I was reading my favorite magazine, Runner’s World, and one of my favorite frequent contributors, Mark Bittman, shared a recipe, which isn’t all that odd, he is a food writer for the New York Times after all. What might be a bit of a change, if you haven’t followed Bitman for a little while is that he has radically changed his diet. In a previous Runner’s World piece, he discussed some of the changes as he was getting ready for an upcoming marathon. At the bottom of the recipe, in the bio section, there was a plug for his recent book, VB6: Vegan Before Six.
I’ve been looking for a way to jump start and change my diet, especially since the marathon. Quite frankly, I haven’t been so much upon a plateau as a plain. I’ve been in the same 5-10 pound range for a couple of years. Recently, I’ve been going up, albeit slowly, but still up and approach a weight that sets off warning bells. Seeing the mention of VB6 seemed like kismet.
VB6 extends or is inspired by what Bittman has been up to these past couple of years. He has been doing a lot of interesting, informative and downright scary work on where our food comes from, what is being done to it and what that food is doing to us. Suffice it to say, the results of how the US produces food and how we eat aren’t pretty. I won’t go into all of the details, but over the last century, the US diet has steadily gotten worse. It has moved away from a greater, healthier balance, to one that is quite literally killing us. Obesity, type-two diabetes, heart disease and a myriad of other preventable diseases and conditions can be linked in a very large part to the amount of sugar we consume. It isn’t just sugary snacks and soda either, but so many other processed foods that contain high amounts of sugar and sugar derivatives that are causing problems.
Also, we are eating more meat than a person a century ago would have ever dreamed. Something that I’ve known for a while and is still a given in most cultures is the fact that meat is rarely the centerpiece of a meal. This was also true in the US well into the twentieth century, though in the last 40 years we have moved very far from that format. Perhaps the most shocking thing that Bittman has shared (this wasn’t in the book but in one of his columns) is that the United States imports more fruits and vegetables (taking corn out of the equation I assume) than it exports. In a nation that touts and reveres its agricultural past I find that shocking. Also in the same piece there are some studies that estimate that if we ate even 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables agriculture in the US would change to meet the need. That may seem a bit protectionist, but I think it would be beneficial to economy, to farming and most importantly to our public health.
Anyway, enough with the introduction. If you are more interested check out Bittman’s webpage and/or buy the book. I did on a bit of an inspired whim and I’ve been at it about a week. My first reaction, as I was checking labels and thinking about my food for the first time in a long time, was “holy crap I eat a lot of meat and meat products,” milk at breakfast, meat at lunch, meat at dinner, cheese, cookies, bread and quite a few pre-packaged foods. My second thought was, “this is going to be a lot harder than I thought.” Eliminating meat itself isn’t quite as challenging, it’s everything else.
I can’t say I followed the plan to the tee right away, but one thing I really like VB6, unlike so many diet and lifestyle books, is that Bittman stresses that a person doesn’t have to follow the rules. He does mention that the better followed, the better the results. This was the first diet book, however, that I’ve ever read that said you can ease into it, jump in whole heartedly, or somewhere in between. I’m in between to easing. One thing that drives me crazy about many other diet plans is the insistence on changing everything RIGHT NOW. Jillian Michaels is a big advocate, for example, of throwing everything away that doesn’t fit into her plan. Bittman discusses a much more realistic, and economical approach. We can reorganize our pantries in one shot or we can do it gradually too. I have my share of pet peeves, but my greatest is throwing away food. I hate when I let something spoil and I am absolutely insane if I throw away something that is perfectly good.
So, the first week has been challenging; make that extra challenging with all of the holiday festivities. The first day of trying this, a student employee brought in cupcakes from a specialty bakery. We ain’t talking Hostess folks. I did, however, even with the decadent cupcake, manage to eat vegetarian (not vegan) until dinner time. Another very flexible aspect of the plan is that you may switch up the meals where you eat meat. This helped out two times last week, again because of the holidays and work festivities. I did kind of dive off of the wagon on Saturday and Wednesday and let’s not talk about reducing all animal products. Getting rid of milk, especially with my cereal, is not going to be easy.
Also, if I have one bone to pick with Bittman, and there are a couple, he does favor soy products. I find this particularly odd because while he is correct in zeroing in on the overproduction of corn as a problem for the US on so many levels, the second largest crop produced by Big Ag is soy beans. It doesn’t come close to the amount of corn we produce (also another startling thing about all of that corn, most of it, over 3/4 of it, goes to feed livestock) but it is still overproduced.
Overall, not the best start, but if nothing else, it has made me aware of a couple of things: I eat way too much meat, especially considering the history of high blood pressure (which I also have) and heart disease in my family. I eat way too much sugar, in so many forms, again there is a history of diabetes in my family so not the best idea. Finally, I eat too much. I hadn’t been paying attention to portion size in the last few years and to be focused on what was going into my body again, it was kind of disturbing. I wasn’t quite stuffing my face like I once did, but I was slowly working my way back to that style of eating.
With Christmas coming up, another challenging week to be sure, but it is kind of fun to challenge my diet this way. Being on the road might be the hardest part of the week, but I don’t have to have a Big Mac. No really I don’t…