Nutrition and Communications are a Perfect Pair for this Dietitian

Dec 10, 2012

template-bannerimage-article Victoria Shanta-Retelny copy

There are only a few people you meet in life and think “is it possible this person is really this nice?”  Vicki is one of those people.  So I was more “pleasantly” than “surprised” when she was one of the first dietitians to respond to my request for guest bloggers.  Not only have I known her for years and really want to get some guest bloggers going – but what a bonus that she’s such an amazing writer!  I remember meeting Vicki back when I was the retail dietitian for Jewel-Osco in the early 2000s.  She was a fairly “new” dietitian and wanted to pick my brain about my career path and communications.  She was very sharp and professional and had great questions.  I could see she was very passionate about nutrition and wasn’t surprised at all when I started seeing her name pop up in the nutrition world around Chicago and beyond.  

Vicki, how did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
When I look back I’ve always been fascinated about how food works in the body to promote health, as well as the physiology of metabolism.  In the 6th grade – at about 11 years old – I did a science project on the digestive system and really enjoyed learning how our bodies break down food.  I often thought about how what I ate was tied to my health.  I studied communications in college – and received a bachelor’s degree in TV-Radio from Ithaca College in Upstate NY.  After dabbling for five years in the PR-Communications industry (for a television advertising sales company and in communications for a non-profit company, as well as a corporate concierge), I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled and nutrition was my love – and better yet, that I could combine my two passions!  I got my RD in 2001 and the rest is history…

How lucky you are to have that PR experience – I’m sure you use it every day!  Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
I like to think of myself as mindful eating, foodie writer.  I love the culinary aspect of nutrition, as well as the mindful-based eating approach.  (As a matter of fact, I moderated a session at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics‘ recent Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo on mindful eating and diabetes self-management.)  My first love is writing and my career aspiration when I graduated was to become a nutrition editor at a magazine.  However, my first job in nutrition – as one of the RDs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Wellness Institute, opened my eyes to the world of counseling.  It greatly impacted my career as I worked with an amazing interdisciplinary team of RDs, doctors, health psychologists and exercise physiologists.  The environment was so nurturing and the patient case load was an educational training ground.  I fell in love with patient care and it has given me fuel for my communications career ever since.

How wonderful!  What prompted you to start your business LivingWell Communications, and when did you start it?
I began my consulting business, LivingWell Communications, in 2004 as a part-time work in progress.   I always knew that I wanted to write for publications – and actually had my first by-lined article published in Restaurants & Institutions magazine while I was still in school as a result of interviewing the editor-in-chief for a class assignment. It was a thrill to see my name in print!  (That thrill has never gone away.)  I started pitching more articles and writing for nutrition-related newsletters – and then television segments came along as a result of media opportunities with the Wellness Institute.  I wanted my business to encompass all aspects of nutrition communications: writing, public speaking, individual and group counseling and media spokesperson work.   When I had my first child in 2005, I decided to make my business a full-time venture (in between baby bottles, naps, baths and diaper changing).

What services do you offer and how did you decide on those specific services?
My services have evolved over the years based on what I enjoy doing.  Currently, I offer individual nutrition counseling, primarily for weight loss and management, diabetes, cholesterol management, fertility and pregnancy.  I consult with public relations companies and food brands, as well as offer corporate wellness programs, which provide employee consultations, seminars, health fairs and cooking demonstrations.   In addition, I am a freelance writer for print and on-line publications.

What do you enjoy most and/or what is your motivation for having your own business?  What do you find most challenging about it?
The best part about having my own business is that I can make my own hours – and with two young children (a kindergartener and first-grader) my time is tight.  I can choose my work accordingly.   I enjoy the flexibility and diversity of work that comes my way.  Whether I am shooting a television segment in my kitchen, doing research for a magazine article or preparing for a culinary class and lecture, my time is my own – and that makes it all the more worthwhile!   My motivation is my seeing it all come to fruition – knowing that I wanted a nutrition communications practice and here it is!

The hardest part about what I do –as with all entrepreneurs, is that it can be  isolating  at times.  In private practice, it’s easy to think that you are alone in the world. However, getting out for breakfast or lunch meetings, scheduling conference calls and attending networking events makes it more manageable.

And wonderful face-to-face networking opportunities like we have with our Chicago Food and Nutrition Network where I get to see you from time to time!  What types of media/communications do you specialize in and/or utilize in your biz?  What do you enjoy most about it?
I utilize all forms of media in my work – from television to radio to print to social media.  I believe there’s a place for all of it – the key is targeting my messages to fit into my philosophy.

Last year, I entered the world of book writing – and my book, The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods was published by Alpha Books, a division of the Penguin Group.   It was an amazing experience – and a labor of love!  I had been knocking on doors with book proposals and after several rejections (never take no for answer, right?) I met my agent who introduced me to this book idea. I fell in love with the “food as medicine” theme as it fits very well with my personal eating philosophy, plus I was able to craft the content of the book. I purposely geared it toward mindful-based eating with an emphasis on healthy eating as an evolution.  It’s an evidence-based book with practical ‘healing hints’ and dozens of my own recipes.  It’s a great tool for my clients and springboard for presentations and magazine articles.

