Breaking the SAD Cycle: Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Vegan Before 6:00) Diet Plan


I’m a Bittman fan all the way, but I admit my first reaction to the concept of this book was skepticism. In my experience working with patients, some of the worst nutrition decisions tend to be made at dinner (after 6pm). Could being vegan until 6pm and then opening the flood gates to whatever you want to eat really be a good approach? However, with more thought I became curious (plus I heard there were recipes in the book and Mark Bittman always has great recipes) so I bought a copy.

My curiosity grew as soon as I began reading. It’s ironic to me that the foreword to this book was written by Dean Ornish, MD. After all, Dr. Ornish is the doctor whose philosophy when I began reading his literature in the mid-90s was that drastic diet and lifestyle change were the best (and really only) approach to successful outcomes in the long run. Little changes didn’t provide results quickly enough to maintain a patient’s motivation. This logic stuck with me through my med school days as I worked with patients and saw firsthand what worked and what didn’t. Ultimately, I netted out that people are individuals and for some small changes are all that’s possible, for others, jumping in with both feet does the trick. It seems Dr. Ornish has come back to center as well as he states,

If you eat vegan before dinner and indulge yourself afterward, you’re likely to notice great improvements in your health and well-being without feeling deprived. As you start to feel better and notice how much healthier you are, you’re likely to find yourself in a virtuous cycle in which you may want to do even more.

This book is really a description of Bittman’s personal journey to find the bridge between health and his love of eating. It’s just the right balance of science, personal testimony, and practical DIY tips. As a doctor whose primary tool is food, I appreciate the time Bittman takes in this book to walk the reader through how we (collectively as a society) have gotten to this place of high-calorie, processed food that is largely absent of nutrition. Bittman’s description of the Standard American Diet (which he dubs “SAD” through most of the book),

…food that either contains no nutritious value whatsoever—like soda—or foods that are loaded with chemicals and so highly processed that even though they might contain some nutritional value, they bear little resemblance to their origins.

He provides the reader with a 28-day plan to get started and (thankfully for those of us who have all but given up hope of ever having time to cook on a regular basis) he provides a list of “wildcards” (page 120), super quick vegan meals that can either be quickly thrown together at home or found on the go in a restaurant or even in a pinch at a friend’s wedding reception.

To be a healthy vegan, a diverse mix of whole nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables and fruits is essential. Eating in this way quickly breaks down the confines of the Standard American Diet and provides a crash course in nutrition 101 as a result. If you’re looking for a way to engage with the power of food as medicine but are not sure you’re ready to swear off your go-to comfort foods, this book is an approachable guide told through a voice that’s done it and is living the benefits eating vegan before 6:00 can provide.

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