"Communication is the essence of being an effective nutritionist. And so if you have expertise in an area, and yet aren't able to communicate about that expertise to your patients, your clients, your customers, whoever your audience is, then it really isn't of any value." - Barbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, FAND
Shireen: Barbara Mayfield is the founder and president of nutrition communicator LLC, where she leads nutrition professionals to become confident and compelling communicators. Barb served as editor for the recently published book from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, titled communicating nutrition, the authoritative guide, leading a team of 57 experts in nutrition communication. Welcome, Barb, how are you?
Barbara: I am fine. It's great to be together with you today, Shireen.
Shireen: An absolute pleasure having you on Barbara. So I want to dive right in and ask you about what led you to work within nutrition and more specifically, what led you to focus on nutrition communication?
Barbara: My background before going to college was one of really loving to teach. And so if I hadn't become a registered dietician, nutritionist, I probably would have become a teacher. But in essence, most people that are registered dietitian, nutritionists are also really teachers, which is another word for a communicator. And so I sought out a field in which I could teach about something I loved. And I loved feeding people, I loved cooking. And so I looked into foods and nutrition as a major and I went to Purdue University 40 some years ago. And while I was there, I was introduced to the area of nutrition education, and which is very closely associated with nutrition communication. And I also minor in communication, because that was something fascinating to me. So I really have been in this area from the beginning. And all of the jobs that I've had in nutrition throughout my career have operated this love of nutrition communication.
Shireen: And so what is the importance of effective communication within nutrition?
Barbara: Basically, communication is the essence of being an effective nutritionist. And so if you have expertise in an area, and yet aren't able to communicate about that expertise to your patients, your clients, your customers, whoever your audience is, then it really isn't of any value. So the ability to communicate is absolutely fundamental to how well we do our job.
Shireen: Interesting. So what are the main things you're considering when determining how to effectively communicate about nutrition?
Barbara: So there's several things that are really key. And the very first one is to be audience focused. And so one of the main points that we make in this book is the importance of audience focus and the importance of getting a broader concept that communication is really a relationship between you and your audience. Whether your audience is one person in a counseling situation, or millions of people over the media, you need to understand your audience, you need to understand who they are, what their situation is, what they know, and what they don't know what misconceptions they hold, what are their behaviors. So things learn about an audience. And when you know about your audience, when you really understand them, and you know what they're bringing to the table to bring into the communication, then you're able to communicate with them much more effectively. So it's one thing to know a lot about nutrition. But you need to know what does that audience member need to know. So obviously, you also need to know your message. As a registered dietician nutritionist, you need to have peace and nutrition and be able to convey that science in lay language using words that the audience understands. But fundamental, the fundamental understanding as focus.
Shireen: Interesting. So more specifically, Barbara, when it comes to communicating nutrition with diabetes patients, what are the most important things that one should consider? So what source of communication should be avoided or tried to dispel again, when working with diabetes patients?
Barbara: So when working with someone with diabetes or really someone with any type of a medical condition that requires a dietary intervention there, there's really so many factors that need to be considered. One being, how new is that diagnosis? Is this something that they're still coming to grips with? Understanding that this is a big part of their lives and has an impact on all kinds of things and just how they're how they're dealing with that. And that's a really fundamental thing to sort of begin a conversation with, say, if you're in a counseling situation, or maybe you're teaching a group class, and so understanding all the thoughts and the psychology that goes around having that diagnoses and, and appreciating that, and then finding out what, what is the person's knowledge of diabetes? And obviously, that's a component of any type of dietary intervention, helping them understand what is going on in their bodies? And how does diet play a role? And how do other things that you might do lifestyle interventions, medications, and so really helping them take as, as much control over the management of their diabetes as possible with you as a guide, with you assisting them in gaining knowledge and gaining confidence, and taking those steps towards really having a very healthy life?
Shireen: And so what, what do you think? Excuse me. Why do you think all of those components are important to really providing them that confidence and providing them that, that knowledge and education even outside of nutrition? Why do you think that is so pivotal for a registered dietitian, to sort of address those other factors?
Barbara: Well, because when you have any kind of medical condition, it affects your whole person, it even affects your relationships with other people in your household and your friends. And it has a ripple effect. And so taking into consideration the whole person, and how this is impacting them. And, and again, when I come back to the idea of you know, how new a diagnosis is, there's, you know, a number of things that people kind of go through when they hear it, when they learn something about them, their health, or the health of a loved one, that sometimes, even someone who's really, really knowledgeable about something, it's almost like the, the brain doesn't put all those things together, you have to kind of deal with the emotion of it, before you can even really deal with the facts of it. And so I think that that's just really important to, to listen well and, and figure out where, where a person is in their journey with diabetes. So that you don't, I think one of the things when I think we've come a long way in our knowledge of how to work with people in counseling kinds of situations, and I can remember when I was in a new dietitian, and I worked with patients with diabetes, often in my private practice, I almost feel like I need to write them letters and say, I am so sorry for dumping so much still fun, you in an initial appointment, you just weren't ready. And it was like, Okay, here's everything I know about diabetes, and I'm sure their eyes just glazed over. And I would do it differently 40 years later than I did back then. And I think that's really important that we communicate from a standpoint of understanding where that patient or client or person is and working from there. And, and listening to them. One of the things that I would teach my, my students is, as an under, as an adult learner, the adult, the person is the expert on themselves. And so you need to learn from them before disseminating information.
