Leaning into change

Sculpture representing my sign in the Chinese zodiac, the dog. Photo by chooyutshing via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Change is hard. Trust me, I know. A friend once framed for me a description of my Chinese horoscope sign because it was pretty darn accurate: “The Dog … Honest, trusted, loyal … Plays with no other purpose than to enjoy the moment. But there is a tendency to worry if routine order is disrupted.” So, change is worrisome to me. I feel better planning ahead than winging it, and I like predictability.

Dog that I am, more than a year passed from the time that I bought The Omnivore’s Dilemma shortly after its publication in 2006 to the time that I actually read it. It sat on our coffee table collecting dust all those months, staring at me every day. Why did it take me so long to read it, even after my interest was strong enough to not only buy it in hardback but also leave it sitting out rather than shelving it? Because based on interviews that I had heard with author Michael Pollan (like this one, on Fresh Air), I knew in my gut that reading the book would make me want to change my eating habits, and I was reluctant to change. But one day I finally “sucked it up” and read it, and so started my journey as a conscientious omnivore.

During her final season, Oprah aired an episode that prominently featured veganism. She and the whole Harpo staff went vegan for a week, and the show included guests like Pollan and Kathy Freston (“The Veganist”) as well as a report by Lisa Ling from a slaughterhouse. One of the ideas discussed on this episode is that you can “lean into” change. In other words, instead of deciding to revamp some aspect of your life (like eating habits) all at once, you can make small changes to try things out. Folks who think to themselves, “Huh, I probably eat more meat than I need to” don’t need to go cold turkey (so to speak), going to bed a carnivore and waking up vegetarian. The same applies to any other dietary change you might make, whether it’s deciding to increase your daily fruit and veggie intake, eat fewer prepackaged and processed foods, reduce sodium in your diet, or eat more local produce. All-at-once isn’t necessarily the right way or the best way. Take it from a dog, small changes can be less intimidating, less disruptive, and therefore easier to stick with.

Have you been thinking about changing any of your eating habits? Which ones? What’s holding you back from making a change you’ve been considering?



  1. Paula

    I admire your self-awareness about why you put off reading Pollan’s book. I’m all about the small changes. An instructor at my gym keeps quitting one vice after another cold turkey and always has a major relapse. He’s in his 50s and never seems to learn. The cold turkey thing seems hard-wired in his personality.

    I should cut down on my consumption of Diet Coke – I don’t drink a ton of it, but I don’t even like it much. I just drink it because water bores me and it’s become a habit. I get really antsy if I don’t have it a few times a week – it could be the caffeine, but it’s more likely an irritating neurosis/compulsion.

    • Todd Ingram

      Thanks for the comments, Paula! I agree that personality is probably a very big influence on whether going cold turkey succeeds or fails.

      In my experience, habits can be surprisingly self-sustaining, but once you break one and look back on it years later, it can seem hard to remember just how/why you did that thing over and over for so long.

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