Make big strides with small steps

A little goes a long way.

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I am not one for setting New Year’s Resolutions, but that post holiday slog does have me craving healthier foods. Every year I get older, the more my body responds poorly to the weeks of holiday eating. I just can’t make a meal out of coffee, jalapeño poppers and Swedish Fish like I used to in my 20’s.

In an attempt to undo the damage of the hearty holiday meals and boxes of Christmas cookies I have consumed over the past month, I’ve been sneaking kale into nearly everything I eat (check out my recipe for Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Noodles and Kale below).

Why kale? This small act is reflective to how I set and work toward my goals. Yes, kale is a nutrient-rich green that’s low in calories, but really, this is about adding a small behavior to my routine that, when done consistently over a period of time, will have a greater impact in the future.

A lot of people bill kale as a “superfood,” a kind of wunderkind of the produce section that’s supposed to lower cholesterol, help you lose weight, and supercharge your immune system. I don’t doubt that kale is great for your health, and studies show it’s an excellent source of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. But oftentimes these so-called superfoods are advertised as a magic bullet solution, as if these foods are so powerful that they can almost instantaneously solve your health problems. The reality is, superfoods are not regulated in any way, and it’s more of a marketing term than it is an FDA or USDA certification.

But the idea of superfoods is indicative of our culture of instant gratification. We want a quick fix to solve our problems and we expect big changes after one dose of a magic supplement, one extremely strenuous workout, or one meal packed full of superfoods. But change doesn’t happen over night.

Sometimes, our New Year’s Resolutions fall into this trap. We want to overhaul our lives all at once, making sudden, radical changes and we have high expectations of an instantaneous payoff. We’re a few weeks into 2021 which is around the time that enthusiasm for New Year’s Resolutions begins to tapper off. In fact, research done a few years ago by a fitness social network called Strava showed that people are more likely to give up their New Year’s Resolutions around January 19th, earning the day the nickname “Quitters’ Day.” By now, people may feel frustrated that they haven’t seen the results they want in the time they were expecting to see them. And decision fatigue is real, meaning all of those new habits people tried to form are beginning to slip. Our minds get tired when we have to make too many decisions, which causes us to slide back into our normal routines.

The reality is change is slow. And change doesn’t always happen after one big moment, but rather a string of small moments that happen consistently over a longer period of time. You’re more likely to make bigger strides with smaller steps.

I’ve been eating kale for only two weeks and not much has changed. I haven’t shed any weight, my skin looks the same (still rocking the same acne I’ve had since I was 12), and I’ve still got a wicked sweet tooth. But I didn’t have any big expectations going into this. I do notice that my body feels better, I’m getting better sleep, and my energy levels are more stable, but the goal wasn’t to get any big pay off from eating more kale — it was just to eat more of it because it’s good for me. And sometimes a few days goes by where I forget to eat my kale! But that’s okay. Instead of waiting for the first day of the week, or month, or waiting until next year, I just pick up right where I left off.

Here are a few tips from my own personal experiences in goal setting and forming new habits:

A little goes a long way

If you’ve got a big goal, break it out into incremental goals to work toward. Maybe you want to read more, but are overwhelmed by how many pages there are in the book you’ve picked up. Hey - you don’t have to read it all at once. Set a goal to read at least 20 pages a night and after a while you will have finished that book!

Don’t try to change everything all at once

As I mentioned before, decision fatigue is a real thing. When we’re trying to create new habits, your mind has to make the decision to override the old habit and actively choose to do the new habit. It’s great that you want to eat healthy, work out more, watch less TV, and do a new hobby — but all at once and your mind will become overwhelmed by all of the decisions. It takes a lot of cognitive load to overhaul your entire lifestyle.

Instead of trying to change a bunch of your habits all at once, choose a couple of things and slightly tweak them. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, try to focus on eating healthy during dinner. Instead of trying to do a HIIT workout every single day, try to commit to maybe three times a week to start out.

Don’t overwhelm yourself by looking at everything that needs to be done. You don’t have to do it all at once. Chip away at it. And once that new habit becomes part of your routine, work toward the next goal.

