To celebrate National Vegetarian Week 2014, The Tofu Diaries has invited fellow bloggers to get involved and share!
Today’s guest blog is from Rachel whose work helps to support young vegetarians in their journey towards a meat-free lifestyle. As someone who made the decision to give up meat very young I wish Rachel’s book ‘The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian’ had been around back then! She is here to tell us more about why she chose to focus on teenagers, the concerns they may have, and how parents can support their children in their choices.
As a US-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian, I’m excited to help my UK friends celebrate National Vegetarian Week.
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian and the corresponding blog smartgirlveg.com are both written directly for the teenage vegetarian. Why did I choose to focus on teenagers? A few reasons:
1. Anecdotal evidence suggests that teenagers are the group most likely to experiment with vegetarianism. I have found that at least ¾ of the vegetarians I meet first went veg (or began their journey to veg) when they were teenagers. What’s more, I also meet a good number of adults who tell me that they’re not vegetarian now, but they were for a brief while in high school or college. Ask around and I suspect you’ll find the same (and if any scientist out there wants to conduct actual research on this topic, I’d love to hear the results).
2. Teenagers who go veg have special needs above and beyond those of adults who give up meat. More on that later.
3. I spent my teenage years transitioning from a meat-eating diet to a vegetarian one. That experience set me on a path to pursue nutrition as a career, and to develop a passion for educating and assisting teenagers who are in transition mode when it comes to their health. Long story short: I was a cruddy vegetarian, and it took me years to figure out that being healthy was more about what I was adding to my diet than it was what I was removing from it. I aspire to save others from the same trouble.
You may be wondering what’s so special about a teen gone veg. Here are some of the unique concerns for a younger person:
Control. Most teenagers are living at home with their parents; others in eat at a school cafeteria. Limiting your diet is one thing. Limiting your diet when you’re not the one doing the grocery shopping? Totally different.
Doubt. A teenager who decides to give up meat is much more likely to hear “oh, it’s just a phase” than an adult making the same choices. Many adults also jump to the conclusion that a teenager who eliminates meat from her diet may be dabbling in disordered eating behavior. There is some research suggesting that young women who have had an eating disorder are more likely to have been vegetarian at one point or another, however giving up meat is not indicative of disordered eating (that said, adults should always be aware of red flags for disordered eating in teens, which giving up meat in conjunction with several other characteristics can be considered. Read more about this in The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian).
Nutrition. All vegetarians should take care to get proper nutrition (including protein, zinc, B12 and more), however teen girls in particular have the added challenge of getting enough iron. Most teenage girls, vegetarian or not, don’t get an adequate amount of the nutrient, and since meat is one of the easiest ways to get iron into your diet, it can be hard for vegetarians to meet their daily needs.
Of course, with a little guidance, support, and good food, any of these hurdles can be easily overcome. If a teenager in your life is choosing to go veg on some level—whether they’re testing the waters by giving up red meat, going vegan, or anything in between—be sure to take their decision seriously and use the transition as an opportunity to bond. Share great blogs like this one, ogle beautiful vegetarian food on Pinterest and Instagram, tweet your ideas for Meat Free Monday (UK) or Meatless Monday (US), take your teen grocery shopping with you and, of course, sit down to delicious, health-enhancing meat-free meals together. You will both be nourished and nurtured from the experience.
Did any Tofu Diaries readers first go veg as a teenager? If so, please share your experience! How did you handle challenges when it came to control, doubt, and nutrition?