Shireen: That's an interesting viewpoint, Barbara. So I'm curious, when we're talking about communicating with caretakers, is that any different from communicating with people who have chronic illness? Or is that the same? Can you shed some light on that?
Barbara: So when you're working with the caretakers, and oftentimes when I was in private practice, I often would be working with the person with diabetes or hypertension, or whatever their diagnosis was, as well as their spouse or possibly a parent or a child that was instrumental in helping them achieve their goals. And I think that the important thing in this regard is for the caretaker, to understand their role as a support person as a person who in some cases, they were the person who was cooking the meals, but that you also wanted to make sure that the person who was living with diabetes was really heard that they did become like a person on the wall that was being ignored and you're simply having a conversation with the caretaker that the caretaker understood how they could Support how they could be a good listener to the patient that they were caring for, and understanding what they were going through emotionally and dealing with having this disease and, and how to take care of it. And for the caretaker, not to take over in some area that the person themselves can, can take responsibility for. So it's, it can be a kind of a gentle balance that needs to take place, and there's no set formula that is going to be the same with every relationship, but to really take stock of it, assess it, and help them to achieve the goals that they have. And to work together to be on the same trajectory together as far as what, what they want to achieve and how they want to go about it.
Shireen: So in the era of COVID-19, it seems as though healthcare communication is more inconsistent than ever, we get new messages about how to or how not to fight the disease every day, particularly within the realm of nutrition. How should healthcare providers make sure that they're communicating effectively with their patients about their nutrition during this pandemic?
Barbara: The COVID pandemic is really a good example of how scientific knowledge is generated and found and disseminated. And so it can be an opportunity for us to talk about the scientific process and how we are learning things at a more rapid rate than we can hardly comprehend. And they're still way more unknowns than there are knowns. And, and that's a hard thing for people to grasp. Everyone wants to know the hard and fast rules and facts, and they just aren't there yet. We are still learning. And so I think one of the things that we have to communicate is about that, and and is kind of this is, this is our knowledge of what to do, based on past facts we have today. And, and this is also an unprecedented time, where the scientific community is really sharing with one another. And then we're really making some strides in working together. My daughter is a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. And they're working, she's talked about the fact that they're creating drugs that would normally take 10 years, and they're doing it in six months. So it is just phenomenal. What is taking place. And quite honestly, when it comes to nutrition in this time of dealing with COVID. We're really basing what is the best strategy on, on what is the best way to stay healthy in any time. And so eating really healthily, and taking good care of yourself has never been more important. There is no magic food or magic supplement or combination of foods or foods to avoid that are going to prevent you from getting COVID or treated, at least that we understand today. But just to take really good care of yourself, and then being really common sense about things like washing your hands and avoiding exposure. And all of those kinds of things are going to keep you healthier, all the way around. I mean, we've often discussed amongst those of us in this field, how we're probably going to have a lower incidence of foodborne illness during this pandemic because people are being more careful about washing their hands. And so it'll have a benefit in other, in other areas. But yes, there is a lot of confusion and it feels like you're hearing one way of dealing with something and then the next day it's something else. And part of that is because they're still really figuring it out. We don't know.
Shireen: Well, that, that was really insightful, Barbara, so I think with that we're, we're toward the end of the episode. And usually what we like to do at the end of the episode is ask our guests how our listeners can connect with them after this episode. So how can people learn more about your work and connect with you?
Barbara: Oh, I would love to have people connect with me probably the best way or there's really two best ways. So I have a website called nutrition communicator LLC. And on that website, you can get free tip sheets about how to be an effective communicator. You can learn more about the book which is just now coming into, being it'll be in print next week. It'll be it is already available as an E book. And then also I am on various social media platforms they can connect with me on LinkedIn at Barbara Mayfield. They can connect with me on Twitter, I have both Barb Mayfield and nutrition communicator as handles, they can connect with me on facebook nutrition communicator or on Instagram nutrition communicator. And I love to connect with folks and hear from them if someone is a registered dietician and would like to share their story on my website. I love featuring the work of other dietitians. I invite guest bloggers, so I would just very much value that connection.
Shireen: Lovely. Well, so with that, Barbara, I really want to thank you for your time with us here today. We talk about you know, dieticians and all the work that we do in something as simple as communication. We could really take for granted and I appreciate you providing your insights to them.
Barbara: You're welcome. It's my pleasure.
Shireen: Thank you.