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The world never stops moving, and therefore, you need to keep adjusting your focus if you want your vision to remain clear.

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Beating Those Ugly Plateaus

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Photo by Tek Chung

Tell me if this sounds even remotely familiar:

Earlier this year, you decided to commit to your health.

For months, you started each day with a green concoction that tastes more and more like salad than juice. You filled your plates with veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. You started a fitness routine, too. You began by walking 3x a week, then added a yoga class on Saturday, and then turned those walks into jogs. It was hard at first, but eventually, it took on a rhythm of its own, became a routine. Plus, the results were SO motivating! Not only were you fitting into clothes that hadn’t seen the light of day in years, you felt confident, empowered, and just all around good about yourself. You also started to journal. Every single day. A habit that once seemed unthinkable to you, but, over time, grew reflexive. You could see yourself living like this for the rest of your life–a thought you wrote down in that journal. In fact, you couldn’t imagine your life without the green juice, weekend yoga, and the little brown notebook you cracked open each night before going to bed.

And then…

The ​work trip to DC happened.


The unfortunate incident with the acorn on your jog happened.


The ugly fight with your mom happened.


The holidays happened.


Nothing happened.

Before you know it, the veggies in your fridge are getting sad and wilty. The blender that was indispensable is collecting dust. The jeans you were so excited to wear just a few weeks ago are buried beneath a pile of clothes, because you don’t want to look at them, because looking at them will force a confrontation that you can’t handle right now, the same confrontation that all the blasted mirrors in your house invite. You tell yourself that tomorrow, or on Monday, or after the guests staying at your house leave, you will resume all those healthy habits that you thought you couldn’t live without; but tomorrow, Monday, and your family’s departure are no longer visible in the rearview mirror, and still, your blender remains forlorn, your kale now yellow, the cover of that little brown notebook untouched.

Sound familiar?

If so, I’ve got sort of good news…?

You’re not alone.

Shockingly, only 2.7% of Americans–less than 3 out of 100 Americans–are able to maintain the following four healthy habits: eating well, exercising, avoiding smoking, and keeping their body fat in check.

More specifically:

  • 38% maintained a healthy diet
  • 10% had healthy body fat levels
  • 47% incorporated regular exercise
  • 70% avoided cigarettes
  • 11% did none of these things

While many people often try to adopt healthier habits, the average person gives up after about 7 weeks. In fact, one study found that nearly 80% of people give up their New Year’s resolutions by mid February!

If you find yourself in a rut, keep reading, as this week’s Ask Joanne tackles this very issue.

Dear Lily,

I can understand your frustration. I’m going through a similar slump myself. After 2 months of being incredibly intentional about my food which, for me, involves avoiding refined sugar and adding more leafy greens, I went on vacation in Rome for our 5-year anniversary. There, I not only indulged in LOTS of gelato (I mean… it’s Italy, right?), I gave myself a pass on running most days, blaming the humidity, cobblestones, and the rickety treadmill in the hotel’s gym. I told myself, repeatedly, “It’s ok to take a break. I’ll get right back on track when I return home.”

That was nearly two months ago.

Yesterday, I ate chocolate cake.

For breakfast.

Look, for some people, eating chocolate cake for breakfast is actually an improvement. Or, they’ve been blessed with the kind of genes that metabolize chocolate cake the same way the body would digest a kale salad. But, alas, I am not that person. I can feel my body reacting to the daily doses of sugar. I wake up each morning and my hands are stiff. I have small patches of rashy skin on my underarms and abdomen. And I get tired, even a little drowsy, in the middle of the day, like I’ve accidentally consumed a sleeping pill. After 44 years of living with the skin I’m in, I know these are the tell-tale signs of my body growing fatigued with my diet.

And yet… I keep finding excuses to hold off a little longer:

Well, I can’t let that whole chocolate cake go to waste. Someone’s got to eat it!

But Judy (mother-in-law) and David (brother-in-law) will be in town. Judy loves eating cake for breakfast and I don’t want her to be the only one doing it…!

