PROLOGUE: I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica in person when she participated in the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG panel discussion at FNCE 2013 in Houston for the joint meeting between the Private Practice subgroup and the Speakers & Media subgroup (of which I am the Specialty Chair). She ‘wowed’ me (and the audience) with her spunk and personality, as well as her sage advice on working with clients in a private practice. Her reputation as an expert in eating disorders treatment precedes her, and she has created quite a niche business and brand. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I have enjoyed getting to know her better!
MELISSA: Jessica, how did you become interested in a career in nutrition?
JESSICA: I took nutrition as an elective in college and was mesmerized. The next course, Nutrition for Fitness, sparked my interest in sports nutrition. In graduate school I found my love for treating eating disorders. I think it is the area of nutrition that best blends my degree in anthropology and human development with my fascination with why humans make the decisions and choices that we do.
MELISSA: Very interesting – it often seems to be more of an art than a science. Tell me about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
JESSICA: I hope I am known for providing practical skills for treating eating disorders. My philosophy is that even dysfunctional eating behaviors have a protective purpose, either physiologically, neurochemically, or emotionally, and that when those needs are met in other ways, the dysfunctional eating becomes unnecessary.
MELISSA: What an important role you have in this arena. What inspired you to start your own business?
JESSICA: I don’t like anyone telling me what I can’t do, so when I get frustrated, I get inspired to act. I started Understanding Nutrition
as a private practice because I was frustrated with the institutional malaise in the hospital where I worked. I thought I could do the job better on my own. At that time there were so few dietitians with expertise working in pediatric eating disorders that people looked to me for advice. This prompted me to create my Eating Disorders Boot Camp
to educate dietitians and students in my area. Dietitians in other cities asked me to teach in their area, so I set out across the country. Dietitians who couldn’t attend asked me if it would be recorded. So I recorded it and created the Eating Disorders Boot Camp Home-Study Course. People who hadn’t attended Eating Disorders Boot Camp called and asked if they could purchase the manual. So I modified the content into the Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide. And it just kept going from there. I get inspiration everywhere – from life, from what is needed, from what irritates me, from what pops into my head before I fall asleep. It’s hard for me to leave something in the idea stage… I just feel compelled to follow through with it.
MELISSA: It certainly looks like you have answered your “calling”! And what a great example of finding your niche/brand by listening to what people need and what solutions you can provide.
What are you working on right now?
Everything needed to be updated to reflect the DSM-5 which was published in June 2013. But instead of just changing that one section, I took it as an opportunity to completely revise, update, refresh, and re-engineer. I have about five other writing projects in the works, so I’m not sure which will be next on my agenda. It’s fun having so many ideas, but each one could be a full-time job!
MELISSA: Sounds like you are extremely busy! But with all your energy, it’s no wonder you get so much accomplished!
Tell us more about the types of nutrition communications you are engaged in.
JESSICA: Extemporaneous speaking is definitely my number one favorite communication method. I speak to professional groups several times a month either in person or using technology. I also coach dietitians by phone. Direct communication to either an individual or an audience is definitely my favorite. I used to like being on television but am a little frightened of HDTV. No one out there needs to see my pores!
My second favorite is to express myself in writing or recording. Not as direct, but still has an impact. I have written books and journal articles, and published webinars and audio CDs of my presentations. I also published a DVD demonstrating Nutrition Counseling techniques for eating disorder situations. My blog is http://www.understandingnutrition.com/blog/
My natural ability to communicate in words and in writing is challenged by my concerns about social media and my innate tendency toward introversion and privacy. I use Twitter,
My least favorite communication method is through traditional media interviews. I have no control what the journalist will ultimately say in my voice, and I have been misquoted many times. Ideally I try to give interviews in writing, and I appreciate the opportunity to fact check. It is always nice to see my name in print, but it is scary to accept the lack of control.
