A Hamburger Today
The Vegan Experience, Day 6: Calorie Control
Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
Day 6: Thursday
Breakfast: Beans on toast, sliced salted avocado, grapefruit, a cup of tea.
Lunch: Leftover Pasta with Braised Broccoli and Tomato Sauce
Dinner: Smoky Potato and Kale Soup with Caramelized Cauliflower, patacones with charred tomatillo salsa, a big green salad with tomato, avocado, and sumac-marinated onions.
Day 6 and things are getting quite a bit easier. I can't say that I'm feeling any of the energy boosts, increases in mental dexterity, improvements in the punctuality and the precision of my digestive system, and what many, newly minted vegans report to have. On the other hand I've yet to die of anemia, lose a significant amount of my hair, or crack any limbs doing basic household chores despite the direst prognoses of the anti-vegan crew.
I've lost 2.2 pounds down to 174, which some may attribute to normal cycles and I'd agree if not for the fact that I was at the bottom end of my normal cycle when I first went vegan. For the past four days, I've consistently weighed in at a lower level than I've ever weighed in the last two years, and I certainly feel good about that.
Much of my weight loss so far can be attributed to the fact that being vegan has made me realize how much of an insane grazer I used to be. Working in the Serious Eats office can be pretty awesome, but it wreaks havoc on my health. Complaining that our office simply has too many tasty sandwiches, pastries, samples of high-fat European fancy butter, hand-made charcuterie, crispy and pliant pizza bianca, Japanese candies, and balls of freshly made mozzarella may seem like a high class problem, but I can assure you it's a real problem nonetheless.
As a meat eater, I never thought much about the effects of these tastings, these little nibbles throughout the day. Oh, there's a sandwich I haven't tried—down the hatch it goes. It is my professional duty to have at least one bite of each of these cookies, and I generally like to go above and beyond the call, so I'll just take two, soon followed by: wait, was that sample 1 or 2 that I was eating just now? Oh well, have to try them both again.
These are the kinds of thoughts that would go through my head at least a half dozen times a day. I don't believe I'm quite at Ed levels yet—I don't yet use a well-timed bite off of a buttery croissant to emphasize a critical remark on an unrelated subject—but I do often catch myself with something in my mouth that I ended up eating just because it was there. Indeed, I almost accidentally participated in a cookie tasting on Wednesday before Maggie pointed out that cookies are not vegan (especially these).
If nothing else, veganism has forced me to be constantly aware of precisely what goes into my mouth and this has consequently resulted in a big decrease in the calories I consume and an increase in the regularity of my meals.
I used to be able to skip breakfast, knowing that by 10:30 AM, I'd be at the office tasting something. These days, if I skip breakfast, chances are there won't be anything I can eat until lunch. One of the major problems of studying the efficacy of diets is that it's nearly impossible to isolate the diet from the other behaviors that come along with it.
I didn't intend my veganism to be a calorie-cutting diet, but that's effectively what happened anyway.
Does this make me healthier? The evidence makes me think so. As someone who didn't generally consume a great deal of meat and/or animal fat in the past—at least not outside of a professional capacity—I'm not convinced that the shift from a mostly plant-based diet to an all plant-based diet has done me any good as there's little evidence that a no-meat diet is better for you than a little-meat diet. However, simply by cutting out snacks and tastes, I've cut my daily intake by a good 500 Calories. Restricting calorie intake generally leads to better longterm health.
Some of you here may be thinking, but what about your pleasure? Are you enjoying yourself? Do you miss meat? Thus far, not really. I did for the first couple of days, but that was more an effect of not having a pantry that was set-up for vegetable and grain-based meals.
Now that I've stocked up on staples like canned and dried beans, grains, and many more green vegetables, I've found cooking to be simple and enjoyable—just as easy and enjoyable as it was while I was still eating meat. My meals have been every bit as tasty as well, if not tastier because I've been working a little harder than usual to come up with some great recipes during this project.
If there's one thing I miss most, it's dairy. Many of my absolute favorite foods are made with mostly vegetables and grains simply accented with a bit of cheese. I really wonder if not eating cheese will get as easy as not eating burgers has been.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.