I’ve been working really hard these days. I DESERVE this chocolate cake.

These excuses? They’re like moats: ugly, muddy, murky, swampy (but also super chocolatey) bodies of water between myself and the castle I’d like to enter.

So, the trick is, Lily, to build a bridge that will take you, perhaps not all the way to your castle, but a quarter of the way, maybe even half of the way. Then, you’ll take a break, peruse your surroundings, figure out what the next best move will be, before building the next part of your bridge. You may have to do this a few times before you finally find yourself back in that castle.

What do I mean by this?

Tackle one healthy habit–not all of them.

I get it: you want to eat healthy, exercise, meditate, and read War & Peace all at once. Because you want to be that person–the Lily who does all those things like it ain’t no thing. And there’s some merit to this thinking: studies have shown that exercising promotes healthy eating and healthy eating promotes exercising. To me, I always think of it as such a waste to be running 25 miles a week while eating in a way that doesn’t support that level of activity and vice versa.


Studies have also shown that trying to transform too many habits all at once will likely:

  • prevent you from starting,
  • lead to failure, or
  • end in burnout (which is just delayed failure),

which then leads to self-flagellation and even depression, which will make your castle even farther out of reach than it was when you started.

Tackle one small healthy habit–not a big one.

According to BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford and the author of Tiny Habits, one of the keys to starting or restarting a good habit, as the case may be, is picking a really, REALLY small habit to begin with. For example, if you want to start flossing everyday, commit to flossing one tooth a day. I think the idea is that if you pick something so absurdly small, you’ll basically be shamed into doing it…? LOL.

One of the most frequent mistakes I make when I’ve been sidelined from running with an injury is thinking I can just hop back on the fitness train as soon as I’m healthy again. You may still remember, very vividly, what you felt like while you were eating well, exercising, and reading everyday. And as a result, you might be tricked into thinking that if you just drum up enough motivation, you can do all those things again tomorrow, as if you’d never stopped. But the last time I tried running like I’d never stopped, I ended up re-injuring myself, which meant many more months of not running (and berating myself).

Instead, pick one thing or even a small version of that one thing to start tomorrow (or on Monday, which is what I like to do). For example, commit to reading one page out of a book a day. It doesn’t even have to be a “good book.” It can be a lurid murder mystery, a hot and steamy romance novel, or even your favorite copy of The Hardy Boys. It doesn’t even have to be the same book. Just one page out of any old book a day.

Tackle the next healthy habit–in 2 months.

On average, it takes about 2 months for people to develop a habit. Therefore, don’t try and add to your habit plate before you’ve successfully incorporated your first one. I know–that castle is beckoning and you’re anxious to build the bridge that leads right up to the front gate TODAY. But chances are, if you rush things, the bridge you’ve built will crumble before you get there.

As you can see, we’re talking about a long-term commitment. Why? Because the last thing you want, Lily, is to find yourself in the exact same predicament a few months from now. As you say, “I’ve done it before,” which suggests you’re no stranger to getting on and off the track. While that’s totally normal, it’s also possible to adopt habits that are so sticky, you’ll almost never find yourself off track. For instance, I never in a MILLION YEARS would have thought that a .75 mile run would turn into over a decade of running. Subject to taking breaks for health reasons (e.g., twisted ankle, shin splints, COVID), I’ve been running non-stop since January 2013. Similarly, what started out as an experiment–i.e., cutting out animal products from my diet–is now so ingrained in my daily life, I can’t ever imagine going back to eating meat.

But here’s the thing–that .75 mile run in 2013–that wasn’t my first time running. In fact, I’d had a long and fraught love-hate relationship with running before then. It stuck, however, because I didn’t set out to run 4 miles for that first run. Instead, I committed to running .75 miles 3x a week. I didn’t change my diet. I didn’t reduce my TV watching. I didn’t try and omit the F-word from my vocabulary. I just had one thing to focus on for several weeks. After that, then I went through the process of cleaning out my fridge and adding a little more kale to my day (a tiny, teensy kale salad with my lunch at the office).