Congratulations on your first book!  I can’t wait to check it out.  What skills do you suggest RDs cultivate if they are considering having their own nutrition biz?
A private practice requires a tremendous amount of patience, tenacity and confidence.  It also takes some soul-searching to discover your passions.  It helps to focus on an area of interest as there’s so much in the nutrition world.  Think about what defines YOU.  Do you like culinary work, food photography, corporate wellness, public speaking or counseling?   It’s important to create your ‘space’ in the field.

I agree – nearly every day I’m thankful I listened to the sage advice of few dietitians who said to figure out and then really focus on your passion!  Not only does that help you define your niche, it taps into the energy you need to keep moving forward.  And it makes it so much more enjoyable!
What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to having your own biz?
I am naturally a people person, so interactions like interviews, public speaking, and counseling are areas I enjoy.  The part I have to work hard on is the solitary office work, such as filing, follow-up pitches and researching – as this takes more energy and focus for me.

And how about for media/communications – what comes naturally and what do you have to work harder at?
I naturally love to write and interview, however TV segments can be a bit more challenging.  So I have to plan and practice a lot beforehand as the time is tight. I’ve had crazy TV experiences – once I had to drive 2 hours to a TV station to find out that my segment was cut short right before the interview started.  It was a cooking segment!  Basically, the dish I was making on-air was not finished during the segment and I had to think on my toes to be flexible and stay positive while still getting my key messages in.  Television work requires a lot of flexibility – and a sense of humor.










Ain’t it the truth?!  Working with the media is a constant reminder that there are so many things beyond our control and always something new to learn!
What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who may want to have or are planning to open their own biz?
My top 3 tips are:
1)     Dive in and get your feet wet in different areas of the field.  If you don’t have one focus yet, discover what you really love (and what you don’t) and then you can take your passion forward.
2)    Don’t be afraid to say “No” to things that you do not want to do.  By turning down things you don’t want to do – you leave room for work that really excites you.
3)    Talk with other RDs who are doing things that you admire or would like to do one day.  If possible, shadow them or talk with them about how they began their careers or work in that arena.

Great advice.  It is so hard to say “No” but you are so right about being selective about your time.  You can’t do everything, so it’s important to try and trim off your plate those things that don’t provide the ROI you’re looking for.  And nothing beats a great mentor, except for maybe your own real life learning experiences!
What is your number one tip for other RDs who want to do nutrition media/communications?
My number one tip is to engage in some sort of media training, whether through the Academy or privately.  There are many great opportunities to learn from RDs who are spokespeople or dietetic practice groups, such as Dietitians in Business and Communications – which is holding a nutrition communications bootcamp in March 2013 in Napa Valley.   You can never have enough training – and it goes a long way to perfecting your media presence when the cameras roll!

Thank you for mentioning the DBC Communications Camp!  I’m extremely honored and so excited to be one of the speakers!  I’m co-presenting with good friend and dietitian Christine Palumbo on “Becoming an Expert Communicator: Making Communications Concise, Clear and Compelling.”  I think it’s going to be a wonderful experience, and you really can’t beat the location and price!
But, unfortunately, these types of communications training opportunities for RDs are few and far between.  That’s one of the reasons I started this blog and started offering my communications coaching services specifically for RDs.  I want to share best practices and insider tips with other RDs to help them boost their skills and boost their careers!
Vicki, please share an experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
One of my early career experiences taught me to never be afraid to make a phone call.  I always tell RDs and students to never be afraid to network with other RDs or professionals – and pick up the phone (even in our email and text-driven society). My first real job in nutrition came from me making a phone call to an RD who I didn’t know, but I had read about in a publication.   We met for lunch and instantly created a bond – and she was the impetus to me getting the job!  To this day I have never taken our relationship for granted.  

Additionally, I have always found great value in volunteering for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – and specifically for the dietetic practice groups. One of my most rewarding experiences was being involved with the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG.  Immediately, I felt such a kindred spirit with this group as they ignited my entrepreneurial spirit and encouraged me to pursue my nutrition communications business.  I started as NE’s newsletter editor – and eventually moved up to Chair.  It was one of the highlights of my career as I was able to meet fantastic professionals, who I now call friends, as well receive intrinsic motivation from the great work of this fantastic group.  When you put yourself out there and give your time and talents, you’ll get more than you ever imagined.

Thank you for all your wonderful advice and insight, Vicki!

As my first guest blogger, Vicki will be helping me share more insider tips and stories from more fabulous dietitians in communications!

Check out Vicki’s first guest blog and interview with Regan Jones here!

You can follow Vicki on Twitter @vsrnutrition  and Facebook at victoria.retelny, and pick up a copy of her book via her website at

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



  1. Robin from Robinsbite on December 12, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Great interview, Melissa! Thanks for always promoting the RD and our profession. I agree, Vicki is truly THAT nice! She’s one of my faves.

  2. admin on December 12, 2012 at 4:20 am

    Thank you so much for commenting! I am counting on interviewing YOU very soon!

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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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