February 2011 Issue

Celebrate You This RD Day
By Maura Keller
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 13 No. 2 P. 52

As experts in food and nutrition, RDs use their knowledge to help individuals make healthful lifestyle changes. To recognize the profound role RDs play in people’s lives, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) established Registered Dietitian Day (RD Day), which this year falls on March 9. So how are you going to celebrate?

Awareness Matters
National appreciation days are special events that signify the impact many professionals—from dentists to administrative assistants to teachers—have on others’ lives. Many within the health community recognize the importance of commemorating the role that dietitians play in the healthcare arena. “But not nearly enough people know what it means to be an RD or that RDs are really the food and nutrition experts,” says Alyse Levine, MS, RD, nutrition advisor for Livestrong.com and founder of Nutritionbite LLC. “Far too often, people turn to unreliable and [non]credentialed sources for nutrition information instead of the true nutrition expert: the RD.”

According to a fact sheet on its website, the ADA created RD Day, first celebrated in 2008, to “increase the awareness of registered dietitians as the indispensable providers of food and nutrition services and to recognize RDs for their commitment to helping people enjoy healthy lives. Registered Dietitian Day and National Nutrition Month promote ADA and RDs to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically-based food and nutrition information.”

Many Ways to Participate
“Registered Dietitian Day is a great opportunity to draw attention to this wonderful group of nutrition professionals and show them how much they are appreciated,” says Debra J. Johnston, RD, culinary services manager at Remuda Ranch Programs for Eating and Anxiety Disorders in Wickenburg, Ariz. “That has been my goal when celebrating with the registered dietitians at Remuda Ranch. Our celebration usually involves a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant accompanied by a small gift for each dietitian.”

In her private practice, Levine has offered discounts on her services to first-time clients who signed up on RD Day. “I used my online marketing presence to get the word out on what RD Day is and on my specials for the day,” says Levine. “My goal was to encourage more people to seek the help and counseling of a registered dietitian.”

According to Eric Mittenthal, media relations director at the International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C., the council’s RDs did something unique for RD Day last year. “They celebrated by participating in a blog carnival with other dietitians to promote the science-based nutrition information dietitians can provide,” Mittenthal says. “The carnival was an opportunity to connect with other RDs and promote the value of the profession on Registered Dietitian Day and also highlight science-based nutrition messages from a number of sources, therefore strengthening the overall message.”

The carnival idea was inspired by Renata Mangrum, MPH, RD, who then reached out to other RDs to see who might be interested.

“As an organization with several RDs and a wealth of science-based nutrition information as well as communications expertise and a popular blog of our own, we felt like it was a natural fit to participate,” Mittenthal says.

Fourteen dietitians wrote blog posts as part of the carnival. Topics included “The Art of Nutrition Messaging,” “Vitamin D in Pregnancy and Beyond,” and “RDs Are the Premiere Food and Health Communicators.”

“The dietitians here at the International Food Information Council each wrote one that we connected in a series on nutrition messaging,” Mittenthal says. “The overriding theme was the importance for dietitians to be heard in the nutrition conversation. Our posts covered strategies for creating nutrition messages with impact and avoiding unintentional consequences of simple nutrition messaging.”

For many RDs, RD Day may simply pass as another day on the calendar. Until recently, that’s how it was for Liz Erker, RD, at Signature Medical Group in St. Louis. “As the importance of prevention through nutrition has been on my ‘front burner,’ this day has crept onto my radar screen with a bang,” Erker says. “I have celebrated the day with the staff and clients of Signature Medical Group by educating them about how easy it is to practice prevention through nutrition by eating more of the foods that nature provides, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, [and] whole grains. I talk to them about ways to increase their daily consumption of whole foods.”

In the past, Kathy Taylor, MS, RD, director of nutrition at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, has tried to involve the employees in the hospital facility and give out nutrition education information during the week of RD Day to promote RDs as the nutrition experts, including nutrition information as well as exercise information. “I think it is important to recognize the expertise that the RD brings to the table,” she says. “So often we are overlooked because many don’t realize that we not only work with people referred by MDs for diet counseling to lose weight but also patients in the ICU [who] are on ventilators [who] need to be fed by alternative methods. RDs have a whole range of skills and abilities that we need to recognize and celebrate.”

On the Horizon
This year, Levine plans to celebrate RD Day in a big way. “I will continue to give discounted rates for first-time customers who schedule a session on RD Day, and I will share my golden rules for healthy living on my regular column on Livestrong.com.” She also plans to write a blog post about the differences between an RD and a nutritionist, such as the schooling required for each.

Similar to her efforts last year, Erker plans to keep prevention through nutrition on the front burner by continuing to educate the staff and clients about the benefits of eating for health with the use of handouts and having fresh fruit and vegetables available for all to enjoy throughout the day. “My suggestion for RDs is to keep it simple by continuing to spread the word about prevention through nutrition by eating more whole food throughout the day,” Erker says.

In the past, Johnston’s celebration has been limited to Remuda Ranch staff, but this year she hopes to create more community interest and involvement. “I plan to write a news release for our local newspaper and also place an ad in the paper recognizing our dietitians in particular and all dietitians in general,” she says. “In addition, I will request that our local mayor proclaim Wednesday, March 9, 2011, Registered Dietitian Day. And I will again recognize our staff RDs for their dedication to our patients by planning a special event for them.”

Building on the success of 2010, the dietary professionals at the International Food Information Council anticipate being engaged again in 2011, and social media will definitely be a part of whatever they do. “Dietitians have become much more active in social media, with tools such as the RD blog network and RD chat on Twitter, making it easier than ever for dietitians to get their messages out online,” Mittenthal says. “We see ourselves as a key player in that effort, so we look forward to being part of any opportunity to connect with RDs and promote science-based nutrition information. We think it’s important to celebrate the work that dietitians do every day, but for one day a year, the world can take notice and see the knowledge RDs bring to the table. I would recommend that RDs find opportunities in their respective communities to provide nutrition insight to consumers through traditional media or explore available options in the world of social media.”

As Johnston emphasizes, the most important thing for RDs to do is celebrate. “It is your special day. Make sure your hospital or facility knows about National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitian Day,” she says. “Company newsletters or bulletin boards are great ways to communicate. Organize a potluck lunch or dinner for the RDs in your community; they will enjoy this time of recognition and networking. And thank your clients for your success by giving them a token of your appreciation for their business.”

— Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor.