kitchen table math, the sequel: VB6

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


C. has lost 10 pounds on Mark Bittman's VB6 diet!

VB6 ("Vegan before 6") is an amazingly user friendly diet: it's the first diet I've ever tried that uses eating things you like to positively-reinforce not eating things you like without causing the whole diet to crash and burn. I've spent years trying to make the Premack principle work for weight loss, and I think Bittman has actually done it.

The funny thing is, back when I briefly became a hard-core vegan (I've been a 'part-time' vegan since then), I started out by doing exactly what Bittman did: I stuck to a vegan diet during the day, then ate a regular dinner with the family.

But I saw my own 'VB6' as a way station to full-time veganism; it never occurred to me that you could actually lose weight on that regimen.

Turns out I was wrong.

Here's an excerpt:
Six years ago, the man I most trusted with my health said to me, “You should probably become a vegan.”

Not exactly the words I’d wanted to hear, and certainly not what I was expecting. But I’d asked Sid Baker, my doctor of thirty years, what he recommended, given that he’d just told me that at age 57, I had developed the pre-diabetic, pre-heart-disease symptoms typical of a middle-aged man who’d spent his life eating without discipline.

He’d laid out the depressing facts for me: “Your blood numbers have always been fine but now they’re not. You weigh 40 pounds more than you should. You’re complaining of sleep apnea. You’re talking about knee surgery, which is a direct result of your being overweight. Your cholesterol, which has always been normal up until now, isn’t. Same with your blood sugar; it’s moved into the danger zone.”

A more conventional doc would’ve simply put me on a drug like Lipitor, and maybe a low-fat diet. But Lipitor, one of the statin drugs that lowers cholesterol, is a permanent drug: Once you start taking it, you don’t stop. I didn’t like the idea of that.

Furthermore, its effectiveness in healthy people has never been established, and it’s also been implicated in memory loss and other cognitive complications; I didn’t like the idea of any of that, either. And at this point, low-fat and lowcarbohydrate diets have essentially been discredited: They might help you lose weight, but they’re not effective for maintaining that loss in the long term, and they may even wreak havoc on your system.

But becoming a vegan? A person who eats no animal products at all? Calling that a radical change to my lifestyle was more than a bit of an understatement. Yet it was clear that something had to be done. I asked Sid, “Is a compromise possible? Any other ideas?”

“You’re a smart guy,” he said. “Figure something out.”

The answer, to me, was this: I’d become a part-time vegan. And for me, this part-time veganism would follow these simple rules: From the time I woke up in the morning until 6 in the evening, I’d eat a superstrict vegan diet, with no animal products at all.

In fact, I decided to go even beyond that: Until 6 p.m., I’d also forgo hyper-processed food, like white bread, white rice, white pasta, of course all junk food, and alcohol.

At 6 p.m., I’d become a free man, allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, usually—but not always—in moderation. Some nights, this meant a steak dinner; some nights, it was a blow-out meal at a good restaurant; other nights, dinner was a tunafish sandwich followed by some cookies. It ran, and runs, the gamut.

Whatever happened at dinner, though, the next morning I turned not to bacon and eggs or a bowl of Trix but to oatmeal or fruit or vegetables. For lunch, rice and beans or a salad—or both. Throughout the day I snacked on nuts and more fruit.

I called the diet “vegan before six,” or VB6. And it worked.

A month later, I weighed myself; I’d lost 15 pounds. A month after that, I went to the lab for blood work: Both my cholesterol and my blood sugar levels were down, well into the normal range (my cholesterol had gone from 240 to 180). My apnea was gone; in fact, for the first time in probably thirty years, I was sleeping through the night, not even snoring. Within four months, I’d lost more than 35 pounds and was below 180—less than I’d weighed in thirty years. And the funny thing was, the way I ate in the daytime began to change the way I ate at night.

An excerpt from Mark Bittman’s “VB6″

I Answer Frequently Asked Questions about VB6
Help for the afflicted
Application of the Premack principle to the behavioral control of extremely inactive schizrophrenics

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