Podcast

Episode 46 – Danielle Walker, Author and Chef

From a harrowing medical journey to the New York Times bestseller list, Danielle Walker has an incredible story to share. Diagnosed at 22 with a debilitating autoimmune disease, she suffered for years until one day, she started cooking. Today, Jessica walks with her friend Danielle though her journey, as well as her dogged determination to restart her healing, over and over again.

Danielle Walker

TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared Podcast," where we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship and courage. This week continues our Restart series, where we talk through what it means to get back in the saddle again, to pick the map back up again, to start over again. To restart after maybe you stopped, and you’ve lost some of that momentum. And today’s conversation with Danielle Walker is a story of restart. Danielle is the author and photographer of the New York Times best-selling cookbook Against All Grain, and her newest cookbook, Eat What You Love, is out now. She’s actually gonna be visiting Austin next week. So, if you are an Austin listener, and you wanna win a couple of VIP tickets, go check out my Instagram stories today to find out more about that. I would love to see you there.

Danielle’s story is really rot with resilience and suffering. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was 22, Danielle realized that she needed to make dietary changes to end her suffering. So she removed grains, lactose, legumes from her diet. She became a blogger, a speaker, but honestly, her story for me was so empowering because oftentimes we listen to doctors or we read something online, and we don’t really listen to our bodies, and take charge, and make changes, and listen to our bodies again, and take charge and make changes, and that really is what Danielle’s story is all about. So even if you haven’t suffered from an autoimmune disease, I think you’re going to be really inspired by our conversation today.

So this is really fun for me, because you have been such a champion of Imperfect Courage, and you took the easy cause for me leading up to the launch of the book, where I’m like, "What do I do?" And you’ve talked me off ledges, and you’ve just been such a supporter in real life and online. So thanks so much.

Danielle: Oh my gosh, that’s the least I could do. I always feel like I don’t give enough, because our crazy schedules. It’s like, but I’m glad that you felt like it helped.

Jessica: Oh, are you kidding me? Anyone who hops on the call that’s in the middle of craziness, like launching your own book, which, by the way, I was at Barnes & Noble last night in Austin, and it was front and center on a front table.

Danielle: Yay, that’s awesome.

Jessica: So give us the 101 real quickly about what your brand is.

 

The Opaque Diagnosis

Danielle: What am I doing? Sure. Yeah. So I create a paleo and grain-free recipes, which are all dairy free and gluten free, just in case people don’t know all of the different nuances of the fad diets, if you will, which it’s not for me. I have been eating paleo and gluten-free for about nine years. And it’s because I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I was 22, and literally just graduated college. I had been married for about two months and found myself in the ER. And went through tons of different specialists and testing and hospital stays, and finally was diagnosed with something called ulcerative colitis, which is similar to Crohn’s disease. I always kind of started out with that because people, for some reason, they know Crohn’s disease more than they know what I have, but it affects … well, autoimmune diseases affect 50 million Americans and 80% of those are women, which is kind of crazy. And unfortunately, it’s trending more towards young women in their 20s and 30s. It used to be like men getting diagnosed in their, you know, like 50s.

And so I was kind of sent out the door with a bunch of medications, and essentially told, "You’re gonna live a normal life and as long as you take these medications." And I, you know, 22-years-old, I am seriously type A, had my whole life planned for me, had like what my career was gonna be, and how many kids I was having. And when my kids were going to be born, and I mean, it was like, I had it all planned out. And so, I looked at my doctors after my diagnosis and just kind of that was my first question, "Can my life plan still happen?" And they all said, "Yep, just take the medications, you’ll be fine." And I was like, OK, well, you know, I’m like, "I guess this isn’t too bad if you’re saying that." It was…they did say, "It’s not curable, you’ll have it for life." And so, you know, so I…

Jessica: But they didn’t even mention diet?

Danielle: No, oh my gosh, no. I mean, and then … So no, didn’t mention it just prescribed me a bunch of stuff. I went home, didn’t even, honestly, didn’t even talk to me about what … I mean, they didn’t tell me anything about what the disease was. Essentially, they gave me the name and that was it. I had to come to learn and research on my own, first of all, even the words “autoimmune disease,” didn’t know what that was. Didn’t know that that’s what I had. Didn’t know that that meant that my immune system was essentially overactive and attacking my own body, and then they didn’t talk to me about the symptoms. Like they didn’t … You know, I would have hoped that they would have sat me down and just said, "Hey, here’s what this is gonna look like."

“They didn’t tell me anything about what the disease was. Essentially, they gave me the name and that was it. I had to come to learn and research on my own.” Danielle Walker on her autoimmune disease.

Because my first, what they call flare up, caught us so off guard, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I thought I was dying, which I did end up almost dying, but I just had no idea what to expect. And so, I kind of was going on with my life, and we had plans, which I know you and I’ve talked about this before, we had plans to take a trip to Uganda, probably six months after my diagnosis. And I was on super high medications, but I started to feel a little bit better. And so, I honestly can’t remember if we did this with doctors or on our own, but I’m pretty positive we asked my doctors, "Hey, can we start to wean off of these or like go off of these medications." One of them was steroids, and I was on like 100 milligrams of cortisone steroids.

Jessica: Oh my gosh.

Danielle: Which is really crazy. Most people take like 5 to 10 for inflammation.

