Today we are talking with New York Times bestselling author and beloved food blogger, Danielle Walker about her latest book and eating what you love.
Food, Hope & Eating What You Love, with Danielle Walker
Listen for more on the process of creating recipes and cookbooks that people can trust, the challenges of being in the public light, and Danielle’s movement away from the Against All Grain brand and more towards herself.
Today we are talking with New York Time bestselling author and beloved food blogger, Danielle Walker.
Danielle is the beloved author of three New York Times bestselling cookbooks: Against All Grain, Meals Made Simple, and Celebrations (and I’m sure the soon to be bestselling author of a fourth- she just came out with the brand new book, Eat What You Love)
We are going to talk all about the book, process, and story behind it in this interview.
She’s also the voice behind one of the most popular, grain-free, paleo blogs, Against All Grain.
Danielle’s story starts with an autoimmune disease diagnosis, suffering for many years, feeling like it was incurable, and then finding health through dietary changes.
On Danielle’s diagnosis and journey:
Danielle has such an amazing body of work and an incredible story.
Going back to around 2007, shortly after she got married, something happened that changed the trajectory of her life.
Danielle was newly married and had just graduated from college when she started having digestive problems that seemed to have appeared overnight.
Originally she chalked it up to wedding jitters and stress related to graduating, but when it didn’t get better after a couple of months, she ended up in the ER.
After seeing a handful of specialists in the San Francisco area, she was ultimately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis.
That was what really changed her life and set her path for the last 11 years.
Her doctors told her that while this disease is incurable and lifelong, there are medications that would help her live a normal, healthy life.
However, she didn’t have any resources, knowledge of medication side effects, or even know what this disease would look like for her.
Nor was it mentioned that Ulcerative Colitis was an autoimmune disease; Danielle had no idea that her immune system was wrongly attacking her body.
Over the last 11 years, so much more research has come about and, with the help of a growing social media presence, the autoimmune community has come together more.
At that time, a lot of what Danielle learned came from medical chat boards, where people shared their experiences with autoimmune diseases and provided resources, which lead her to more reputable sources as well.
Now, there are a lot of doctors starting to look into diet and lifestyle changes as treatment options, but Danielle believes that when she was first diagnosed, that just hadn’t become a popular idea yet.
When you’re ill, you’re not always in the position to be your own advocate, but somehow Danielle navigated it for years.
It was very isolating; she tried to find as many resources as she could and connect with people.
Danielle started finding some information online about how diet might be able to help.
She had asked the doctors when she was first diagnosed if there was anything she could do dietary-wise, if there was something she was deficient in, or if there was something she was eating too much of that might be causing this.
But each doctor she saw was confident that diet doesn’t help, cause, or cure it.
It started just as a question without anything to back it, but after seeing some people on the chat boards say they were trying different diets, she started to look into it more.
It was a slow transition; she first went gluten-free, and then cut out anything that was white (like white sugar, white rice and white flour, those things that just felt overly processed)
She also went through a whole grain phase and then ended up following something called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which is similar to GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome- a diet focusing on removing hard to digest foods).
SCD was specifically written for Crohn’s, Colitis, Celiac, and Autism, and it felt like it was the most direct for what she was dealing with.
After doing it for a while, she saw improvement- just not at the level that she had hoped to find.
Danielle realized that the basis of it was anti-inflammatory, focusing on healing your gut, and that it was actually beneficial for lots for diseases.
She saw enough improvement to get pregnant with her son, but she didn’t stick to the diet very strictly and once her son was about nine months old, there was another flare up of her symptoms.
She has continued to have ups and downs over the last 11 years (thankfully more ups than downs!).
In her books, Danielle shares photos of herself during these downs.
They powerfully show how hard it is to have a child who is completely dependent on you, but not be able to care for them in the way that you want.
On her turning point:
That was her turning point: when she didn’t commit 100% and her symptoms flared up with a nine month old son, it just got so bad and so much more real when she had another life depending on her.
After that, she really committed.
She was in the hospital for a few weeks and her son wasn’t able to come in and see her.
Even after that, she was bedridden at home for three months following.
And she really didn’t know where she was going from there, if it was going to go away, or she would get through it, or end up back in the hospital.
Her doctors had been talking to her about the possibility of surgery or infusion treatments every six weeks, but she had been putting it off until it became a necessary step in order to be present and care for her child.
