No free lunch


I’ve posted before about how my office brings in employee lunches on Wednesday. There is always a vegan option, but that doesn’t always mean it’s healthy–or, more accurately, that it’s what I  should be eating.

Today’s lunch was orzo. Sounds tasty, but I’m avoiding white pasta. So I’m at my recent standby today: Chipotle. Pretty decent as far as fast food goes, I like the tofu Sofritos, and I can put together a reasonably healthy, satisfying, vegan salad. I try not to eat here too much. After all, it is still fast food, and I’m watching my pocketbook too. But in a pinch, it works well.


Back in the saddle again.

Whoa, has it really been three weeks since I last posted? That’s a pretty good reflection of how I’ve been doing with VB6, actually.

After my numbers post, I was feeling pretty good. It wasn’t a crazy drastic weight loss or anything, but it was enough to indicate to me that this approach was working for me. But the toughest thing about a diet is always sticking to it. So after a little flush of success, I slid.

It wasn’t that I didn’t keep vegan during the day. It was more that sometimes, my vegan options were off-plan in some other way. For example, we had burrito day at work. Yay! With a vegan tofu option. Yay! Biting into the burrito, I realized that in addition to the white flour shell, the burrito was full of white rice. Boo! As discussed previously, vegan does not inherently equal healthy.  White carbs are definitely not part of the plan—and I would argue that they’re significantly worse than say, lean meat.

Given a choice of burritos, I suspect my choice was actually better than the other options presented to me. The meats were not necessarily lean, and for all I know they were full of white rice too. On the other hand, I could have gotten lunch elsewhere or brought it from home (we get the Wednesday lunch menu on Tuesday). 

Alternatively, I could have gone vegan for dinner, so that I just had one meal off-plan that day. I don’t remember what I had for dinner that night, but I’m pretty confident it wasn’t vegan.

I also had indulgent dinners a little more often than I had been. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think there’s anything wrong with indulgent dinners: steak with blue cheese or buttery mashed potatoes. But if I’m eating those kinds of dinners five times a week, I suspect the plan is not going to work for me.

I didn’t gain weight, but I didn’t lose any either. It just sort of evened out. Now the plan is to tighten up on my plan a little, allow fewer exceptions, and really watch out for processed foods and white carbs. I also need to get back to fixing my own food most days: once I’m at a restaurant, I just have less control over what I’m eating. Besides, things seemed to be going pretty well when I was eating salads at lunchtime.

This week has been good so far. I’m suddenly down another couple of pounds—lost those basically as soon as I reined myself back in a bit—and I’m feeling good about my choices again.

After 6

What happens to my diet after 6 p.m.? After all, part of the plan is that after 6, there are no rules. Still, I’m trying to be healthier, so I don’t want to sabotage myself every night. So some nights, dinner looks like this:


On the other hand, there are foods that I like that have… shall we say, questionable nutritional content. I am not interested in removing these things from my diet forever. “Don’t let the perfect Beeville the enemy of good,” right? So some nights, it looks more like this:


This week there was a fair amount of slippage in my evening meals. There was date night, dinner-with-my-daughter night, and my-work-lunch-sucked-today night. That’s OK, though. I’m looking to tighten things back up a little this weekend, but I’m still feeling pretty good about how I’m doing overall.

The two-week mark: in which we talk numbers

I track my weight daily. The standard advice used to be to weigh yourself no more than once a week. Your weight fluctuates daily, and even over the course of a day, depending on lots of different factors: exercise, sweat, water consumption, blah blah blah. I think the idea behind the “once per week” advice was that you would get discouraged by these fluctuations.

On the contrary, I find it helpful to know about the fluctuations. Let’s say I weigh myself in the morning, and I’m 165.7 lbs. UGH. I feel sad. But if I know that I weighed 163 the three days before today, then I know it’s probably just a little bump up due to the weather or my menstrual cycle or the crappy salty junk I ate yesterday. In fact, if I eat especially well or poorly, and my weight changes the following day, that is rather useful, immediate feedback for me. My scale lets me know: “No, seriously, Jean… pizza makes you fat.” And while I know that correlation isn’t causation, when it’s appropriate, I’m willing to let that psychology work for me.
By weighing myself every day, I have more data points and a more realistic idea of where I am. Research is now showing that dieters who weigh themselves daily do better at sticking to their diets. (That said, each individual should do what works for them.)
On to some actual numbers!
Over the past two weeks, my highest weight was 165.2 lbs, and my lowest 159.7 lbs. That’s the first time I’ve weighed in at less than 160 in several months, so I was pretty excited about that. While it’s tempting to say, “I’ve lost nearly five pounds!” that isn’t quite true. Mostly, my weight at the beginning was hanging around 163 lbs., and in the last few days, it’s been more like 161 lbs—though today I weighed in at 160.2 lbs. So I’m going to say that over the past two weeks, I’ve lost two or three pounds. Not drastic, but not bad, honestly!
My body fat measurement tells a stronger story, I think. My scale does body fat, too, and my body fat over the past two weeks has very been falling very consistently. When I started VB6 two weeks ago, my body fat was 37.1 percent (102 lbs. lean / 60.7 lbs. fat). Today, it was 35.8 percent (102.8 lbs lean / 57.4 lbs fat). I’ve seen very little back-and-forth fluctuation in that measurement—just a nice, steady, daily drop. And that feels pretty good.