Jessica: Oh my god, that’s like what my dad was just doing when he was having a severe adverse reaction and almost dying in the hospital.

Danielle: Yes, we actually, my husband and I do call it the double-drug, but it has also saved my life as well. So, it’s like one of those things where it is nasty in the side effects when you’re on it for months. I mean, I was on it for months. I lost all my hair … not all my hair. I lost a ton of hair. I couldn’t get out of bed. My joints were just like I would, I mean, I’m … This is 23 years old. I would get out of bed in the middle of the night and my knees would give out on me and I’d fall to the floor on my way to the bathroom, and I, you know, I would be like I’d have insatiable hunger, but I lost 30 pounds in 2 weeks. Yeah, I couldn’t sleep. Like prednisone makes you not … when you say, "I can’t sleep," like some people are like, "Yeah, you know, I was up and like, asleep a few times during the night." No, I’m like, I was watching Cartoon Network I remember at like, 3:00 in the morning because you just don’t sleep. You just are like this crazy wired person, and then I was crazy. Like it just it makes you crazy.

It makes you crazy. I mean, I was like hallucinating and I was super … I mean, my emotions were all over the place, and I was angry. It was nuts. So, anyways, all that to say, my symptoms started getting better. And so we went off of it, but what I didn’t know and what doctors didn’t tell me was that you have to wean very slowly, like you go through crazy withdrawals, and my heart … like I would wake up thinking that I was having a heart attack, because my heart was going crazy and like just really, really high resting heart rate. And I mean, like we’re talking like 120 like crazy. I felt … I just did not feel like myself.

And then with this Uganda trip, we did call, we called my doctor, and I said, "Hey, we’ve got this trip planned." I actually planned the whole thing. And it was for 25 people. And I had been working on it for like a year and was just so excited to get to go. And also, just because I had put so much work into it was like, "I don’t wanna miss this." But, you know.

 

Taking an Autoimmune Disease to Uganda

Jessica: Can stop real quick, and I’m gonna ask you to tell the story behind the story. That’s a big deal to spend an entire year planning a trip to Uganda. So where does that storyline come from in your life?

Danielle: It’s a little weird. Well, I mean, so, OK. So, I worked, I was just out of college. My husband was in law school, and I was working as an executive assistant for a few different things, but like a venture capital firm, but they also had a family kind of foundation. And we all as kind of them, but then we did personally as well. And my parents, we all supported this organization who were … they used to go to our church in the Bay Area. And then they moved to Uganda and started a nonprofit over there. And they did a lot of work up in the IDP camps, kind of on the border. And so, it was one of those things where we had all been supporting them for a number of years and wanted to get a chance to go over and get to actually serve and see the work that they were doing in person. And so, it was three families, and so as just as his like executive assistant who booked all travel and all that kind of stuff, it was kind of my job to plan that trip.

And so it was my parents and my siblings and their spouses and my husband, and then two other families and kind of their kids and people that we had known, essentially, like all of our lives. So, it was an exciting thing. And then after, I mean, maybe … what was really luring was that after we were supposed to have spent like two weeks in Uganda, we were going to all fly down to South Africa and go on this like super fun and posh Safari.

Jessica: And fake Safari.

Danielle: Yes. Which I’m like, you know, there’s a little bit of disconnect there, but yeah.

Jessica: Yeah, it’s part of Africa. It’s parts of Africa. I don’t go to Africa without also experiencing the beauty and the nature of it.

Danielle: I mean, yes. So, there was … So yeah, I mean, I think at this point I’m probably gonna turn 23. So this was like an experience of a lifetime and we have never been there before. And I’ve always had a very tender heart for kids, and especially children suffering. And so that was the thing that I had looked forward to the most was we had seen photos and things that they had been doing over the years, and I was just really excited to get to go. And we had all these clothes shipped out to hand out to the kids. And we were gonna be doing like wound treatment, and even just like cutting fingernails and giving little babies baths, and it was just something that I had really, really wanted to do and look forward to. This was prior to me having kids, but that was kind of the thing personally that I looked forward to the most.

Jessica: And then there you are. So, you’re also feeling like, "This is part of the life plan. And we’re gonna move forward with this, because I’ve been planning it and it’s epic." And you get off these steroids and you literally are going crazy.

Danielle: Yeah.

Jessica: And then you go ahead and head to Uganda.

Danielle: Yeah, so it sounds like a much … like there was a lot of deliberation and a lot of prayer.

Jessica: Oh, I can imagine. Listen, girl, I’m not one to get … let me anything get in my way of going…

Danielle: I know.

Jessica: … on an epic trip, like are you kidding?

Danielle: But we did, though. I mean, if you were to be in our … I mean, even the poor people that like were supposed to go with us, it was like every day it was like, "We’re going. We’re not going. We’re going. We’re not going." Because my symptoms would get better and I’d be like, "OK, we’re supposed to go I’m gonna be OK." And then all of a sudden, I’d be like, back on the couch, not able to move and I’d be like, "Oh crap, we can’t go." But we spent my … Ryan and I spent a ton of time praying about it. And it sounds a little crazy, but we had heard all these stories about all of this healing that had happened up in these camps and that these people that lived out there had been witnessing. And we felt like the Lord was like, "If you are obedient, and you go and you go and do this, and you go and serve these people, and you, you know, you travel and you go and you…even when you’re not feeling well," like that I might actually experience my own healing there. And so, we felt like this is something that we needed to do, and we needed to go, despite … I mean, whether or not I was or not just that we needed to go and be obedient and go and do this.