So she was ready and registered for this infusion treatment, but then learned it was a treatment she wouldn’t be able to go off of at any time, even to have another child.
At that point, she and her husband decided to give diet another try.
They’d seen it have some effect on her, but if she really really stuck to it, what would that do?
While it seemed scary, it was just food.
Worst case scenario: she’d try it for 30 days and if it wasn’t enough, that’s when she’d try the recommended medicine.
So although she didn’t know where she was going, and did have to get a life-saving blood transfusion, she refused steroid treatment during that hospital stay.
As soon as she had the strength to get in the car and drive, she started working with a naturopath, did an elimination diet and that was another big turning point for her.
After cutting out all those things and really sticking to it, even after 48 hours Danielle saw a huge improvement in her symptoms
“Food is powerful but when I say ‘it’s just food’ I’m just saying it’s just food with no extra cost or no side effects… it’s simple”
And it’s not creating permanent damage to her body like other treatments, surgery and steroids, would.
What she was eating was food in its simplest form, unprocessed, unchanged.
On recipe development:
Before Danielle had her son, she had started playing around with recipes, and actually started a blog, which was just dormant for about a year after that.
Once she got the strength back was when she got back into the kitchen.
“I always had this fear that I wouldn’t ever be able to enjoy food again”.
In college she started getting into food and loved the aspect of trying different cuisines, watching the food network, but that point after being sick and getting better was when she got really excited.
Initially, recipe developing came out of a place of necessity; there wasn’t a lot out there and she didn’t love the recipes that had been shared.
It came from wanting to enjoy her son’s childhood and be able to do some of the things she remembers doing with her mom and grandma- simple things like being able to bake cookies on the weekend.
And wanting him to be able to enjoy these things and eat in a similar way as her.
It started just as trial and error testing different recipes, family recipes or favorites from her Ina Garten cookbooks.
She would write down the recipes and then figure out what the best substitute would be for the ingredients she couldn’t have.
There were a lot of flops at the beginning, but over time she started to really learn the ingredients and what amounts she could substitute in here and there.
“It was kind of like a science lab in my kitchen for a while”
It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of fun.
She likes to say that she was the first to start combining flours in the grain-free world.
She took a tip from gluten-free recipes out there, which often use gluten-free flour blends, combining a handful of different things like rice flour, starches, and xanthan gum, because they all have different properties.
A lot of Danielle’s early recipes were solely almond flour.
They were fine, but she found when she combined it with coconut flour, it supplemented where almond flour wasn’t enough (adding coconut flour helped absorb the excess moisture and hold up a recipe in the middle).
With food, people might not recognize how innovative it can actually be and how much work goes into recipe creation.
On how her process has evolved:
With multiple cookbooks and thousands of recipes by now, it’s gotten a lot easier.
With so many recipes developed now, Danielle can go back to a favorite cookie recipe, for example, and make some changes for a totally new recipe; she doesn’t have nearly as many failures anymore, unless she’s trying something completely new.
Where it used to take her about 20 tries to get a new recipe developed, she is familiar enough with the ingredients now that she can get in and get a recipe nearly ready in half a dozen tries.
Each recipe still goes through two or three testings by Danielle and her team and at least one by an outside person before she shares it with the world.
It’s a process similar to Ina Garten’s cookbooks, where we see familiar dishes and comfort foods that we want to eat, but she’s a scientist and each of her recipes go through a process of testing.
There’s pressure, now, to get content out on the internet, which makes it really hard to test something more than once.
But Danielle knows that people are trusting her and buying the ingredients, and that’s important to her.
Ina goes even further: after she creates a recipe, she sits at her counter and watches somebody make it silently, without giving any tips, to see exactly how they’re going to read the recipe.
Afterwards, she’ll go back to her recipe and notice where wording needs to be changed to help convey her ideas to people reading her recipes.
Danielle keeps that idea in mind when developing recipes so that her readers can trust, when buying her books, there aren’t going to be a dozen recipes that flop.
“People have the trust that you’re giving them something they can use, and that is going to work, and it’s going to turn out for them”.
Cookbooks are actually the only type of book that are doing better than the e-book version still; they’re beautiful, people like to have them out in front of them on the counter, there’s something nostalgic about flipping through a cookbook, and the screen doesn’t turn off when you’re hands are dirty.
Robyn loves her cookbooks, too.
The ones that she keeps, her most treasured ones, she writes in and they have stories about what she ate, what she liked about them, and what she changed.
