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A Dietitian Keen on Educating the Public about Proper Nutrition

06 Mar 2018

Leonard Yap has come a long way from being an obese child who was trying to lose weight in any way he can. He is currently a freelance dietitian who is keen on spreading the knowledge on nutrition and how food can prevent diseases.

It all began when Leonard was about 11 years old. At that time, he had relatives and people with good intention who were always commenting on his body weight like it was some sort of a taboo. The last nail in the coffin was when a doctor told him and his parents that he was indeed obese. This had motivated him to lose weight by all means: starving himself and exercising as much as he could. At the same period of time, he was heavily influenced by Jamie Oliver, back then known as the Naked Chef, and started to learn cooking and really enjoy food. “That small hobby brought a lot of satisfaction to me and cooking was in a way an outlet for me that I felt made me special. As I grew up, I kept seeking ways to improve myself culinary wise, and that eventually led me into a lot of self-study into the world of culinary arts, French haute cuisine, molecular gastronomy and fine dining. Over time, I wanted to know whether my own knowledge and skills were good enough, and it was then that I started going to work in restaurants or freelance catering for private events which really helped honed and sharpened my skills and knowledge in the industry.”

“I’ve always had an interest in nutrition, I was really curious on understanding how food played a role in affecting our bodies. Given that even though I didn’t excel academically within my high school days, I had a tremendous interest in the sciences, but I particularly enjoyed biology a lot and in a way, I felt that perhaps, if I understood more about nutrition, I could maybe improve my personal health and maybe learn more on food and how to perhaps make it better.”

However, Leonard wasn’t particularly interested in studying. He had started working, and venturing with his friends into the realms of online marketing and business, and the results from those ventures had already started manifesting, so he honestly felt at that time, that education or a degree was perhaps not really necessary to succeed in life.

“I remember, my father telling me, that I must have some sort of degree, and at that time, I recalled, I saw an advertisement somewhere about a nutrition degree being offered in this private university (IMU)  and both my father and I went to the university to find out more. After getting more information, I said, hey, it’s something I have an interest in at the very least, so nutrition as a degree, sounds fine. My father then glanced over the brochure and saw dietetics with nutrition degree, which he told me, it’s a 4-year degree and perhaps you’ll learn more, and to that, I agreed. I enrolled into dietetics, really no knowing what I had got myself into.” “Nonetheless, I enjoyed my final years a lot, especially the attachments around different hospitals, the best was probably the opportunity to be placed in Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. It was extremely mind opening and academically enriching experience for me.”

After graduating with a degree in 2017, Leonard decided to find a way to teach people about preventing non-communicable diseases through food. “I felt that after all my experience in the hospitals, that this would perhaps be the most significant way I could contribute with my abilities. Currently, I’m a freelance dietitian, collaborating with cooking studios to teach people how to cook and appreciate food while teaching them about nutrition and disease prevention at the same time.” “I also do corporate talks here and there when I have the opportunity. I’m currently setting up my own studio, where I could do my kitchen tests to develop more recipes that satisfy both my culinary and dietetics side, not to mention, if everything goes according to plan, I would start doing videos featuring food, cooking science, nutrition and disease prevention. I’m also currently venturing into pop up fine dining that has a nutrition factor involved as well.” Leonard tells us more here.

How do you think what you have learnt at IMU helped in your current career?
IMU helped me by really providing me the platform to see the world. As mentioned earlier, I felt the best part of the entire programme was really the attachments in different places. However, research has also given me a new paradigm on the way I do things now. I’m much more analytical that I used to be, questioning everything and looking for evidences to support a hypothesis. I apply that approach in almost everything I do now, including my cooking, which has certainly made me a better chef, a better dietitian and definitely a better person.
What do you love most about your job?
I love being able to interact with the public and teaching them about proper nutrition. I really enjoy when I get feedback from participants or my clients about their success in either cooking or taking care of their health. In essence, I really enjoy the educating side of the gig.
What would you advise someone who aspires to be a dietitian?
Don’t sign up for a course just because a dietitian sounds cooler than a nutritionist. Never forget and appreciate research and evidence based practice. Learn to communicate well and understand where people are coming from and always keep learning.


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