So we get on the plane. I honestly, I think the people that were there like were completely surprised when they saw us show up because it was kind of like, "We don’t know if they’re coming or not." And so, I mean, the flights from California are far. We went … And you’ve done this a ton now, so I don’t even know if this is like a normal flight plan or not. But we went from San Francisco to New York, to Dubai, and then overnight in Dubai, and then we had just like a touchdown in Abu Dhabi, and then to Uganda. And so, it was…

Jessica: That’s rough.

Danielle: It was rough.

Jessica: Having any sort of overnight in Dubai is … I’ve done that and it’s not good on the body. I will tell you that.

Danielle: No. So by the time we got to Dubai, I couldn’t see straight. Like everything was spinning. I had to come off in a wheelchair. Just my body … So what I have learned, and I didn’t know this because no doctors told me this, but autoimmune diseases are fueled by stress. And that can be physical stress. That can be emotional, that can be mental. Anything that causes stress can cause your autoimmune disease to flare up and to get worse. And so, I think just the lack of sleep and being on an airplane and, just all of that, and probably internally stressing too, about being going there, and what that might mean, and how I might feel, and just all of that. And probably even the stress of like, should we go and should we not go, that I’m sure all of that just built up and made things so much worse.

“By the time we got to Dubai, I couldn’t see straight. Like everything was spinning. I had to come off in a wheelchair.” Danielle Walker

So we continued, and we went, and we were supposed to have spent like three or four days in Kampala at a hotel before heading up, the long drive up to the camps. And so, we spent some time at this hotel and I just deteriorated so quickly, by the first night there I was … I mean, this disease, I don’t always go into detail about it because you can google it. And it is just … it’s a nasty disease. It is incredibly embarrassing, first of all. Any disease that’s digestive related is just, you know, as like a young 20-something woman.

Jessica: That’s just gotten married.

Danielle: Yes. That’s just … Oh, oh, let me tell you, my husband and I got close quick. He’s seen things that no wife ever wants their husband to see. It’s like worse than childbirth. So, yeah, so we call this friend, the guy who was running this organization. And just for like, she … you know, my husband and my dad, who’s there, are just like, "She is so sick. What can we do? Where can we go?" And thankfully there’s this hospital that’s in Kampala that has a doctor that was from the UK. So, he had been there for like 14 years and moved over there to try to just help the community there. And so, he was Western trained. And so, I checked into a two-room dirt floor hospital in Kampala. And long story short, I was there for about nine days. And he had never seen a case as severe as mine. And everything that they were doing wasn’t working. And he just essentially said, "You need a blood transfusion…"

Jessica: Oh, my gosh.

Danielle: "… and you need to get back to the United States." So, we started the long journey home.

Jessica: Oh, my gosh.

Danielle: So yeah, so we went home. And when we got back to New York … I mean, there’s so much in there obviously that is way too long to talk about on this but just during that time there and everything. But by the time we got to New York I couldn’t fly form New York to San Francisco. We had to get a hotel room and …

Jessica: Oh my gosh.

Danielle: … sleep over. And I mean, I’m talking like being wheeled through the airport in wheelchairs by airport people to get on and off of planes because of all those layovers again, and it was traumatizing. That’s just the way it is.

Jessica: Yeah, you probably blacked out. Some of it, it’s been something that’s always broken my heart because Uganda for me represents so much hope and it’s the birthplace of Noonday, and then for your story it’s like the complete opposite. And I’ve always just like hoped for you someday to get to revisit or reframe or get to also experience the beauty of what Uganda can be because I’m sure right now it’s just … it’s still all trauma.

Danielle: You know what? It’s getting better and I know we talked about this. I do hope and believe that there will be a like redeeming trip there one day where I’ll get to … I mean, I’m not like … We would see the recap videos, you know, when you go on like a "missions trip," they always film it and they put together this amazing like reel of your time there with all this super inspirational music. And every time the group that traveled would show it, I would just be in tears because not only was the trip traumatizing for me but then we missed everything that my heart was so excited to get to do. And so I felt like … I mean I couldn’t even be around them when they would talk about their experiences because I felt so left out, first of all, but just so heartbroken that I got all the way there and didn’t get to do and serve the people, like the things that I really wanted to be able to do. And so …

But yes, for a long time, I mean, even I would like shudder at the thought of ever going back to Africa in general, let alone Uganda. But I do believe that one day we will. And at this point I’ve got an eight-year-old so I’m like, I think at this point I’m like, "I kind of want to wait until my kids are of age to be able to go and kind of get to experience that with them and have them get to see it." And I don’t know. I mean, maybe we’ll go before that but that would be kind of my dream and hope is that that would be kind of this whole …

“I would like shudder at the thought of ever going back to Africa in general, let alone Uganda. But I do believe that one day we will.” Danielle Walker

Jessica: A family trip.

