Six years ago, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman was not at his healthiest. He was overweight and had high cholesterol, and his doctor prescribed medication and surgery.
Not quite ready to go under the knife, Bittman sought a second opinion from an old friend, someone he describes as, “not very conventional, but…very smart” and asked what to do. The non-conventional doctor’s response? Go vegan.
This presented a dilemma for Bittman. As a food writer, he couldn’t fathom removing an entire category from his diet. Beyond that, he didn’t want to be a vegan. But he needed to make a change. So he found a way to make a vegan diet partially accessible to people like him.
Thus, VB6 was born.
VB6 is his shorthand for his latest book, “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … for Good.” He hopes it will make a semi-vegan diet mainstream, since the philosophy is both simple and accessible to the masses, although the focus is definitely more on health than on animal welfare.
He told HuffPo, “I thought, okay, I’m not going to become a vegan, so what can I do to have a more plant-based diet and what can I do to get the discipline I need to execute that? Because anyone can say, Oh, I’m going to eat less crap, I’m going to eat more fruits and vegetables, I’m going to eat less processed foods, less animal products, blah, blah. Anyone can say that, but how do you get it done?
“So I thought, you know what? I don’t have the discipline to become a vegan. I don’t even want to become a vegan. Suppose I impose this rule that I’m vegan until dinner time? So I started to do this…There is no science to the ‘before 6′ part. The science is more plants; the strategy is VB6, so why dinner? The answer is: because we like to have fun at night. It’s completely pragmatic.”
So, knowing he would be allowed a burger and beer for dinner if he wanted them, Bittman threw himself into the VB6 lifestyle, which he still more or less follows today.
He started off with a fairly strict vegan diet. Before 6:00 PM each day, he limited himself to fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains. He avoided white bread and rice, and of course all animal products. Within the first month, he’d lost 15 pounds. By the end of month two, he was down by 30. And although he eventually gained some back as his body regulated, he says that the plan taught him to eat less overall. He became a more moderate eater in general, regardless of the types of food he was eating, and he learned how to be flexible on the diet.
His idea is that, as individuals, only we know what works best for ourselves. So he’s in favor of a little experimentation, whether that’s cream in your morning coffee or a slice of pizza with your salad at lunch.
“There’s a lot of room for cheating involved here. I really mean this: The idea is to change the proportion of stuff in your diet. How much you change it is up to you: VB6 will change it by 60 to 70 percent, which is a LOT. But if you change it by 20 or 30 percent or you do VB6 for 6 days a week and the seventh, you don’t do it, who cares? You’re going to know if it’s working — you’re going to know if you’re cheating too much, if nothing changes in your body and you thought it would, you’re probably cheating too much. If you do the VB6 thing, you’ll be eating fewer calories because you’ll be eating less calorie-dense food. And that means you’ll lose weight.”
He also compares eating to exercise, in that diet is not an all-or-nothing venture. Just because one falls off the wagon from time to time doesn’t mean they aren’t committed.
“You can be VB6 for a month, two months or three months and then you can have a week where all hell breaks loose and things fall apart. Why would you say, I’m done? I failed? You haven’t failed — you took a week off, big deal! It’s just not that big a deal. I often fail to run for two weeks at a time in the winter. It doesn’t make me not a runner, it makes me someone who is not running right then. The diet thing is the same: I failed to eat VB6 say a day a week, it doesn’t mean I’m not doing it, it just means I didn’t do it.”
VB6 seems like an interesting, low-pressure way for people who are uninterested in fully committing to veganism to dip their toes in the water. Any diet that promotes more plants and fewer animal products seems like a step in the right direction, but what do you think? Is VB6 a good way to introduce the idea of veganism to omnivores? Or should his plan focus less on weight loss and more on animal rights? Hit the comments.