Be aware of your mindset

I feel like a lot of New Year’s Resolutions are viewed as changing the things we don’t like about ourselves. We work out because we don’t like the way our bodies look. We want to watch less TV because we get down on ourselves for being lazy. These goals shouldn’t be treated like punishments and we shouldn’t deprave ourselves of the things we enjoy. Someone once told me that we shouldn’t workout because we don’t like our bodies, but rather because we love our bodies. Just that small pivot in perspective completely changed the way I felt about working out. It turned working out from a chore to something that I enjoy and look forward to. I’ve applied that similar perspective to other goals and I’ve found it helpful. If I want to have a cleaner house, instead of being down on myself for being messy, I see cleaning the house of taking care of myself and my space. See! Helpful!

I think our goals become more effective when positioned as investing our attention into the areas we love about ourselves.

Replace the old habit you’re trying to change

Similar to what I mentioned above, instead of viewing our habits as “don’t do this” or “avoid doing this,” plan for alternatives as a replacement. I’m big on snacking and it’s very easy for me to drift into the kitchen and demolish an entire bag of cheesy poofs or a half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Instead of trying to avoid my snackish nature, I accept that it’s part of me and prepare alternative choices ahead of time to help me replace the habit. So now, when I get up to get a snack, there are already sliced apples with peanut butter, coconut shavings and chocolate chips waiting for me in the kitchen. It’s a small change, but over time, eating an apple in the evening versus a whole bag of chips every night will make a difference in my overall wellbeing.

Be aware of your expectations

Disappointment is when your expectations don’t meet your reality. And nothing will suck the wind out of the sails of your motivation more than falling short of your expectations. So, are your expectations realistic? Will you still feel successful even if you fall short of those expectations? Also, are your intentions for your goals coming from a positive place? My intentions for adding kale to my food and for choosing peanut butter apples as my evening snack aren’t for strict dieting and weight loss goals. I’m not expecting to see a huge change in my body over a short period of time for eating kale and apples — I just want to add healthier options to my every day eating because I want to take care of my health in the long run, not to make dramatic changes to my image in the short run.

So be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. And be proud of yourself for everything you’ve achieved big and small! You’ve been through a lot and come a long way.

What are some of your goals? How are you staying on track? What motivates you? Let me know in the comments!

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Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Noodles and Kale

Ingredients:

  • 5 scallops

  • 2 cups of butternut squash sliced into noodles

  • 1 cup of kale

  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic

  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon sage

  • Olive oil

  • Salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Salt and pepper both sides of scallops and set aside. Heat up a pan or cast iron skillet with a little bit of olive oil. Make sure it gets hot enough to sear the scallops.

  2. In a separate pan, sauté kale and garlic in a hot pan with olive oil. Once the kale begins to cook down, add butternut squash noodles, allspice and sage. Stir occasionally for about 8 to 10 minutes and plate when finished. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  3. While that’s cooking, add scallops to hot pan or cast iron skillet. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

  4. When scallops are done, plate them on top of the butternut squash noodles and kale.


Publishing:

I got to write about two places that I love for KitchenAid: Philadelphia and the South Jersey Pine Barrens. In each piece, I explore how food makes these places what they are today.

Reading:

I’ve really been enjoying the Smart Mouth newsletter also on Substack. It’s my kind of mix of food history, interesting facts, new perspectives on current food culture, and thought provoking interviews.

Watching:

I’ve been rewatching a lot of Parks and Recreation. It’s my comfort binge show.

Listening:

A friend of mine, Neil Bardhan, is the Director of Applied Storytelling for First Person Arts, an ongoing series storytelling events where people share stories from their lives, big and small. Some are funny, some are profound, some are sad, but all reflect the human experience. Well, Neil and his team have been going through the First Person Arts archive — and they’ve got 20 years worth of stories — to create the #US (Unique and Shared Experiences) podcast. It’s a great podcast that comes out every Tuesday, so definitely give it a listen and subscribe!


Kae Lani Palmisano is the Emmy® Award-Winning TV host of WHYY's Check, Please! Philly, a show that spotlights restaurants throughout the Philadelphia region. She also hosts and helps write Delishtory on WHYY, a digital series that dives into the history of foods we love. Kae Lani is also a food and travel writer who enjoys exploring the history and culture of cuisine.