thing that ever happened during a media interview. I have some of those nightmare stories, too, so it’s such a relief to hear others’ and not feel so bad about your own! You shared some really great videos of some of your very first TV interviews – can you share that story with us?
NEVA: My TV career was really launched with an appearance on Peppermint Place, a local Dallas children’s show on the ABC affiliate that I had watched as a child! The Dallas Dietetic Association had secured an appearance for National Nutrition Month and asked if I would like to do it. I brought examples of vitamin A-rich vegetables and talked about their role in good health. We also sang a song about vegetables at the end. But the funniest part was a question Mr. Peppermint asked me during the interview related to my watching the show as a child. After taping the segment, he said the interview was so good and invited me to do come back every week of NNM and talk about a different food group. Two months later, I interviewed and was selected as a TDA media representative.
MELISSA: Simply adorable! And so hard to believe that was your first TV segment – you were already such a pro. You also moderated a FNCE Expo Briefing Session sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association that I was very disappointed that I missed. Please tell us about that session.
NEVA: The public is regularly bombarded with nutrition information in the media. In the session, “Deconstructing Studies: How to Evaluate the Strength of the Science”, Mark Kern, PhD, RD, CSSD reviewed basic nutrition epidemiology methods RDNs can use to understand and effectively communicate relevant nutrition science issues to clients and patients. Dr. Kern used a recent, prominent peer-reviewed research study to explain how to review a study, highlighted its strengths and limitations in methodology and provided an objective critique of research procedures to help RDNs translate sensational media coverage into scientifically-sound recommendations for consumers.
MELISSA: Such important information. I’m planning to do a blog post on that very topic, so I’ll have to circle back with you to get your input on it!
Neva, you also “paid it forward” outside of the nutrition arena – tell us about your exchange student from Italy…..
NEVA: I have an Italian “daughter,” Sara, who was our exchange student from Italy in 2001 – 2002 when she was a senior in high school. We became very close to her and she has truly become a part of our family. After two years back in Italy to complete high school and a year of college, she returned to the U.S. to complete her BA in radio/TV/film at the University of Texas and, after working in the U.S. and Italy for two years, enrolled in an MFA program in documentary film production at the University of North Texas, which she just completed in August 2013. She then moved to New York and is working at the Hearst Corporation, making videos for Hello Style, the You Tube channel for Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar magazines. The first video that she helped produce was just posted in September, and here is another more recent one where she is credited as assistant producer.
Thank you so much to Neva for giving so much to the world of nutrition and for taking the time to share a snapshot of her work with us! Please share any thoughts or questions you have for Neva or me in the “comments” section below!
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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