RDN Spotlight: Stacy K. Leung, RDN, CLT, RYT
What is your ethnicity/race? Did your family have any customs related to food?
I am an American-born Chinese. I have a large extended family. When I was young, and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins got together, we would have about 30 people crammed into a small New York City apartment. We would celebrate major holidays together, Thanksgiving being my favorite. During Thanksgiving, we’d always have a mix of Chinese and American dishes. Our biscuits would be next to the marinated cuttlefish. The ultimate hit was the turkey my aunt would make stuffed with sticky rice and preserved Chinese sausage. None of that dry, traditional American stuffing at our table!
Where did you go to school and complete your dietetic internship?
What do you do now as a dietetics professional and what does a typical day or week look like for you?
I currently work in private practice and teach group yoga classes around New York City. Every day of the week is different, which is great because I love variety. When I'm not seeing clients for nutritional counseling, I am contributing to articles or my blog, working on my new project of helping dietitians with their website design, and studying for my aromatherapy certification. Using dietetics as my root, I'm branching out to other areas of wellness so that I can better assist my clients in their journey to better health and well being.
Why did you decide to choose nutrition and dietetics as a career?
Ever since I was young, I loved food, eating, and oddly had a fascination with reading the nutrition facts panel. I thought it was interesting that one could understand the contents of a food beyond just eating it. Around this time, I coincidentally met a dietitian. After she described to me her role with food and health, I was hooked. I decided that day that I would become a dietitian and never looked back.
What was the biggest challenge for you in becoming a dietitian and how did you overcome it?
To be honest, I can’t remember any specific challenges during my path to becoming an RD, other than, it was all hard! However, a few years after becoming an RD, I worked in a community clinic doing outpatient counseling. I enjoyed the job because I was exposed to many different cultures. I learned a lot about different cuisines and people’s values behind food. There were a few instances during the time I worked in the clinic that patients would directly ask me “Where are you really from?” or in describing certain foods, they couldn’t recall the name and say “It’s what you people eat.” These situations never get easier, but I’ve learned to answer as directly as possible: “I am American who was born and raised in New York” and “I am not sure what food you are talking about, can you describe what it looks like to me?”
Have you had any mentors and how have they affected your career?
My last preceptor of my dietetic internship, Elizabeth Fassberg, helped me see the endless possibilities of being a dietitian. Unlike many dietitians at the time, she decided to go the non-traditional route and dive directly into private practice where she did counseling and nutrition communication. I learned so much working with her. Her ability to be a fantastic boss, wife, and mom all at once makes me continually believe I can do it too.
Why do you think diversifying the field of nutrition is important?
As I mentioned, I believe cultural competency is one the essential factors in building rapport with those we serve. While we can learn on the job, it’s even better if we learn from our peers. We can have honest conversations about topics we are curious about. I can’t speak for everyone, but when my friends ask me about my heritage, I love to share my knowledge. More often than not, we end up diving into such deep conversations, we both learn a little.
What advice would you give a student of color interested in entering this profession?
Our mindset is what matters the most. Think of yourself having equal opportunity as everyone else, because it’s true. If we think we have a disadvantage because of the color of our skin, it may affect the relationships we try to cultivate or the opportunities we receive. Love who you are. We all have something to offer.