If you’ve been reading food blogs for a while, then you definitely know the lady pictured above. That’s Meghan Telpner, creator of a fabulous lifestyle approach that she calls “UnDiet.” UnDiet means no calorie counting, no deprivation, no forcing your body into an unsustainable and joyless way of eating, and no hard and fast rules. It means taking pleasure in the everyday, exercising mindfulness about eating, and seeking out high quality and nourishing ingredients. In short, to “undiet” means to seek out a lifestyle in which you love, respect, and give your body what it needs, rather than trying to control or stifle it.
That’s a journey worth taking, if you ask me!
I’ve known Meghan for ages. We began blogging at roughly the same time, and we’ve always had a very similar outlook on health and self-care. I’ve always been impressed with the way she balances strong, passionate views on health and wellness with a gentle, loving, and laid back manner as a health advocate. One of my favorite quotations from her new book is “my approach is to make healthy living as fun as possible: take what you can, leave what you’re not ready for, and maybe you’ll come back later and give it a try.” In this era of alarmism and health extremism, I wish that more people would have such an open, unassuming approach to sharing information and welcoming people into more wholesome habits.
UnDiet, Meghan’s new opus, is more of a lifestyle guide than a cookbook, though it does feature 40 wholesome recipes. The book is not vegan, but honey can be easily replaced by maple syrup, and eggs can be replaced by flax eggs nearly all of the time, so it’s a very vegan-friendly book to cook from. The book offers really valuable information on shopping, menu planning, food storage and prep, dealing with busy schedules, and health and healing. Meghan comes from a history of Crohn’s diseases, so she has tremendous empathy for those with special health challenges.
In the book you’ll also find:
In order to convey the real meaning of Meghan’s book, I wanted to give you a chance to hear about it from her directly. So today, I have the honor of welcoming Meghan to CR to answer a few of my questions. (“A few questions” in the world of Gena means a lot of text, and Meghan was seriously a gem about responding with patience and care.)
1. I love the title of the new book. Can you tell me a little bit about what “UnDieting” is, and how it differs from popular slim down plans or “cleanses” we might stumble across online?
Why thank you Gena!
UnDiet is about breaking some rules, cleansing out the clutter in our lives that isn’t serving us and really focussing on tips, tricks and strategies to help live the life of our dreams. This has nothing to do with slimming down or cleansing- though if that’s what your body needs, it would likely happen as a sweet side effect of living the UnDiet lifestyle. The book is a guide, a toolbox, for lifestyle transformation. UnDieting is about going back to eating real food and avoiding the toxins we eat but also in beauty products, home cleaning products and relationships. There’s a section on why calories don’t count and how we need to question the paradigms of conventional nutrition that just aren’t working. UnDiet differs the most in that it isn’t a diet at all. It’s about tuning in to our body, doing our very best, whatever that may mean, and picking up and doing what we can and coming back later for the rest. It is a judgement free guide to help people live their best life, in their most optimal state of health.
2. One of the reasons the book’s philosophy resonates so much with me is that you’re promoting body love and acceptance, rather than trying to push an ideal size, exercise regime, or food protocol. Body image is a big topic here at CR. Have you struggled with body image in the past? How has eating a nourishing and plant-based diet helped you to treat yourself compassionately?
My greatest challenge when it came to my body was not really as a teenager or in my early 20’s when I think most women first become aware. For me the toughest time was after I was sick. When I was sick with Crohn’s, I got pretty teeny tiny and people would tell me how great I looked. When I started getting healthy, healing from the disease and being able to eat again, I was putting my weight back on and was so conscious of it. I went straight from that into nutrition school where we were learning about all these whole grains, and nuts and healthy fats and I was eating tons.
I was learning to cook, and hand’t yet figured out how to discern what the best foods were for me and kept putting on weight. This is really when I was most self-conscious- when I was supposed to be the picture of health and instead was carrying about ten extra pounds. It’s not a lot but at five feet, it’s noticeable and definitely wasn’t the ideal for me. That was really when I started looking at what evolved into the UnDiet. That it really isn’t about following any regimented protocol but tuning in to our body and really paying attention to what works for each of us individually.
Eating a plant-based diet, free of any chemical processing, or processed sugars, salts and all that junk means that I can really feel how what I eat makes me feel and through this I have been able to find my balance. It also allows me to know when rest is best, or when I should push myself to move and shake a little.
3. You place a big focus on mindfulness in the book, not only as a means of healing, but also as a means of maintaining a good quality of life. As someone who is balancing pre-medical education (and med school down the road) with blogging, writing, and clinical work, I really struggle to create space for mindful practices in my life. What are a few things I could do that don’t demand much time, but might help me stay focused?
As soon as we bring mindfulness into what we’re doing, we’re bringing a level of attention.
We don’t polish off that bag of chips (vegan or otherwise), or react in a way we later need to apologize for, or over drink and all those other habits when we are paying attention to our life. Some of the things I talk about in the book are around mindfulness in a practical sense. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge proponent of meditation but listening to a meditation download while doing the dishes or driving isn’t quite the same as dedicating time in your day to just being still.
For me, this is the time in my day that my mind opens up, that it all calms down a little and usually when I have the biggest and best ideas of my day. Sometimes we think we don’t have time, but as far as my experience has been, we really need to make some type of daily practice a non-negotiable. I also know that a regular meditation practice may not be for everyone but you can bring mindfulness into your life in other ways. As I share in UnDiet- we can commit to eating our meals at a table intended for dining, we can bring an awareness to our cravings and when they strike, or even change up our daily routine with purpose. This means changing up the order we do things in the morning, or taking a different route to school or work. This forces us to wake up from auto pilot and pay attention to our lives. It’s amazing what unfolds, what we see before us and what opportunities, or amazing people and gifts land in our lap. When we just wake up to what’s going- we are instantly open to receiving all kinds of goodness- and to giving more goodness too.