Danielle: Yeah. Like, there’s this whole new experience where I get to take my kids and they really get to see that whole life there and that they get to, you know, kind of get in and they just … They’ve been pretty sheltered. Well, they’re still young but regardless, like they’ve had a very great life and especially at eight now, I’m like, "OK, you need to start seeing some of the world and the hardships of the worlds." And, you know, so that would be kind of my dream is to get to do that with them and get to go and kind of redeem that whole …

Jessica: Well, I can’t wait. You keep me posted.

Danielle: I will.

 

Owning Your Health

Jessica: OK, so you get back from this trip. At what point did you kind of take charge and realize, "OK, the medical care is not getting me anywhere. The doctors aren’t getting the answers." What was your process of kind of empowering yourself to heal?

Danielle: Oh my goodness. It’s a long one. I mean, it’s like a couple years of a process so I’ll condense it as much as I can for this little podcast. But yeah, so we get back from … I mean, we landed on the ground. We couldn’t get into the doctor that … like the specialist in San Francisco that we had been fighting, by the way, which … This is what’s so crazy to me. So I mean, we’re in Uganda. I’m literally almost dead. I’m not kidding. Like, when I say that, this is not me being like, you know, I’m like…

Jessica: Dramatic.

Danielle: Yeah, no. I mean, if you know anything about like hemoglobin counts, as a woman we’re supposed to be somewhere around like a 15, 14 to 15 and my hemoglobin was at a 7. I’m pretty sure like 5 is dead. It’s like, just … it’s pretty crazy. So, we had been calling the specialist in San Francisco, because at this point, by the way, we were so fed up with my doctor who was like, "Yeah, go to Uganda. You’ll be fine. No problem, go travel for 48 hours, you know, and go off your medication." And then that doctor, by the way, also while we were in Uganda, went on vacation and didn’t tell us and had no like backup doctor for us to talk to.

So, we’re sitting there like, you know, with just 2 kids that are 23 years old having no idea what’s going on and trying to get in touch with our doctor from Uganda back to the States, and he’s like just “Out of office.” He’s like sitting drinking Mai Tai in Hawaii. And so we had … we found this other doctor that came really highly recommended in San Francisco and we’re calling him, you know, from Uganda and saying like … My husband, I just remember hearing him, like I’m practically unconscious in a bed and I remember hearing him being like, "She is so sick. Like we’re gonna fly back. We need her to get in," and they’re like, "Oh well, we can see you in two months." And he’s like, "No, no. Like you don’t understand."

And so somehow my dad like found somebody that knew him that knew somebody, I don’t know, and somehow got me in. But that is like so infuriating and frustrating for me that there’s these specialists, which I get it, and I get that they’ve got appointments, and they can only work so many hours or whatever, but it’s just we’ve had this happen before with our kids and stuff that’s happened or with me and my health and you’re like, they book you, and you’re like, "I can’t wait for eight weeks. I actually need to see somebody." So somehow, I got in.

So we walked into his office the next morning and he took one look at me, and I was ghost white and could barely walk and was incredibly frail, and he was like, "You need to get checked into the hospital immediately and I’m going to order blood transfusions for you." And the first blood transfusion wasn’t enough, and they had to give me another one, and I was on iron IVs and more steroids, tons and tons of steroids. But he was the first doctor that actually sat and talked to us about the disease. I remember sitting in his office for an hour and he walked us through like what this disease is and what it means and what the symptoms are and all of that which was kind of our first like "Oh, OK. Wow. Like this is actually something that’s serious," and, you know.

But I do remember looking at him that day, and said, "Is there anything dietary that I can do?" And he said, "no," which became a trend for the next few specialists we saw, but every single doctor I saw said, "Diet doesn’t cause it, diet doesn’t cure it, diet can’t help it." And so, we were like, "Oh, OK, well, that’s discouraging but OK. Like you’re the specialist, I’ll trust you." So I spent a couple weeks, I think, in the hospital in San Francisco when we got back, and was discharged. And then, you know, that’s when I first kind of started just researching on my own. I was like, "There’s got to be something that I can do to at least help this. Yeah, maybe I still need to be on all these medications but is there something."

“Every single doctor I saw said, ‘Diet doesn’t cause it, diet doesn’t cure it, diet can’t help it.’ …  And then, you know, that’s when I first kind of started just researching on my own.’” Danielle Walker

And so, it was a very slow and long process. It started by me going like all whole wheat and no like white refined flours and things like that. And then I started going gluten free and I saw a little bit of improvement with that. But I was like buying all of this junk in the stores just because it said gluten free. I’m like, "Oh, donuts, waffles, pizzas," because it said gluten free but in reality after I started to learn to read ingredients and labels, I was probably eating less healthy than I did before going gluten free because I was just buying all this processed stuff. And so, I kind of just, I kept researching and I found some stuff online just really just like chat boards. I don’t know if you remember?

Jessica: Yeah, totally.

Danielle: And I don’t know if they’re still around. But yeah, like Instagram wasn’t around. Facebook was brand new at the time. And so there were all these like chat boards on kind of like medical chat boards but it was all patients talking about their symptoms and what they were doing and what they were on. And yeah, I’ll even remember like, when you would … you’d have like your signature and it would be like, you know, your name, when you were diagnosed and what medications you were on. It was kind of like a thing.

Jessica: Wow.

