RDN Spotlight: Christine Dyan Thompson
What is your ethnicity/race Did your family have any customs related to food?
I'm African-American. Growing up, as a family, we didn't really have any food-related customs outside of the most common "Soul Food" cuisine, yet even that wasn't a custom for our family. We ate from all cuisines. I believe my grandmother (who raised me from a very small child until I started elementary school) wanted her grandchildren to be well-educated and well-versed in all ethnicities and not pigeon-holed into one way of eating. I remember her gathering the family together to take us to eat at a local Ethiopian restaurant. She loved trying new things, especially ethnic cuisines, and I believe I've inherited the same from her. I love exploring food customs from around the world. It totally fascinates me!
Where did you go to school and complete your dietetic internship?
I attended Western Illinois University (WIU) for my undergrad and graduated in 1992. From there, I actually decided to work a few years before applying to an internship. My first job as a nutritionist was as a WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Nutritionist, and I did that from 1993-1995. When I applied for an internship the first time, I didn't get a match. So I decided to enroll in graduate school with a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition. After completing the program in 1999, I reapplied for an internship and was accepted at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois. Coincidentally, it's the same hospital I was born at! Talk about coming full circle. I then completed my internship in 2000.
Why did you decide to choose nutrition and dietetics as a career?
I like to say that I somewhat stumbled on the career of becoming an RD because I was initially a Pre-Med major in college. But after taking a few classes, I decided I wanted something different, although I had no idea what that was. After dabbling in a few different courses, and getting somewhat frustrated, a friend told me about the nutrition & dietetics major on campus. A light bulb went off for me because I had struggled with overeating & body image since the age of 8. Once I choose dietetics as my career, I fell in love. I'm still as much in love with what I do today as I was as a student in college.
What do you do now as a dietetics professional and what does a typical day or week look like for you?
I'm the CEO/Owner of Christine Dyan International, a business and money mindset consulting firm for Registered Dietitians. We teach dietitians how to shift their money mindset so they can confidently increase their rates (or negotiate the raise) so they can earn what their services are worth. Our mission is to change the industry income standard for registered dietitians globally. We do this via the weekly podcast “Make More Money as a Dietitian”, and our signature coaching programs and mastermind groups. Currently, as the lead dietitian, my typical week is structured into 2 full client coaching days and 2 marketing and project management days. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I am off.
What was the biggest challenge for you in becoming a dietitian and how did you overcome it?
Ah, this is such a good question because I'm sure many RDNs of color can relate and attest to the challenges we face in the industry. For me, the initial roadblock occurred when I wanted to declare dietetics as a major. I went to see the counselor, she sat me down in the office and said (verbatim) "Dietetics is a really hard major. Maybe you should choose Foodservice & Restaurant Management, instead?". I was immediately offended and said, "No." I was the only black person enrolled in dietetics in my class. The next roadblock was getting matched with an internship. I never understood why it needed to be so hard.
Have you had any mentors and how have they affected your career?
Yes! While at WIU, I had a nutrition professor by the name of Dr. Sofi Boutros who was my greatest mentor. At the time, she was so hard on me and gave me extra flack in class. I could tell she was holding me to a higher standard than the other students. One day, she pulled me to the side and let me know that she pushed me harder than the other students because of the fact that I was the only black student and she wanted me to excel. Dr. Boutros was from Egypt and she wanted more black students to succeed in the industry. I respected her for that from that day forward. She was the best thing that happened to my college career.
Why do you think diversifying the field of nutrition is important?
We definitely need more RDNs of color who can serve the population groups that are in need of preventative wellness and MNT services. People want to be seen & heard for who they are and not just handed a cookie-cutter meal plan or diet recommendations that's meant for the general public. With more diversification in the field, we'll better serve the populations who really need us the most.
What advice would you give a student of color interested in entering this profession?
I always tell students of color to go for what they're most passionate about in the field of dietetics. Don't ever feel like you have to fit into any stereotype or mold. Stand out. Be bold. And most importantly, be you.
Christine Dyan is the CEO/Owner and lead dietitian at Christine Dyan International, a business and money mindset consulting firm for Registered Dietitians in suburban Chicago. You can learn more about her work helping RD’s to increase their earning potential by visiting her website. Christine was also a guest on our Feed Me the Facts podcast. You can listen to that episode here.