The clean slate of a new year entices many people to think about ways they can improve themselves and their lives. New Year’s resolutions come in many forms, from reading more books to spending less money, but the bulk tend to involve eating healthy and exercising more.
Diet culture has normalized cutting out entire food groups and super-charging our regular exercise routines, but if any of us are being honest, those tactics rarely stick. With more and more attention on food freedom, rejecting diet culture, and appreciating our bodies, 2022 is the year to make nutrition changes that truly work for you—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Below, five dietician-backed nutrition tips that will help you tune back into your body’s individual needs, cultivate a healthier relationship with food, and enjoy a year that is more balanced than ever.
1. Eat when you’re hungry
In our diet-obsessed world, we’ve been told to do everything but actually eat when we’re hungry. “Eating when you are hungry is the cornerstone of healthy eating,” says Christine Byrne, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N.. “And while it sounds simple, we’ve really been conditioned not to honor our hunger.”
What if we listened to our body’s needs and desires instead of trying to convince ourselves that we are just bored or thirsty? Byrne believes getting back in touch with your body’s own wisdom can be transformative and influence other aspects of your life. “Once you’re able to feel when you’re hungry or satisfied, and able to name the foods you’re craving, you’ll be able to listen to your body in other ways as well. You may be better able to tell when you’re tired or stressed, and better able to cope with these things,” she says.
2. Eat foods you enjoy
It may come as a shock, but you’re allowed to eat the food you like. Jessica Steinbach, M.P.H., R.D., says, “I may be a nutrition professional, but no one knows your body better than you.” No matter what day of the year it is, you’ll find Steinbach giving her clients the same nutrition tips—to eat what they enjoy and eat enough to nourish the body.
“I find giving folks the space to explore their individual needs without judgment allows for the best relationships with food and their body,” says Steinbach. Now this is a New Year’s resolution we can support.
3. Add a serving of fruits and vegetables to your day
While many New Year’s diets are about cutting food out, these nutritionists suggest a different method—adding in food. “90 percent of adults don’t get the recommended five servings [of fruits and veggies] a day,” Byrne says. “If you fall into this category, try new ways to add produce that actually tastes good, like cooking Brussels sprouts in the air fryer or adding greens to mac and cheese.” And for fruit, try a mix of berries to top off your nut butter toast or sliced pears in your lunch salad. Key phrase: tastes good!
Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition & Wellness and the author of Unapologetic Eating, believes approaching food from a place of abundance can allow you to stop the cycle of diet-restrict-binge and have a more peaceful relationship with food.
4. Shift your language around food
Many of us are critical of our food choices and food in general. “Language is powerful, and the ways you talk and think about food (and bodies) can affect your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,” Rumsey says. She recommends swapping harmful binary terms to describe your food like should/shouldn’t, good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, guilt-free/indulgent, or clean/toxic for more neutral, nonjudgmental ones like nourishing, delicious, comforting, fueling, fun, colorful, or satisfying.
For instance, rather than thinking of meals you ate as indulgent or unhealthy, try thinking about how delicious the food was or how much fun you had with others at the table.
5. Just Quit dieting
Research has shown that although six months of dieting can lead to weight loss and cardiovascular health improvements, by 12 months most people gain the weight back and lose all evidence of cardiovascular improvements. Restrictive diets rely on hard-to-stick-to rules that your body will have a hard time aligning with.
“I think the number one thing you can do for your health when it comes to nutrition is to quit dieting,” says Byrne. “Evidence shows that adults who eat intuitively—based on internal cues like hunger, fullness, and cravings—actually eat more varied and nutritious diets overall than those who eat based on external rules (AKA diets).” Plus, diets are never fun. We think they’ll make us feel happier but really just leave us feeling frustrated, guilty, and hungry, she says.
It’s time to trust yourself and the expertise you have on your own body. Rumsey believes that the experience of tuning back in to yourself can start with food freedom and expand into other aspects of life. “As you tune more into your intuition around food, you start to connect to—and trust—your intuition in other areas of life. Whether that means setting boundaries, saying ‘no’ to people or things that don’t feel right in your gut, or wearing the bathing suit no matter what size you are,” Rumsey says. Taking care of your health is a personal journey that should involve checking in with your needs rather than following a set of rules that holds you back from enjoying life.