Coffee Chat with Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, Health Journalist & Eating Disorder Dietitian
April 21st, 2022
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Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, started her career 12 years ago as a restaurant cook in New York City. In 2013, she made a big change and accepted her first full-time editorial job. Over the next six years, she worked on staff as a digital food editor for BuzzFeed and then SELF

Then, in 2018, she transitioned to freelance writing when she moved to North Carolina to start graduate school to become a registered dietitian. In the past three-plus years, she’s been a regular contributor to outlets like HuffPost, EatingWell, Food Network, and Outside Magazine, and she’s written print features for Glamour, Runner’s World, and Bicycling

Since October 202—when she became an RD!—she’s been splitting her time between freelance writing and growing her private nutrition practice, Christine Byrne Nutrition. She continues to write about wellness from a non-diet, weight-inclusive lens—which means she doesn’t cover weight loss or dieting and instead focuses more on body acceptance and evidence-based health. 

Here, Christine gave Press Hook an inside look into her daily routine and more:

This interview has been lightly edited.

Tell us about your day-to-day routine.

The pandemic has really thrown my routine for a loop. Although I’ve been freelancing for almost four years, I don’t love working from home, and I’m still not quite used to being in one place for most of the day. I’ll get out of bed around 8 a.m. (far later than I did when I worked in an office!), take care of my 1-year-old dog Peanut, and eat breakfast while I play the day’s Wordle and a game of online Catan to wake my brain up. Then at 9:30 a.m., I’ll head to my office—it’s so nice having a dedicated home office instead of working in the living room!—and start the workday.

Because I essentially juggle two jobs—private practice dietitian and freelance journalist—no two days are exactly the same, but time blocking and list-making are both extremely important. Monday is dedicated to journalism. I’ll look at my deadlines for that week and the next one and block time in my calendar to write each article. Then, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing source outreach, researching and writing my own weekly “Quit Your Diet Newsletter” (which currently goes out on Wednesday), and calling potential clients who have scheduled initial nutrition counseling consultations with me. 

Peanut will gently paw at me every couple of hours to remind me that it’s time to stand up and walk around. I’ll sometimes take a break for a walk or run in the afternoon, but often I’ll work until about 5:30 or 6 p.m. (occasionally longer, but only if I’m very engrossed in something). 

I’m alternating between client appointments, freelance writing, and marketing my practice from Tuesday to Thursday. On Fridays, I leave a big chunk of time in the morning for wrapping up assignments that took longer than expected, then spend the afternoon reading other health, nutrition, and wellness content, because it’s essential to keep up with what’s going on outside my little bubble! I end the week with a few late afternoon client appointments. 

How many stories do you work on in a month? How do you keep yourself organized?

I’m actually in the process of cutting way back on the number of stories I write because my practice is growing, and I want to be sure only to write things that are totally in line with my perspective as a non-diet eating disorder dietitian. I wrote 44 stories in December 2021 and 27 stories in January 2022. In February, [I] only [wrote] five: a newsletter series about self-compassion for a major wellness website, a feature on anti-diet dietitians for a food magazine, and a few online stories about weight-inclusive nutrition. Cutting back has been hard, and it’s taken me a few months actually to start saying 'no' to things, but I’m figuring it out!

For three years, I stayed organized with just a Google Sheet titled ‘Freelance.’ I’d add a new tab for every month, and I had columns for the assignment name, outlet, rate, due date, invoice date, and paid date. In the past few months, I’ve added Wave to help me with accounting and Asana to help me keep track of my to-do list. 

How do you find sources/products? 

Because I write mostly about nutrition and also work in the field, I have a pretty massive network of other dietitians, therapists, and physicians whose work I’m familiar with. Many of them I first connected with on Twitter years ago. I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for health professionals, some geared towards media and others geared towards a particular niche, and I love posting media requests in there when the topic is more general, and I don’t have specific people in mind. I also post callouts on my Instagram stories sometimes because so many experts and PR folks follow me there. As a last resort, I’ll turn to HARO, but usually, this means sifting through four dozen not-quite-right sources to find two or three that work.

For the occasional product round-ups that I do, I’ll first crowdsource through Instagram and Facebook groups by asking people to name their favorite products in a given category. I’ll also search my email for relevant PR pitches—I rarely respond to pitches when I receive them, but I do keep them for this kind of future reference!

What stands out to you in a pitch from a publicist? The good? The bad? 

I don’t write about weight loss or dieting, which means that a huge chunk of nutrition pitches are an automatic ‘no’ from me, no matter how they’re written.

Because I don’t write much about products, the pitches that are most useful to me are the ones that pitch subject matter experts. I recently covered Dry January and interviewed a physician that had been pitched to me as ‘an advocate for Damp January,’ which was timely and stood out from the rest. I can’t do much with pitches like, ‘Are you writing about healthy snacks? I’d like to introduce Jane Smith, RD, a spokesperson for RXBars who can speak to how great they are!’ But I often can use experts associated with more general companies, like hospital networks, grocery store chains, and wellness apps (sometimes!). 

How do you come up with story ideas?

Nine times out of ten, the ideas are assigned to me by editors. If I pitch a story, it’s typically a more long-form feature that takes a critical look at some trending health or wellness product or idea. 

What's the hardest part of your job? What's the best part?

As a dietitian, there’s so much ‘wellness’ stuff out there that I don’t feel comfortable recommending or even writing about. As a writer who needs subject matter, that’s hard sometimes. At the same time, being a strong voice for non-diet, evidence-based nutrition and wellness are really rewarding.

What advice would you give to a publicist to catch your attention?

Pitch me experts, not products! This isn’t true for every journalist, of course, but I think it’s true for many. I’d love to know not only the expert’s title but also more about their unique perspective, as well as any relevant research they’ve done.