Take a good long luck at that castle–closer up.

You’re halfway to that castle. You’re reading up to 3 pages a day and just last week, you added one green vegetable a day to your diet. Now, take a good look around you. Perhaps the castle is still some distance away, but it’s much closer than when you started building that bridge.

Does it look as good as you remember?

I’m the last person in the world that shirks hard things in favor of easy answers. In fact, for me, the “right path” is ALWAYS the path of MOST resistance. I get anxious when things are too easy, when I’m too happy, when I’m too content, because there’s some deep-seeded instinct that assumes that good things must ALWAYS be hard-earned and thus, the converse must also be true: easy things are ALWAYS bad.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

So, I say this with all the intention and deliberation that my 44 years of life can inject:

Sometimes, you just gotta eat chocolate cake for breakfast.

No, I don’t mean that literally. For all I know, you might be allergic to chocolate. What I mean is that you have to really believe what you say:

“We all have our ups and downs.”

Because here’s the thing–I don’t think you really believe that. If you did, why would you call your current position a “slothful” one?

Judgment might be strong enough to get you off your couch, but at the end of the day, does it make you happier? Does it make you feel more fulfilled to tell yourself, “God, I’m so lazy!” Does it make you feel more confident, more empowered to look in the mirror and notice ONLY the things you hate? Because let me tell you, self-criticism is a dangerously easy habit to unwittingly develop, and if you start your transformation journey with a stick, it’ll be hard to let go of it, even after you’ve crossed the bridge.

I have a photo that Anthony took of me the morning of my last marathon. I was skinnier than I can ever remember–even skinnier than on my wedding day! And while it was the slowest 26.2 miles I’ve ever run, I still possessed the fitness necessary to cross the finish line of my fifth marathon. The past few weeks, I’ve been gearing up in preparation for my next marathon (NYC Marathon in November) and there’s been a small war going on inside my brain: one part of me obsesses over that picture that Anthony took, believes with every fiber in her being that she MUST return to the fitness level of that skinny lady who ran her fifth marathon; but another part of me thinks that maybe it’s ok to do what she’s been doing–running in accordance with her training plan, eating healthy most of the time, and indulging in chocolate cake every once in awhile. After all, I’m 44 years old and while I may not be as agile and lean as my 31-year-old cousin…

My 31-year-old cousin won’t be runnin’ any marathons anytime soon.

In other words, it’s easy to get so caught up in the goal that we lose sight of the many extraordinary achievements we collect along the way. After you’ve added one or two healthy habits back into your routine, pause. Take stock. Perhaps that castle you were trying to reach? It wasn’t “all that” after all. Life is, indeed, full of ups and downs, and however much we want to see things clearly, the truth is, the only way to prepare for a rollercoaster is to accept the fact that your vision will sometimes get blurred. It’s ok to re-evaluate what makes you happy after you’ve put in a little work. It’s ok to tell yourself that reading 3 pages a day and eating 1 broccoli floret at dinner is your max. Don’t get me wrong–you have to be honest with yourself. If it isn’t your max, lying to yourself about it won’t make you happy either. My point is, the world never stops moving, and therefore, you need to keep adjusting your focus if you want your vision to remain clear.

Wishing you all the best,


This Week’s Recipe Inspo.


  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup carrots chopped
  • 2 tbsp gochujang
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup white wine, can substitute vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 6-7 ripe tomatoes chopped


  • Add olive oil to large sauce pot over medium high heat. Once oil begins to shimmer, add red onions and cook until they become translucent and soft. Next add garlic, carrots, Italian seasoning, pepper and salt.
  • When veggies begin to brown (and the bottom of the pot begins to brown), add gochujang and stir until all veggies are evenly coated. Then, deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of the white wine. Scrape up all the brown bits and cook over low heat until the liquid reduces.
  • Add tomatoes and remaining white wine. Season with salt and black pepper. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to allow the tomatoes to simmer for at least 45 minutes.
  • Once the tomatoes have broken down from cooking, remove from heat. Add contents of pot to a blender or blend with immersion blender to desired consistency. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Add sauce to cooked pasta of choice, together with some fresh basil.