4. My ultimate goal (though it might well change!) is to practice gastroenterology, so your healing story from Crohn’s is very inspiring to me. What were the most significant changes you made in your life that helped to bring about healing? How do you maintain your health now? Is it mostly through food choices, or are there other things that keep you in balance and flare-up free?
This is totally three questions! I’m going to answer each one separately as they’re all so important.
What were the most significant changes you made in your life that helped to bring about healing?
The most significant wasn’t even around food at all. I had transitioned my diet by the time I was diagnosed to a pretty simple one. It wasn’t super healthy but it was simple. I ate white rice, boiled root vegetables. some fish, loads of soups and a lot of rice cakes. I didn’t know any better. I don’t think at this point I even knew brown rice existed, or what quinoa was.
The biggest shift for me was opening up to what would come. Due to being so sick, I had to quit my job in advertising and I actually moved to California. I went initially for three weeks to meet an acupuncturist my family knew and he said he could help me. My GI hadn’t given me any options outside surgery or medication and at 26, I wasn’t jumping on either of those. So I found myself living by the sea, in a place where the sun shone every day, organic food was plentiful and there was a yoga studio on every corner. I had never cooked before, or done a yoga class. It was all brand new. I feel that the combination of the yoga, the meditation, the acupuncture, the good food, the walks in the sunshine and the rest are what did it. The food, important though it was, was one small component. The biggest shift was in my outlook. I was scared out for mind, for sure. I didn’t want to be sick my whole life. But something had also shifted in me as I took on all these healing practices and everything was just feeling so right. It was right on a cellular level- and at that point I still didn’t have any of the knowledge I do now to understand what this was. Within a month I was symptom free and have had no sign of the disease since without any medications.
I also chose never to identify with one way of eating, or putting a label on it. I assumed that my eating would evolve and it continues to. I have never labelled myself as vegan or vegetarian or raw or macro on any number of titles out there as I imagine it will forever be changing as I constantly strive to stay in balance. I never wanted and still don’t want the pressure of having to live up to any labels.
To heal is truly a mind/body thing. We need to be in a state of calm, and we need to chose for ourselves the best path. This is what worked for me. It reversed all the factors that had built the disease and that was why I healed.
All of us are unique. We have our own genetics, environmental factors, stressors and life experiences that will build our health or build our disease. This is a key thing that is missing in the approach of many conventional GIs. They are looking for a magic pill and approach to help all. Everything that goes on in our gut is completely connected to our emotions. One thing that is universal is that no one will heal from anything if they are still fuelling on processed food and negative thought patterns.
How do you maintain your health now? Is it mostly through food choices, or are there other things that keep you in balance and flare-up free?
My health is my priority. It’s easy to get caught up in work because I love it so much. And I feel to ignore one email for a night- could extend someone’s suffering for a night if I have an answer that can help. I have been symptom free from Crohn’s for nearly seven years and have been running my business for five years. If I am not healthy, everything in my life suffers- from my marriage to my work to my social life. I make time in my day, every day, to meditate, go for walks, go to yoga or be okay, guilt-free, to go home at the end of a work day, take a bath, eat dinner and do absolutely nothing. I also travel a lot- I crave the sunshine in the winter so I make it part of my job to be somewhere sunny-that’s what my retreats offer. And as I write in the book- I often seek out the silver lining, the sunshine and rainbows in any given situation.
And of course food comes in. Eating good, clean, real food is a non-negotiable.
5. Tell me about the recipes in UnDiet. If you had to pick, what would some of your favorites be, and why?
My goal with the recipes in UnDiet was really to lure in the unsuspecting. I don’t use the words vegan or even vegetarian anywhere in the book as that isn’t the point. We know plants are good for us but I would hate for someone to feel that because they’re not ready to commit to being 100% this or that, that the information doesn’t apply. For this reason, there are no recipes that try and fake out the meat, or dairy. It’s just not there. I also did my best to avoid any ingredients that were available exclusively at health food stores. I wanted people to be able to go to their local supermarket and make these meals- which definitely helps with the transition.
The recipes in UnDiet cover the staples. There are just over 40 recipes that cover everything from almond milk, granola, oatmeal, and power smoothies to soda alternatives and homemade crackers to main course meals like my Life Affirming Chili and Booyizzle White Bean Green Curry. There are great desserts and treats like the Almond Power Cookies, Almond Butter Cups and amazing Cinnamon rolls. Everything is plant-based and gluten-free. Everyone has been asking about my favoruites but I can’t really answer that. The recipes I shared are my favourites- they are my own staples, what I make often and what I make when friends come to dinner. They are what I would consider to be transition recipes. They’re not too out there, most of the ingredients are pretty common place and most importantly, they are pretty fool proof. I wanted UnDiet readers to gain confidence in the kitchen and have their creations work- so they feel encouraged that the whole UnDiet lifestyle will work.
In order to give you a true sense the book, I thought I’d feature a recipe. The following vegetable stew with orange zest really captures Meghan’s culinary style: wholesome, satisfying, and nutritious. I hope you enjoy it, and I thank Meghan for sharing it with my readers!
To learn more about Meghan, you can:
Enjoy! And I’ll be back tomorrow with a delightful treat.