MELISSA: I’ve seen firsthand what a dynamic and motivating speaker you are! And I understand about traditional media interviews and the lack of control, believe me. That’s why in my biz I coach dietitians on some helpful basic control techniques for interviews. Not only does it help you feel more confident, ultimately the end result is a better interview with more focused and meaningful information being shared. It sounds like you are involved in many different communications outlets! Tell me a little more about what comes naturally for you and what does not when it comes to nutrition communications.
JESSICA: I think storytelling comes naturally to me, and I have read a lot recently that says that stories help convey messages in a way that just relating those messages does not. I am also good at giving examples that are meaningful to my listeners, and I am naturally enthusiastic and excited about my topics.
Believe it or not, I am not immediately comfortable speaking in public. People tell me I seem confident, when actually I get extremely anxious the night before a presentation, and I am usually shaking when I first step out onto the stage. About 10 minutes into a presentation, I usually calm down. This is why I really, really don’t like panel discussions where I am the first speaker… right when I am finally feeling comfortable, my time is up!
MELISSA: Well, you certainly didn’t seem anxious when you were speaking on the panel at our joint meeting at FNCE! But I can relate to what you are saying, and I’m sure others can, too. A media/speaking coach I once had put it perfectly. She said, “It’s okay to have butterflies – you just need to get those butterflies flying in formation!” And, not only is it okay to have butterflies – it’s a good thing. If you DON’T then your energy might be low and you might bore the audience to death.
Please share one story or experience that either taught you a lot about nutrition communications or you think would help other RDs.
JESSICA: The most memorable presentations I’ve seen are those where the speaker gave something of him or herself in a surprising way. For example one speaker performed a meaningful song using sign language at the end of her presentation, another speaker played the harmonica. Both times I remember initially thinking, “This is really weird!” and looking around to see other people’s reactions. But when I let myself just participate in the moment, it felt really amazing to have the opportunity to see inside someone else’s world rather than being an outsider. I think that’s what it means to really connect with an audience and to have an “authentic” voice. I thought that RDs were supposed to be perfectly polished and all-knowing, but that doesn’t work for me. I get my nerves out by saying things like, “I’m really nervous” or “I just forgot what I was going to say.” I know that not everyone “approves” of my conversational speaking style, but it is my way of stepping away from being a talking-head know-it-all and being authentic. I love this quote, “The more I started being myself instead of what I thought people wanted me to be, the more successful I became.” I think finding an authentic voice is the key to success as a speaker.
MELISSA: Absolutely! When you give the audience the opportunity to connect with you, they will listen and invest more in what you are saying.
What are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to improve their communication skills?
- When speaking or writing about nutrition and eating to non-dietitians, avoid jargon, slang, and clichés, because they leave your message open to interpretation. This will also prevent you from making the mistake of using language that means one thing in one part of the country and something different in another. For example where I live, saying something is “in the hopper” means it is under consideration. On the East Coast it means it is in the toilet. So “let’s put that idea in the hopper” has two totally opposite meanings.
- Do not make phone calls, type emails, or write letters when you are angry or frustrated. Upon reflection, you may regret what you have said or the unprofessional manner in which you said it. If writing is one of the ways you release your stress, at least do not send what you have written until you have waited 24 or 48 hours and reviewed it.
- Listen at least as much as you talk. Communication skills are not limited to outgoing communication; truly successful communication flows back and forth between speaker and listener.
MELISSA: Such important advice! Speaking of connecting with your audience, I’d love to hear a little about your family, hobbies, anything you’d like to share with us to get to know you a bit outside of work…
JESSICA: Here’s a picture of my family – and I also have another stepdaughter, Gloria, who is married to Mike – parents of my first grandbaby!
I love to do things with my hands after working with my mind all day. Here are some photos of crafts I’ve made.
EPILOGUE: Thank you, Jessica, for sharing this with us. You are obviously quite talented – both artistically and professionally! Thank you for all the great work you do and for sharing your communications insights with us.
Be sure to check out all of Jessica’s materials and social media outlets – and let us know if you have any questions or comments 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!