Being able to combine really beautiful, incredibly delicious recipes with a person and their story is something that cooking magazines simply don’t have, but that brands like Danielle’s does.
On deciding what to share in the public light:
It’s a constant process, but the first thing Danielle asks herself is usually: “will sharing this hurt me or make things worse?” and “will it help people?”
If there is a glimmer of hope that sharing something personal could help or speak to a few people, then she usually shares it (with filters to maintain some privacy).
What she shares might be personal but not necessarily intimate.
“There’s a difference between being vulnerable and putting things out there into the world and trying to help people, and also saving some of those more intimate moments for yourself”.
She also tries to share things in a way that aren’t going to invite a lot of opinion.
Sometimes, though, she’ll fall into the trap on instagram stories where people don’t always realize that she’s tried everything under the sun before she shares, and that’s when she gets a lot of feedback from people who don’t know the history behind the story, though they mean well.
Danielle shares personal aspects of her life that aren’t necessarily ending, in ways that help provide support of other people, like her journey with her disease and the loss of a pregnancy.
It’s easy to say “this happened and it’s over”, but she’s very real and shares her ongoing struggles, although she feels like she may be letting some people down.
“Is there something I can share that can help people… I’ve learned through my suffering and my experience that can roll off onto somebody else and potentially change their path?”
On her newest book, “Danielle Walker’s Eat What You Love”:
The difference between this book and Danielle’s previous books has been a long in place strategy.
When she first started her blog, Against All Grain, Danielle loved the name because it was the diet she lived by, cutting out all grains, and she was going against the grain in what she was doing in the way she was eating and handling her medical condition.
The brand has since grown to recipes beyond grain-free, an inspirational platform, and lifestyle resource in how she lives and parents.
“It’s been a long term plan to eventually drop the Against All Grain brand and just move towards myself”.
The book is the first part of this transition, although there are a lot of moving pieces.
A lot of what she’s done in her career has been step by step and opening doors as they came.
But a lot of it was also calculated from watching people that have gone before her in the non-niche, bigger brands, and watching their progression to see how they’re evolved their brand to be more about them, their personality, and what they have to offer as a person.
After writing her first couple of cookbooks, Danielle was getting feedback from readers that they didn’t all eat grain-free all the time.
She didn’t want to detour people who weren’t against all grain from using these recipes
“They’re just quality recipes that I think anyone can enjoy regardless of their diet”
She wants everyone to enjoy these recipes without the brand name steering people away because it may not fit in what they do diet-wise.
On food + hope:
Looking back, Danielle feels that her work has been about both food and hope.
Food is at the center of a lot of these memories for a lot of people.
For Danielle, when she thought that she couldn’t ever have those foods again, she started to lose hope that she would be able to have those memories still or those connections that she has over the table or around food.
“I think creating those recipes offers hope to people and… sharing my story about my journey can also offer hope”.
Eat What You Love went on shelves nationwide December 4th, 2018 so media interviews and book tours are in Danielle’s immediate future.
It’s not your standard book tour, though- Danielle wanted this to be an experience for people, combining a party, cooking demo, and book tour all in one.
She’ll be visiting 13 cities across the country (see if she’ll be in a city near you, here!)
She’s sold out in half of the cities, but some tickets are still available on her website.
Danielle has also been working on her new web series out called, Feeding Friendships.
In the future, it may become a bigger show, but for now, it’s free to access and enjoy regardless of where it goes.
Check out season one here!
On what it means to be healthy:
“My definition is ever evolving as I continue to learn, but I think it’s just so many different facets.
Mental health is huge… self-care, eating, nourishing your body in the best way that your body responds to… having healthy boundaries in relationships.
I look at it kind of like a spiderweb: there are so many different threads that create a healthy person”
Danielle Walker is the beloved author of three New York Times best-selling cookbooks–Against All Grain, Meals Made Simple, and Celebrations–and the voice behind one of the most popular grain-free blogs on the Internet, againstallgrain.com. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and suffering for many years, Danielle found health through dietary changes. She has become a beacon of hope in the autoimmune world, and has been a leader in the Paleo and gluten-free movement for nearly 10 years. Danielle has appeared on the TODAY Show, The Doctors, Fox News, Access Hollywood, Home&Family, and many other syndicated shows, Her work has been featured in People, O Magazine, USA Today, Shape, Women’s Health, Parents, Fitness, and more. She is also a frequent contributor to Today.com.