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No Tears Nutrition With Karen

Like everyone else, Karen Landers gets unsolicited stories on her social media feeds.

Stories about the newest fad diet or celebrity weight loss.

And for a split second, she’s tempted to react.

Then Landers, a Staunton-Augusta Family YMCA aquatics instructor who just completed her National Academy of Sports Nutrition certification – remembers what she’s spent years studying.

“I have struggled my entire life with my weight,” Landers said. “I thought, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ Why aren’t I skinny? I realized that after taking courses and pursuing coaching, it’s not about being skinny. It’s about being healthy.”

She hopes to spread that message as the YMCA’s new nutrition coach.

“Having Karen as our nutrition coach will enable to us to help those members who have been looking for additional help in their fitness quest,” YMCA fitness director Wendy Shutty said. “Nutrition is an important component to fitness, and now we have that missing component.”

FINDING HER PASSION  

Landers, who has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Kaplan University, sort of stumbled into nutrition. Originally from northern Virginia, she first started taking nutrition classes simply because of an academic opportunity.

“I had gone to a community college, and I actually found out that if I took a few more classes I would have a second associate’s degree,” Landers said. “I found at that time all the science of it didn’t interest me. I didn’t pursue it.”

Landers moved to Texas to take care of her mother, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. As she took care of her mother, she started pursuing a degree online.

“Something changed in me,” Landers said, “and I started loving the science of it.”

DISCOVERING HER “Y”

Something else that Landers loves is Virginia. And once her mom passed away, Landers determined to get back, only this time to a part of Virginia without bumper-to-bumper traffic. She settled locally without knowing anyone. Many of the relationships she quickly formed happened through the YMCA.

I’ve always heard good things about the Y,” Landers said. “And they’ve been a lifeline to me. They’ve reached out to me. It’s really a family atmosphere.”

Landers started off teaching aquatics at the Y. As Shutty learned more of her story, she encouraged Landers do pursue her nutrition certification as well.

“Wendy is a fabulous person,” Landers said. “She’s one of the most supportive people I’ve ever encountered. I told her about my degree in nutrition, and that’s when she said, ‘Would you like to do this (certification)?’ So I jumped on it. And it was a long progress … It took me almost a year to do it.”

LAUGHTER IS GOOD MEDICINE

Even in the shortest of conversations with Landers, it’s apparent that she laughs easily and has a great personality. It comes through in how she teaches about nutrition.

“I tend to do things with humor,” she said. “When you think of nutrition, it’s this really heavy (topic). Why does it have to be so serious? I learn better when there’s humor involved, and I think others might, too.”

Shutty believes Landers is well suited for the position.

“Karen’s personality makes her perfect for a nutrition coach,” Shutty said. “She is someone who listens, thinks sensibly, and answers honestly. She is empathetic and supportive to everyone around her.”

Along with the idea that nutrition has to be serious and humorless, another notion Landers would like to clarify is her role is not to stop people from enjoying food.

“If someone came to me and they had soda all the time, it wouldn’t be, ‘You can’t have soda anymore,’” Landers said. “It would be, ‘How many sodas do you have a day? Do you think you could knock that down to one a day? You don’t want to do anything drastic. You have to be realistic. It’s a long journey. If you do anything drastic, you’re going to go back to your old habits. It has to be your lifestyle, not a diet.”

To get more information on nutrition coaching through the YMCA, email karen@saymca.org

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