Danielle: And I just remember seeing a few people saying, like, "I’m eating grain free and dairy free." It was actually this diet called the specific carbohydrate diet which is … There’s also the gaps diet which is very similar. And just seeing people saying like, "I’ve experienced remission," or, "I have been able to decrease my meds," or, you know, all this stuff. And I was like, "Wow, really?" You know, I know the doctors are saying no but these are real people who have this disease which, first of all, I’ve never met anybody in person who has the same disease as me so that was encouraging just to like, "OK, there’s other people that are like me." And so that was really kind of when it started. That was when I was like, "You know what? I’m gonna try this." And that’s a very condensed because it was a couple of years of dabbling and trying. I’m still getting sick and being in hospitals and long, long story, but that was kind of that first … that really was my first kind of intro into it.

 

Becoming a Noonday Ambassador

Jessica: Hey friends, I am gonna interrupt this awesome conversation for a hot second. You guys know that I am the founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And at Noonday we are passionate about entrepreneurship that changes the world. So, we partner with Noonday Collection Ambassadors. Ambassadors launch their own social impact businesses, they earn an income and they make a difference for the Artisan families that we partner with all over the world. And right now I am sitting with an Ambassador Laura. Laura, I wanna hear more about your Ambassador journey. Tell me what first drew you into wanting to start your own Noonday Collection business as an Ambassador?

Laura: Yeah, well, I had heard about you and then of friends who were doing Noonday, but at that time in my life, my husband and I had just brought home our third child through adoption. We had two other children so all of our kids, three, five, and seven, and we just learned that my oldest was going to need some special kind of situations that were gonna lead us into a private school which, i.e., means lots of money. And so, at that time, I really wanted to stay home with our kids, but I knew that the private school funding was going to be a little bit of an issue, and I knew I needed a job. But I also needed a job that was right for me. And I loved that Noonday was not only an income, but it was also a social impact. And it was also flexible.

Jessica: And tell me a little bit about the impact that your ambassador business has had on your family.

Laura: In the beginning I think my kids were maybe a little sad when I would take off for a trunk show or something, but I think within maybe six months they were cheering me on, excited about my business, asking me about it when I got home realizing that I was not just going to work, but I was also helping people on the other side of the globe. And just seeing them connect the dots that this job is really changing the world.

Jessica: And have you been able to fund your kid in private school?

Laura: You know what, Jessica?

Jessica: What?

Laura: I just did the numbers, and three kids in private education, and I was able to fund all three this year for the first time.

Jessica: OK, I’m crying. I’m crying on my own.

Laura: I’m crying now too.

Jessica: I cannot help myself.

Laura: It’s so sweet.

Jessica: It’s so inspiring. It’s so inspiring. You guys, if you’re hearing this and you’re like, "Oh my gosh, I wanna change the world. I wanna travel. I need an income to help my family, to help with additional income demands on my family," I want you to join us as a Noonday Collection Ambassador. Go on over to goingscared.noondaycollection.com. Join this incredible journey with us. Head on over to goingscared.noondaycollection.com, we would love to have you in our community of world-changing sisters.

 

Going Paleo: Restarting by Starting Something New

So you go grain free and then you eventually experience what level? Like what percentage of health would you say you got back to?

Danielle: So fast forwarding a couple of years, I had my son Asher, who’s now eight, like I said, and got really, really sick again. And it’s a combination of me not being strict enough with my diet and then just having a baby and hormones, which I learned, again, later on, happens. But I ended up seeing a naturopath and doing an elimination diet which was far more strict than any diet I had previously tried but also still similar and kind of within those lines. And just because of the elimination diet, it ended up looking very similar to a paleo diet which wasn’t really popular or, you know, very … like nobody had really heard of it at that point. It was still very new. And within 48 hours my symptoms improved by like 75% or 80%.

“It ended up looking very similar to a paleo diet which wasn’t really popular or, you know, very … like nobody had really heard of it at that point. It was still very new. And within 48 hours my symptoms improved by like 75% or 80%.” Danielle Walker

Jessica: Wow.

Danielle: Yeah, so, you know, with a digestive disease it is … I’m trying to think what, it’s much easier to see immediate results just because the food is so correlated to the whole digestion.

Jessica: Which is crazy that the medical field was saying nothing about food when it’s a digestive disease.

Danielle: That’s what’s crazy to me and everybody’s always like, "Did you go to, you know, did you go to medical school or were you like a dietitian? Is that why you thought about that?" And I’m like, No, it was common sense to me. Like this disease is in my colon, and everything I eat goes through my colon. And is there something that’s like that’s causing it to be inflamed or whatever? Like I had no basis, but it just was this little thing in my brain that was like, "This has to be related." And so yes, it’s absolutely crazy that they wouldn’t recommend it, and there’s no … there’s starting to be but at that point, there weren’t medical studies, and so I think it’s probably also they knew they had to cover their own butt, you know. And they can’t recommend something that doesn’t have a bunch of studies plus … I won’t go into it.

But one of the medications the doctor wanted me to start on was $5,000 in infusion and wasn’t covered by insurance. And I will not be shy to say that he got some sort of a kickback on that and kept pushing it over and over again. So I think, unfortunately, there might be a little bit of that. Not with all of them, they’re not all bad. But, you know, I think some of them might be slightly influenced by the drug world. So, yeah. So a huge improvement which was just such a thing for me to grasp on to. It was like, "OK, this actually has some legs. This could actually work if I stick to it," which in the past I just had kind of been back and forth. So that was really kind of the major moment for me.

