How Going Gluten-Free Wound up Changing My Life—and Turned Me Into an Entrepreneur

Image: Instagram/@cleanfooddirtycity

If you're a loyal scroller of Lily Kunin's dreamy Instagram feed, you're probably inspired by the Clean Food Dirty City founder's stream of colorful, plant-based dishes. (Citrus overnight oats, anyone?) Here, the Well+Good Council member reflects on why healthy eating is so personally important—and how it led her to become an entrepreneur.

When I think back on Clean Food Dirty City’s inception, I realize that it was a culmination of events and circumstances that deepened my interest in health and wellness and ultimately pushed me onto this path. I grew up in a family of chefs, so food—and eating healthy, seasonal fare—were always a part of my life from early on.

However, I also grew up with debilitating migraines that never seemed to improve, no matter what strong prescription medicines I tried. It wasn't until I removed gluten from my diet—prompted by my grandfather’s own celiac diagnosis—that I experienced instantaneous migraine relief. That was my first realization that what I put in my body was directly correlated to my health and how I felt.

This discovery came a few years before celiac disease and gluten-free eating were part of mainstream dialogue—and it certainly had not yet infiltrated the restaurant and dining scene! As a result, much of my cooking and experimenting in the kitchen revolved around creating gluten-free dishes that were flavorful, nourishing and didn’t leave me feeling deprived of the foods I could no longer eat.

Fast forward nine years, and the culinary and food industry are doing revolutionary things in terms of gluten-free eating! (Not to mention many of my favorite foods are naturally gluten free.) This has only increased my culinary curiosity and belief that the food we consume directly affects the way we live and feel.

The idea of "trusting your gut" remains the cornerstone of my work, both in the kitchen and as a health coach. When I work with clients, I ask them to look at not just what they're eating, but also how those foods leave them feeling.

What energizes one person may leave another person feeling bloated and depleted, even if it is technically a “healthy” food.

What energizes one person may leave another person feeling bloated and depleted, even if it is technically a “healthy” food. Through this body awareness, people can discover patterns in how their diet affects their lifestyle—and begin to make changes accordingly.

I also love eating seasonally and shopping at my local farmers' markets (Union Square in New York City and West Hollywood in Los Angeles). Some of my favorite CFDC recipes originated from a seasonal ingredient or herb that I happened to pick up at the market, only to have it end up inspiring an entire meal.

While I originally saw my food allergies and health issues as limiting factors (transitioning to any major dietary change can be challenging!), I now realize that they fuel my passion to eat and create delicious food. Trying new restaurants with friends and family remains one of my favorite things to do and keeps me constantly inspired in the kitchen.

Plant-based cook and health coach Lily Kunin is the founder of Clean Food Dirty City and the author of the cookbook Good Clean Food. With her trademark less-is-more approach, Kunin is all about making irresistibly clean, wholesome food—using dairy-free and gluten-free ingredients.

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