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No Amount of Kale Is Going to Bring Back My 25-Year-Old Butt ... But It Still Beats Eating Loads of Meat

Cutting down on animal products has made a huge difference.

I think a roast chicken is proof of heaven. If I were on death row, my last meal would involve unlimited melted cheese. And you’ll have to pry the butter out of my cold, dead, incredibly greasy hands. But I’ve learned recently that just as surely as you can be  an atheist for a year, you can be a part-time vegan. I know because, God help me, I’ve become one.

I’ve spent my adult life as  a reasonably active person and a reasonably healthy eater. I haven’t consumed fast food since college; I stay away from processed food; I drink about one soda a year. I’m in many ways your typical yoga-doing, farmer’s market lady cliché, and I’m fine with that. The payoff of being that particular cliché had always been that I’ve had plenty of energy, kept my weight in check and rarely come down with whatever gross bug was going around.

Then a few months ago, my usual habits seemed to stop working. It wasn’t just that my pants were suddenly a little tighter – I know and accept that certain shifts are inevitable with time. I was more concerned with how I was feeling. I was having a harder and harder time sleeping at night, and subsequently found myself constantly exhausted during the day. My joints felt stiff. My scalp was dry and my skin was itchy. I couldn’t tell if it was the cumulative result of  two years of experimental cancer treatment or just being in my 40s, but in short, my mojo was waning on several fronts, and I didn’t like the idea that this somehow now was to be my new normal.

Then I went to the library and took out Mark Bittman’s “ VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … for Good.” I was already familiar with  Bittman’s simple strategy of confining animal products to dinnertime; in fact, I’d adopted a more relaxed version of it after  I was first diagnosed with cancer and wanted to gently shift some of my habits. I called it my “no more than one animal a day” plan – a tuna salad at lunch would mean pasta with tomato sauce for dinner; the promise of short ribs tonight meant minestrone midday. My usual breakfasts of coffee with oatmeal or  homemade yogurt didn’t even require an update. And aside from a few minor challenges while traveling, it worked fine.

But reading Bittman’s book inspired me in a new way. It wasn’t some  insane, get skinny junk science diet. It wasn’t some hand-wringing, “Go buy a $500 juicer and some organic greens because everything else gives you cancer” vaguely eating disordered manifesto. It wasn’t restrictive. It didn’t require special tools or ingredients or knowledge. Bittman even allowed, repeatedly, that some days might require more flexibility, and that’s OK. It was about long-term health, and maybe even helping  change how the animals we do choose to eat are treated. I dove voraciously into its sane advice and easy recipes, and decided to step up my game.

It took a few weeks, but I weaned off my morning coffee with milk and replaced it with herbal tea. I gave up my beloved yogurt, switching it up with an occasional  whipped tofu and banana. I kept my lunch to mostly vegetables atop grains or beans. I even invested in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s  “Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week,” and resolved to get a vegan dinner on the table at least once a week. It was a move that was met with much initial protestation by my family, but resistance is futile against a really good falafel.

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