Jessica: That was your major moment of like, this is worth it, and I’m gonna figure out how to make this a lifestyle forever?

Danielle: Yeah, exactly. Yep, exactly. And especially because at that … at now, at this point, I have this eight-month-old baby, you know. And so, in the past, it was just me, and it was my husband and it was kind of like, I didn’t, you know … I mean, I don’t wanna say I didn’t take it seriously, but I kind of didn’t. It was like, "Oh, I’ll be OK," or you know, "I might experience this flare up but then it’s going to get better." And the diet thing, I also just hadn’t … I hadn’t seen the true effects that it could have because I wasn’t sticking to it 100%. But at this point now I’ve got this baby who’s depending on me, I had to stop nursing because I was so sick. I couldn’t see him for two weeks when I was in the hospital. My mom and my mother in law had to practically move in with us and stay overnight to help with him because my husband was working and then also trying to take care of me and being in the hospital and being my advocate with doctors.

And, you know, so that was also for me, it was like, "I have a life depending on me now." And I started fast forwarding to when he’s growing up and thinking about these flare-ups that make me incapacitated for months at a time and thinking, "I’m gonna have to tell my six year old that mommy can’t come to any of his soccer games or, I can’t come and see his play because I need to be at home in bed." Or just like those moments that I was like, "I don’t wanna miss out on his life. And if this diet, this way of eating can actually give me my life back and then give him his mom back, then it is 100% worth it."

 

Making Changes on Your Own Terms

Jessica: It’s interesting. I think about your journey, which is extreme and has to do with a severe disease, but it wasn’t until there was another focused and until your why really became intrinsically motivating to you that you were like, "OK, now I have a reason and mission, a why," and that’s what ultimately led you to just really go all in?

Danielle: Yeah, and that’s what I tell people. There’s a why for everybody, right? And it’s a different why. And I had people, other people in my life that had been telling me … Gosh, you might have experienced this with your dad recently. But when you are sick, everybody’s very well-meaning but everybody has an opinion or an anecdote or, you know, like what might be your…

Jessica: What works for them.

Danielle: Yes, what works for them. And it’s really wonderful at first but then it starts to get really discouraging because if it doesn’t work for you or you’ve already tried it and people come at you thinking they’re your saving grace, it’s just—it’s discouraging, and it gets a little bit … you just get tired. And so, you know, I had people telling me, "I’ve heard about this diet, you should try it,” and giving me books. And when you’re super sick, and you’re just overwhelmed and you’re bedridden, sometimes you just don’t have the mental capacity for it.

And so there were quite a few things that I shelved because I was like, "I just can’t, like I just can’t do it." And somebody else telling me to do it isn’t gonna make me do it. And so when it was my why and kind of what I say is like my light bulb moment, that’s when I think it becomes something that can be sustainable. And so I always encourage people to try to find that. Like find that thing that you want to latch on to that is really important to you that makes this worth it and then try to just focus on that.

“Somebody else telling me to do it isn’t gonna make me do it. And so when it was my why and kind of what I say is like my light bulb moment, that’s when I think it becomes something that can be sustainable.” Danielle Walker

Jessica: Yeah, I think that applies for everything. Like for me, I remember I was struggling with depression about probably 15 years ago. I struggled on and off with depression, and after I got married I got mono. And I remember reading that exercising for 30 minutes a day, at least 6 days a week was just as effective as I think at the time, Zoloft was maybe the big anti-depression drug. And I’m not saying, I’m definitely not against the antidepressants or antianxiety meds at all but I remember going, "I’m gonna just try this out," and that is my why with exercise. Like to me, it’s not… You know, people are, "How can you be so disciplined when your life is so full?" And I’m like, "It’s my anti-anxiety pill." Like that is what it is.

Danielle: Which is amazing.

Jessica: Yes. I mean, that’s what it is.

Danielle: I mean, that’s incredible. Yeah. And that’s, yeah, that’s exactly. You have to stick to that and that’s what makes it worth it for you. Yup.

Jessica: So what point then did you decide to go public with your story? Because I think it’s, OK, it’s a little funny that you’re like, "I got annoyed with people handing me books," and it’s like, now you are the book that people are being handed, you know.

Danielle: It’s true but here’s the difference. And that’s what’s … It is actually funny and I’ve never really thought about it that way. But the difference for me and I think maybe why my books have done … I mean, if we’re talking success-wise, but why they’ve impacted people so much is because I have a story and a lot of the people who were giving me advice or books didn’t have that story. And not that they, you know, again, like I said, they’re super well-meaning and I’m sure I probably could have saved myself a ton of time and heartache if I would have just listened to them, but I couldn’t connect with them because I’m like, "You don’t know what it’s like, you know, to go through this and so while I appreciate your advice, you have no idea."

And so yeah, so I … let me think here, but I had my son and I quit my job to stay at home and I had started developing some recipes in my kitchen because the things that were out there at the time tasted like cardboard. And I was like, "This is not sustainable," and was just kind of like, "I can’t do this for the rest of my life. Like I need to have good food, or else I’m going to be depressed." And I won’t…

Jessica: Right. Or not be able to stick with it.

