When personal and professional paths meet: Leading the way with an exciting new resource for people with diabetes

Aug 25, 2012

template-bannerimage-article Toby Smithson FINAL copy

Prologue:

I’ve known Toby so long I can’t actually recall the first time we met.  Perhaps a dietitian friend introduced us at a meeting or our paths crossed because of our shared passion for diabetes education and for communications.  Needless to say, I’ve always respected Toby’s long-time work in public health, her drive to promote nutrition through communications, and her desire to help those with diabetes live better lives.  I’m so glad we get to work together as Academy spokespersons in the Chicago market.

MELISSA:
How did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD and a CDE?
TOBY:
I was diagnosed at age 8 with type 1 diabetes, and the tools available to really monitor and manage blood sugar at that time were so inadequate that “we” tended to be treated as fragile. I could never go without shoes, and there were a limited number of close friends I could spend the night with. In retrospect I suppose I must have wondered what I could ever do in real life. Then, at age 14, I contracted a stomach virus that required hospitalization, and during my stay I met a dietetic intern who shared with me that she too had diabetes. To say I was inspired would be an understatement. I already knew how food and health could be closely related, but now I knew I could have a role helping others.  From that point on, I worked every summer and winter break at facilities that would give me experience for my upcoming venture as a RD. I followed that passion through college and I have been a RD since 1985 and a CDE since 2010.

MELISSA:
Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
TOBY:
My motto is baby steps.  I like to guide people to take small steps to accomplish one goal at a time.  I also believe in living life to its fullest.

MELISSA:
I really like what you’re doing with your new website DiabetesEveryDay.  Tell us about this unique new resource and what prompted you to create it?
TOBY:
Diabetes is a chronic condition that can have terrible health consequences, but it is possible to adopt certain behaviors that can effectively “manage” our risk of these “complications”. Blood sugar monitoring, taking medication as prescribed, eating a healthy diet with carbohydrate management and getting regular physical activity are essential elements of “self management”, and these are every day responsibilities. People with diabetes can get wonderful guidance from RDs and CDEs, but too often real life overwhelms good intentions. DiabetesEveryDay helps keep people with diabetes stay focused between face-to-face visits with educators, and provides practical tools like a weekly menu to make self management easier. Diabetes itself is 24/7, but patients have limited access to their educators.  My website, DiabetesEveryDay, can be there every day.

 

MELISSA:
The site is very well organized and has so much wonderful information! Some of the main components of your site are recipes, menus, lifestyle, exercise, news, motivation.  How did you decide on what information to include?
TOBY:
Listening to my patients and surveying people with diabetes helped me with the design of what to include.  I have spent a lot of time listening to people about the barriers and misinformation about diabetes management.  Plus, I live an effective diabetes management lifestyle every day myself, so I truly know what it takes to preserve health in spite of diabetes. My husband Tony is great at pointing out things I do that I may not be conscious of since my habits go back so many years.

MELISSA:
I love the way you use videos throughout the site – it’s very engaging and fun.
TOBY:
I chose a video based format to actually show people how to manage their diabetes instead of giving them another handout to read, and I wanted to approach subjects in a more creative way.  Plus, I hope other people with diabetes will see me as a partner in self management since I never suggest they do something I don’t do every day myself. I think it’s easier to get to know me through video than something I might write.

MELISSA:
How do you come up with your video topics and how long does it take to produce one from beginning to end?
TOBY:
I have tried to think “out of the box” about practical topics, but we place a different spin which is easy to do because it is visual.  As the old saying goes…a picture paints a thousand words.  Six to seven hours are spent in the development, production and editing of each video, but we are really having fun doing it. My husband is the behind the scenes creative genius.  His background is in public health and he is self-taught about filming, editing and running a website.  Filming has become a part of our life – we take our lights and camera on vacation and most everywhere we go so we don’t miss some perfect everyday moments on film. For many of our videos we do a short trailer, and we always try to incorporate some humor. Having a positive attitude about diabetes management is so important, so our messages are always “you can.”

 

 

 

MELISSA:
Clearly your Academy spokesperson experience helps you, but I’m still amazed at how well you deliver your messages in the videos!  Do you have a teleprompter or do you memorize your scripts?
TOBY:
Most of my videos use a teleprompter to help speed up the process of the filming.

