Vegan by Day, Whatever by Night? Meet Mark Bittman's New Diet Plan

Mark Bittman’s got a new book, VB6, and a new approach to health and weight loss that combines two night and day eating styles. Stay vegan and “clean” before 6 p.m. -- no meat, no cheese, no soda or processed food. After that, all bets are off. Eat whatever you want after -- steak, sausage, sundaes… There's no calorie counting, no weighing food -- all you have to do is resolve to remain “part-time vegan.” Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, even gives you recipes: Creamed Mushrooms on Toast for lunch (the “cream” comes from pureed beans), Beef-and-Bulgur Meatballs for dinner night, and vegan D.I.Y. Sandwich Bread to have anytime.

If you're one of those people who can’t function without a morning latte or a bacon-and-eggs sandwich, you can tweak certain days to go vegan at night; but overall, he recommends flipping the switch with dinnertime. “Even though the time itself is arbitrary, it has the power to make you stop and think before acting,” says Bittman. “VB6 gives you the structure you need to exercise limited, but effective, discipline.”

The three keys to the success of VB6, according to Bittman, are the low-caloric density of plant-based foods (lentils, grapefruit, tofu), the health benefits of unsaturated fats (olives, avocados, nuts), and the radical reduction of cravings from cutting out the processed foods that manipulate our hunger hormones. Eating a vegan diet before dinner will naturally shrink your calorie intake during the day, without leaving you ravenous at night. “Dinnertime sets you free,” he writes, “because that’s when you’re likely to want to eat the most.” But Bittman says although he knows he can eat a whole Porterhouse for supper, he doesn’t necessarily want to. His new habits take over the rules. A few bites of that steak, a spoonful of butter here, or a fistful of grated Parmesan there, and he’s good to go. Maybe there’s a touch of psychology: If you know that something isn’t forbidden, it may not seem as tantalizing.

Expert takes on VB6 diverge as sharply as, well, tofu and tenderloin. “As a veggie fan, I love Mark Bittman's strategy,” says Shana Kurz, a health coach and M.B.A. based in Massachusetts. “Many diets are all or nothing, which leads to binging or quitting. Bittman has found a way to guide people to a very healthy lifestyle, eating vegan, but also gives them room to work in old patterns and habits.”

But Ginny Erwin, a registered dietitian in San Francisco, doesn't think VB6 is such a great idea. “Among over 10,000 people I've counseled, most struggle with eating in the evening and do best with a light, planned, balanced meal to maintain their self-control. Giving people the 'green light' to eat whatever they want is a huge mistake for folks trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain."

Mary Barbour, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles suggests: “Eat vegan after six. It’s easier to have self-control during the day, and eating vegan after six gives us fewer choices to be unhealthy when we’re out and about.”

Whichever way you decide to flip it, it seems like everyone can agree going part-time vegan isn’t a bad idea for your health -- or your cake habit.

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