Ten years ago, Meghan Telpner hit a wall. At the age of 26, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Doctors told her it was incurable and that her only option was treatment through medication (and potentially surgery). She was terrified, and didn’t know “where to go or who to trust with my own health.” So she looked to herself.

She began researching and implementing all sorts of new lifestyle changes, completely overhauling what she ate, how she moved, and what she thought. Her symptoms were gone in a matter of months.

Armed with new information, Telpner felt compelled to grow further and help others. The UnDiet Cookbook offers an alternative approach for those looking to live a healthier, happier life. We chatted with Telpner this week.

SDTC: What does UnDiet mean?

MT: UnDiet is looking at the world through a fuchsia-coloured lens, seeking and creating the joy, fun, and vibrancy that comes with living a healthy life.

What are your non-negotiables for health?

My meditation and yoga keep my mind healthy. The food I eat keeps my body healthy, and the company I keep, the art I make, the work I do, and how I spend my free time keeps my spirit healthy.

What recipes from The UnDiet Cookbook would you recommend we start out with?

Whichever one draws you in! The photos are beautiful (I can say that unabashedly because they’re not my work but that of Maya Visnyei and Catherine Farquharson), so I would suggest flipping through the 312 pages and starting with the image that catches your attention. As I’m not a chef, there is nothing in the book that should be too complicated for someone just starting out in the kitchen.

Can you share with us a recent story of someone who has been impacted by your UnDiet approach?

There are loads of stories, and I am grateful for every single one that is sent our way. One that stands out in my mind is that of one of my recent Culinary Nutrition graduates, Kristine Peacock. She found my first book UnDiet: Eat Your Way To Vibrant Health shortly after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She would read it to him while he was in the hospital and it gave them hope for what is possible. He passed away, but Kristine was inspired to continue her health journey. With three children, and as a single mom, she pursued her passion and a year later joined my community at The Academy of Culinary Nutrition and earned her certification as a Culinary Nutrition Expert. She graduated in December and this past January coached her first group program with 45 women, helping guide them towards a more empowered, healthier way of living.

What is the one thing we can do today to become happier people?

If we want more happiness in our lives, we have to make that decision and be ready for what follows. Taking on practices every day that bring us to a place of greater happiness is the first step. That may mean choosing better foods, drinking more water, doing exercise that feels good, going to sleep earlier, focusing on the things we love about our partners rather than the things that drive us nuts, avoiding violent news, movies and television, finding joy in the work we do, and taking some time each day to practice gratitude.

There are some people who by their nature come to happiness naturally, but for the most part, happy people are happy because they decide every day to make that a priority.

What’s really awesome here is that these things start to become natural habits. Sure you have to check in with some things once in a while, but that “fake it till you make it” thing can work with happiness when you go through your day with the intention of finding happiness.

Best song to boost your mood?

Ah! There are so many. “Blessed” by Brett Dennen and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson are two of my favourites. My ultimate theme song is “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder. Ninety-nine per cent of the music I listen to is happy music – or at least music I can do a weird interpretive dance to (I don’t know the first thing about interpretive dance). I’ve been accused of having the worst taste in music there ever was. I think it’s awesome!

I’m on a budget, and fresh, organic produce is getting more and more expensive. Can you share any tips to UnDiet successfully (without breaking the bank)?

Yes! My first tip is to focus on buying the produce that is locally and seasonally available. For most of us in Canada, that’s going to mean roots and tubors – winter squashes like butternut, spaghetti and acorn along with sweet potatoes. Combing those with lentils or your favourite protein can make an awesome slow cooked winter stew.

Organic is ideal to reduce our intake of chemicals but when budget isn’t permitting, it’s always great to reference the Environmental Working Groups up-to-date list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. This list identifies the twelve most heavily sprayed crops that you’d ideally want to get organic and the fifteen that use the least amount of pesticides that you can opt for conventionally grown.

The last pricing tip is to check for a local CSA delivery. You can’t always choose what you get each week but you do save on your produce!

When you’re having a not-so-great day, what is your go-to comfort food?

Dressed To The Nines Sweet Potato on page 172 of The UnDiet Cookbook, or a mug of Immune Power Broth on page 121.

Any tips for foods that will help beat PMS symptoms?

PMS can be caused by a number of things. I recommend tracking your cycle so you know when it’s coming and you can take preventative measures. Foods rich in magnesium like raw cacao, spinach and pumpkin seeds can help with cramping. And B-vitamin rich foods (specifically B6) such as sunflower seeds, organic meats and chicken, and avocados can help with mood swings. If PMS is really bad or periods are debilitating, where you need to miss work, I’d recommend a therapeutic supplementation plan from a functional nutritionist.

Any secret beauty tips you haven’t shared in the book?

Well, we already addressed happiness and that is really one of the best beauty tips of all. Happiness is an energy and a glow that changes the way you look and also how you are perceived. Ditching chemical-laden beauty care products, chemical-laden foods and cleaning up the diet are going to help tremendously.

Have you come across any cultural/regional approach to cooking that you would like to emulate? 

There is so much to learn from all traditional diets around the world. The recipes passed from generation to generation are the oldest, most powerful and most sacred forms of medicine. Traditional foods are most often not just delicious but the healthiest too!

Which recipes from The UnDiet Cookbook are especially kid-friendly?

All of them! Kids are just smaller people and need the same balance of foods as adults. They need quality protein and a lot of good fat for their developing brain and nervous system. They need to have foods introduced to them multiple times without judgment or frustration. We can train the taste buds of our kids to only want white bread, pasta and tomatoes sauce, hot dogs and fries with ketchup and treats, or we can train them to eat real food. The best thing parents can do is to start bringing the kids into the kitchen and giving them jobs to do as part of dinner prep. If they are involved in the process, they’re more inclined to try the food.

All of that being said, there are several recipes in The UnDiet Cookbook that invite customization, such as the Easy Street Pizza (page 159) where they can choose their own pizza toppings. Kids can roll their own Kimchi Maki Rolls (page 169), build their own Takeaway Taco Salad (page 126) or choose their own dressings and condiments for the Almond Veggie Burger Bundle (page 156).

Which recipes should I attempt if I am notoriously bad at cooking?

A salad! Then you don’t have to cook anything. Really though, most are so easy. Always make sure you read a recipe from start to finish before you begin. This will give you a great idea of where you’re going. Some of the simplest recipes include the Quinoa Power Bowl (page 161), Best Ever Balsamic Tempeh (page 182) and can be made with chicken or fish (directions included for modification), and the Real Food Corn Chowder (page 122) is amazing. I also love seeing what others are making and you can check out how the everyday cooks are doing at #UnDietCookbook and #UnDietLife on Instagram.

You can order Meghan’s The UnDiet Cookbook here.