The Hustler sat down with Vanderbilt’s new Registered Dietician Emily Suttle to talk about how students can best use Vanderbilt’s meal plan. Suttle explained that she is here to help students with a wide array of nutrition concerns and emphasized NetNutrition, Munchie Marts and planning ahead as tools that can help students eat well despite the constraints of being on a college campus.
How long have you been a dietitian?
I became a dietician in June 2019, but it’s a five year process to become a dietician. I went to the University of Tennessee for my undergrad, and then I went to Texas A&M to become a dietician, so I’ve been working in the field for quite some time.
Then, at the University of Tennessee, I was their Student Nutrition Educator, which was similar to my role here. I wasn’t a dietician, but I was working with allergen students and general nutrition counseling because they didn’t have a dietician there, so I’ve been working in university dining and campus nutrition for quite a bit.
What made you interested in dietetics?
High school, I think, is where my initial interest started. And that was just because I think fad diets are super popular, and then you hear things from friends. I would just listen to anything anyone had to say as far as what the best diet was, but that’s super tiring. It’s very exhausting, especially for someone super young.
I would restrict my carbohydrates, I would look into vegan or paleo or something like that. I was just very hopping on to one trend to the other and then I just realized I’m really not following advice from a professional. So I went and saw a dietician and she really opened my eyes to the world of dietetics because it’s very much a science.
You get to work with people, and I just became really passionate about spreading information of the science that supports nutrition and kind of dispelling all the fad diets and the rumors that are out there. I think it’s very very prevalent now, even more so than when I was in high school, and I think it’s really important to have professionals kind of combatting that.
What do you do with students?
I can meet with any student that has a meal plan at Vanderbilt University, whether that is someone who is just interested in learning how to eat healthier or wants to learn about the dining halls on campus, to someone who has a life-threatening food allergy, and anyone in between. So I work with a wide variety of students and it’s very customized to them. I work with students’ schedules, and see where they can eat on campus, setting goals for them as well.
What are some strategies you use with more complicated cases, for example students with dietary restrictions and specific food preferences or dislikes?
I utilize NetNutrition, which is our new online platform that displays all our menus, a lot with students. I find that a lot of students don’t necessarily know it’s an option, there was an app at one point. So there’s a lot of confusion surrounding that. I work a lot with that because you can filter out allergens, you can filter out preferences like vegan or vegetarian so you can find items that are going to be there at a certain dining hall that certain day, and you can prepare ahead for up to a week, so you can see the menus there.
So that’s where I start with students, I guide them through it. I also focus on the planning portion as far as working with students and seeing where their classes are and when they need to eat certain meals, so what dining halls can they go to that are close by to your class. Or, what planning we can do ahead of time, whether it’s using a Munchie Mart swipe to get some non-perishable items that you can keep in your backpack or that you can keep in your dorm.
There’s an element of planning to it as well. Often, there’s a student who, say, needs healthy snack ideas in a Munchie Mart and they have no idea. I don’t have a NetNutrition for Munchie Marts, so I will physically walk to the Munchie Mart that they utilize and look at all items that they could possibly have, and read ingredients and create a list to send to the student. I’m very much willing to go physically to that location and see what we can do, because we have so many options. It’s just a matter of finding out where those options are and what they are, and I’m happy to do that.
Do you have any solutions or suggestions for students who forego lunch or choose unhealthy food because it’s faster when they see long Rand lines?
Rand has this Mongolian Express option that they just implemented, where it’s already-prepared Mongolian items. So that’s a thought. Also, there’s stocking up on healthy snacks. So if you know “I only have 30 minutes in between these two classes, and it’s during a very, very, busy time,” maybe think ahead that week and stock up on some healthy Munchie Mart items, whether that be in your backpack or in your dorm fridge.
We have a lot of Fresh Co. items that are available at certain Munchie Marts. You can definitely make a meal out of items there, so absolutely utilizing that element of the planning can be helpful. I know y’all are super busy, and it’s really hard to plan ahead but that’s very much key to making sure that you’re being fed.
Do you work with students with eating disorders? What can you do with them?
I don’t work with students who have active eating disorders. If a student came to me and expressed that they had an active eating disorder, I would refer them to an eating disorder dietician.
I definitely have a passion for the area of eating disorders. I have some experience working in my internship and also my undergrad, but I realize it’s not my area of expertise. I don’t have a specialty certification in eating disorder nutrition. I do work with students who may not necessarily have an eating disorder but do have disordered eating. But if it’s full-blown, I refer it out.
What is the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating?
I like to think of it as a spectrum, so you have normal eating behaviors and eating disorders, full-blown, diagnosed and then somewhere in the middle there’s disordered eating. So maybe a student has body image issues, or there’s an element of emotional eating, and they don’t necessarily have a diagnosed eating disorder.
I’ll work with them — maybe they’re going into counseling services or something like that — where I can work with them, too, and see what in the meal plan and what element of planning can we implement. Also, I can reach out to my contacts at Student Health that have more expertise in that area. I do work with the dietician at Student Health—as far as the role Campus Dining plays in healthy eating. If she reaches out to me, I’ll work with her on that.
What’s your favorite dining hall?
I like EBI, that’s probably my favorite dining hall, but I love 2301 too.
What’s your favorite Munchie Mart?
Because it’s super close to me, I always go to Kissam Munchie. I really like Commons Munchie too, they’ve got a lot of stuff over there.
Favorite foods on campus?
The curry at EBI I love, the pho at EBI is super great, and then 2301 bowls, also Kind Cakes which are the gluten free cupcakes we have on campus. Those are definitely my favorite.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length. Emily Suttle invites students to make appointments with her at email@example.com.