 

Sharing Stories Rather Than Advice

Danielle: Yeah, or I won’t be able to stick with it. And so while my son would be sleeping, I would start just like kind of trying to create recipes and just a lot of trial and error. And my husband was like, "Hey, you should start a blog." And I honestly, I mean, I say this, I tell this story all the time but I looked at him and said, "What’s a blog?"

Jessica: Right.

Danielle: Because those were new at the time, right? And I mean, this is in 2010 so blogging was still fairly new. And I didn’t know what a blog was so he set me up with a WordPress blog and I really just started, at the time, just cataloging my recipes. I didn’t really write a ton of my story. I just didn’t, I mean it wasn’t that I was against it. I just didn’t, first of all, I didn’t know that it would actually have an impact on people so I was like, "Eh, I don’t need to share it." But over time it just started kind of coming out as I would write recipes I would talk about, you know, if I was sick at the time or something like that, and I started a Facebook page to go with it and just really started seeing traction. And I think the biggest thing and the reason why I really started, or I continued to do it, was because I started hearing from tons of people who were needing recipes that fit within this category that were grain free and dairy free for a plethora of different reasons.

So, you know, I think what was the most impactful for me, and what made me think like, "Oh, wow. This could actually help people," was that it wasn’t just ulcerative colitis that people were eating this way for. It was the full array of autoimmune diseases which there’s hundreds that people were using this diet to help. And so that was kind of where I was like, “Oh, OK. My story could actually help way more people than I thought. And the amount of time that I spent suffering because of all the drugs and not changing my diet, hopefully, I can save people some of that time by sharing everything I went through." And so instead of them hemming and hawing for three years like I did and dabbling and going back, they can read my story and be like, "Oh, wow. Like this could actually work. I’m gonna try it." And so that’s really kind of where it started.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK. My story could actually help way more people than I thought. And the amount of time that I spent suffering because of all the drugs and not changing my diet, hopefully, I can save people some of that time by sharing everything I went through.’ … And so that’s really kind of where it started.” Danielle Walker

Jessica: Wow. It’s crazy how many women … I started Noonday in 2010. I feel like there was something on the move, you know. Like there were so many things that were starting in 2010 and kind of the newness of Facebook especially, and it didn’t charge for businesses and enabled us to really network and then the blogging world.

Danielle: We got in at a good time.

Jessica: Well, yeah. And it’s really crazy because, you know, still to this day, these blogs because of SEO, I mean, are some of those highly trafficked. And it’s great. And…

Danielle: It’s true.

Jessica: … my friends are still able to make a living through blogging. I mean, it’s pretty much because they started around 2010. And Google loves them now, you know.

Danielle: It’s so true. It’s so true. I know. People ask me all the time when I speak at like business conferences or food blogging conferences, you know. They’re like … when they ask for my advice or if they should start a blog, I’m like, "Honestly, at this point probably not." Like I mean, you can as an outlet but it’s just if you weren’t getting … if you didn’t get grandfathered in when we all got in at this … it’s just it’s so saturated then like you’re better off just putting all your content on Instagram because you’re not …

Jessica: Or starting a podcast. I feel like that has been …

Danielle: Or starting a podcast, that’s a good time. Yep. You got in at a good time for that right now.

Jessica: I did. Yeah.

Danielle: Yeah.

Jessica: I love having podcast.

Danielle: Have you?

Jessica: Yeah.

Danielle: I mean, it’s one of those things that I’m like, "I would love to, but I just can’t," and I … But you, I feel like you have a lot to talk about.

Jessica: Well, it’s … I just get to have these great conversations, and it’s all around courage and social impact and entrepreneurship. So, we keep it pretty interesting. And I have such a diversity of guests.

Danielle: Which is awesome.

Jessica: It’s really fun. OK, so this series that we’re in, speaking of podcasts, is all about restarting. And the reason I wanted to have you in this series in particular, other than the fact that you are going to be in Austin next week, if you guys are listening when this podcast comes out, then we’re giving away two VIP tickets so go check out our Instagrams, Facebooks all that for …

Danielle: So fun.

Jessica: … about that. And I’m gonna be able to come so I’m super excited. I’ll be in town.

Danielle: I know. Good. I’m glad you’re in town.

 

Embracing Imperfection to Restart Strong

Jessica: I know. I know. I’m actually leaving for India at the end of February but other than that I’m here. So anyway, I wanted to have you on because you have had to restart. Like it’s not like you have done this, and you were gluten free, grain free … You know, once you realized, even though it took you forever and … Because I remember even last year you had a flare-up and it scared me to death. And I remember just going, "Oh my word, what’s happening?" And, you know, I don’t think I even realized that, "Oh, you could have a flare-up," so …

Danielle: Yeah.

Jessica: And I know it’s really hard to kind of get back into the saddle again. And I think in the new year, we’re talking about like starting and we think that our starts are like things that we’re just starting for the first time, but usually it’s like we’ve dabbled and we’re coming back. And we’ve lost a little bit of that momentum that we had, you know, maybe when we had never tried anything to begin with. So, tell us a little bit. Is there a season that comes to mind when I say, how have you had to restart and regain momentum over the years?

Danielle: Oh, man. Well, yeah. So, I mean, I do. I have a postpartum flare-up. So I had last year when I got sick, I had my baby Keziah and I just get, I get sick and I … that one particularly for some reason it was very frightening. It was one of those ones where we thought, "OK, we’re gonna end up back in the hospital and having blood transfusions like I used to have to have before changing my diet." Thankfully, it didn’t get that bad, and we were able to get it under control. But yeah, every time that happens, you know. And it’s particularly hard for me because this is what I base my business off of.

