Confessions of an ex-junk food junkie

Changing lifelong eating habits is not easy. But if you're up to it, here are some tips.

by Shelley Frances Deegan
re you hooked on any certain foods? Sugar? Cheese? Milk? Wheat? In the last two articles I have focussed on replacements to dairy and wheat. There are many adults and children who have allergies and cravings to foods who want to change their lifestyle to feel better and stronger.
When I was diagnosed with allergies to wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar and yeast I thought the only foods left to eat would be dry baked potato and dressingless salad. I was wrong! If you want to switch your lifestyle and need a starting point, read on.

Do you want to change?

You may think that you "need" to change, or "should" change. These rarely lead to lasting action. Only the personal experience of "wanting" to change provides the power. I have had answers to problems come with miraculous speed once I realized that it was in my hands to change.

Small steps are best.

Prioritize what you want to change. Put your plan down on paper. Start by focussing on your most important goal, and move toward that first - don't overload yourself by taking on too much at once. You may want to carry a 3x5 card to remind you of your plan.

Get support.

Use affirmations, books, friends, family, health care practitioners, support groups, newsletters, or the internet. Create a special interest group if you can't find one to suit your needs. Reach out, ask questions, get involved in your well-being. Get in the network!
I count on audio tapes. Borrow tapes from friends, the library or go to the book store to see what's new. The most important thing is to get started!

Keep a notebook

Keeping track of the dietary details of three meals a day is more than your memory can hold. Write down what you eat, how you feel afterward, plus any other physical signs that you think may be food related. Keep track of foods that make you feel bad or good. Later, you will be able to go over the information and see what works and what doesn't. Keep the notebook close at hand (e.g., in the cupboard or on top of the refrigerator).

Learn your new lifestyle.

Cooking and shopping for your new lifestyle isn't difficult, but it will be confusing until you learn the ropes. Find a cook book that is user friendly. Check the bulletin boards at local health food stores. Call health food restaurants and ask for cooking lessons. Be open and receptive to new things.

Make your change enjoyable.

Whether you're cooking for yourself or your family, swing out and have fun. I like to pick a country and cook a from their culture; India is my latest experiment. Thai is next!
Keep it simple. If you are new to cooking, don't start with recipes that have 15 ingredients or "far out" ingredients. The last thing you need is mental overload.
Buy Vegetarian Times or Vegetarian Gourmet Magazine and try a recipe or two. Experiment! Keep track of the recipes that you like. I keep manila folders separated by category (e.g., seafood, breads, muffins, ethnic, etc.)


Read about what's troubling you. Find your answers. Talk to others who have experienced the same thing and ask questions. Ask for referrals to health care practitioners.
Two final, important words: BE POSITIVE. Stay away from negative people who are more committed to being "sick" than being healthy. You can learn to tell the difference quickly. Getting out of a negative cycle can be hard. I still slip back on occasion, but it's good to know that it's just part of learning about myself.

Recipe of the month: Kamut Pilaf with Vegetables


16 ounces kamut orzo (pilaf pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
8 ounces tempeh (soy product), cubed
1 each: turnip, carrot, leek, celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon arrowroot or corn starch
1 cup vegetable stock

1 to 2 tablespoons miso, soy sauce, or Dr. Bronner's Liquid Amino Acids Salt

Pepper to taste


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boll. Put in the pasta and cook for 5 to 12 minutes (or according to package directions) until cooked "al dente."
  2. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium high. Add squash and saute for 2 minutes. Stir in tempeh and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in turnip, carrot, leek, celery and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Whisk arrowroot into vegetable stock. Stir into vegetable mixture and cook until sauce thickens. Season as desired. Toss with pasta. Makes about 6 cups.

Shelley Frances Deegan is founder of "Solutions to Food Allergies." They offer informational health food store tours several times per month and "Food Police" services to support you in restocking your kitchen with healthy foods. Individual consultations available. For more information, please call (619) 543-0334.