Danielle Walker is not just a New York Times bestselling author (three times) and self-trained chef; she’s become a source of hope for people struggling with all types of diseases or allergies. An entrepreneur and mom of three, Danielle creates gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo recipes that are easy, accessible, and most of all, delicious. Best known for her Against All Grain series of cookbooks, Danielle’s mission is clear: to help people discover that food can be incredibly healing and tasty at the same time. I recently sat down with Danielle to talk about how she used food to heal her body, why her work is so rewarding and what exciting projects are on the horizon.
Caroline Castrillon: Starting from the beginning, what prompted you to create your food blog?
Danielle Walker: I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis two months after my husband and I got married. We’d just graduated from college, and he was starting law school. I’d spent a few years really sick; the medications weren’t working, and I was in and out of hospitals. I almost died quite a few times. So, I began looking into food as a way to start healing my body. Once I realized that food could really help, I started getting into the kitchen and experimenting with recipes. I had to cut out grains, gluten and refined sugars. So, I launched my blog as I began to catalog my failures and triumphs in the kitchen. I wanted to be able to share my story with other people who were like me or who had children with food allergies or autoimmune diseases. I wanted them to know that food could still taste great and that you didn’t have to live a life of feeling deprived and eating cardboard!
Castrillon: When you were first diagnosed, the doctors recommended medication, and then you took your health into your own hands. How did you know that would be the right thing to do?
Walker: Yes, they were recommending lifelong medication and potentially surgery to remove a portion of my colon. The side effects from the medications were terrible, and the potential side effects from the surgery were pretty scary as well. I just wanted to explore any alternative that I could before making a major commitment. I noticed that my symptoms would worsen if I ate certain foods, so I started asking my doctors if there was anything I could do foodwise. Every single one of my doctors said no, that food couldn’t cause it, cure it, or help it. So, for me, it was a last resort. I decided to change my diet for 30 days. I confirmed my thoughts by finding people on medical chat boards that said they had achieved remission by cutting out certain foods. So, it was a process for me to see what really worked well for my body. Once I committed to it, I saw a drastic improvement. I haven’t been hospitalized in 10 years and am now able to manage my symptoms with food and supplements.
Castrillon: How have you managed to deal with all the triumphs and setbacks in your life?
Walker: I have an incredibly supportive husband and an amazing community surrounding me through social media. People that have been with us from the very beginning. I turn to them a lot because they inspire me and are what keep me continuing to create recipes. The stories that they share with me are miraculous in terms of how my recipes have impacted and, in some cases, saved people’s lives. If I’m ever getting overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of being a full-time entrepreneur traveling and raising three kids, I go back to a wall of all the emails, letters and photos that have been sent to me over the years. I look at that and think, okay, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. As stressful as it can be at times, I just take a deep breath and remember my true north.
Castrillon: What advice would you give people that are trying to turn what they enjoy and are good at into a career?
Walker: I would say keep chasing it and don’t feel like you have to be perfect to start going after something. I actually didn’t know how to photograph when I photographed my first cookbook. I enrolled in a one-day photography intensive, spent my savings on a new camera, and watched YouTube videos. If I would have said, oh, I’m not the best at this, or, there’s somebody better at doing that, so I’m not going to try to do it, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. My best advice is just to go for it and learn along the way if you have to. Always be a student and work to become better at your craft.
Castrillon: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
Walker: Oh, definitely the community. In January, I finished a 14-city book tour for my new book, Eat What You Love, and one story that stood out to me was a woman who was wheelchair bound with MS for many years. She was able to walk up to my signing table without a walker or a wheelchair all because of diet. It’s pretty incredible. There are also moms that have shared stories of their children who were really sick and how now they’re thriving and enjoying the food that they’re eating. It’s so fun to see the smiles on their kid’s faces and hear what foods they like to make. That’s definitely the most rewarding part.
Castrillon: What are you the most passionate about?
Walker: I think spreading that mission. Food can be incredibly healing, and it can be just as simple as changing a few things in your diet. I feel like I can’t stop until everybody knows that. I spent so many years, so sick and asking if food could help. When I finally saw the improvement that I was looking for, I was like, “I just wish somebody would’ve told me earlier so that I didn’t waste so much time!” My mission now is to spread that knowledge, so people don’t feel like they’re suffering and waste as much time as I did.
Castrillon: With your hectic schedule, how do you balance work and motherhood?
Walker: I can’t say that I’m perfect at it, but I work from home, so I try to make the hours that I’m in my office really count. The funny thing about my job is that I can incorporate my kids in some of it. Sometimes my kids do cooking videos with me or are my first taste testers when I’m testing recipes for a cookbook. I’ve been able to bring my oldest son into what we do as a family and the mission to help people. It’s fun to show him, hey, you’re a part of this too! Look at this little girl who was in the hospital and is now doing really well because of the work that mom does and the recipes that you taste and helped put out into the world. So, it’s been fun to bring him into the fold. It’s difficult to leave your kids when you travel, so it’s nice to be able to show them that there’s a purpose behind it.
Castrillon: Do you have any mentors that have inspired you?
Walker: No, not in person! I always joke and say that Ina Garten is my mentor, even though we’ve never met. I have watched the way she runs her business over the years, and I think the way she’s built her empire is incredible. I’ve heard her speak a few times, and I just love everything she does—from her recipe testing process to the way she writes cookbooks and how meticulous she is. So, she is my mentor that I’ve never met!
Castrillon: What else is on the horizon for you?
Walker: Well, there’s quite a bit. I just signed another deal for a cookbook, so that’ll be out in a couple of years. In between, I will be putting out a memoir, which will be a more in-depth story starting from childhood, when I began to have a love of food. We are also in talks with quite a few production companies and networks about doing a show of some sort, to help continue to spread this message and teach people how to cook in a healthy manner. So that’s really exciting.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.