“Food Matters” and Vegan Before 6

Recently I read Mark Bittman’s new book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. Bittman gives a lot of good background for why one should reduce one’s consumption of processed foods and of meat in particular, and he describes the strategy that he adopted for doing, so, which he calls “Vegan Before 6”: quite simply, he eats no animal products (meat, dairy or eggs) before 6 p.m., and then eats whatever he feels like after that.

Of course, as he notes, there are other ways to change your eating habits, but this is fairly simple. Nothing is forbidden; you just have to wait until 6 p.m. to eat certain things, which is not a great hardship. You can make exemptions; he allows himself to have milk in his coffee, for example, which makes it more likely that he’ll keep the rest of his pre-6-p.m. diet vegan. And he found that after he had adopted this habit for a while, he was far more likely to minimize the amount of meat or dairy in his dinner as well. Bittman says he lost more than 35 pounds before he stopped weighing in and started focusing more on his overall health and the fit of his clothes.

The other part of his plan — possibly the more important part — is to cut out processed foods. This goes together with the vegan portion of the day, really, since it’s far easier to ensure a dish is vegan when you assemble it from fresh ingredients than if you have to analyze ingredient labels on packaged food.  It also means that knowing how to cook is fairly important, and is probably where most American readers would become resistant (if they hadn’t already freaked out at the term “vegan” and assumed they were being asked to move to communes and start wearing hemp clothing exclusively).

So my husband and I have decided to give it a try. The Vegan Before 6 plan, that is, not the communes and hemp. I am allowing myself exemptions for milk in my coffee and a cup of breakfast yogurt, though now that I’ve discovered Silk coffee creamer I may let yogurt be the only interloper. (A couple of years ago I did a taste-test of some yogurts including soy yogurts; the soy offerings were all pretty awful, but I may try a test again in a week or two since companies change things all the time. However, I’m more interested in learning to make my own yogurt.)

I’m very lucky: The building I work in recently opened a very good (and inexpensive) staff cafeteria. If I come in from my pre-work gym visit and want something to hold me until lunch, I can toast bread and spread it with chunky peanut butter, and buy diced fruit by weight. If I want lunch, there’s a large and diverse salad bar, and the “action station” often features stir-fry with tofu as the protein. I have a lot of great options. If I get too fretful about the question of whether the bread at the toast station might be made with casein and I want to have greater control, I can pack my own food pretty easily.

I’ve been trying this for about two weeks now, with very little slip-up; one day I brought in leftovers from a pasta salad that had feta, and today I ate a leftover slice of the pizza I made last night. We also had one weekend day when we felt like following our old habit of going out for a diner breakfast of eggs and bacon, but we decided that day would be “vegan after breakfast” instead of “vegan before 6.” Easy as pie. What is interesting to me is that I’ve had a couple of other situations where I was tempted to break the “vegan” rule and found it not very difficult to stay firm — not because I was strict about it but because I had specifically decided that I was not going to beat myself up about it if I broke the rule. I think that’s really a key: For some people, a rigid rule is an effective guide, but for others it’s a provocation, and it helps to understand your own personality here before you try to make any change in your food habits.

I haven’t really lost any significant weight, but I am feeling good. I will continue to post occasional updates, especially if I do start to take off weight. And I’ll be looking more diligently for vegan recipes to share.

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