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Laurel Gallucci - Pepperdine Magazine

How Sweet It Is

One GSEP alumna brings hope and healing to others—with chocolate cake!

“I literally could not walk up a staircase” isn’t something you expect to hear from a recent college athlete. At age 28 Laurel Gallucci (MA ’10) despaired as she felt her energy levels seemingly diminish by the day. She had spent most of her twenties combating Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which sufferers’ own antibodies attack their thyroid.


Having been told years earlier that the disease was incurable, Gallucci had responded well at first to the synthetic hormone treatment traditionally prescribed for those with the disease. But after two years of the treatment, her health began to spiral downward. Gallucci’s energy was waning dramatically and she lost 40 pounds in just two months. She didn’t ovulate for years and worried that she and her husband would never have a family. In her fifth year of teaching in Beverly Hills, her father, a cardiologist, insisted she quit work and allow herself to heal.

With her faith in conventional Western medicine sorely tested, Gallucci turned to a functional integrative doctor. “She took one look at me and said, ‘I know exactly what your problem is,’” Gallucci recalls. “You need to go 100 percent grain-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, and legume-free for a year, and then see if it makes a difference in your body.” Having been raised by a doctor, Gallucci did not question the relationship between food and health, and she decided to go with it. She was determined.

To her great relief, and her old doctor’s amazement, her energy returned, and she started to feel like herself again after a few months. Determined to stick with her new diet, Gallucci began to create her own sweet treats with almond flour and 100 percent maple syrup in lieu of more conventional—and forbidden—ingredients. Her friends were floored with the results. One bite of chocolate cake convinced Gallucci’s friend Claire Thomas, a chef and food stylist, that Gallucci had to start baking for dollars. Together they started Sweet Laurel as an Instagram account, posting photos of her creations that attracted a following, and Gallucci began giving workshops on anti-inflammatory eating. Today, with Gallucci as CEO and Thomas as the brand’s creative director, Sweet Laurel is working on its second cookbook and now has a full line of baked goods that are sold in grocery stores, shipped nationally, and available to sample and purchase at a stunningly sweet storefront at Palisades Village in Pacific Palisades, California.

The company’s offerings are as beautiful as they are healthful, and the healing quality of her food is reflected in the loveliness of the Sweet Laurel shop itself. “It’s all part of the branding,” Gallucci says. “The aesthetic of the brand is natural beauty, like a secret garden that is effortless, feminine, and beautiful.”

Sweet Laurel’s success has derived in part from Gallucci’s studies. She notes that when it comes to running a business, she actually studied her “learning by doing” method while earning her master’s in education at Pepperdine. More directly, she now teaches workshops in nourishment and healing for anyone interested in pursuing a more natural lifestyle but particularly for those with autoimmune disorders.

Gallucci now believes that she could not be more blessed. She has the joy of bringing her two-year-old son to work with her and the satisfaction that comes with helping others on their healing journey through food. “These experiences have shown me that you truly can make lemonade out of lemons,” she says. “Things that seem super bleak and dark can turn around. It’s proof that having an open mind is definitely the way to go. It’s given me a lot of hope, and it’s given other people hope too.”

Photos: Claire Thomas and Stephanie Todaro