When my longtime doctor suggested I eat a vegan diet, I thought he was joking. Sure, I was up more than a few pounds, and my cholesterol and blood sugar readings were on the wrong side of normal. But me, not eat everything? I write about food for a living, and like most of us, I wasn’t prepared to forever give up the foods I enjoy—even if I could.
That was 6 years ago, and though I ate my share of plants, the idea of avoiding meat, dairy, poultry, and even fish seemed impossible. As a compromise, I decided to take his suggestion—most of the time: I would eat vegan before 6 PM. (Make Prevention’s Eat Clean, Stay Lean your go-to clean eating guide, with 300 real foods and slimming recipes.)
By day, I’d adhere to a super strict vegan diet. I decided to go even beyond that: Until suppertime, I’d also abstain from hyper-processed white bread, rice, pasta, and junk food. I cut out alcohol, too. Once the sun went down, however, I’d be a free man, eating whatever I wanted, usually (but not always) in moderation. I might have pasta Bolognese with salad; I might roast a chicken; I might stir-fry some vegetables. I’ve kept it up ever since.
It was a significant but hardly onerous shift, and my body thanked me immediately: I lost 35 pounds and had more energy, and my overall health improved. Most important, the change has been easy to sustain.
As you probably know, the Standard American Diet (that’s right—it’s SAD) is upside down. Half of the calories consumed in America come from “junk”—well-advertised, processed “foods” that harm our bodies and provide little or no nutritional value. But when you flip that balance and emphasize vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans, you begin to see treats properly: as occasional indulgences. You also dramatically change the kinds of calories your body has to process and how and where they’re used (and stored!).
But it’s also about more than losing weight. The more I read, the more I learned about food waste, the rising costs of obesity in America, and the greenhouse gas emissions produced by raising, manufacturing, storing, and transporting food. The food industry accounts for 10% of all fossil fuel use in the United States.
So what are the easiest steps to becoming a part-time vegan? First, realize this is not a diet of self-denial and monotony. Forget the idea that all vegan food is brown rice and tofu. Shifting from animal to plant foods does not mean you have to be either-or. The beauty of this diet is the variety it encourages and its emphasis on real, natural foods. Finally, it’s about making smart choices and sticking to them—at least before 6 PM. Here, six recipes to get you started.