The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Dietetic Interns Visit The Vegetarian Resource Group

Posted on May 21, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Myrial Holbrook

Looking back at my first few years of being vegetarian (I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of six), I definitely needed nutritional help. I found it difficult to balance my meal choices, especially at school, where I was bombarded by a surfeit of unhealthy vegetarian options: French fries, cookies, onion rings, potato chips, and processed white bread. I ate healthy meals at home under the guidance of my vegetarian mom, but at school I didn’t have much self-restraint. I was also always involved in sports, so my unhealthy choices soon began to take their toll on my athletic performance. As I grew increasingly exhausted and anemic, I finally realized that my diet had to change. I did make the necessary changes to meet my nutritional needs, but it took me years to get it right. I really could have benefited from the help of a registered dietitian. On my first day as a VRG intern in the office, 9 dietetic interns from the University of Maryland visited The Vegetarian Resource Group to learn and discuss how to counsel vegetarians and vegans. The advice came too late for me, but it was still interesting to hear the different approaches and philosophies of these future dietitians.

As part of the agenda, we created vegan meal plans for varying dietary and caloric needs. Some of the vegetarian dietetic interns mentioned a diverse range of meal options, including recipes with nutritional yeast, tempeh, seitan, exotic vegetables, and different legumes. Most of the dietetic interns’ meal plans, however, relied primarily on oatmeal and granola for breakfast and some variation of a quinoa or black bean dish for lunch and dinner. Personally, I love oatmeal, nuts, quinoa, and black beans, but I wouldn’t want to eat them for every meal. I definitely think that dietitians in general could benefit from looking into more diverse veggie options. With more people eating vegetarian and vegan, both temporarily and permanently, it’s essential to have a wide range of choices for clients. Furthermore, dietitians need to be versed in a diverse array of options to consider a full range of clientele, especially those allergic to gluten, soy, nuts, and/or dairy.

During the interns’ visit, we also discussed ethical concerns in the food industry. Charles asked the interns if they would work for Pepsi or Taco Bell if offered a position, even if they didn’t agree with the nutritional content or production methods of the company. Some of the interns immediately said that they wouldn’t accept such a position, but others said that they would, for they viewed the job as an opportunity to make healthful changes within the company. The contrast in viewpoint was interesting, especially because the interns didn’t cite money as a motivating factor, even though most people definitely include it as a practical consideration.

The potential conflict between authority and accuracy raises another concern for dietitians. Essentially, the question is: if a dietitian encounters outdated, inaccurate information that has been promoted by a higher authority in the dietitian’s company or organization, how should the dietitian react? The interns suggested a non-confrontational response involving the collection of extensive, verified research, followed by the respectful approach of the higher authority with this information. All of the dietetic interns who visited were women, so I wondered if this uniformity of approach might be associated with the stereotypical female tendency to be more non-confrontational. I would definitely be interested to hear how male dietetic interns would respond to the same question.

The dietetic interns’ visit gave me a better sense of the concerns of nutritional counsel and ethical dilemmas. No one ever suggested that I meet with a dietitian when I turned vegetarian, but I feel that a few consultations would have proved beneficial to my long-term well-being. I realized that many other people also never consult with a dietitian, even when they might really need advice. Instead, they turn to fad diets or unfounded “research,” trusting their bodies to the whims of the web. Perhaps the most important task for dietitians, therefore, is making accurate nutritional counsel more available and accessible.

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