And so I go through, when I’m going through that, I go through my own internal kind of fight of like, "Oh gosh. Am I letting people down by getting sick," which is kind of a crazy thought. Like, you know, I start to think "Am I a fake. Am I, you know, am I preaching this message that’s not actually true because I’m still getting sick." And over time I have realized and I share those moments and I share pictures from in bed because what I want people to realize is that it’s not always a perfect journey and I don’t want people to follow my story and think … and that may be still getting … that might still be getting sick to think like, "Oh well, she’s perfect and she’s not getting sick so I might be doing something wrong. Or maybe I’m not committed enough," or, you know.

But yeah, every time that happens, I mean, I’m in bed for three months and I am going back through all of those times of not being able to take care of my kids and, you know, having to put some of my business on hold, having to push deadlines for books because I can’t get into the kitchen. And so, it’s always kind of a restart after that. It’s always like, "OK, I gotta get back to it." Mentally I have to tell myself like, "Nope, this is not gonna ruin what I’m doing. This is a message that still needs to be heard. This is inevitable because I’ve had a child and the stress and everything else that goes along with having a baby just causes this to happen and the hormonal fluctuations.” But it’s … I can’t let it. I can’t let it stop me from telling this message because this message still is important and still needs to be heard.

But it’s always a difficult kind of journey back. And then it’s always that weird hurdle too of like, I’ve kind of been absent from social media, for the most part, you know. I mean, I share things here and there but I definitely pull back a lot because, first of all, there’s not a whole lot to see when I’m just laying in bed watching Netflix for three months. But it’s always that kind of hurdle too of like getting back into the saddle, like you said, and kind of being like, "OK, I’m back, you know, and I’m ready to get back to work and back on the horse and back on sharing things with you guys." But yeah, it’s always a little bit of a … kind of a fresh start afterwards.

Jessica: I really appreciate you being vulnerable and honest through that whole journey because I can understand, I even have that thought of like, "Oh my gosh, you know, is that hard for her to be really authentic and honest because she is writing books saying that you can heal yourself through diet but look, she’s sick, you know." But I think what it teaches all of us is that life is all about the restarts. It’s all about the getting back up again. And you showing us that teaches all of us and reminds us that it’s about trying and committing, and it’s not about once you fall down, just staying down, you know. And it sounds like it starts with your mindset and you being able to really tell yourself like going back to your why and this does matter, and this is helping people and then slowly the physical follows.

“I think what it teaches all of us is that life is all about the restarts. It’s all about the getting back up again. And you showing us that teaches all of us and reminds us that it’s about trying and committing, and it’s not about once you fall down, just staying down.” Jessica Honegger

Danielle: Yeah, it is. It is. And with every … And this is where I’ve just committed to really sharing my story as I go because with every flare-up that I do have, I learn something and I learn something about my body that I feel like I can share, I learn, you know, the treatments that I feel like have really worked, I learn about, you know, still about diet. I, you know, despite me doing this for a living and me following this way of eating some, I’m not always perfect sometimes. Like I do not … I don’t like the words, but I don’t cheat with gluten but sometimes, you know, if like my husband’s eating ice cream, like I’m like, "Oh, just a little bit here and there," you know.

And so, I will kick myself when I do get sick. I’m like, "I shouldn’t have done this or I should have managed my stress better. I should have done more yoga, I should have journaled," you know, and I always go back through this whole self-deprecating thing of like, "You caused this, you should have known better." And so, I feel like to be able to share those moments with people because I know everybody’s dealing with them but also to be able to share like, "Yeah, hey, I still haven’t been in the hospital since I changed my diet," you know.

And so, as my brain starts to discount what I’m doing, and the message that I’m sharing, I have to remind myself like, "Hey, you haven’t had a blood transfusion in eight years. Hey, you haven’t been on steroids like prednisone steroids in eight years. You haven’t had to have your colon removed like they were saying you might have to. You’ve been able to avoid the Remicade," which is like an immunosuppressant drug. You know, just those things where like … And I’m actually currently not on any like Western medications for this diet … or for this disease. So yeah, while I still have those setbacks, I just have to remind myself of the improvements and of the journey that I’m still on.

Jessica: That conversation was really inspiring to me. And to be honest, whenever I kind of fall off the wagon with how I’m eating, or I know I’m eating too much sugar or putting things in my body that don’t actually serve me, the first thing I usually do is buy a cookbook or some sort of health book. And there’s something about taking in that information afresh that usually reminds me, "OK, I believe in this, gonna internalize this. I’m gonna get back on a saddle again." And I certainly hope that you are committed to health and wellness this year, because as we talked about, we can’t give of ourselves if we don’t have energy to give.

So go check out her new book, Eat What You Love: Everyday Comfort Food You Crave; Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes, and come find us next week if you are in Austin. I can’t wait to see you. Don’t forget too, Imperfect Courage is still available. I talked about that a little bit on this podcast. I do talk about my own dieting and food journey in Imperfect Courage so if this conversation resonated with you, then you are certainly gonna resonate with parts of my story in Imperfect Courage.

Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.