I feel like I’ve talked a lot about lunch, and not at all about breakfast. But my typical breakfast these days looks a lot like this:


Dave’s Killer Bread toasted, with peanut butter (or hummus, but lately, it’s usually pb) and fruit. Here, it’s yellow Japanese plums from the tree in my front yard, but these are the last for the season, so I’ll have to pick up some fruit from the store.

I have not usually been a big breakfast eater. That is to say, I love breakfast, but usually make do with coffee during the week because of a lack of time. Weekends I’ve been more likely to go for a big breakfast involving eggs and white potatoes and cheese.

But eating breakfast during the week seems to help me make better decisions, and this seems like just the right amount to keep me satisfied until mid morning. It also helps me resist Monday morning bagels at work… I forget we even have that, but then I get to work full, so I don’t want them.

Backwards Day

The week has gone pretty well so far. My weight has slid slightly in the right direction, which is nice. And I feel good about what I’m eating. I said my lunch on Wednesday would be easy,  since our company buys lunch on Wednesdays and is sure to include vegan options, but in fact, it was this:


Romaine with some pistachios.  I like both romaine and pistachios, don’t get me wrong! But it was a little thin for lunch. There was a some quinoa, too, so I added some of that to a big plate of the salad. I also swiped some tomatoes from the caprese salad. I’m sure the next person wasn’t disappointed to find extra mozzarella waiting! The rest of the week went pretty well, though.

This morning, I went to a meeting at a cafe where the vegan options were limited and also not really appealing. Instead, I went with a cheese plate with a baguette (white bread) and a latte (with real milk). Yum! I figured part of what I’m doing is about flexibility, and I could always make the rest of my day vegan.

My husband ate a late lunch and wasn’t interested in dinner when I was, which worked out pretty well in this case. It’s just easier to stay vegan when we’re not eating together. I foraged around in the fridge and pulled out some salad greens, farro that I made earlier this week, some leftover green beans, and a portabella cap. I sauteed the portabella with a little olive oil, wine, and garlic, heated up the green beans and farro, and tossed it all on top of the greens, along with a little oil and balsamic vinegar. It was pretty tasty for something I threw together at the last moment! I really liked the farro, which I hadn’t tried before.

It was also a testament to the power of preparation; I’ll definitely be precooking some grains and beans tomorrow to prepare for next week.


What does a vegan sandwich look like?

squash and mushroom sandwich.

A sandwich! Wait… is that just a salad in a pita?

OK, I very much doubt I’ll post my lunch every day. That said, lunch is kind of the meal I worry about the most on VB6. It’s a time when I’m likely to be pretty hungry. Also, I’m often away from home at lunchtime. I live in Portland, so vegan options at restaurants are usually available, but if I’m hungry and in a restaurant… well, mac and cheese or a cheeseburger might get hard to resist. That’s especially true now, I think, while I’m still trying to establish new habits. Yesterday, I had a salad with a bunch of stuff in it for lunch. It was great, and I really like salad, but I suspect I won’t want to eat it as my lunch every day. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking and planning about what I am going to eat at lunch. Part of what has to happen for this to work at lunchtime is prep. On Sunday, I made a batch of black-eyed peas, which I love. I froze two containers of them, and one is in the fridge, ready to be warmed up or eaten with salad or whatever. Today, I roasted some butternut squash with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and salt and pepper. (I grabbed the squash already cut into chunks at the grocery store—much easier on me that way.) I also have some farro that I plan to make later today—I’ve never tried that before, so wish me luck! Tuesdays I work from home, so I can actually cook something for lunch. I sauteéd a few mushrooms and combined them with the squash, some salad greens, red onion, and some avocado. All that went into half a whole wheat pita with a bit of hummus, and then I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar over all of it. I do have a rough plan for the rest of the week, but I’m also still gathering information, and I consider all of it an experiment to see what works. Tomorrow should be easy, though, since our company brings in lunch—with vegan options—for everyone on Wednesday.