Spice Up Your Life.

Spicy Ramen Salt

A spicy, umami packed blend of seasonings that’ll enrich your broths, pop your popcorn, and heat up your pasta sauce!

Fishy Salt

A plant-based seafood-esque blend that’s perfect for broths, marinades, or sprinkling over roasted veggies!

What I’m…

Watching. I’ve been running on the TM a bit more due to the weather and you know what that means… K-drama time! I read some good reviews on Good Bad Mother and was surprised to see it styled as a comedy. If you’ve watched this, lmk what you think or join in! Watch –>

Reading. Thanks to those who weighed in on This Little Life. It sounds like a big, but worthwhile read. In the meantime, here’s my newest crime-fiction indulgence. Good writing, a solid female protagonist, and lots of suspense! Read –>

Wearing. I may never take these flare leggings off. They are the most comfortable leggings I have ever worn and I LOVE the flattering little flare at the ends. PLUS, they come in multiple different inseams, which is so considerate for the vertically challenged…! Shop –>

Book Signing:​
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

I’ll be headed back to my alma-mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign next month on September 21 to do a LIVE cooking demonstration and book signing as part of Pygmalion Think 2023!! Make sure to pick up your tickets and come say hi!

Parting Thoughts.

The other evening, I was at a posh, LA event, one that was armed to the hilt with the glitz and glamor that La La land is known for–celebrities, wine, and the soft glow of Hollywood drifting in-between the boughs that hovered around us. Gladys Knight, the “Empress of Soul,” crooned into a microphone not 20 feet from where I stood and I had my arm wrapped around Anthony’s waist as he moved in time with the music.

It was tempting to feel entirely out of place–our tickets to this event had been paid for by the generous sponsor. In lieu of donning designer togs, I opted for a jersey tube dress that looked “cocktail-y” enough while also letting me breathe. The invitation had indicated “lots of standing,” so the heels stayed tucked away in my closet while I laced up a pair of nice sneakers.

I felt eyes on me as soon as I stepped into the dappled courtyard. Instinctively, I attributed them to this or that: “What is she wearing?” “Are those gym shoes?” “Why are they letting the riff-raff in?” Intellectually, I know how unlikely it is that these sorts of indictments were being leveled at me, how they are merely projections of my own insecurities. But carefully wrought deductions provide a rather flimsy armor when you are repeatedly subjected to a head-to-toe “once over.”

Later that evening, our host offered to introduce us to the four-time James Beard award winning chef, Suzanne Goin, who was charged with feeding everyone. She had created an entirely vegan room for plant-based guests–one filled with delicious glazed carrots, a crunchy salad, toasted sourdough, focaccia, roasted eggplant, and possibly my new favorite condiment–muhamarra.

As we approached her stall, Chef Goin and her sous chef were frantically putting together plates that seemed to disappear as rapidly as they were composed.

“This is Joanne Molinaro, The Korean Vegan,” our host introduced. The chef did a double take and her young sous chef turned around.

“Wait, the Korean Vegan?” Chef Goin asked, after which the sous chef chimed “We have your cookbook!!”

It turns out that the adept young sous chef was her daughter, an avid TikTok user. It also turns out that Chef Goin’s husband (also a chef) experimented with a plant-based diet and that my book introduced a fresh set of tools and flavors to their kitchen. “Your book has been a godsend” the Chef remarked.

A few minute later, while I was mingling with some of the other guests, the Chef came out from behind her stall and asked whether I’d agree to take a picture with her and her daughter: “You’ll make her night!” As we linked arms, she whispered to me, “To my daughter, you are the most important person here!”

And that is the story of how I arrived to a party feeling a little shabby, a little out of place, but left feeling like a million bucks.

With Alex (left) and Suzanne Goin (right)
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