RDN Spotlight: Rita Saeed, RDN
WHAT IS YOUR ETHNICITY/RACE? DID YOUR FAMILY HAVE ANY CUSTOMS RELATED TO FOOD THAT YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?
My family is from Bangladesh, so I am Bengali. Our food customs are very similar to that of Indian and Pakistani food, referred to as "desi" food and culture. Those who are desi have a lot of food customs, traditions and practices which would be difficult to explain without writing an essay! Bengali culture preserves their food culture very well, and most people will eat rice and curry almost every day. Rice is a staple in the Bengali diet, so much so that "rice" is used interchangeably to refer to food such as "Did you eat rice yet?" also means "Did you eat yet?” Curries consist of various spices and vegetables, meat, and a lot of fish, cooked with a lot or little liquid, depending on the dish and the region of the country you're from. Another common dish eaten with rice, called "bhortha", literally meaning mishmash, is made with fish, dried fish, or vegetables and mixed with raw onions, green chilies, cilantro, and mustard oil. Strong sweetened tea with milk is a mainstay for breakfast, and fried snacks like samosas are omnipresent during family gatherings and Ramadan.
TELL US WHERE YOU WENT TO SCHOOL AND COMPLETED YOUR DIETETIC INTERNSHIP.
I went to Brooklyn College for my undergraduate and DPD program, completed my dietetic internship with Keith & Associates Distance DI. I am currently in my last semester of grad school for a degree in Applied Nutrition with a concentration in Entrepreneurship with Northeastern University.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO CHOOSE NUTRITION AND DIETETICS AS A CAREER?
It was when I was exploring different career paths that I came across the word "nutritionist" in a magazine. I had always been interested in health, wellness and how food helps us heal so when I came across this, it just felt SO right. I always follow and trust my intuition so I declared my major in nutrition right after starting college and have never looked back.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN BECOMING A DIETITIAN AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
My parents are very old school, so my biggest challenge was fighting the double stereotype in desi culture that women only need an education as a backup plan in case it doesn't work out with your husband. Also, that if you're going to get an education you need to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer to be successful. My parents and most family members did not understand what nutrition was or what it meant to become a registered dietitian, so it was always a struggle to explain my career path and why it is important. My parents always urged me to either change my major or graduate with my associate's degree. But here I am graduating with my Master's, with them as my biggest supporters! It's not easy when you feel as if though no one supports you or understands the path you choose but I always focused on my fire, on what I felt was right and believed that one day I was going to make a difference. My passion and dedication are what allowed me to keep going!
HOW HAVE MENTORS AFFECTED YOUR CAREER?
My clinical preceptor from my dietetic internship became my mentor and close friend. She has been an invaluable source of support and encouragement. We all have moments when we start to doubt our skills and knowledge and it's so helpful to have someone to remind you of your strengths and help you work on your weaknesses. My mentor has made me more confident in myself and has taught me to never undervalue my worth.
WHY DO YOU THINK DIVERSIFYING THIS FIELD IS IMPORTANT?
We live in a very diverse world, and everyone's reality is different. It is important to be able to relate to and help people of all backgrounds and share information that can best be applicable to them. We need diverse role models that can provide their unique insight and guidance to show that living a healthy lifestyle is possible for everyone -no matter where you are from, what size you are, or whether you eat salads or not.
WHAT ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE A STUDENT OF COLOR INTERESTED IN ENTERING THIS PROFESSION?
Don't listen to the naysayers and don't focus on the obstacles. Follow your passion and your purpose and you will succeed. No one can provide the same wisdom, insight or value that you can, so go for it with all that you have and don't doubt yourself!
Fun question! What's your favorite meal and why?
I'm going to go with my mom's pumpkin curry, tomato curry and rice. I love how the mixture is a sweet and sour, with a kick of spice if I'm in the mood for a chill pepper on the side. This meal brings me warm memories of my mom's cooking and feeling loved.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Yes! I recently passed my RDN exam, and just a couple of days ago I accepted a position as an inpatient clinical RD for a large hospital (over 900 beds) serving a diverse community in Bronx, New York City.