MELISSA:
That’s great – it is such a helpful tool!  It’s still a lot of work but I found for myself it lets my brain think about how I’m delivering the message (energy level, excitement, emphasis) instead of trying to think about what you’re going to say next.  What do you want other RDs to know about this new resource?
TOBY:
People with diabetes can’t have too much support- it is a difficult lifestyle, and often conflicts with every message they get from other people and certainly advertising. Patients are surfing the internet constantly for information, and I’m proud to offer my website as one that’s credible. We are offering free memberships for diabetes education providers, and have a program which provides a 60 day free trial for their patients with coupons specific to a providers practice or organization.  DiabetesEveryDay is a unique resource for RD educators to help improve the day to day diabetes management focus of their patients.  My site can help keep the patients engaged and any patient truly interested in diabetes self-management will always come back to the professional too….my website cannot replace face-to-face care, but can keep patients connected to their responsibilities, including making and keeping appointments!

MELISSA:
I love that you are collaborating with other RDs and promoting their work in your videos – such as this video with Sharon Palmer’s Strawberry Salad recipe and this video with a recipe from Meri Raffetto and Roseanne Rust.  How can other RDs get involved to help promote or support DiabetesEveryDay?
TOBY:
First, take advantage of my offer for a free membership and free trial for patients (email me at: info@diabeteseveryday.com). Food is one of the most difficult things for most people managing diabetes, and I want to be part of a team with my fellow RDs. My weekly menu may be the most important item I post every week, and it’s definitely the most popular.  I’m always open to cookbook authors loaning us recipes….we’re using 11 or 12 different books by fellow RDs for recipes right now.  They are featured on the “our friends” and “about us”  pages of the website along with their contact information, and their recipes are featured in videos which they can promote through social media to get more exposure for their books. I am not a recipe developer, but I knew that I needed to find great diabetes-friendly recipes for my weekly menu. When I asked fellow RDs to loan us recipes they responded in such a cooperative way, and I am amazed at how talented our colleagues are in creating healthy dishes that taste fabulous.

MELISSA:
Tell us a little bit about your role as an Academy spokesperson.  What do you enjoy most about it?
TOBY:
I enjoy sharing my passion for the field of Dietetics and Nutrition through my media interviews and making sure that the RD is recognized as the expert in nutrition.

MELISSA:
What skills or experiences do RDs need to cultivate if they want to do communications work such as being a spokesperson or writing a blog or creating a web-based business like yours?
TOBY:
I believe finding your niche is key, and will help inspire you to what avenues you will like to explore more.  Working on writing skills and possibly camera work are also helpful.  It is also important to be creative and be willing to take risks. And, as you know we work really hard….you can’t fit it all into an 8 hour per day five day workweek.

MELISSA:
What comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to nutrition communications?
TOBY:
Through my experience as a state media rep and now a media rep for the Academy I have developed skills in key messages, so this area comes easy to me now.  Another area that seems to come naturally to me is networking, but then again I have spent years building my networks through leadership positions within our organization.  An area that I have a difficult time with is saying no to offering my services for free.

MELISSA:
What are your top tips for other RDs who want to do nutrition communications?
TOBY:
Experience is my number one tip.  Seek out as many communication opportunities as possible to gain experience.  Tip number two is to realize that you will forever be tweaking and learning about your communication skills.

MELISSA:
I couldn’t agree more!  The more you do, the more you learn.  And you never stop learning!
Please share one experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
TOBY:
I was scheduled to present a break out session at a women’s health conference, and I had developed a presentation about women and diabetes that focused on me as a woman with diabetes. It seemed logical at the time, but I found myself uneasy about how that self focus might be received. When the room began filling up past capacity with fellow health professionals and the extra chairs were coming in I felt like a first time public speaker…how do I escape? I literally took a deep breath, gave myself a quick self-talk, jumped up to the podium with tons of energy, and brought on the presentation.  After my presentation I had a line of audience members coming up to thank and compliment me, and I realized that my early instincts when developing the talk had been accurate. As long as we are genuine about our subject and really believe our message, as I was in using my own personal experiences, we can charge ahead with confidence. That does not mean we won’t be nervous, however.

MELISSA:
Thanks Toby!  A media trainer once taught me that it’s okay to have “butterflies” in your tummy – you just need to get them “flying in formation.”  By harnessing that nervous energy you can engage and motivate your audience!

Epilogue:
Be sure to check out DiabetesEveryDay and let other RDs know about this exciting new resource for people with diabetes.  And let us know if you have any comments, questions or feedback about this interview or topic!  We would love to hear your thoughts!

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