My passion for cooking began at an early age. My mom loves to tell the story of little Lauren (age 4) making chocolate pudding on the new white carpet. Plus, we were one of those families that talked about food often. At lunch we would begin discussing dinner, and dinner we would talk excitedly about the delicious aromas coming off a nearby dessert. Needless to say, I grew up with food on the brain.

As a teenager, I became a vegetarian. My decision wasn’t about animal rights or morality, it was a response to eating some really bad meat. Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t have eaten Jack’s Ultimate Cheeseburger or the chicken sandwich from the school cafeteria. This was a real turning point for me: I was grossed out by meat. Thus began my quest for all things vegetarian. My poor parents, they did not approve of this decision and thought that I might die of malnutrition. (In fairness, my mom’s family owned a cattle ranch, so she was not familiar with vegetarian diets.) As a result, I dove into vegetarian cookbooks and happily cooked meatless grub for myself as well as my family.

Vegetarian eating was my way for over 15 years. I never went hungry or missed meat, so I didn’t eat it. When I left my job as a Nutrition Educator to go to cooking school, my vegetarian diet was challenged…and I decided to eat meat again. Wanting the full experience from cooking school, I checked my vegetarian eating at the door and never looked back.

Perhaps these changes in diet helped me prepare to eat gluten-free (GF) for the second half of my life. Being “restricted” but flexible in my eating for so long may have laid the groundwork for proceeding without wheat, barley or rye. Nonetheless, it was difficult to hear the Celiac diagnosis and realize I could never eat wheat again. Initially, I thought “I can totally do this! I am a Dietitian and a Chef, after all.” However, as the weeks passed on my GF diet, I started to see the world as a series of “no’s” and “can’t’s” (is that a word?). In truth, it’s been a lot harder than I thought. Cooking, eating out, living in a household with gluten eaters, shopping for groceries, and dining with friends suddenly felt SO CHALLENGING, whereas these used to be great sources of joy for me (yes, I actually like to grocery shop). So long are the days of carefree eating…

Now that I’ve been gluten-free for over a year, these challenges don’t seem so overwhelming. In a lot of cases, I feel that eating GF eliminates the temptation to eat low nutrient processed foods or “extras”. Although eating GF doesn’t automatically make your diet better, it can be a great excuse to eliminate the processed stuff and focus on tasty, fresh food. Who needs wheat anyway? I’ve decided I don’t.