The Role of Nutrition in Your New Year’s Resolution

Last updated: January 26, 2022, at 3:06 p.m. PT

Originally published: January 22, 2022, at 5:06 a.m. PT


Add The Flavors You Love and Eat Well in 2022

Did you know the Y offers personalized wellness plans to surround your New Year’s goals with a holistic approach to your health? That means you can customize a plan to create healthy eating habits that work in tandem to the exercise you love.

Katrina Gangsaas, Nutrition Coach at the YMCA of Greater Seattle, offers her expertise to help set realistic and sustainable eating habits for the New Year and beyond. Adding healthy options to the plate, working alongside similarly minded members, dodging fad diets, and joining a community garden are a few ways we can turn New Year’s Resolutions into habits.

Making positive additions to our everyday food decisions.

Creating an action plan can help your health journey, especially when you are looking to make changes to the way you eat. It can be as simple as adding a veggie to your dinner plate or drinking a glass of water with every meal. There are even virtual cooking classes you can take that are all included in your Y membership, plus a strong variety of recipes you can check out on this very same blog.

How to break the New Year’s dieting cycle and create positive lasting change

Katrina Gangsaas: Oftentimes, especially at the new year, people feel this urge to dive into the latest fad diet or cut out entire food groups. Overly restrictive approaches to eating are rarely sustainable and often lead to feelings of frustration or failure.

Instead of eliminating foods, we can instead be looking at ‘what do I want to add?’ What are the things I'd like to incorporate more of?’ To say ‘I want to add an extra vegetable in there every night’ as opposed to ‘I can't have pasta ever again’ creates a gentler approach to creating balance in the way that we eat.

The one question I always come back to is, ‘could you do this forever?’ Does it feel like something you could do forever? And if the answer is ‘yes,’ try it out, see how it goes.

Reassess the plate, find your favorites and build around them … yes, even pizza

Gangsaas: The question we can ask ourselves is ‘how can I incorporate the foods that I eat – simply because they taste good – into a balanced approach to eating?’

If I look at a balanced plate, I've got vegetables, starches or grains, protein, healthy fat, fruit, water… so how can I have pizza and fit that into a healthy plate? Instead of saying that pizza doesn’t fit on a healthy, balanced plate, we can budget for that pizza by having a lighter lunch, eating it less often, or serving it alongside a big salad and enjoying every bite.

I'm also a big believer that food should, first and foremost, taste good! If you don't like broccoli, don't eat broccoli. There are so many choices out there for fruits and vegetables. Find the ones that you like and enjoy, because we're more likely to make those changes if we actually like those foods.

How do diets impact the body over time?

Gangsaas: Yo-yo dieting and the cycles of weight loss and regain, weight loss and regain can actually influence your metabolism in a negative way. We're not just losing weight, and regaining it, we're actually slowing down our metabolism every single time we do it.

Unfortunately, that means that the next time around it's harder because we've had a negative impact on our metabolism. Most adults who are trying to lose weight or trying to make food changes have probably done that many times in their lifetime, so what can we do instead?

If we can ditch the quick fix mentality and focus on a slow sustainable trajectory…then we are talking about lifestyle change (that's different than a diet.) Slow and steady may feel frustrating sometimes, but it's much better for our bodies overall.

How about taking vitamins instead of eating vegetables?

Gangsaas: I'm a big believer in getting our vitamins and nutrients from food for a couple of reasons. Number one, we actually absorb them differently. Supplements oftentimes aren't absorbed by the body very efficiently. Say, for example, you're wanting to get more vitamin C in your diet. If you take vitamin C as a supplement, you absorb very little of it. But if you eat oranges, or strawberries, or bell peppers that are high in vitamin C, you absorb quite a bit of it.

And don’t worry about being an expert on what nutrients are in what foods. Instead, I always encourage people to eat a colorful variety of fruits and veggies. Colors in fruits and veggies are indicative of different vitamins and eating a rainbow ensures we are getting a wide variety of the nutrients we need.

How do you see positive nutrition changes affecting mental health?

Gangsaas: Being low energy, feeling depressed, feeling not well in our bodies: all those things are intertwined. And I think that one can lead to the other or even vice versa.

As I mentioned before, the cycle of dieting and new year’s resolutions often leads to feelings of failure. Instead, let’s set our action plans to be small, sustainable changes to set ourselves up to feel successful. We also know that to support whole person health, we need to look at all aspects of wellness. If we're not eating to support health and energy it's also really hard to get active. And when we get active, we release these happy hormones and feel better in our minds and bodies.

Any fad diets that we should avoid?

Gangsaas: I think we need to look at what makes up a fad diet. Is it a promise of a quick fix or does it seem too good to be true? Does it want you to buy something? Does it want you to make extreme changes? Does if offer ‘success stories’ instead of science to back up their claims? If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s probably a fad diet. One of the trickiest parts of popular fad diets is that people may seem successful at first, but they are unable to sustain it and end up gaining back any weight they lost (and sometimes more). Then we’re right back into the diet cycle instead of making meaningful lifestyle change.

I also have a lot of concerns about the impact on mental health, physical health, and body image – especially for youth – because of exposure on social media to life hacks or fad diets.

I think it's really important for kids to be mindful of exposure to social media and what kinds of things they're seeing there because they're susceptible to the marketing. Not to say that adults aren't, unfortunately.

Be accountable and be healthy

Wondering how you can stick to your new and sustainable goals to 2023 and beyond? Join a group. Bring a friend! Take a virtual class that piques your interest or use your green thumb to work at a local community garden. Expand your palate at the Y.

Community benefits at the Y

Gangsaas: One of the reasons why I love what I do and why I'm so passionate about the work we do at the Y is because our aim is not profit. Our aim is health intervention and health outcomes all rolled up into community and relationship building.

We offer a variety of programs and services to support people in their wellness journies. And one of the biggest benefits of these programs comes from the community that is developed in these groups. That support and accountability keeps you going. That group dynamic is really powerful.

It's not just about managing high blood pressure, their dietary changes, or exercise, it's about ‘how do I do that?’ Having friends that I can go work out with. By having a facilitator help guide me in making some of those lifestyle changes – having group support alongside me while I'm doing this, and getting ideas and sharing my own ideas – helps support others and feel valuable in that way.

Knowing where food comes from and why that’s important

Gangsaas: Oh, I love community gardens so much. I think that they're invaluable, and not just for improving access to nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables. Especially if we're talking about food desert areas.

For example, if you were someone that lives in an area of a food desert, even if you saw a bunch of kale sitting at that mini mart, ‘what if I haven't eaten it before or I don't know how it’s prepared.’ I'm not likely to buy it even if I have access to it. But if I'm learning about it, or I'm growing it and I'm involved in that organization and that community, that changes everything, right? It makes me curious, ‘okay, wow, I grew this, I made this, or I helped provide some support to this community who grew this!’ We feel more likely to try something.

Getting all ages involved in gardening, growing their own fruits or vegetables, or even just going to the grocery store and helping to pick out different things – the more we get to be involved in that process at the beginning, the more likely we are to increase our acceptance of different foods at the table.

New year, new plate

Whether you’re building your own nutrition plan, getting in touch with the Y’s fantastic health and wellness team, or just need some new tasty recipes, you’ll find yourself right at home at the Y.

If today’s the opportunity to improve your nutrition, we’d love to help you find your 2022 health journey. Visit FindYourY to get started today!