First official VB6 lunch! Salad with radishes, peppers, tomato, snap peas, mushrooms, avocado, and black-eyed peas. I usually make my own dressing from balsamic vinegar and olive oil, but today I used a miso-ginger dressing I picked up at the store last week. Pretty tasty!

More about VB6

I thought that I should talk a bit about what VB6 is.

VB6: Vegan Before 6 is a book by Mark Bittman, food columnist for The New York Times.  The short story is that because of his health, he had to make a decision: drastically change his diet or begin a lifelong drug regimen to control his cholesterol. VB is what he came up with. You can read more about it-–if you like—in a few of the many  articles and posts that came out last year when the book was published.

Of course, you can be vegan and eat a completely unhealthy diet. Coca-Cola is vegan, after all. On VB6, white flour, white rice, pasta,  sugar, and junk food are, during your vegan hours, out. The point here is to move toward a more plant-based diet—or, as Michael Pollan put it in his own work, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Bittman’s plan is based on six basic principles:

  1. Eat fruit and vegetables in abundance.
  2. Eat fewer animal products.
  3. Eat (almost) no junk food.
  4. Cook at home as much as possible.
  5. Consider quality over quantity.
  6. See your weight as just one component of good health.

Food breaks down into three rough categories:

  • Unlimited: Almost all fruits and vegetables; seasonings and condiments such as mustard, hot sauce, herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Flexible: Beans and lentils; whole grains; some fruits and veggies (such as avocado, corn, potatoes); nuts and seeds; healthy oils.
  • Treats: Animal products (i.e., meat, fish, dairy, and eggs); white flour and rice; pasta; alcohol; sweets and sugar.

The rule is simple: During the day (or whatever your vegan hours are), eat all you want of the unlimited foods, some of the flexible foods, and none of the treats. After 6 p.m., eat what you want.

There’s one other thing Bittman repeats again and again: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. He presents the plan a certain way, but maintains that you have to do it the way it works for you. That’s one of the things I really like about this.

So, I will drink cream and sugar in my morning coffee, and I will have a bit of sugar in my afternoon tea. That isn’t going to kill all the benefits I gain by shifting my general diet toward healthier whole foods. And if I have eggs and bacon and mimosas at a weekend brunch with friends, that’s fine too. I’ll eat vegan for dinner, or maybe I’ll just write off that day.

The other thing I like about the plan is that, even though it amounts to “Eat more plants,” there’s enough structure for me to sort of hook into psychologically. I can break the rules if I choose to, but there are rules. Also, I get a free pass every day, so if I really, really want a cheeseburger (I love cheeseburgers), I can have one. Most nights, I will eat healthier foods–because this probably doesn’t work if I don’t do that, too–but no one is telling me that I have to.

Also, since my vegan meals will generally be during daytime hours, I think this will be pretty easy on my home life. I’ve asked my husband that we not have junk foods in the house for the first month or so (especially chips—I love chips), but it’s not as if I’m asking him to give up meat for dinner. He’s open to healthier food, but I really wouldn’t see either of us choosing to become full-time vegans.

The final thing I will say here is that this is not a space for people to argue with me about my diet. You say “vegan,” and people freak out. Just read the comments on any of the stories about VB6 last year: all the true believers come out to argue. This blog is about me trying to be healthier, so support and discussion are welcome; polemics, not so much.



Coffee with…?

Among other things–reading, making shopping lists–I am trying to figure out what to do about afternoon coffee.

My morning coffee gets half and half and sugar; no, half and half is not vegan, sugar is to be avoided on VB6, and morning is certainly not before 6 p.m. But some things are sacrosanct. And the intent of VB6 is that it’s not all or nothing. You can be flexible:  do what works for you and do what makes sense. A tablespoon or two of half and half in the morning is not going to kill me.

But there’s a limit, right? If I break my own rules all day long, then I’m not really doing anything differently, am I?

Which brings me to afternoon coffee. I like to have a little coffee in the afternoon. Also, I just started a new job where there is an actual professional quality espresso machine, so I have developed a little afternoon latte habit. It was already a big treat, since the only cow’s milk at work is whole milk, which I gave up years ago. There are some vegan milks available at the office, however. So in the last couple of days, I’ve tried lattes made with soy milk and vanilla almond milk, but….


They made me feel sad inside. I particularly disliked the aftertaste. I’m sure you develop a taste for it over time, but I’m not sure how hard I want to work for it. That said, I really don’t think I want to make an exception for a half -cup or so of whole milk in the afternoon. I may switch to tea in the afternoons.