The short story is that my sweatpants are fitting tightly, which is nature’s way of saying, “Yes, excuse me, but you see, you might want think about dialing it back a bit. Like, now.”
My sweatpants, guys. SWEATPANTS. I don’t have to think about how that happened, because I know exactly how it happened. I never exactly got over the post-wedding holiday bliss of not giving a shit about what I was eating, how much I was imbibing, and how little I was moving due to the increasingly miserable cold weather.
So it’s time for a change. I have neither the time or patience to count points and go to meetings, so I’m not doing Weight Watchers. I have some respect for my arteries, so Atkins is out. I don’t eat enough meat to make Paleo a viable option. And replacing solid food with juice—not my thing. I have working teeth, and I want to eat food.
Enter VB6, a flexitarian approach to diet from one of my culinary heroes, Mark Bittman, who wrote the cookbook I have continued to use with the most frequency since I started experimenting in the kitchen. VB6 stands for “Vegan Before 6pm”. To me, there’s nothing flexible about the word ‘vegan’, and I have to admit I was dubious when I first picked up the book. I do eat meat, but not very much, though I do eat fish and yogurt and eggs, and I REALLY like cheese. I don’t like fake meat or soy crumbles or tofurkey or any kinds of soy products masquerading as meat. I like tofu when I treat it like tofu, not as if I were trying to dress it up and make it look and taste like chicken.
But there’s no fake meat involved in the VB6 program. Actually, there’s nothing fake or highly-processed—and that’s the point. If you’re following VB6, you eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes—basically a whole lot of whole plant-based foods, minimally processed with no refined flours or added sugar or ingredients you can’t recognize. You can drink alcohol, but not before 6pm. You can have a grilled rib steak and frites if you crave it, as long as you eat it after 6. There are no calories or points to count, but you do have eat mindfully. And fish? By all means, after 6 – but stick with sustainable, responsibly caught sources. Bittman recommends the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. (There’s an app!)
If you know how to cook, and you know healthy eating (even if you’re not currently eating healthy) VB6 is not a stretch… until you start to think of things like how you like your morning coffee (with milk, no sugar), or your favorite post-workout recovery drink (lowfat chocolate milk), or some of your favorite at-work snacks (string cheese!). I realized that I consume a lot of dairy unconsciously, on top of the dairy I do eat frequently and very consciously: cheese on pizza, greek yogurt with granola, and my favorite, fro-yo (with damn near anything).
I am preparing to give up all but one of those things before 6pm. I need to have my coffee in the morning, but I’ll drink coffee black after I leave the house. I will not put sugar in my oatmeal. I will eat bananas and apples and almonds and NOTHING FROM A VENDING MACHINE while I am at work. I will not sneak chocolate. I will not eat pasta or ciabatta or semolina or pita bread and—
Oh my god, my life is OVER.
Okay, maybe not. But when confronted with the idea – really, the fact – that I do all of my nervous/stress/bored eating at work, I feel a little terrified about following this program. And then I remember the sweatpants, and how horrible I feel about myself when I put them on. I don’t want to feel horrible. I want to feel like an unstoppable, powerful, force of nature. I want to feel like Wonder Woman. She could summon the wherewithal to resist mindless eating, to delay gratification and not have a treat nightly, and to instead focus on making her 10,000 steps every day and eating a healthy diet. I can do that. I’ve done much harder things.
This weekend I invested several hours and many, many ducats shopping for whole, vegan foods. I pored over the recipes in the book and today set about making three dishes in bulk for the week:
Super easy recipe with a lot of flexibility. Made with spinach, shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, baby bok choy, scallions, red miso and firm tofu. Oh, and water. No stock, no seasoning. Came together in 30 minutes, and yielded 4 quarts. Also, my non-VB6-following husband loved it.
I started with Bittman’s recipe and then just started cooking what I had in reaching distance: onions, garlic, zucchini, roasted red peppers, chickpeas, a medley of fresh herbs & some red chili flakes. Great to have on top of polenta, brown rice, farro, or with…
Homemade flatbread! You can eat bread on this diet, and it can be poofy bread if you want it. But it has to be whole grain. Since I don’t have the patience to read labels on packages of supermarket bread, and because supermarket bread just plain sucks, I opted to make my own. It was super easy (thanks once again to my food processor), and the recipe yielded enough servings to last me over 8 meals, so it was really economical, too. Whole wheat flour, instant yeast, salt, olive oil and water. Boom.
I’m planning on using the blog as a tool for recording my experience with VB6, to keep me honest and motivated, and to share new recipes from Bittman as well as those inspired by necessity, creativity or just trying to make something filling and delicious from just a few ingredients. And remember, this is VB6, people. There will be some treats. I just won’t be eating them every day.